Pisidian Antioch, Paul's Sermon & the Reaction, Part 4, Section 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

Verses 46-48 were essential for Paul’s mission in Acts, by establishing a pattern that would appear again and again. One could view verse 46 as definitive: Paul would no longer minister to the Jews, he would now witness only to the Gentiles—but that was not the case. In the very next city on his missionary itinerary, he would again begin his ministry in the synagogue in Iconium2—“At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed” (Acts 14:1). It is very likely that he was rejected by the Jews in every town, and so he turned to the Gentiles of that town each time. But he never gave up on his fellow Jews. It was the same problem he wrestled with in Romans 9-11. In spite of the overwhelming rejection of the Gospel by his people, he could not bring himself to believe that it was final and God had given up on them. His great success was in witnessing to the Gentiles, but he never quit witnessing to the Jews and praying for their souls. The uncertainty of his witness to the Jews continues to the very end of Acts and is never definitely settled (see Acts 27:17-28). We too can learn from Paul’s example of persistence. His actions show that we should not limit our witnessing to those who are the most receptive. Paul was willing to go to the ends of the earth to win souls for Christ.

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

Verse 48 shows that the Gentiles of Pisidian Antioch were the ones who accepted the Gospel and then Christ, honoring (glorifying) the word of the Lord. Perhaps they praised the “word” of Isaiah 49:6, with the good news that the light of Christ and His salvation extended to Gentiles such as they. Many of them believed, accepted Christ as their savior and were born again into the family of God. They were those who were “ordained to eternal life.” The word translated “ordained” means “enrolled,” and indicates that God’s people have their names written in God’s book—“But do not be glad when the evil spirits obey you. Instead, be glad that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). These Gentiles took an active role in believing, and in committing themselves to Christ; but it was caused by God’s Spirit moving in them, convincing them, and appointing them to eternal life. All salvation is ultimately only by the grace of God.

This verse is a simple statement of the sovereign election of God. It should be taken at its face value and believed. The Bible definitely teaches that God chose some before the foundation of the world to be in Christ. It teaches with equal emphasis that man is a free moral agent and that if he will accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he will be saved. Divine election and human responsibility are both scriptural truths, and neither should be emphasized at the expense of the other. While there seems to be a conflict between the two, this conflict exists only in the human mind, and not in the mind of God. God chooses man for salvation, and not the other way around—“You are God's chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved. . .” (Colossians 3:1).

Men are damned by their own choice and not by any act of God. If all mankind received what is its just due, then all would be lost. But God in grace stoops down and saves some. Does He have a right to do this? Of course, He does. The doctrine of the sovereign election of God is a teaching that gives God His proper place as the ruler of the universe who can do as He chooses and who will never choose to do anything unrighteous or unkind.

49 And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.
50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.

Verses 48 and 49 provide the two sides of evangelism. Acts 13:48 gives the divine side of evangelism, for God has his elect people—“God chose us to belong to Christ before the world was created. He chose us to be holy and without blame in his eyes. He loved us” (Ephesians 1:4). Acts 13:49 is the human side of evangelism: if we do not preach the Word, then nobody can believe and be saved. It takes both—“Brothers and sisters, we should always thank God for you. The Lord loves you. God chose you from the beginning. He wanted you to be saved. Salvation comes through the Holy Spirit's work. He makes people holy. It also comes through believing the truth. He chose you to be saved by accepting the good news that we preach. And you will share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).

The Antioch mission ended on a mixed note of both opposition and success. On the one hand, the Gospel was well received by the Gentiles and spread throughout the whole region. On the other hand, the opposition of the Jews became even stronger and broke out in outright persecution of Paul and Barnabas. Luke added a true touch of local color by mentioning “the devout and honorable women,” for women evidently held a more prominent place in society in Asia Minor than in most parts of the Greco-Roman world. Evidently, the opposition was led by one of the Gentile women who attended the synagogue. Many Gentile women were attracted to the Jewish religion in the Diaspora3, attending the synagogue and even becoming proselytes. Just who the “the chief men of the city” were, whom they incited to persecution of Paul and Barnabas cannot be determined. Evidentially they were men who had sufficient social standing or political power to force the two missionaries to leave their city—it was easier to “expel them” than to refute them. The important thing is that after they were forced to leave, Paul and Barnabas went to another town. It reminds us of Jesus in Nazareth, “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).

51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium.
52 And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.

Paul and Barnabas followed the instructions given by Jesus for dealing with a town that was unwilling to listen: they shook the dust of the city off their feet as they left the city (Luke 10:11). The gesture had a certain irony about it. The Rabbis confirmed the Jewish practice of shaking the dust off their feet when they returned from a stopover in Gentile territory, symbolizing them leaving their defilement behind as they stepped on the “holy land” once again. A good Jew was careful not to bring into Palestine any dust from pagan territory. By shaking the dust from their feet, Paul and Barnabas symbolized their ridding themselves of all responsibility for the unreceptive Jews and showed that they considered the Jews at Antioch no better than heathen. There could have been no stronger condemnation. The gesture, however, did not apply to everyone in Antioch. Everyone had not been unreceptive, and the story ends on a positive note. There were many Gentile converts in Antioch, and these new Christians rejoiced in their experience in the Holy Spirit and their newborn acceptance in Jesus Christ.

After this incident, Paul established a pattern which he continued to follow. Whenever he arrived in a new town, he always began his witness in the synagogue. Only when the Jews rejected him did he turn exclusively to the Gentiles. Why was it that the Apostle to the Gentiles always began his work in the Jewish synagogues? It was necessary for several reasons:
(1) God’s will made it necessary, in order that the Jews could not excuse themselves by a plea of ignorance.
(2) The coming of the earthly kingdom depended on Israel’s response to the coming of Christ) (Matthew 23:39; Romans 11:26).
(3) Only after Israel rejected the gospel could Paul devote himself to the Gentiles.
(4) The message of Jesus is fundamentally Jewish in that the Old Testament, the Messiah, and the promises are all Jewish.

Special Notes

1 The idea expressed by the phrase “eternal life” lies in the Old Testament concept of sharing in the life of the age to come, God’s eschatological kingdom. It is essentially the same as “salvation.”
2 A populous city about forty-five miles southeast from Pisidian Antioch; at the foot of mount Taurus; on the borders of Lycaonia, Phrygia, and Pisidia.
3 The settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile.

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