In Acts 13, we find Paul and Barnabas separated by the Holy Spirit to begin a ministry that would eventually carry Paul to the “uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
What was the nature of Paul’s ministry, as recorded in the book of Acts? The first recorded events provide the pattern for his entire Acts period ministry.
“And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God “in the synagogues of the Jews.” (Acts 13:5)
The first city Paul preached in was Salamis, on the island of Cyprus. As soon as he arrived there, he went to the synagogue of the Jews and preached the word of God. This was the case each time Paul entered a city for the first time, he always went first to the synagogue of the Jews or, if there was no synagogue, then to the place where the Jews met for worship (cf. Acts 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1-2,10; 18:4-5; 19:8).
The Scriptures teach that Paul’s primary ministry was to the Gentiles (II Tim. 1:11), but chronologically, during the Acts period, Paul’s ministry was “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16).
“Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (Acts 13:6-7).
This “certain Jew” was characteristic of the majority of the Jews Paul encountered throughout his ministry. The man’s name was “Bar-Jesus” which means “son of Jesus.” This should have been the Jew’s relationship with the Lord Jesus (Exo. 4:22, John 8:19), but it was not, for they had rejected the Word of God (John 5:38-47). Bar-Jesus was also known as Elymas the “sorcerer,” and was characterized as a “false prophet.”
With this “certain Jew” was a Gentile whose name was Sergius Paulus. He called for Paul and Barnabas and desired to hear the Word of God. Elymas, the Jew, withstood Paul and Barnabas and sought to turn away this Gentile man from the faith. This opposition from Elymas was typical of what Paul experienced from the Jews in nearly every place he ministered. The Jews were given the first opportunity to hear the Word of God, but they rejected it. Afterward, when Paul proclaimed the truth of God to the Gentiles, the Jews actively opposed him, seeking to turn the Gentiles away from the faith (cf. Acts 13:42-52 and I Thess. 2:14-16).
“Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time. And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13:8-11)
Paul brought a stinging indictment against Elymas, just as he was later to bring similar indictments against the Jews he encountered in each city. He declared that Elymas was not, as his name implied, a “son of Jesus,” but was instead a “son of the devil” (cf. John 8:41-44), an “enemy of righteousness” (Rom. 10:1-4), and willfully corrupted the right ways of the Lord. Paul then pronounced a judgment of blindness upon him; a blindness that was: (1) From the hand of the Lord, (2) Pronounced through the apostle Paul, and (3) Temporary (“for a time”).
This is exactly what we find throughout Paul’s Acts period ministry. As the Jews of each city rejected the Word of God, Paul pronounced a judicial, spiritual blindness upon them; a blindness which remains, even today, but one which is only temporary (Rom. 11:25-26).
“Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” (Acts 13:12)
Having pronounced blindness upon this Jew, Paul turned his attention to Sergius Paulus, the Gentile. When Sergius Paulus saw what was done and heard the Word taught, he believed and was saved. His response typified the Gentiles’ response to Paul’s ministry throughout the book of Acts.