Speaker: Paul (primarily)
Audience: Jews and God-fearing Gentiles (vv. 16, 26). God-fearing Gentiles were Gentiles who were repulsed by the immorality of paganism and attracted to the morality and monotheism of Judaism. They had not, however, actually become proselytes to Judaism as some other Gentiles had. They were often very responsive to the gospel.
Occasion: Paul, Barnabas and other traveling companions attended Jewish synagogue worship in Pisidian Antioch in ancient Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It was customary for the leader of a synagogue to extend to any visiting Rabbi an invitation to speak, and so they offered Paul this opportunity.
Result: Many Jews and God-fearers became believers and the people invited Paul to speak again. The next Sabbath almost the whole town gathered to hear the word of the Lord, but the Jews were jealous, contradicted Paul and heaped abuse on him. So Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles and many of them believed.
As we have noted in all the other messages in Acts, God again gave the opportunity for his people to speak, in this case by the synagogue leader’s invitation for them to do so. Note, too, however, that Paul showed initiative by going to the synagogue, knowing that such an invitation would be offered.
Luke’s account of the actual message is recorded in 13:16-41. It includes God’s work among the Jews, John the Baptist’s preaching, God’s bringing the Savior Jesus as he had promised, the Jews failing to recognize him and so killing him, God’s raising him from the dead, the offer of forgiveness and justification by believing in Jesus, the evidence of eyewitnesses and the Scriptures, and a warning not to reject God’s work.
The references to events in Jewish history are especially appropriate to a synagogue audience. It is not really a history lesson, however, since it is presented as the work of God and covers only from the choosing of the patriarchs to King David. From David Paul jumps immediately to God bringing forth the Savior Jesus from David’s descendants. It was well known that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, so it appears that David was the focus of Paul’s references to the Old Testament story (Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 21:9; 22:42; cf. Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8). We would describe this message as a deductive approach since Paul states his primary point early on, that God has brought Israel the Savior Jesus (13:23).
Paul next mentions John the Baptist’s work and message (vv. 24-25; cf. 10:37). The focus is that John wasn’t the one they were looking for but rather there was one coming after him. These are clearly references to their expectation of the Messiah, although Paul does not use the word Christ or Messiah in this message. Notice that the focus of John’s words was on the person who was to come, not merely the blessings that were to come.
Paul then states his primary point again in somewhat different words, that the message of salvation has been sent to us (v. 26). The “us” clearly includes the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles he is specifically addressing in the verse and also seems to imply “us who are living in this time of the fulfillment of God’s plan.” Salvation is indeed a great blessing God gives through Christ. God promised to send the Savior, and he did so through Jesus (vv. 23, 26; 2:21, 40; 4:12; 16:30-31). Salvation was sent to Israel first but then extended to the Gentiles (13:48; 28:28). Salvation includes having the forgiveness of sins and being justified (13:38-39), though we’ve noted it includes more than this as well (see post).
After mentioning salvation again (v. 26), Paul then tells the story of Jesus. Remember, the gospel is news—a story. He says that he Jews’ failed to recognize who Jesus is (v. 27). This is a failure to see the main point that was stressed over and over in the messages in Acts, the identity of Jesus. Consequently, they condemned him, killed him and buried him (vv. 27-29). Like Peter in Acts 10, Paul says “they” condemned Jesus, referring to the Jews in Jerusalem. But God raised him from the dead! (v. 30). Notice again Paul presents the resurrection as God’s work and that it is in contrast to the Jews in Jerusalem killing him. Paul also says Jesus was seen by eyewitnesses, a form of evidence we have encountered before. It is interesting that Paul says “they” are now witnesses (v. 31). Even though Jesus appeared to Paul later on by revelation more than once (Acts 9; 1 Corinthians 15:8; 2 Corinthians 12:1, 7), he is referring here to those who saw him in person on earth after his resurrection. This is a unique kind of eyewitness. This reference, however, indicates that there is something to be said for telling about the existence of eyewitnesses even if you aren’t one personally.
Then, for a third time (cf. vv. 23, 26), Paul states his main point, as a matter of good news. Here the wording is that God has fulfilled his promise (of a Savior, v. 23) by raising up Jesus (vv. 32-33). The good news is that God has sent Jesus. The raising in the next verse (v. 34) is clearly a reference to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, so the raising in v. 33 likely refers to God sending Jesus to earth, parallel to the way he raised up various other leaders for special purposes (Exodus 9:16; Judges 2:16; 1 Kings 11:14; 14:7; Psalm 89:19). The Scripture support for God raising up Jesus is Psalm 2:7, a Royal Psalm that describes a king being adopted by God as his son upon his coronation. This is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus as this verse and others show (Hebrews 1:5-6; 5:5). Though Luke does not record any use of the word “Christ” in this message, the idea of Jesus being a King or Anointed One is clearly present in this citation. Paul then refers to two more Scriptures to show that God raised Jesus from the dead, namely Isaiah 55:3 (in Acts 13:34) and Psalm 16:10 (in Acts 13:35). You may recall Peter also used Psalm 16 in his message in Acts 2 (vv. 25-28). As Peter had done, Paul explains that the verse couldn’t be talking about David and so must be referring to the Messiah (Acts 13:36-37).
Therefore, based on all he has said, Paul again repeats his point that forgiveness of sins and justification are proclaimed through Jesus to all who believe (Acts 13:38-39). These are the two specific blessings of salvation mentioned in this message. Notice that the blessings are “through Jesus” (v. 38) and “through him” (v. 39). The blessings are not isolated from the one through whom they come. It is because of who Jesus is that we can receive these blessings. We don’t preach salvation; we preach Jesus, and salvation is in him.
Believing is the one response to the message Paul mentions on this occasion (v. 39; cf. 48). He doesn’t say to believe “in Jesus” but his message makes clear that is what he meant. The opposite response was seen the following week when many chose to “reject” the word of God and so not consider themselves worthy of eternal life (v. 46). Paul concludes his message with a warning from Scripture (Habakkuk 1:5) not to reject God’s work (v. 41; cf. 2:40; 3:23).
There were at least three different responses to the message on this occasion, all of which we can expect still today. First, some wanted to hear more (v. 42, cf. v. 44). Note that not everyone was converted upon a first hearing of the message. Others did embrace the message Paul spoke (v. 43). The word “grace” (v. 43) is not mentioned as a subject in the message proper, but the fact that God was working to send the Savior and provide forgiveness shows that all the good things we stand to receive from him are possible only by God’s grace. Third, however, many also rejected the message (vv. 45-46). Their jealousy (an emotion) led them to reject the message (a decision) and in so doing they deemed themselves unworthy of eternal life (a self-judgment, v. 46). Their rejection led Paul to turn and speak to the Gentiles. Notice that Paul understood the Scripture in Isaiah 49:6 as the Lord commanding him to do something. He believed the Scripture applied to him. Jesus himself had given similar commandments to the eleven to speak to the Gentiles (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).
Some have taken Acts13:48 to support the notion that God determined in the beginning who all would and would not be saved. Scripture does indeed describe God’s plan and work for our salvation (Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 8:28-30), but it also states God’s desire for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), the availability of the gospel for all (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 7:38), and the ability for us to choose or reject him (Luke 7:30; John 12:37; Acts 13:46). So the Bible describes both God’s plan and work, on the one hand, and our response and cooperation, on the other. The best way I’ve found to honor both aspects of these teachings is to understand that God works his plan to save us based on his foreknowledge of how we will respond to him (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2). It appears to me that Acts 13:48 is a description of God’s foreknowledge and work.
The message in Acts 13 contains some unique features, such as God’s work among Israel, more about John the Baptist than we’ve seen previously, and a stronger warning not to reject God’s work. But we also see an emphasis on things we’ve seen before, such as God’s working, Jesus being killed but then raised from the dead by God, and Jesus’ unique identity, here as Savior. We also see the need to respond to the message, in this case by believing, and the blessings received in Jesus, here salvation, forgiveness, and justification. Again we ask, Is this the message you (would) speak to non-Christians?