We had a great small group study last night on the first 12 verses in Acts 13. This is the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey. The shift from Luke’s focus on Peter to his focus on Paul will lead us through the end of the book of Acts. In this first section of the chapter we see Paul really coming into his own as a leader in the church – we will also see the last time that Luke uses Paul’s old name “Saul” to describe him.
These are brief notes, but hopefully helpful. Enjoy!
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
In the New Testament church there’s a distinction made between prophets and teachers. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 12. The difference, from what I can discern, is that prophets are ones who preach the word of God and teachers are ones who instruct in the word of God. Alistair Begg says that preaching is teaching plus exhortations, “preaching is directive”, he says, “its not a lecture.”
The ESV Study Notes have an interesting explanation as to why Simeon was called “Niger”:
Niger is Latin for “black,” indicating he likely came from Africa, as did the Cyrenean Lucius. (Cyrene was the capital city of Cyrene [sometimes called Cyrenaica], a Roman province in Libya, on the north coast of Africa; see Acts 2:10.)
Lastly, the Herod mentioned here as “Herod the tetrarch” is Herod Antipas according to the ESV notes, and this was the third of five Herods to rule over Palestine. James Boice describes Antipas in this way:
After the removal of Archelaus, Judea was governed for a time by Roman procurators. But the line of Herod the Great continued through another of his sons who reigned in Galilee until his banishment to Gaul in AD 39. His name was Herod Antipas, and he is the Herod who killed John the Baptist. He emerged in a cameo role at the trial of Jesus Christ.
Each of these men come from different backgrounds, and level of society. They range from princes/important people like Manaen, to missionaries like Lucius to men of Africa like Simeon. This was a diverse collection of men and women from around the known world.
What is most fascinating to me is how Manaen, who grew up with Herod, went such a different way in life than Herod. The ESV Study Notes tell us that “Lifelong friend translates Greek syntrophos, indicating that Manaen was a close friend of Herod Antipas and had been brought up with him from childhood.”
This reminds me of how Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s courts, but became the antithesis to everything Pharaoh stood for. An amazing change in him, and story of two divergent lives, which eventually clashed in a major way. The lives of men are in the hands of God, and surely He steers all things in the direction of His sovereign will and pleasure. He takes men from noble birth and from nothing at all and makes them adopted sons of the kingdom of God.
13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
The role of the Spirit here is complete sovereignty over the entire situation. He is seen as the one who sets them apart and then sends them (vs. 4). This is the same Spirit which lives in us today, and He is not silent. The ages of time have not silenced our God.
The role of men here is four-fold:– Fasting – Prayer – Laying on of hands (like a missionary commissioning) – Obedience to the Spirit of God
13:4-5 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.
One of the things I really like about this section is that there is organization in the ways of God. God is not a God of confusion, but of order. Note that it is the Spirit that is sending them out, and as a result, we know that they are following God’s instructions in this mission. Note also that Paul is proclaiming the word to the Jews first. Lastly, look at the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, John is assisting them – they had an organizational approach that involved more than just one or two people. Everyone pitched in. James Boice says this, “We have fallen away from that principle in our time through a pattern of organization in which churches are usually in the hands of just one minister. The people think, ‘Well, he’s the minister. It’s his job to do the Christian work. Let him do it.’ Such churches are weaker as a result.”
13:6 -7 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.
This man Paulus was Proconsul. A Proconsul was a one-year appointed position. The Roman Senate made the appointment, and only those who had previously served as Consul were eligible to serve as Proconsul. Proconsuls were governors of territories, not usually too large from what I can tell. Consuls on the other hand, used to be the most powerful position in the Empire. When Rome was a Republic (before the emperor took over full control) there would be two elected Consuls who would serve at the same time for one year and had veto power over each other. They were elected by the Senate. Consuls stayed as a position under the Emperor, but their power was just limited – essentially figureheads.
13:8-11 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.
The meaning of names and their significance is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments. The fact that this man was called Bar-Jesus, which means “son of salvation” was an affront to the message of the gospel. That is why Paul contrasts his name with what he really is, namely a “son of the devil.”
Sproul makes the humorous point that obviously Paul didn’t read Dale Carnegie’s famous book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’! But he goes on to point out that when Christ addressed the proud religious “experts” He did the same thing. For instance, here is Christ’s interaction with the Pharisees in John 8:
Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45 ESV)
Because of this magician’s positional reality as a son of Satan, he was necessarily also an “enemy of all righteousness” because if we are not with God we are against Him. Christ makes that clear as well when He tells His disciples, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).
The natural outgrowth of being under the slavery of sin and the Devil (see Rom. 6) is that you will mimic your leader. For Satan is the Father of lies (Jn. 8:44). That is why it says this magician was full of “deceit.”
Lastly, note that he is full of “villainy” as well. Villainy seems to indicate a sort of strategic approval of evil. It reminds me of what Paul says at the end of Romans 1 about those with a debased mind:
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV)
13:12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
This gentile believing is the beginning of the fulfillment of what Jesus told Paul – that he would stand before kings and princes and proclaim the gospel (find that scripture earlier in acts 9 or so). It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of both Christ’s words to the disciples in chapter 1 and the Abramatic covenant to bless all the nations in the world. The following verses are great references:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV)
And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:24-26 ESV)
Lastly, notice that it isn’t the Miracles alone that lead to belief – God knows who and when to use these for his glory, but it is the preaching of the Word that leads to conversion. This reminds me of when Jesus was preaching and healing during His earthly ministry and people were seeing the miracles, but they were equally amazed at His words:
And many more believed because of his word. (John 4:41 ESV)
The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?”  The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:45-46 ESV)