Acts 13:50

Looking out window of Vermont State Capitol.

Monday, 30 January 2023

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 from their region. Acts 13:50

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The previous verse noted that “the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.” Because the gospel is a message of freedom, and because Satan and his followers hate freedom, blowback from the apostle’s efforts was inevitable. This had repeatedly been the case since the first proclamation of the gospel by Peter in Acts 2. With the successful efforts of Paul and Barnabas in the region, the resulting antagonistic attitude of the opposition grew. Luke now records who was behind it, beginning with, “But the Jews.”

The contrast between Paul and Barnabas, who are both Jews, and “the Jews” noted here is bold and striking. Despite being Jews, Paul and Barnabas have a message to convey that goes beyond the Jewish people. The Jews do not. Their message is one of bondage. If there are those who are not Jews who accept their message, they are brought into a position of subservience, not freedom.

On the other hand, the message of Jesus allows people to remain who they are in a manner that is not seen in the message of the Jews. The gospel calls for a change in heart toward God, and it is offered to anyone of any station in life. This is not the case with the Jews as is seen in the next words. They “stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city.”

The Jews did not go out into the streets and alleys and proclaim freedom from sin. Instead, they established themselves in a city, brought their religion with them, and allowed the prominent and wealthy to join them, thus gaining influence at the higher levels. Though a bit long, the words of Charles Ellicott explain this situation –

“The fact stated brings before us another feature of the relations between Jews and Gentiles at this period. They ‘compassed sea and land to make one proselyte’ (Matthew 23:15). They found it easier to make proselytes of women. Such conversions had their good and their bad sides. In many cases there was a real longing for a higher and purer life than was found in the infinite debasement of Greek and Roman society, which found its satisfaction in the life and faith of Israel. (See Notes on Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12.) But with many, … the change brought with it new elements of superstition and weakness, and absolute submission of conscience to its new directors, and thus the Rabbis were often to the wealthier women of Greek and Roman cities what Jesuit confessors were in France and Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here we get the darker side of the picture. The Jews stir up the women of the upper class, and they stir up their husbands. The latter were content apparently to acquiesce in their wives accepting the Judaism with which they had become familiar, but resented the intrusion of a new and, in one sense, more exacting doctrine.”

It is these Jews, with a finger on those who were politically established and who possessed great wealth, that “raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.” Here, Luke uses a word, epegeiró, for the first of two times in Scripture. It signifies “to rouse upon.” In other words, their influence is used upon the minds of the people to stir them up against the message that has been conveyed. In their arousal, it is to a state of persecution against Paul and Barnabas.

The type of persecution the apostles faced is not stated, but exacting examples of such persecution will be seen as Acts continues. Quite often, it will be because of the Jews who oppose them.

A notable example of this is found in Acts 19. In that chapter, there was a great disturbance that resulted from Paul’s sharing of the gospel. In proclaiming Jesus as God, it means that idols are false gods. Because of this, a state of friction arose in Ephesus because of the great idol that was worshipped there. Smaller images of the great statue of Diana were made for people to purchase. But if the gospel flourished, these idol makers would lose their source of revenue. Hence, those who made them stirred up the masses. There it says –

“And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people.” Acts 19:33

The Jews used the situation in Ephesus as a pretext to silence the spread of the gospel. But even more, this may be the same Alexander who continued to harass Paul as noted in 2 Timothy –

“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. 15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.” 2 Timothy 4:14, 15

If this is the same Alexander, he not only wanted to silence the gospel because he had rejected it, but he also profited off the sales of these idols. That could be inferred from his being a coppersmith. It is this same attitude that caused the Jews to stir up those in Antioch against Paul and Barnabas. From there, Luke notes they “expelled them from their region.”

With the message widely spread in the area, and with the Jews exerting their influence over those in power, the Lord knew that it was time for the apostles to move on. What initially seems like a defeat will prove to be another victory as Chapter 14 opens. The apostles will move on and bring the message to another area where a great multitude will again receive their message.

Life application: The Jews brought their situation upon themselves. Exactly as the Law of Moses said would occur, they went into an extended period of punishment for their rejection of Jesus. But it should not go without noting that this included Paul too. He was as opposed to the message of Jesus as anyone. And yet, the Lord, through His grace and mercy, brought Paul to Himself –

“For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” Galatians 1:13-17

This is further explained by Paul to Timothy –

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:12-14

Paul was given grace and mercy, and he used it to the glory of God from that moment on. And despite his anger at the state of his people in rejecting Christ Jesus, he understood their attitude because he had shared in it. His first allegiance was always to Jesus, but he also remained troubled in his heart over the state of his people (See Romans 9:1-3).

This should be our attitude as well, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles who have rejected Jesus. We should be angry at their state of rebellion and their active resistance to the gospel. But we should also be troubled in our hearts at their pitiful state of condemnation. In other words, we should be willing to go in both directions.

We should strive against them as they attack the message while striving with the gospel’s proclamation in hopes that some may be saved. Let us do our best to be responsible with our state in Christ in this manner. Hold fast to the truth of the gospel proclaiming it and allowing it to have the effect that God intends for it at any given time and place.

Help us, Lord God, to never be shy about being Christians. May we faithfully proclaim that we are saved believers of Christ who will stand on His gospel no matter what. Those who oppose it will receive what they are due. And those who accept it will be granted Your mercy and forgiveness. May our words go forth! From there, they will do as You have purposed. Help us to be responsible and to speak out so that this can happen. Amen.