Acts Lesson Twenty-seven: Acts 13:1-12 – Missionary Work Begins

In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch,  and Saul. 

As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.”  Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

Being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they came down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Arriving in Salamis, they proclaimed God’s message in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their assistant. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and desired to hear God’s message. But Elymas the sorcerer (this is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 

Then Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at the sorcerer 10 and said, “You son of the Devil, full of all deceit and all fraud, enemy of all righteousness! Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? 11 Now, look! The Lord’s hand is against you. You are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time.” Suddenly a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 

12 Then the proconsul, seeing what happened, believed and was astonished at the teaching about the Lord. (HCSB)

This lesson will be split into two sections.

  • Missionary preparation – verses 1-3.
  • Missionary journey – verses 4-12.

Missionary Preparation

As the narrative in Acts has progressed, there has been a shift from Jerusalem and the Jews to Antioch and the Gentiles. As a reminder, the Antioch referred to here is along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and not in Syria. A few things to note from these first few verses.

  • Prophet – this is a reference to a New Testament prophet. These prophets spoke for God and were led by the Holy Spirit. They spoke an inspiring word from God for the edification and direction of the community.
  • Teachers – these individuals taught what was contained in Scripture (still Old Testament) and what Jesus taught.
  • The New Testament program for the sending of missionaries.
    • God calls those whom He chooses.
    • The church certifies the call.
    • The church and the Holy Spirit sent the missionaries out, backing them with support and prayer.

Let’s look at the men listed in verse one.

  • Barnabas – We already know about Barnabas from earlier sections of Acts. It appears that he was the leader of the Antioch church.
  • Simeon the Niger – His first name is Jewish, and his other name is Latin. In Latin, “Niger” means dark-complexioned or black, and some believe he was of African descent. Some also believe he was the Simon of Cyrene, mentioned in Luke 23:26, who carried Jesus’ cross, and he had two sons, Alexandria and Rufus, who were Christians in the church at Rome (Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13).
  • Lucius of Cyrene – He is often associated with Luke amongst scholars, but no solid evidence supports this.
  • Manaen – The Greek term for “close friend” indicates someone who grew up with another individual. This indicates that Manaen was of a relatively high social standing and had at least a childhood relationship with Herod Antipas.
  • Paul – We already know about Paul, and from this point forward, he becomes the main human focal point in Acts.

A couple of things to note about Barnabas and Paul.

  • Throughout Acts, they fell under the authority of the congregation at Antioch. 
  • They were commissioned, not ordained, for specific missionary projects.

Missionary Journey

Before we begin breaking down this next section, it would be wise to review what Jesus said in Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43. In those passages, Jesus warns that wherever His believers are, the enemy would plant false believers. We see that occur in this section of the passage.

A few facts about John Mark before proceeding.

  • He was the cousin of Barnabas – Colossians 4:10.
  • His mother’s home in Jerusalem was a place where believers gathered – Acts 12:12.
  • It is likely that Peter is the one who evangelized and led him to faith in Christ – 1 Peter 5:13.
  • It is safe to infer that he helped both Barnabas and Paul in numerous ways, allowing them to concentrate on their call to evangelism.

The first stop on their journey was Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. Not much detail is given about their initial work in Salamis, the main commercial center on the eastern part of the island. As they continued their missionary journey, they traveled about ninety miles to Paphos, located on the western end of the island and the capital of Cyprus. It was there that they met their first opposition.

Now, let’s look at the people, outside of Barnabas and Paul, involved in the narrative.

  • Sergius Paulus.
    • The chief Roman official on Cyprus.
    • He was an intelligent man.
    • He was part of a family, Pauli, that was an influential Roman patrician family who produced many officials throughout the Roman empire over an extended period of time.
    • He desired to learn more about God from Barnabas and Paul.
  • Bar-Jesus.
    • His name means “son of Jesus.”
    • He was also called Elymas, which means either sorcerer or wise man. 
      • The same word is used in a positive light for the magi in Matthew 2.
      • However, it was often used to describe someone who was a charlatan, trickster, or falsely claimed to have special powers. 
    • Finding a Jew who was both a false prophet and sorcerer was unusual, as the Jews traditionally were not involved in sorcery.

Roman belief system on mystical powers and Bar-Jesus’ influence on Sergius Paulus.

  • They placed great stock in powers of divination.
  • They often had their personal oracles.
  • Charlatans were highly skilled and smooth in their trickery.
    • They were knowledgeable about the beliefs of their targets.
    • They practiced a form of pseudoscience.
  • Bar-Jesus’ credentials aided him.
    • The Jews had a high reputation among Romans for their depth of religious knowledge.
    • Josephus, in his writings, mentioned a number of Jewish sorcerers who experienced great success among the Gentiles.
  • Bar-Jesus likely offered his services to Sergius. It is likely that the agreement was lucrative for Bar-Jesus. In a way, this is similar to the events of Acts 8 and Simon, with the major difference being that Simon duped a large number of people while earning his false wages.
  • Bar-Jesus sees Barnabas and Paul as a serious threat to the arrangement he has with Sergius.

Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, then goes on the offensive against the false teacher.

  • He calls him the “enemy of all righteousness.”
    • Righteousness is a primary attribute of God throughout the Bible.
    • Elymas had positioned himself as an enemy of God.
    • He was filled with deceit and fraud.
    • He had deceived Sergius with his false claims.
    • Now, he was attempting to undermine the message of the Gospel.
  • In Acts, punishment could come immediately or after a period of time. Here, the punishment was swift.
    • Paul declares that the “Lord’s hand is against you.”
    • Paul declares that Elymas will be blind for an unspecified period of time.
      • Paul experienced blindness as a sign of the Lord’s presence in his conversion experience.
      • Elymas was struck blind as punishment.
      • Some scholars believe that Paul used blindness as a way to lead Elymas to conversion.
      • Others believe that the blindness was symbolic of Elymas’s spiritual state.
    • The blindness immediately strikes Elymas. From this point on, he needed assistance to move about.
    • We don’t know how long it lasted or whether it had any effect on Elymas, as he is never mentioned again.
    • The effect of the incident also had an immediate impact on Sergius.
      • The fact that Paul made a declaration and it immediately happened made a profound impact on Sergius.
      • He was also impacted by the teaching of Barnabas and Paul about Jesus.
      • Looking back on Acts, we see similar events occurring.
        • The healing of the lame beggar in Acts brings the crowds to the Apostles.
        • The teaching of Peter resulted in conversions in Acts 4.
    • This single event is the main point of the Cyprus narrative.
      • No other conversions are mentioned, although it is safe to believe there were other conversions.
      • Luke details one major conversion, a prominent Roman official.

Two last points to note about this narrative. This is the official point where Saul becomes Paul. Saul was preferred when dealing with the Jews. But now that the emphasis has switched to the Gentiles, his Roman name will be more helpful. Second, up until now, it has been “Barnabas and Paul.” Now, it switches to “Paul and Barnabas.” Later, it will be “Paul and his companions.” The shift in leadership for missions to the Gentiles was complete.

Applications

  • In your personal ministry endeavors, are you following the lead of the Holy Spirit, or are you “doing your own thing?” Over and over in the gospels and Acts, we see ministry success that aligns with God’s plan and the power of the Spirit. Outside of that, results do not last or don’t even occur.
  • Do you counter false teaching? This can occur either inside or outside of your church. We see Paul quickly going on the offensive against the false teaching of Elymas. We may not experience the exact same situation. It is more likely we may encounter subtle deviations from Scriptural truth. Regardless, deviations from the truth must be countered with the truth.
  • Are you ready to share the Gospel at any given moment or under any circumstances? Conversions can occur with either signs or teaching. We have no control over miracles other than praying for them. Still, we can make sure that our theological understanding of Scripture and the Gospel is firm, allowing us to teach in any given situation. 

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