TODAY’S READING: ACTS 11-14
The transition from Jerusalem to Antioch (chapters 11 and 12); Paul’s first missionary journey (chapters 13 and 14).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
As we begin today, let’s take a few moments to review what we have discovered thus far from the Book of Acts. Acts 1-6 is the record of God offering the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven to the Nation of Israel. In chapter 7, the question of Acts 1:6 has been answered by the Nation of Israel and God withdraws His offer of the Messiah and kingdom of heaven. Chapter 8 marks the beginning of the transition from God dealing with the Nation of Israel to God dealing with a racially mixed group of Jews and Gentiles called the Church, the body of Christ. Chapter 9 continues the transition with the salvation and calling of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. In chapter 10, Peter, the apostle to the Jews, confirms that God is indeed offering eternal life to the Gentiles. From these chapters alone, God has made it abundantly clear that He has postponed His dealings with the Nation of Israel and begun to focus His attention on the Church. Today in chapters 11 through 14, we will d!
iscover the final phases of transition.
Chapter 11 reveals a transition from Jerusalem to Antioch. When the persecution arose in chapter 8, the majority of believers fled while the apostles remained steadfast in Jerusalem (8:1). Each time a new people group received the Word of God, envoys from Jerusalem were sent to confirm God’s working amidst that group (see Acts 8:14-17, 25; 11:1-3, 19-22). Paul himself needed affirmation from the apostles in Jerusalem to validate his ministry (Gal. 2:1, 9). From these facts, it is easily seen that Jerusalem was the base of operations and place of authority for the early church. This makes perfect sense: 1) If you are a believing Jew waiting for Jesus your Messiah to touch down on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12; Zech. 14:1-9) and establish the capital of His kingdom in Jerusalem at His second coming – why leave Jerusalem and miss all of the action?! 2) If you are seeking to reach only Jews with the message of the kingdom of heaven and 3) If the apostle to the Jews (Pet!
er) resides there. But with Israel’s rejection of the King and kingdom in Acts 7, God turns His attention to Gentiles and therefore, establishes a new base of operations in Antioch. Watch the flow of chapter 11: once the apostles in Jerusalem have confirmed the salvation of the Gentiles (11:18), Barnabas seeks out Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and brings him to Antioch (11:25, 26) where a multi-ethnic church of Jews and Gentiles had been planted (Acts 13:1). Notice also, that it was in Antioch that “the disciples were called Christians first” (11:26). It is significant to note also that for the first ten years of the church, not one believer had ever been called a “Christian”! Not until God makes the transitions from Israel to the Church, and Jerusalem to Antioch, does God see fit to have His followers called “Christians”; another confirmation that Antioch is the new base of operations.
In the next chapter, it is evident that the apostles now understand that God has postponed His plan for Israel. The first piece of evidence is that the Apostle James is not replaced after his execution. Jesus promised the twelve apostles, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Since the apostles expected Jesus Christ to return immediately, they wanted to be sure. Obviously then, since Judas Iscariot committed suicide, a replacement is required to fill twelve thrones, which is why the eleven apostles immediately elected Judas’ replacement in Acts 1:15-26. The fact that the Apostle James is not replaced clearly indicates that the apostles realize that Christ’s return has been postponed and the Church is now God’s primary institution.
Another evidence is that Peter leaves Jerusalem and doesn’t return (12:19). The leadership team of Peter, James and John is being dismantled and Jerusalem’s central authority is waning. This is another indication that Antioch, rather than Jerusalem, is the new center of God’s global outreach.
In Acts 13, God introduces His new institution the Church. God’s new institution is multi-racial (13:1) and missional (13:2-4). Paul and Barnabas are sent out as missionaries from their local church in Antioch. Note that Paul and Barnabas were called by God to perform a particular “work” (13:2) and that “work”, as you have seen in reading Acts 13 and 14, is preaching the gospel and planting reproducing local churches. We may deduce then, that the work of a missionary is preaching the gospel and planting reproducing local churches. Though many faithful Christians serve in diverse capacities in missions, gospel preaching and church planting are the preeminent components of missions.
A comparison of the sermons preached by Peter and those preached by Paul give further evidence that God is no longer offering the kingdom of heaven to Israel, but instead, is bringing all men into the spiritual, internal kingdom of God. Peter’s sermon is simply, “You Jews killed our Messiah and rejected the kingdom. Repent and be water baptized” (see Acts 2:36-38; 3:15, 19, 20). Paul’s message, however, is, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through [Jesus] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Peter’s message is the gospel of the kingdom, while Paul’s is the gospel of grace (see 13:42, 43).
Acts 13:4 – 14:26 is the record of Paul’s first missionary journey in approximately 46 AD. On this first journey the gospel was preached and churches were planted on the Island of Cyprus, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Perga; all cities, except Cyprus, are in Galatia which is modern day Turkey. The journey took approximately two years and covered nearly 1,250 miles!