Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Barnabas and Saul Commissioned for Service

A study of Acts 13:1-3

James R. Gray 

Acts 13 is a natural division in the Book of Acts. Acts is divided into two parts, the first part running to the end of chapter 12, and the second from chapter 13 to the end of the book. Up to chapter 12 the major area of the working of God was centered in Jerusalem and the nation of Israel. Up to this point Luke has dealt primarily with the renewed offer of the Kingdom to the nation Israel.[1] Now a major transition is seen. The ministry unto Israel becomes less and less, while the outreach to the Gentiles becomes prominent. The rejection of the gospel of the kingdom by Israel becomes explicit—“since you [Israel] repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (13:46; cf. 18:6; 28:28). At this point, “partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles[2] has come in” (Rom. 11:25). Therefore Paul reaches out in the first journey to the Asia Minor. Marshall points out the importance of the event saying, “…it describes the first piece of planned ‘overseas mission’ carried out by representatives of a particular church, rather than by solitary individuals, and begun by a deliberate church decision, inspired by the Spirit, rather than somewhat more casually as a result of persecution.”[3]

 I.                   The Missionary Commission—13:1-3

While there had been some Gentile contact by the Twelve Apostles, these served only to set up and prepare the readers for Paul’s ministry and travels to reach the Gentiles. Acts 13 officially opens the door to the Gentile mission. DeWitt makes three vital observations:

a. Luke’s commission specifies that the world mission begin at Jerusalem ([Luke] 24:47). b. The apostles accordingly confine their mission to seeking Israel’s repentance at Jerusalem (Acts 3:18-16); even when scattering from the Stephen controversy occurs, they remain in the city (Acts 8:1). c. When Peter cites Jesus’ post-resurrection commission to the apostles, he states that Jesus commanded them to preach to ‘the people’ (Acts 10:42; Gr. Laos—Israel, in Luke’s usage). The data harmonized without exception when understood in this way: the Gentile mission was a movement of the Spirit, independent of the original mission to Israel operated by the Twelve, and independent of Israel’s law; this reality is attested by the agreement on division of labor between Paul and the Twelve according to Galatians 2.”[4]

A.    Set Apart by the Spirit—13:1-2

That the call and commission of Paul was of God is clear at his conversion in Acts 9:15. Saul (a.k.a. Paul) is now one of the leaders in Antioch. Five leaders are mentioned: “Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch and Saul” (Acts 13:1). Of these five, Barnabas and Saul are well-known to most believers. The other three have been lost in the halls of history, except for the following information recorded by Luke:

  • Simeon, a.k.a. Niger. His name Simeon is Hebrew, and Niger is a Latin name he may have assumed. He probably received the name because of his dark complexion.[5] He was a Hellenistic Jew that evidently moved in Roman circles. It has been conjectured that he is the Simon who carried the cross (Luke 23:26), but Scripture does not make that connection. It is doubtful that they are the same because of the fact that the name is spelled differently by Luke.
  • Lucius of Cyrene. Lucius is a common Roman name, and he came from Cyrene. He may have ended up in Rome. Some have identified him as the “kinsmen” of Romans 16:21, possible but unprovable. He may have been one of the men who first preached to the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:20) and stayed as a leader in the church. While some identified him as Luke himself, that is very improbable and not taken seriously. As Longenecker points out, “if Luke has refrained from identifying himself with Paul’s missionary journeys, except through the occasional use of the pronoun ‘we,’ it is hardly likely that he would point to himself by name.[6]
  • Manaen, who was brought up with Herod Antipas. The word translated brought up is the Greek word suntrofov / suntrophos meaning nursed with another, intimate friend, or friend of the court. Bruce suggests it as a title—“foster-brother”—applied to boys of the same age brought into the court to be raised up with the son of Herod.[7] Manaen was a man of influence who had courtly and aristocratic connections. Marshall suggests he was Luke’s source of information about the Herodian family.[8] Notice, two men, the same environment and education, yet going in two different directions: one from God (Herod), the other toward God (Manaen). 
The five men are a microcosm of the Church, the body of Christ. They came from different lands, nationalities, and backgrounds to join in one body, teaching both Jew and Gentile in Antioch. The Jewish remnant was nationalistic and centered in Jerusalem. Antioch becomes the center of unification of Jew and Gentile, and universal outreach. Becker says that “Antioch’s great service is, namely, to have embarked on the road to non-Jews.”[9]   

These men are identified as “prophets and teachers” (13:1). These are gifts of leadership in the early church. Longenecker maintains that the Greek construction, with the particle te (untranslatable), is used to connect pairs. He says the first te to refer to those with the gift of prophecy, and the second te indicate the teachers.[10] The first group is said to be the prophets—Barnabas, Simeon, and Lucius. The second, Manaen and Saul are the teachers. This may be making too much of the text. Paul gave prophecy in his ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 13:9, 14:6). Harrison points out that all five may have had the double gift of teaching and prophecy.[11] One would think that if particular pairs were indicated, and then Barnabas and Saul would have been in the same grouping, since they were identified together since coming to Antioch (11:30, 12:25). However, they are not paired together in the list of names pointing toward all five having the double gifts.

 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ ” (Acts 13:2). The word they most naturally refers back to the five men listed in verse 1, although some hold it probably refers to the church as a whole.[12] The verse indicates that they were active in serving the Lord. The word ministering (Leitourgountwn / leitourgeo) is a compound word combining the words public and work, thus public work or service for the benefit of others. The Greek word is the origin of the English word liturgy. Originally it referred to doing public service at one’s own expense. It means to minister or serve. In the Old Testament it is a technical word indicating priestly service to God.[13] It came to indicate not only service, but worship. Some modern versions give the loose translation of worship. It reminds us that true service is worship. For in service we are honoring our master, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important to be aware that the object of our service is not primarily for self, nor to others, but to the Lord. Serving others is how we serve Him, but He is the object of our service. It is for His honor and glory we serve. Service is an avenue of worship.

Fasting is an interesting reference, especially since it is connected with ministering. From this connection, Petersen suggests that this service and fasting may be that of a prayer meeting.[14] He suggests that ministering to the Lord may refer to prayer. The suggestion seems to have merit in the light of the context. Pious Jews fasted twice a week, and it was carried over into many of the local believing assemblies (Acts 14:23; 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27). Fasting is never commanded in the New Testament; in fact it is never commanded in the Bible. While the early church fasted, it was not a requirement. If one fasted, it was not for showing off their spirituality; rather it was for meditation and prayer in seeking understanding and closer fellowship with God. It is a personal issue, not a dispensational one. Baker notes that “Fasting becomes legalism when it is made a ritual and when it is believed to be a special work of merit. …They were so concerned that they continued in prayer without though of taking time to satisfy their own appetites. There is nothing wrong with fasting in any dispensation if it is thus motivated.”[15]

It was during this time that the Holy Spirit instructs them to set apart Barnabas and Saul (a.k.a. Paul) for the work which they were called. The Holy Spirit is the impetus of the call to separation. It is the Holy Spirit that designates the action. The word “set apart” is the Greek word Aforisate / aphorisate, which comes from the word holy, indicating being set apart for a special task and being equipped to complete the task. It is the Spirit that calls and enables us for service for His glory. The church and its leaders can only acknowledge the call by setting them apart for the task they had been called. In the Greek text is the invitatory participle[16] [dh] which is untranslated in English, but indicates immediate action (now set apart, or set apart now). The action is to be immediate. When the Spirit directs, action is to be taken.

B. Sent Out by the Church—13:3.

In obedience, the brethren commissioned Barnabas and Saul. “Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (13:3). The word then is the Greek word tote / tote, a demonstrative adverb of time, denoting at that time. The word has the implication of simultaneously, but it can be used of consequent (subsequent) events.[17] In this instance the phrase “when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them” sets up a subsequent event. It indicates that after fasting and praying for God’s blessing and guidance, then the leadership laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul. The laying on of hands was not for empowerment, but the bestowal of blessing (cf. Gen. 48:13, Matt. 19:13, 15). It was a commissioning for the purpose of service. They then released them from their duties in Antioch and sent them to fulfill their ministry. Whom God calls, He commissions; whom He commissions, He enables; whom He enables, He sends to serve.

[1]  Baxter, Gasp of the Bible, 307-311.
[2]  It is the author’s view is that this is not the same as the times of the Gentiles, which began in the days of Daniel. The fullness of the Gentiles is the present dispensation of Grace (or the Mystery) which will end at the rapture of the Church. At that point God will continue to deal with Israel, and all Israel will be saved, and the deliverer will come (Rom. 11:25-28).
[3]  Marshall, Acts, 228.
[4]  DeWitt, Dispensational Theology in America, 178.
[5]  Bruce, Acts, 244.
[6]  Longenecker, Acts, 416,
[7]  Bruce, 245.
[8]  Marshall, 228.
[9]  Becker, Apostle of the Gentiles, 84.
[10]  Longenecker, 416. Also Constable, Notes on Acts, 174.
[11]  Harrison, Acts, 214. Bachand, Restoring the Kingdom, also holds this, 265.
[12]  Constable, 175.
[13]  Petersen,  Acts, 375.
[14]  Ibid, 375. Whereas, others feel it is a congregational worship service; Bock, 439. From reading the text it feels more like a small meeting where the leadership got together for prayer and fasting. It is reinforced by the text using “them” and “they” in verse 3, referring naturally back to the five mentioned in verse 1. However, one cannot be dogmatic. There can be no question that the congregation would be in agreement with the action.
[15]  Baker, 78.
[16]  Identified as such by Witherington, 393.
[17]  Vine, 4:123.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Psalm 1

It is a great Psalm of contrast between the godly man and the wicked man. Yet the both seem to have these characteristics in common:

  1. Both were driven. One was driven by the Word of God and planted by the living waters. The other is driven by the wind of circumstance, profanity, and self-deception to which he yields.
  2. Both are separated. One separates himself from the wicked. The other is separated unto wickedness.
  3. Both live the lifestyles they have given themselves.
  4. Both reach their destination. One is blessedness, the other is doom.

Man can live a way, a truth, and a life; but only the Way (v.1), the Truth (v.2) and the Life (v.3) are found in Jesus—John 14:6. He is the way to blessedness.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


"We should learn to judge ourselves and to place more implicit confidence in God, to set self aside, that He might act in us, through us, and for us. This is the true secret of power" (C. H. Mackintosh)

Monday, November 21, 2011


This is from CHRIST THE SPARROW by Anthony Zeoli, written in 1942. On one of the little things found in Scripture is the tongue in James 3, he writes:

Little Tongue—“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” James 3:5

The tongue is a little member, but it does great damage.

Little tongue—But it boast great things—v. 5.
  Little tongue—But it is a world of iniquity—v. 6.
    Little tongue—But it defileth the whole body—v.6.
      Little tongue—But it sets Hell on fire—v. 6.
         Little tongue—But who can tame it?—v. 7.
            Little tongue—But it is an unruly member—v. 8.
               Little tongue—But it is full of deadly poison—v.8.

The little tongue can cut deeply. It is a sharp instrument. It cuts deeply into one’s spirit and into one’s soul. This little member shows no mercy when it runs wild and is loose. Beware of the little tongue!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Content of the Vision in Revelation 1

Revelation 1:12-16

John’s back was turned when he heard the words and given the commission. Now he turns around to see who was behind him, or as the text says “to see the voice” (1:12). Upon turning, he sees a twofold vision:

First, we see His Position   

  • I saw seven golden lampstands” (1:12). A lampstand were seven gold stands for portable oil lamps (not candles). The image comes from the OT and the tabernacle and temple—Ex. 25:31-40; 1 Kings 7:48-49; Zech. 4:2, 10. John saw realities, but the realities where symbols, and symbols of the seven churches or assemblies (cf. 1:20).

  • And in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man” (1:13). The second part of the vision is a person. It is the Son of Man standing in the middle of the lampstands. Evidently the lampstands form a circle, and the Son of Man is standing in the middle. (It is interesting that the location of the seven churches follow a circular pattern.) The Son of Man is a title from mainly the prophet Ezekiel (used over 100 times), and in Daniel (8:17, 7:13 cf. Mk 13:26). Christ used it of himself over 70 times in the Gospels. The title emphasizes the humanity of Christ in relation to the earth. Paul never refers to Christ as the Son of Man; that is because the term has special relationship to the King and the Kingdom.[1] Walvoord notes that “the title emphasizes His humanity and Messianic character.[2] The Son of Man was of the line of David, Abraham, and Adam (Matt. 1:1,6; Luke 3;31, 24). The Son of Man is coming again to reap the harvest (Rev. 14:14). It relates to Jesus’ capacity as judge (cf. John 5:22, 27; Acts 17:31). Therefore, the vision, as well as these assemblies, has a special relationship to end time Messianic events, Israel, and the world. His being the Son of Man provides Him the Messianic role as kinsman-redeemer and as judge.

Second, we see His Person.

  • His dress—“Clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.” (1:13). There is a debate as to the robe and sash. Many take it as speaking of priestly dress. This has strong Old Testament connections. It was the priest, who dressed in the long priest robes that kept the candlesticks in order day and night (Lev 24:3-4). The Greek word poderes is used only here by Matthew in the New Testament. It is used in the OT for priestly attire, 6 out of 7 times[3] (Ex. 39:29).  The girdle of the chest corresponds to the priestly girdle on the breast (Ex. 28:4; 29:5; 39:39; Lev. 16:4). This connects well with Christ standing in the midst of the candlesticks. Others take it to be the robe worn by dignitaries and rulers.[4] Support comes from Ezekiel 9:2 where a man so dressed has the task of setting the mark on good men before destruction comes. There is no connection in this passage that indicates a priestly function. “This setting of impending judgment from Ezekiel fits one of the principle thrusts of the visions to follow in the Apocalypse,” notes Thomas.[5] Both sides have merit. However, it seems to me by the word used, and the imagery of the robe and the lampstand, reminding one of the temple, it is best to take this as a priestly image here.

  • His Hair (1:14). “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow” (1:14). Mounce suggest that the translation should read, “His head, that is, His hair.”[6] This translation indicates why all the elements of the head are not listed together. There is no question this phrase connects with Daniel 7:9, where it speaks of the Ancient of Days. While in the OT it describes God the Father, here John refers them to Christ. John often grants Christ the attributes and titles previously attributed to God the Father (cf. 1:18; 2:8; 5;12; 22:13).[7] The Father and the Son are one. The white hair, described as wool and snow, speaks of Christ’s sinless purity (Isa. 1:18).  There is also a connection with wisdom (cf. Mic. 5:1). He is the wise and pure one.

  • His eyes—“and His eyes were like a flame of fire” (1:14). This is the focal point of Christ. His eyes are specifically pointed out as being like a flame of fire, penetrating eyes that look into a man’s very soul. It specifically centers upon   omniscience and judgment. They are the means in which He knows their works (Rev. 2:19), searches the minds and hearts (Rev. 2:23). It is impossible to escape His piercing eyes. Those piercing eyes are an identifying mark in Rev. 19:12. Clearly Revelation illustrates the words, “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all thing are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). There is no hiding from Him.

  • His feet—“His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace (1:15). Origin and meaning of the Greek uncertain. Thomas notes, “One explanation assigns it the meaning of ‘smelted’ or ‘refined,’ referring to metal that has been purified and therefore has a greater shine to it.... The defense of this meaning lies in a comparable usage of the word in Rev. 3:18 with this meaning.[8] This is similar terminology in Daniel 10:6 which speaks of polished bronze. Garland holds that the shoe speaks of defense against the defilement of the earth.[9] Mounce points out it speaks of strength and stability.[10] Brass and fire stand for divine judgment as seen in the Old Testament types of the brazen altar and other items of brass used in connection with sacrifice for sin (Ex. 38:30). His feet went though the fire of judgment on the Cross, yet victorious.

  • His Voice—“and His voice was like the sound of many waters (1:15). John knows what a loud sound that water can make being on the Aegean Sea. If you have ever been at Niagara Falls and heard the deafing sound of rushing water over the falls, you would experience the sound of many waters. It is the sound of power. It is the same voice that earlier is described as loud as a trumpet (1:10).

  • His Hand—“In His right hand He held seven stars” (1:16). The right hand symbolizes power and authority (Psa. 110:1; Matt. 26:64).  The world held is the Greek word echon, which has the sense of to have, to hold fast, to possess, or to keep, or preserve. Some take it as a symbol of safekeeping (cf. John 10:28). However, others see it as symbol of authority and control.[11] It indicates both possessing and protecting.[12] What He is holding and protecting is the seven stars. Stars are symbols expressing three things in Scripture: Multitudes (Gen. 15:5); persons in authority (Dan. 8:10; Rev. 6:13) and subordinate powers (Gen. 37:9; Rev. 12:1). Revelation 1:20 identifies them as “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.”  They are ones in subordinate powers and authority to the Lord, who holds them in His hand.

  • His Mouth—“and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword(1:16). This is clearly a reference to the Word of God (Cf. Hebrews 4:12). The image is drawn from of the prophet Isaiah (49:2) that foretells of the Messiah.[13] In Hebrews 4 the word is that of a short dagger. A different Greek word is used by John. The Greek word for sword is found in two books, Luke (2:35) and Revelation (1:16; 2:12, 16; 6:8; 19:15). The word used describes a long, heavy, broad sword used for the purpose of executing justice. In the context of Revelation, 2:16 uses the similar phrase to indicate judgment. Notice in Revelation it is identified with war (2:16), kill (6:8), strike down, and rule (19:15). Thus, the Sword is the execution of divine judgment simply by His Word. It is the instrument of His wrath. As Scott observes, “We never read of our Lord personally putting His hand on His enemies.”[14]

  • His Face—“His face was like the sun shining to its strength” (1:16). This speaks of His glory. It is said that the sun gives off 40,000 watts off light per square inch.[15] However, the brilliance of the sun is pale compared to the glory of Christ.  Its strength speaks of the height of brilliance. Matthew tells us that on the Mount of Transfiguration, “his face shone like the sun” (Matt. 17:2). What a glorious vision of Christ. It is one of majesty and power. No longer is His deity and glory veiled as it was in the days of his incarnation. It is a vision of the glory of the exalted, resurrected Christ in the midst of His people in the time of tribulation.

[1]  Bullinger, APOCALYPSE, 16.
[2]  Walvoord, REVELATION, 44.
[3]  This is debatable. Mounce, REVELATION, says it is seven of seven, 58.
[4]  Thomas, REVELATION 1:99
[5]  Ibid, 1:99
[6]  Mounce, 58.
[7]  Thomas, 1:101.
[8]  Thomas, 1:102.
[9]  Garland, REVELATION, 191.
[10]  Mounce, 59.
[11]  Thomas, 1:103.
[12]  Osborne, REVEATION 91.
[13]  Osborne, 92.
[15]  Keil, REVELATION, electronic media.