In the previous chapter we saw how the first recorded miracle performed by the apostle Paul demonstrated the nature of Paul’s Acts period ministry: to preach to the Jew first, and as they rejected the Word of God, to pronounce blindness upon the Jew, and then to turn to the Gentile with the message of salvation. In this chapter, we look at three key points in Paul’s ministry where he “turned to the Gentiles.”
Antioch in Pisidia
The first of these turning points is recorded in Acts, chapter 13, where we find the first recorded message Paul preached. Upon his arrival in the city of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul did what he did every time he entered a city for the first time; he entered the synagogue of the Jews on the Sabbath day. Following the reading of the Law and the Prophets, Paul was asked by the rulers of the synagogue to say a word of exhortation for the people (Acts 13:14-16).
Paul stood and addressed his message specifically to the people of Israel and those who feared God (vs. 16). He recounted the history of the people of Israel from the Exodus to the establishment of David’s kingdom (vs. 17-22). He then declared that God had raised up a Savior for Israel from David’s seed—Jesus Christ (vs. 23). Israel’s rulers, not knowing Christ, “nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath,” fulfilled the Prophets by rejecting and crucifying Jesus Christ (vs. 27-28). After three days, God raised Him from the dead, and in so doing, He fulfilled the promise God had made to the fathers of that nation (vs. 30-37). Throughout his message, Paul quoted extensively from the Old Testament Scriptures (vs. 22, 33, 34, 35, 41). Paul concluded by saying,
“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man (i.e. Jesus Christ) is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).
When the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged Paul to preach these very same words to them the next Sabbath (Acts 13:42).
“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 13:45)
The reaction of these Jews in Antioch in Pisidia was just like that of Bar-Jesus, back in verse 8 of this same chapter. They rejected what the Word of God had to say to them, choosing instead to focus upon the fact that Paul was also preaching the Word of God to the Gentiles; something which they refused to tolerate. Paul’s reaction to these Jews followed the same pattern as his reaction to Bar-Jesus.
“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.” (Acts 13:46)
Paul declares to these Jews that it was necessary that the word of God be preached to them first. The word “necessary” means it was required or “a must” specified by God that the Jews have the Word of God declared to them first (cf. Rom. 1:16). Paul had fulfilled this “necessary” portion of his commission (cf. Acts 9:15) by his clear message of salvation to Israel (Acts 13:26,38-39).
The Jews, as a whole, “rejected” (literally “cast or put away from”) God’s Word and judged themselves to be “unworthy of everlasting life.” Therefore, Paul said, “Behold, we turn to the Gentiles,” just as the Lord had commanded them according to Isaiah 49:6.
In response to this, the Gentiles “were glad and glorified the word of the Lord” and many believed (vs. 48), but the Jews “raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region” (vs. 50). Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust from their feet against them” (vs. 51 compared with Luke 9:5) and departed to Iconium.
On Paul’s first journey, which he took with Barnabas, his travels were limited to the areas of Cyprus and Asia Minor. On his second journey, which he took with Silas, Paul’s travels extended beyond Asia Minor to Macedonia and Achaia (which is modern day Greece). During this time he came, by himself, to the city of Corinth, where he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla.
Paul began his ministry in this city, as he did in every other city, by reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath, persuading both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) (Acts 18:4). When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia to join Paul, he was “compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ” (vs. 5).
“But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).
The second key turning point in Paul’s ministry occurred because the Jew, once again, rejected the Word of God as proclaimed through the apostle Paul.
Paul’s final journey, as recorded in the book of Acts, took him all the way to Rome, where Paul, for the third and final time, turned from the Jews to the Gentiles. If you look at a map, you can see that these three turning points move gradually farther and farther away from Jerusalem and Judea unto “the uttermost parts of the earth” (cf. Acts 1:8). While Peter’s ministry to the Jews was primarily focused in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul’s ministry to the Jews was mainly to those Jews who were dispersed. Here in Rome, Paul directed his message to “the Jew first” for the last time.
When Paul arrived in Rome, he was taken to a rented house where he was allowed to dwell with a soldier guarding him. After three days in Rome, Paul called the leaders of the Jews together and they arranged a time for Paul to speak to them. Notice, once again, as Paul comes to Rome for the first time, what does he do? He goes to the Jews first! When they had appointed him a day, the Jewish leaders came to Paul at his lodging where Paul …
“… explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.” (Acts 13:23)
The Jews’ reaction was just as it had been in every place Paul went, some were persuaded and some disbelieved (vs. 24). When they did not agree among themselves, they began to depart. Before they could leave, Paul spoke one final word to them, pronouncing blindness upon them, just as was prophesied in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 6:9-10). Paul concluded by saying,
“Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” (Acts 28:28)
When Paul had said these words, the Jews departed, disputing greatly among themselves.