Acts 13:13-52 – A Light for the Gentiles



Paul (who was Saul) and Barnabas continue in their mission to take the gospel abroad. They had been sent by the church in Antioch (already a Gentile area), having been called by God, to go and preach the word of God and make disciples. They were successful on the island of Paphos to convert the Roman Procunsul to believe the good news. Their tactic has been to find local Jewish synagogues first before presenting the news to the greater community.



  • 13-15 Paul is invited to speak in a Pisidian Antioch synagogue
  • 16-25 Paul’s address on the history of Israel
    • 16-20 Exodus to the Promised Land
    • 20-22 The Judges to David
    • 23-25 David to Jesus through John
  • 26-41 Paul’s address continues to show Jesus as Messiah
    • 26-31 Jesus was rejected in Jerusalem but God raised him from the dead
    • 32-37 How the prophets spoke about Jesus
    • 38-41 Take care to receive Jesus
  • 42-44 Paul and Barnabas invited back
  • 44-52 The Split reaction to the message

13-15 Paul is invited to speak in a Pisidian Antioch synagogue

“…where John left them…” Remember that this is John who is called Mark (Acts 12:12). A significant little secondary character in the New Testament as he pops up in the story of Acts and later in the Epistles – he may have even appeared in the gospel of Mark (Mark 14:52). His departing in this verse is later viewed as a kind of untrustworthiness from Paul  (Acts 15:37-38).

“On the Sabbath, they entered the synagogue and sat down.” This was Paul’s approach to taking the gospel into the world: start with where God has planted a seed – the Jewish community. Although Paul and Barnabas relied on the Spirit and God’s sovereignty, they also had a strategy of moving forward. They didn’t just walk out the door and see what happens, they proceeded in a planned fashion.

“the Law and the Prophets” This is a Jewish way of describing the Old Testament since the parts were made up of the Law being the first five books and the prophets, evertyhing else. (Matt 7:12; 22:40; Lk 16:16; Rom 3:21 – also Lk 16:29, 31; 24:44)

“..a word of exhortation…” Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak to the people. Their invitation was about taking the word of God and expounding it, applying it, explaining it. They were being asked to encourage the brothers from the scriptures. This is how we apply preaching today – taking a passage of scripture and expounding it to those present to provide encouragement and application.

16-25 Paul’s address on the history of Israel

16-20 Exodus to the Promised Land

“Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God…” Being in the synagogue, he was clearly addressing people who feared the God of the Jews. He doesn’t distinguish between two religions here but between national and non-national Jews. It must be remembered that God made Israel a light to the nations and predicted that people from all nations would come to God through Israel – they were a type of mediator for all the nations. The book of Jonah teaches us that God had other nations in mind to repent and worship him. Daniel and Isaiah are two other clear books on the subject but the whole bible speaks of God having a concern for the whole world – but he would redeem the world through the Jews.

“All this took about 450 years.” Paul extracted a few facts from the story of Genesis to Joshua, covering hundreds of years in a single sentence. What’s important here is that Paul is able to read the entire Pentateuch and Joshua and see that the whole thing is telling a story – it’s a story of God choosing to treat one nation as his. Paul is doing what we have labelled today as “Biblical Theology” – being able to see the overarching story which holds all of the bible together. This is not a modern way of reading the scriptures but it is a Christian way of doing it. If you asked a Jew before Jesus (say David or Moses or Daniel) how do you love God, they would answer, “by obeying the Law.” If you ask Paul how do you love God, he might answer, “by knowing him and worshipping him in Spirit and in truth.” Paul has begun his sermon on what the Bible has to say about Promise and Fulfillment. Paul can see Jesus in the Old Testament story.

  • “God…chose our ancestors.” See Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8.
  • “made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt” The story skips all of the details of Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. They slow the story down to confuse the point.
  • “with might power he led them out of that country.” Names like Moses are not significant. God is the one acting in this story and Moses shall not take centre stage.
  • “he endured their conduct.” In a quick phrase, Paul has included the fact that the people were not great or worth treating as special – they were something which God endured.
  • “giving their land to his people.” the first stage of the story closes with the receiving of land as a gift.

20-22 The Judges to David

“Then the people asked for a king.” This phase of the Biblical story takes us from Joshua to David. The book of Judges was a time when apparently nobody was in charge of Israel. On the one hand, this is a great thing because everybody is dependant on God to lead them. But the reality of sin means that everybody did what was right in their own eyes. Although the people wanted a king, God would make sure that they received a king who was good for them – one after his own heart (this phrase is ambiguous and can mean that David loved God but it can also mean that God loved David – the ambiguity is best not to be resolved and just enjoy the fact that when someone is a God seeker, they are also one who God has sought). This period of Judges to David was also about 300 years.

23-25 David to Jesus through John

“John preached repentance and baptism…” When John was preparing the way for the Saviour that God had brought, he did that by calling Israel to repent and commit their lives to God. The baptism that he gave was in the Jordan river which was a kind of reenactment of the crossing into the promised land. The point is that John was calling people to turn their lives back to God.

“…there is one coming after me…” Paul lands the story briefly with John, a notable and memorable figure in their modern history whose ministry was to point people to Jesus, the one coming after him. The whole story of Genesis to Malachi has been the story of one coming who is worthy to be found. Paul takes the second half of his exhortation to prove that Jesus is the one, just as the scriptures affirm.

Note that the first book of the New Testament begins with a list of names taking us through a similar storyline that Paul used. Matthew Chapter one contains the ancestors of Jesus divided in similarly to Paul’s story.

26-41 Paul’s address continues to show Jesus as Messiah

26-31 Jesus was rejected in Jerusalem but God raised him from the dead

“…this message of salvation…” This is how Paul views the entire Old Testament and the promises to Abraham and his children – a message of salvation! Jesus is the point of that salvation. But when Jesus came, he was not recognised by his own people – the children of the promise. John’s gospel opens with this kind of language.

“…yet…they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.” Paul isn’t referring to a particular verse of scripture which is read every Sabbath but to the Law and the Prophets which all speak of the Messiah (Lk 24:44). Yet, in rejecting the Christ, they did exactly as God had “predicted”.

“…they asked Pilate to have him executed….God raised him from the dead…” Paul’s sermon follows a very similar structure to Peter’s sermons in early Acts and to Stephen’s sermon in Act 7. Jesus is the fulfillment to God’s promises, he was rejected by his people but raised by God and seen by many. Paul recites a short, memorable structure in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 which seems to have been a type of creed taught among Christians. It states the facts that Jesus died, was buried and rose on the third day, all in fulfillment of Scripture and he appeared for many to see.

32-37 How the prophets spoke about Jesus

Paul now takes a few quotes from the Psalms to show that there is a description weeved throughout the scriptures of someone who is God’s son, who will receive the promises given to David (see 2 Sam 7) and who will not see decay. Jesus fulfills these promises.

38-41 Take care to receive Jesus

Paul ends his sermon with two possible outcomes: 1) you believe that Jesus is the promised one and you will receive forgiveness of sins which the law of Moses cannot give; 2) scoff at the news and reject the one who God has sent. The choice is over to them now.

The ramifications of the first outcome are amazing. One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is that Paul no longer distinguishes between Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. He simply says that “everyone who believes is set free from every sin.”

42-44 Paul and Barnabas invited back

“…the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.” This is a successful outcome for the missionaries. They have opened up the minds of their hearers to the message of Jesus and have been given a second chance to speak more.

“…many…followed Paul and Barnabas, who…urged them to continue in the grace of God.” A second outcome was that some people (many) stayed with the missionaries, talking more, not waiting another week to hear further. These followers were urged to continue in the grace of God. This is cool! They were not being told to abandon Judaism but to continue in the grace of God – I take it by receiving the grace through Jesus! Just as the Bible is the outflowing story of the grace of God which leads its hearers to Jesus, the faith of the Jew is to continue in the scriptures, studying the grace of God which is Jesus.

“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Now this is a great outcome of the first sermon – that even more people come. Folk had been talking all week about this news and now, not just the converts to Judaism but other Gentiles in the city came to hear how salvation has come to everybody who believes in Jesus. And they have come to hear what God has to say. They want Paul to talk to them about the word of the Lord.

Wouldn’t it be great to pray for an impact in church like this one?!

45-52 The Split reaction to the message

“…the Jews…were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying.” What a terrible sin it is for people to love themselves more than they love God. How were these Jews being a light for the Gentiles? They were not! Sure, they included some God-fearing Gentiles in their mix but that is ok, since they are still Gentiles – not truly Jews. Power and the feeling of being special rated higher for them than truth. Didn’t they hear that they were not God’s people because they were special? To contradict what Paul was saying could mean that they disagreed with this biblical knowledge or that they disagreed with his testimony about Jesus. But when you are not for Jesus, you are against him.

“We had to speak the word of God to you first.” Well, God had chosen the descendants of Abraham and Jesus said that the gospel must go out, first to the Jew and then to the Gentiles. Paul uses this same sequence in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Paul does not believe that all of the descendants of Abraham will be saved but that all of Israel must hear the gospel and have the opportunity to believe. If they do not believe, they will face the same condemnation – no worse – than the Gentiles.

“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” See Isaiah 49:6. This is an Old Testament verse. Several hundred years before Jesus came, God had made Israel the spokespeople, the watchmen, the lighthouse for the whole world – that everybody will come to God for salvation!

“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord…” The Gentiles heard from the Jewish scriptures that salvation is for the whole world – that salvation was for them – that they are not the dregs but much loved by God and welcome into his kingdom! They heard that the bible spoke about them! That God loves them! The Jews, by and large, heard that God was for them and them alone. They failed at their lighthouse ministry.

“But the Jewish leaders…” Jealousy and hate flows out of anyone who does not call on the name of the Lord.

“So they shook the dust off…and…were filled with joy…” The mindset of the disciples was that all who follow Jesus will be persecuted. The world will hate them because it hated Jesus first (Jn 15:18). They had said what they needed to say among the Jews and the word of God had successfully achieved its purpose – it saved some and condemned others. Our place in the mission is not to argue everybody into the Kingdom of God. We preach the word of the Lord and let the Spirit call “all who were appointed for eternal life” to believe.

“The word of the Lord”. It’s worth pausing to think about this little phrase. It’s a phrase that, on face value, means “the words that the Lord has spoken,” or “the message from the Lord”. Gen 15:1 “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision…” It’s a phrase occurring 237 times in the whole bible. Fifty-seven of those times occur in the book of Ezekiel alone! It is about the message that God wants us to hear. A direct revelation from God – the LORD who is Yahweh. In the New Testament, the phrase occurs 10 times and nine of those are in the book of Acts. The Old Testament came to be through the prophets writing down the words of God and combining them with the narrative which explains and illumines them. The narrative, explains Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, is also God’s word.

In Acts 8:25, Peter “proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus…preaching the gospel.” What was once about direct revelation from God to a prophet, is now being used to sum up the scriptures. Peter expresses that it’s the word of God which is preached when the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed (1 Peter 1:23-25). We do not abandon any of the scriptures when we preach Jesus. We embrace them and continue to teach it because they speak of Jesus as Lord.


Jesus Christ is God’s gift of salvation to all the earth. The whole of the bible speaks of him fulfilling the promises of God. He is the saviour to everybody who believes and therefore, the scriptures are for everybody to hear and adore.

2 Timothy 3:15 “…you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”


  1. Knowing the word of the Lord. Paul’s understanding of the bible meant that he could see how everything is connected to Jesus. It didn’t matter whether he was preaching to Jews or Gentiles, he used the word of the Lord to show how it is written for all to put their trust in Jesus. Biblical Theology is a modern term used to describe this approach to reading the bible. Being able to read the bible the way Paul did helps us to reach better understanding on everything about this world and to grow in our maturity in Jesus. Reading the Old Testament as Law and ancient history is only a shallow reading. If you would like to grow in your knowledge of God, learn to read the bible as a whole. The “God’s Big Picture Plus” course is aimed to do this. As is the Moore College Distance Learning subject called “Introduction to the Bible.”
  2. Being a light in the world. Although God chose Abraham’s descendants to receive his blessings, they were intended to be a light to the world. This same principle applies to Christians. We are saved and are called to proclaim the word of the Lord to the world (2 Peter 1:9-10; Matt 28:19-20). We live each day because God is holding back his wrath so that more people may hear and respond to the gospel (Romans 2:4).
  3. Loving the gospel regardless of the response to it. Knowing when to speak and when to walk away is a tough thing. Paul’s strategy was to arrive at a new place and seek a Jewish community to speak to. From there, opportunity arose to speak broader than that. His tactic was not to speak only to those who he knew would respond well. History assured him that the Jews could easily reject him and persecute him. When and where to speak are strategic decisions but whether to say something or nothing is really not that hard. Whenever there is opportunity to say something, say it. Let the Spirit call in the elect and learn to rejoice no matter what the outcome. The evangelist, John Chapman, used to ask himself when he returned home from preaching, “Did I preach Jesus? Was I clear? Did I call people to respond? Then shut up and go to bed.”