Acts 13:47
For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set you to be a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(47) I have set thee to be a light to the Gentiles.—The context of the quotation has to be remembered as showing that St. Paul identified the “Servant of the Lord” in Isaiah 49:6 with the person of the Christ. (See Note on Acts 4:27.) The citation. is interesting as the first example of the train of thought which led the Apostle to see in the language of the prophets, where others had found only the exaltation of Israel, the divine purpose of love towards the whole heathen world. It is the germ of the argument afterwards more fully developed in Romans 9:25; Romans 10:12.

Acts

JEWISH REJECTERS AND GENTILE RECEIVERS

Acts 13:44 - Acts 13:52
- Acts 14:1 - Acts 14:7.

In general outline, the course of events in the two great cities of Asia Minor, with which the present passage is concerned, was the same. It was only too faithful a forecast of what was to be Paul’s experience everywhere. The stages are: preaching in the synagogue, rejection there, appeal to the Gentiles, reception by them, a little nucleus of believers formed; disturbances fomented by the Jews, who swallow their hatred of Gentiles by reason of their greater hatred of the Apostles, and will riot with heathens, though they will not pray nor eat with them; and finally the Apostles’ departure to carry the gospel farther afield. This being the outline, we have mainly to consider any special features diversifying it in each case.

Their experience in Antioch was important, because it forced Paul and Barnabas to put into plain words, making very clear to themselves as well as to their hearers, the law of their future conduct. It is always a step in advance when circumstances oblige us to formularise our method of action. Words have a wonderful power in clearing up our own vision. Paul and Barnabas had known all along that they were sent to the Gentiles; but a conviction in the mind is one thing, and the same conviction driven in on us by facts is quite another. The discipline of Antioch crystallised floating intentions into a clear statement, which henceforth became the rule of Paul’s conduct. Well for us if we have open eyes to discern the meaning of difficulties, and promptitude and decision to fix and speak out plainly the course which they prescribe!

The miserable motives of the Jews’ antagonism are forcibly stated in Acts 13:44 - Acts 13:45. They did not ‘contradict and blaspheme,’ because they had taken a week to think over the preaching and had seen its falseness, but simply because, dog-in-the-manger like, they could not bear that ‘the whole city’ should be welcome to share the message. No doubt there was a crowd of ‘Gentile dogs’ thronging the approach to the synagogue; and one can almost see the scowling faces and hear the rustle of the robes drawn closer to avoid pollution. Who were these wandering strangers that they should gather such a crowd? And what had the uncircumcised rabble of Antioch to do with ‘the promises made to the fathers’? It is not the only time that religious men have taken offence at crowds gathering to hear God’s word. Let us take care that we do not repeat the sin. There are always some who-

‘Taking God’s word under wise protection,

Correct its tendency to diffusiveness.’

It needed some courage to front the wild excitement of such a mob, with calm, strong words likely to increase the rage.

‘Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.’ This is not to be regarded as announcing a general course of action, but simply as applying to the actual rejecters in Antioch. The necessity that the word should first be spoken to the Jews continued to be recognised, in each new sphere of work, by the Apostle; but wherever, as here, men turned from the message, the messengers turned from them without further waste of time. Paul put into words here the law for his whole career. The fit punishment of rejection is the withdrawal of the offer. There is something pathetic in the persistence with which, in place after place, Paul goes through the same sequence, his heart yearning over his brethren according to the flesh, and hoping on, after all repulses. It was far more than natural patriotism; it was an offshoot of Christ’s own patient love.

Note also the divine command. Paul bases his action on a prophecy as to the Messiah. But the relation on which prophecy insists between the personal servant of Jehovah and the collective Israel, is such that the great office of being the Light of the world devolves from Him on it and the true Israel is to be a light to the Gentiles. These very Jews in Antioch, lashing themselves into fury because Gentiles were to be offered a share in Israel’s blessings, ought to have been discharging this glorious function. Their failure showed that they were no parts of the real Israel. No doubt the two missionaries left the synagogue as they spoke, and, as the door swung behind them, it shut hope out and unbelief in. The air was fresh outside, and eager hearts welcomed the word. Very beautifully is the gladness of the Gentile hearers set in contrast with the temper of the Jews. It is strange news to heathen hearts that there is a God who loves them, and a divine Christ who has died for them. The experience of many a missionary follows Paul’s here.

‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ The din of many a theological battle has raged round these words, the writer of which would have probably needed a good deal of instruction before he could have been made to understand what the fighting was about. But it is to be noted that there is evidently intended a contrast between the envious Jews and the gladly receptive Gentiles, which is made more obvious by the repetition of the words ‘eternal life.’ It would seem much more relevant and accordant with the context to understand the word rendered ‘ordained’ as meaning ‘adapted’ or ‘fitted,’ than to find in it a reference to divine foreordination. Such a meaning is legitimate, and strongly suggested by the context. The reference then would be to the ‘frame of mind of the heathen, and not to the decrees of God.’

The only points needing notice in the further developments at Antioch are the agents employed by the Jews, the conduct of the Apostles, and the sweet little picture of the converts. As to the former, piously inclined women in a heathen city would be strongly attracted by Judaism and easily lend themselves to the impressions of their teachers. We know that many women of rank were at that period powerfully affected in this manner; and if a Rabbi could move a Gentile of influence through whispers to the Gentile’s wife, he would not be slow to do it. The ease with which the Jews stirred up tumults everywhere against the Apostle indicates their possession of great influence; and their willingness to be hand in glove with heathen for so laudable an object as crushing one of their own people who had become a heretic, measures the venom of their hate and the depth of their unscrupulousness.

The Apostles had not to fear violence, as their enemies were content with turning them out of Antioch and its neighbourhood; but they obeyed Christ’s command, shaking off the dust against them, in token of renouncing all connection. The significant act is a trace of early knowledge of Christ’s words, long before the date of our Gospels.

While the preachers had to leave the little flock in the midst of wolves, there was peace in the fold. Like the Ethiopian courtier when deprived of Philip, the new believers at Antioch found that the withdrawal of the earthly brought the heavenly Guide. ‘They were filled with joy.’ What! left ignorant, lonely, ringed about with enemies, how could they be glad? Because they were filled ‘with the Holy Ghost.’ Surely joy in such circumstances was no less supernatural a token of His presence than rushing wind or parting flames or lips opened to speak with tongues. God makes us lonely that He may Himself be our Companion.

It was a long journey to the great city of Iconium. According to some geographers, the way led over savage mountains; but the two brethren tramped along, with an unseen Third between them, and that Presence made the road light. They had little to cheer them in their prospects, if they looked with the eye of sense; but they were in good heart, and the remembrance of Antioch did not embitter or discourage them. Straight to the synagogue, as before, they went. It was their best introduction to the new field. There, if we take the plain words of Acts 14:1, they found a new thing, ‘Greeks,’ heathens pure and simple, not Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews, nor even proselytes, in the synagogue. This has seemed so singular that efforts have been made to impose another sense on the words, or to suppose that the notice of Greeks, as well as Jews, believing is loosely appended to the statement of the preaching in the synagogue, omitting notice of wider evangelising. But it is better to accept than to correct our narrative, as we know nothing of the circumstances that may have led to this presence of Greeks in the synagogue. Some modern setters of the Bible writers right would be all the better for remembering occasionally that improbable things have a strange knack of happening.

The usual results followed the preaching of the Gospel. The Jews were again the mischief-makers, and, with the astuteness of their race, pushed the Gentiles to the front, and this time tried a new piece of annoyance. ‘The brethren’ bore the brunt of the attack; that is, the converts, not Paul and Barnabas. It was a cunning move to drop suspicions into the minds of influential townsmen, and so to harass, not the two strangers, but their adherents. The calculation was that that would stop the progress of the heresy by making its adherents uncomfortable, and would also wound the teachers through their disciples.

But one small element had been left out of the calculation-the sort of men these teachers were; and another factor which had not hitherto appeared came into play, and upset the whole scheme. Paul and Barnabas knew when to retreat and when to stand their ground. This time they stood; and the opposition launched at their friends was the reason why they did so. ‘Long time therefore abode they.’ If their own safety had been in question, they might have fled; but they could not leave the men whose acceptance of their message had brought them into straits. But behind the two bold speakers stood ‘the Lord,’ Christ Himself, the true Worker. Men who live in Him are made bold by their communion with Him, and He witnesses for those who witness for Him.

Note the designation of the Gospel as ‘the word of His grace.’ It has for its great theme the condescending, giving love of Jesus. Its subject is grace; its origin is grace; its gift is grace. Observe, too, that the same connection between boldness of speech and signs and wonders is found in Acts 4:29 - Acts 4:30. Courageous speech for Christ is ever attended by tokens of His power, and the accompanying tokens of His power make the speech more courageous.

The normal course of events was pursued. Faithful preaching provoked hostility, which led to the alliance of discordant elements, fused for a moment by a common hatred-alas! that enmity to God’s truth should be often a more potent bond of union than love!-and then to a wise withdrawal from danger. Sometimes it is needful to fling away life for Jesus; but if it can be preserved without shirking duty, it is better to flee than to die. An unnecessary martyr is a suicide. The Christian readiness to be offered has nothing in common with fanatical carelessness of life, and still less with the morbid longing for martyrdom which disfigures some of the most pathetic pages of the Church’s history. Paul living to preach in the regions beyond was more useful than Paul dead in a street riot in Iconium. A heroic prudence should ever accompany a trustful daring, and both are best learned in communion with Jesus.13:42-52 The Jews opposed the doctrine the apostles preached; and when they could find no objection, they blasphemed Christ and his gospel. Commonly those who begin with contradicting, end with blaspheming. But when adversaries of Christ's cause are daring, its advocates should be the bolder. And while many judge themselves unworthy of eternal life, others, who appear less likely, desire to hear more of the glad tidings of salvation. This is according to what was foretold in the Old Testament. What light, what power, what a treasure does this gospel bring with it! How excellent are its truths, its precepts, its promises! Those came to Christ whom the Father drew, and to whom the Spirit made the gospel call effectual, Ro 8:30. As many as were disposed to eternal life, as many as had concern about their eternal state, and aimed to make sure of eternal life, believed in Christ, in whom God has treasured up that life, and who is the only Way to it; and it was the grace of God that wrought it in them. It is good to see honourable women devout; the less they have to do in the world, the more they should do for their own souls, and the souls of others: but it is sad, when, under colour of devotion to God, they try to show hatred to Christ. And the more we relish the comforts and encouragements we meet with in the power of godliness, and the fuller our hearts are of them, the better prepared we are to face difficulties in the profession of godliness.For so ... - Paul, as usual, appeals to the Scriptures to justify his course. Here he appeals to the Old Testament rather than to the command of the Saviour, because the Jews recognized the authority of their own Scriptures, while they would have turned in scorn from the command of Jesus of Nazareth.

I have set thee ... - I have constituted or appointed thee. This passage is found in Isaiah 49:6. See the notes on Isaiah 49:1-6.

To be a light - See the notes on John 1:4.

Of the Gentiles - This was in accordance with the uniform doctrines of Isaiah, Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 54:3; Isaiah 60:3, Isaiah 60:5,Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 61:6, Isaiah 61:9; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 66:12; compare Romans 15:9-12.

For salvation - To save sinners.

Unto the ends of the earth - To all lands; in all nations. See the notes on Acts 1:8.

47. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, &c.—These and other predictions must have been long before this brought vividly home to Paul's mind in connection with his special vocation to the Gentiles.

I have set thee—that is, Messiah; from which Paul inferred that he was but following out this destination of his Lord, in transferring to the Gentiles those "unsearchable riches" which were now by the Jews rejected and despised.

Because that prophecy must be fulfilled which we find, Isaiah 49:6, the apostle infers aright, that they were commanded to publish Christ unto the Gentiles; for how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14.

I have set thee to be a light; all knowledge is ignorance, and all light is darkness, without Christ. For so hath the Lord commanded us,.... For though Christ in his first commission restrained his disciples from going into the Gentiles, and preaching to them, yet when he enlarged their commission after his resurrection, he bid them go into all nations, and preach the Gospel to every creature; and told them, that they should be his witnesses to the uttermost part of the earth; see Matthew 28:19 unless this should rather be thought to refer to what follows:

saying; or "as it is written", as the Syriac version supplies; or "because so saith the Scripture", as the Ethiopic version, namely in Isaiah 49:6.

I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles; to enlighten the Gentiles that sit in darkness, by the preaching of the Gospel to them, and the Spirit of God attending it: this supposes the Gentiles to have been in darkness; as they were about divine things, before the times of the Gospel: they had no true knowledge of God himself; for though they knew there was a God, they did not know, at least but few of them, that there was but one God; and none of them knew anything of him as in Christ; they had not a revelation of his will, they were without the written law, and were strangers to the true manner of worshipping the divine Being; they knew nothing at all of the Messiah, and of his righteousness and salvation by him; nor of the Spirit of God, and the operations of his grace, nor of the resurrection of the dead, and were very ignorant of a future state: it was therefore an unspeakable mercy to them, that Christ was appointed to be a light to them; not in a way of nature, as he is that light which lightens every man that comes into the world; but in a way of grace, through the ministration of the Gospel, and by the special illuminations of the divine Spirit; whereby they see there is a righteous judge, and that there will be a righteous judgment; and that sin is exceeding sinful, and cannot be atoned for by them, and therefore they are in themselves miserable and undone; and they further see, that pardon and righteousness are only by Christ, and that salvation is alone in him. The words are spoken by God the Father to his Son, and express the eternal decree of God, and the designation of Christ to be the light of his people; the mission of him in time as the light of the world, and the exhibition of him in the Gospel, for the illumination of men by his Spirit and grace. In the Hebrew text it is, "I will give thee", &c. for all this springs from the free grace of God; Christ in all respects is the gift of God, as he is the head of the church, and the Saviour of the body, so as he is the light of men; and it is necessary that he should be light, in order to be salvation, as follows; for though men may go to hell in the dark, yet not to heaven; the way of the wicked is darkness, but the path of just is shining light: those whom God rives, he enlightens with the light of life:

that thou shouldest be for salvation to the ends of the earth; impetratively as the author of it, and applicatively by means of the Gospel, which publishes salvation by Christ; and is the power of God unto salvation, to Gentiles as well as Jews, even to all that believe, in what part of the world soever they live: thus what was decreed and resolved on by God the Father, and was declared by him to his Son, is applied to his ministers and ambassadors, who represented him; so that what they did, he may be said to do; and who by them was to go, and did go to the Gentiles, and enlighten them with the light of the Gospel, and became salvation to them; so that this prophecy is produced by the apostles, to vindicate their conduct, as well as to show the agreement between the command of Jesus Christ to his disciples, and the decree of God the Father; as also to illustrate and confirm the particular order, which the Apostle Paul had, to go to the Gentiles, and to which he may have a regard here; see Acts 26:17. In the Hebrew text it is, "my salvation": provided, promised, and sent by God, the Saviour of his people.

For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 13:47. γὰρ: this action of the Apostles in turning to the Gentiles was not arbitrary.—Τέθεικα, cf. Isaiah 49:6 (Luke 2:32). In LXX [265] reads δέδωκα instead of Τέθ., and inserts after it εἰς διαθήκην γένους; not in Hebrew.—σε really refers to the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah; cf. Delitzsch, Das Buch Jesaia, p. 486, fourth edition; but the Apostles speak of an ἐντολή given to them, because through them the Messiah is proclaimed to the Gentiles; see note on Acts 1:8.

[265] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.47. so hath the Lord commanded us] And the Lord’s command which the Apostle quotes is from Isaiah 49:6, which shews that from the prophetic times the reception of the Gentiles was made manifest in the counsels of God. Whether the words of Isaiah are referred to himself or to Christ it is clear that, along with the Jews, the Gentiles also are to be recipients of the promised blessings.Acts 13:47. Ἐντέταλται, hath enjoined) by sending us forth, Acts 13:4, and by offering us the opportunity of fulfilling His will and prediction.—ἡμῖν, us) It often happens, that one and the same prophetical saying urges some rather than others to the fulfilment of itself. So it was that this saying urged Paul, as also that which he quotes in Romans 15:21. Another instance occurs in 2 Kings 9:13; 2 Kings 9:25 (The anointing of Jehu by the prophet is the occasion of Jehu’s companions putting him on the throne; and again, Elijah’s prophecy urges him to cast Jehoram’s corpse into the ground of Naboth).—τέθεικά σε εἰςγῆς) Isaiah 49:6, ἰδοὺ δέδωκά σε εἰς διαθήκην γένους, εἰς φῶςγῆς.—σε, Thee) the Messiah.Verse 47. - For a light for to be a light, A.V.; the uttermost part for the ends, A.V. The quotation is from the LXX. (Cod. Alex.) of Isaiah 49:6. Compare the frequent quotations by St. Paul from Isaiah in Romans 15. The additional words which appear in the LXX., εἰς διαθήκην γένους, have no counterpart in the Hebrew, and are probably corrupt. The application of the passage is, God declared his purpose by Isaiah, that his Servant Messiah should be the Light and Salvation of the Gentiles, and we are commissioned to give effect to that purpose by our preaching.
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