Acts 13:4

Antioch to Selucia to Salamis on Cyprus

Thursday, 15 December 2022

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Acts 13:4

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In the previous verse, those in Antioch fasted and prayed. They then laid “the hands on” Barnabas and Saul and sent them away. The narrative continues with, “So, being sent out.”

Rather, the participle is aorist. Also, there are two introductory conjunctions. It more correctly says, “They, indeed, therefore, having been sent out.”

Luke uses a word new to Scripture, ekpempó. It signifies to send out or send forth. This is just what occurred. They had been purposefully called to depart from one place and to go forth as directed. And this was, as Luke records, “by the Holy Spirit.”

As can be seen, it was not only that the Holy Spirit had called them (verse 2), but He also is directing them. Their movements are according to His will as He leads. Further, the written record set forth by Luke, which he was inspired to document, is a record of those movements and events also specifically directed by the Holy Spirit.

Everything about what we are reading is a carefully directed and documented set of events intended to show us God’s workings in the establishment and expansion of the church. It is also a clear and unambiguous record of why the focus of the gospel diverted away from the Jews and toward the Gentiles. Consider this as the chapter continues to unfold. For now, that record continues with their travels as “they went down to Seleucia.”

The name Seleucia comes from Seleukos, a Syrian king. The name is found only this once in Scripture but traveling through here appears to be implied again in Acts 14:26 and Acts 15:30,39. Of the city, S.M. Christie notes –

“The seaport of Antioch from which it is 16 miles distant. It is situated 5 miles North of the mouth of the Orontes, in the northwestern corner of a fruitful plain at the base of Mt. Rhosus or Pieria, the modern Jebel Musa, a spur of the Amanus Range. Built by Seleucus Nicator (died 280 BC) it was one of the Syrian Tetrapolis, the others being Apameia, Laodicea and Antioch. The city was protected by nature on the mountain side, and, being strongly fortified on the South and West, was considered invulnerable and the key to Syria (Strabo 751; Polyb. v.58). It was taken, however, by Ptolemy Euergetes (1 Macc 11:8) and remained in his family till 219 BC, when it was recovered for the Seleucids by Antiochus the Great, who then richly adorned it. Captured again by Ptolemy Philometor in 146 BC, it remained for a short time in the hands of the Egyptians. Pompey made it a free city in 64 BC in return for its energy in resisting Tigranes (Pliny, NH, v.18), and it was then greatly improved by the Romans, so that in the 1st century AD it was in a most flourishing condition.”

As Seleucia is the port from which those at Antioch would head out, they first went there “and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”

Cyprus is a large island in the eastern Mediterranean and, due to its high mountains, is said to be close enough to the coast to be seen on a clear day. Used here is another new word in Scripture, apopleó. It literally signifies, “to sail away.” The word is only used by Luke. He will use it four times in Acts along with various other words that refer to sailing. In their sailing away from Seleucia, they sailed to Cyprus. Of this location, Howson says –

“Four reasons may have induced them to turn in first to this island: (1) Its nearness to the mainland; (2) It was the native place of Barnabas, and since the time when Andrew found his brother Simon, and brought him to Jesus, and ‘Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus,’ family ties had not been without effect on the progress of the Gospel. (3) It could not be unnatural to suppose that the truth would be welcomed in Cyprus when brought by Barnabas and his kinsman Mark, to their own connections or friends. The Jews were numerous in Salamis. By sailing to that city, they were following the track of the synagogues; and though their mission was chiefly to the Gentiles, their surest course for reaching them was through the proselytes and Hellenizing Jews. (4) Some of the Cypriotes were already Christians. Indeed, no one place out of Palestine, except Antioch, had been so honorably associated with the work of successful evangelization.”

His reasons are well stated except for the comments that “their mission was chiefly to the Gentiles.” That must be presupposed, and it is not borne out by the narrative. As of this point, nothing has been said of evangelizing the Gentiles. The only clue that it is so is what was stated at Paul’s calling in Acts 9 –

“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.’” Acts 9:15

But even these words include three categories. The reason for bearing the Lord’s name before Gentiles is not stated. Since the words of that verse, nothing about Paul evangelizing Gentiles has been noted. So far, he has only been seen having contact with Jews.

Life application: Interestingly, the Holy Spirit is mentioned four times in this chapter. The first time was in verse 2 where the calling of Barnabas and Saul was made. The next is verse 4 where they are being sent out. In verse 9, it says that Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, will rebuke a Jew who is with a high-ranking Roman official. The final time will be in verse 52 where it will note that the disciples, which includes Gentiles, are “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Watching how this chapter unfolds, and then continuing to watch how the rest of Acts unfolds, it becomes perfectly clear that we are being shown why there is a transition from the Jews to the Gentiles in the furtherance of the gospel. There will be great hostility by the Jews towards the notion that Jesus is their Messiah. On the contrary, there will be an opening of arms towards Him by the Gentiles.

This same state has continued for two thousand years. Only in the most recent of times has that begun to change. The past fifty years have seen a great increase in the number of Jews who have accepted that Jesus is their Messiah. But out of church history, that is an insignificant number. For the gospel to extend to all nations on earth, it was necessary for the Gentiles to spread it. God knew this and He has given us the book of Acts to show this transitional phase from Jew to Gentile. Paul is the key to its coming about.

Be attentive to this as Acts continues and you will more rightly understand why the Jewish nation, Israel, was not used for this purpose. And yet, God has not fully abandoned them. When the time is right, they will again become a central point of focus in carrying this spiritual banner that has for so long been carried by the Gentiles. That is something that is beginning to occur before our very eyes.

Lord God, Your infinite wisdom is so perfectly revealed in Your word. Every detail of redemptive history is seen to be under Your control. As this is so, we can know that the steps we take to share the gospel must also be fully known by You. That sure takes the pressure off us as we go forth, knowing that You already know those who will come to saving faith in Jesus. Help us to get out and to speak this message clearly so that our efforts will be fruitful. Yes, use us according to Your wisdom. Amen.