42] So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43] Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
44] On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45] But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46] Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47] For so the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
48] Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the LORD. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
49] And the word of the LORD was being spread throughout all the region. 50] But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them for their region. 51] But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52] And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (NKJV)
These verses show us the response to Paul’s first message as he begins to emerge as a leader after having been teamed with Barnabas. After the message was over, the Jews left, but Gentiles who were in the audience begged that they might hear the message again on the next Sabbath. We’re not told all that was said, except that Paul and Barnabas persuaded them to continue in the grace of God, v. 43. We’ve dealt with this idea of “continuing” elsewhere, so will just briefly touch it here.
A few days ago was Easter, and many people attended church who normally don’t. They probably won’t back until Christmas. But “salvation” is meant for Monday as well as Sunday, for days on the calendar that aren’t “special days”. “Being saved” isn’t just about our eternal destiny; it’s about how we live until we get there.
So a week passes, and we read, almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. Gentiles were excited; the Jews, not so much. After all, they were the chosen people; Gentiles were less than nothing. As we’ve noted before, believing Jews had a really difficult time with the idea that, as far the Gospel was concerned, Jews and Gentiles were on an equal footing. Throughout their history, Jews had been commanded to remain separate and more than once had gotten in trouble for mingling with Gentiles. God had chosen Israel to be His special people, Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4. But now, that distinctiveness was being set aside and the Jews were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul, v. 45.
The Jews should have understood that God intended all along to bless Gentiles; He had promised throughout the OT – Scriptures which the Jews believed. Even before the beginning of the nation, God promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” Genesis 12:3, emphasis added. It’s true that God never actually said how he would do this, just that He would. It’s only in the NT that we find out about a body called “the church,” a distinct body, a body separate from Israel.
Now we come to a verse that causes an uproar: And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed, v. 48b. In fact, just recently a pastor who was teaching through Acts completely ignored this verse in his posts. And there are some who turn it around to say that “as many as believed were appointed to eternal life.”
How can God do such a thing?
In the first place, He’s God and can do whatever He wants to. But beyond that, and I’ve done a whole series on this, if He had not chosen some to be saved, none of us ever would be. The Scripture is clear that there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God, Romans 3:10, 11. As we’ve mentioned before, these verses show a progression: not even one among us is “righteous,” that is, has that moral and spiritual character which would allow us to stand before God uncondemned; not one of us understands our spiritual condition, and because of that, not one of us seeks God, Who is the only One who can do anything about it. We think our religion, our good works, our best, is good enough. If He had let us go, we would all wind up in hell. I’m thankful He didn’t.
Vs. 49-52 show the pattern that has continued to this day; there is always opposition to the preaching of the Gospel. Men do what they can to get rid of such preaching, but the Gospel is always preached somewhere. And disciples, not just church-goers, but disciples – those who are students at the feet of the Lord Jesus – are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.