The Search for God’s People—Part 2

Paul and Barnabas Become Pilgrims

WHEN a Roman centurion named Cornelius, his family, and all his household, were converted to Christianity and were baptized late in the autumn of AD. 36, it was a sign that the way was now open for Gentiles to come into the body of Christ. Up to that time, only Jews had been called, but now things were happening to expose more Gentiles to the Gospel.

The intense persecution of the year earlier had driven many Jewish brethren from Jerusalem to other lands, effecting a general spreading of the message of truth. At first, those who went to other areas preached the Gospel to “the Jews only.” (Acts 11:19) But soon it came to the attention of their Gentile neighbors as well, and as their interest in the Gospel increased, some became believers and began associating themselves with the Jewish brethren.

Such was the situation in Antioch, a city northwest of Jerusalem, an area known today as Lebanon. We read of this in Acts 11:19-21: “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the Word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which when they were come to Antioch, spoke unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord Jesus was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”

The Grecians mentioned in this text are not Hellenists, or Greek-speaking Jews, as in Acts 9:29—these were Gentile Grecians. Soon news of this influx of Gentiles into the church at Antioch reached the ears of the apostles in Jerusalem, and they decided to investigate the matter. Barnabas was selected to go and assess the situation. He was a good choice since he had had previous association with Greeks when he lived in Cyprus, and probably could speak their language well.

When he arrived, he found a mixed congregation of Jewish and Grecian brethren who were rejoicing together in the knowledge of God’s plan and were eager to know more. Barnabas was delighted, and set about to assist them as much as he could in further study and joint fellowship, for “he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11:24) As a result of his valuable help, the church in Antioch began to prosper and through their witnessing activities many were added to the church. We can imagine the glowing reports he must have sent back to the apostles at Jerusalem!

As Barnabas watched this growing interest in the truth by Gentile brethren, his mind went back to what the Lord had declared about Paul’s special ministry to the Gentiles. Convinced that Paul would have a vital interest in what was now going on, he set out for Tarsus. And when he found him, Paul was indeed excited and returned with Barnabas to Antioch, and it was there that his ministry as an apostle got its start. The large congregation in Antioch composed of Jewish and Gentile brethren was the first of its kind, and it was where the brethren were first called Christians.

Barnabas and Paul were selected as elders, along with three other brethren mentioned in Acts 13:1—“Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch.” As teachers they had very diverse backgrounds, and all came from rather faraway places. Barnabas had lived at one time on the island of Cyprus; Saul came from Tarsus in Asia Minor; Lucius was from Cyrene, a city in northern Africa, in what is now Libya. It is not known with certainty where Simeon came from, but since the name associated with him, Niger, means ‘black’, he probably came from the African continent. Manaen was from Jewish royalty, being a foster brother to Herod the Tetrarch, and most likely originated in Jerusalem. Together, these five elders taught the congregation at Antioch.

During that time, a famine came upon the lands of the Near East, which, it seems, severely affected the brethren in Jerusalem, who were already quite poor. When the congregation at Antioch learned of their plight, they took up a collection and sent it by the hands of Barnabas and Paul to help their friends in Jerusalem. This mission also gave Barnabas an opportunity to give a first-hand report of the witness work which was being done among the Gentiles, how it was prospering, and also to acquaint them with Paul’s important part in that work. No doubt the gift they bore helped the Jewish brethren to realize that a bond of brotherly love existed between them that would overcome previous differences. After completing their mission, the two travelers returned to Antioch, and John Mark, a nephew to Barnabas, accompanied them.

They had not been back long, when the friends in their class, eager to be busy enlarging their witness activity, voted to finance a missionary trip, sending Paul and Barnabas to sow the seeds of truth in outlying countries. John Mark went with them, and they sailed for the island of Cyprus, arriving first at the port of Salamis. Cyprus was a logical place to begin their work because it was the original home territory of Barnabas. Their travel plan was to go first through all of Cyprus and then sail for Asia Minor, their destination being the area familiar to Paul, the city of Tarsus. It was their practice in every place they visited to go first into the synagogue of the Jews. This was a distinct pattern set by Barnabas and Paul, even though their mission was for the Gentiles as well.

When the Lord called Saul, he said, “He is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings,” but he also stated, “and the children of Israel.” Therefore, before Paul went to the Gentiles, he always visited the synagogues to attempt to convince his kinsmen according to the flesh, that Jesus was the Messiah. Romans 9:1-5 reads: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

It might appear from this reading of the King James text, that Paul is saying he would be willing to trade places with his kinsmen and be accursed from God’s favor. But the Diaglott Translation clarifies this with a more logical meaning: “On account of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh; (for I myself was wishing to be accursed from the Anointed one)” This translation makes it clear that Paul was alluding to his former condition of zeal in Judaism when his attitude was one of wanting to be accursed from Christ, the identical feelings he now saw in many of his kinsmen.

Although Paul knew that the prophecies foretold the unbelief of his people and that God would not find a sufficient number for the body of Christ from his kinsmen, yet he had a strong desire for their salvation. This caused him to write: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” (Rom. 10:1) Again he writes: “I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”—Rom. 11:13,14

Yet Paul knew that Israel’s unbelief would not be turned away until their exalted Messiah would come. Thus he was able to say, “I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”—Rom. 11:25,26

We do not have a record of any success had by Paul and Barnabas among the Jews on Cyprus, but we do know of at least one Gentile who believed. It happened as a result of an open attempt by the adversary to stop their work. This was done through a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus, who tried to dissuade the local governor from hearing Barnabas and Paul. Paul met the occasion by confronting this evil man and looking him straight in the eye called him “child of the devil,” declaring that the Lord would cause him to be temporarily blind, “and immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness.”—Acts 13:6-12

Serguis Paulus, the procounsel, was so impressed with Paul’s power and his message, that he became a believer. No one else is mentioned by name among the brethren in Cyprus. But there undoubtedly were many. One of those who later became an assistant to Paul was Titus. He is not mentioned in the Book of Acts, yet we know from Paul’s letters that Titus accompanied Paul and Barnabas when they later went to Jerusalem, so the Jewish brethren could see a good example of the Gentiles who were now in the body of Christ. (See Galatians 2:1,2.) Toward the close of Paul’s ministry, Titus was sent to the island of Crete to help the brethren, and remained there for many years as an elder in the congregation. The home and birthplace of Titus is not known, but one of the speculations is that he may have come from one of the Mediterranean islands—Cyprus or Crete.

When Paul and Barnabas had completed their work in Cyprus, they sailed for the mainland of Asia Minor to a city called Antioch of Pisidia. There John Mark left them to go back to Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas continued on with their missionary work. At Antioch they went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, where they were invited by its rulers to speak. Paul did not require prodding, but immediately stood up and delivered a marvelous discourse which is recorded in Acts 13:16-41. His presentation was so impressive that many of the Jews and proselytes invited him to return on the next Sabbath and speak again. Many who heard him told others, so that on the following Sabbath almost the whole city assembled to hear, including many Gentiles.

This caused some of the Jews to become envious, and they began to oppose and blaspheme Paul as he spoke. Paul and Barnabas, realizing that the situation was getting out of hand, left off speaking in their synagogue with these words: “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46) Then they quoted this prophecy from the Old Testament, making application of it to the situation confronting them: “It is a light thing that thou shouldest by my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”—Isa. 49:6

A later verse of this same prophecy (vs. 8) reads: “Thus saith the Lord, in an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages.” It establishes that now, the Gospel Age, is the acceptable time for this work of finding a people for God’s name. When this particular day of salvation ends, God subsequently will bring the whole world into covenant relationship with himself under the New Covenant. The people whom God is seeking during this time now serve in the interest of that New Covenant by preparing themselves and each other for the future work of its glorious administration.

The Gentiles who were listening to Paul rejoiced in these words. No longer was the message confined to the synagogue. Instead, it was preached everywhere in that area, and “as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.” (Acts 13:48) This expression confirms the “elect” or selected nature of the call. The Gentiles whom the Lord wanted to hear, understood, and believing Paul’s words, rejoiced in them. This ministry continued for a while, possibly several weeks. Eventually, however, the opposing Jews convinced the authorities to expel Paul and Barnabas from the area, but not until the new disciples in Antioch were established in a knowledge of the truth and had received the evidences of the Holy Spirit among them. Many not only believed, but with joy made consecrations and were immersed.

Paul and Barnabas traveled north to Iconium, and, as was their custom, visited the synagogue first. Similar events transpired as before, and a goodly number of both Jews and Gentiles believed. However, opposition again came from unbelieving Jews who also enlisted the support of unbelieving Gentiles, until the entire city was divided—some siding with the apostles and others with their antagonists. In the end, the Jews prevailed, causing severe persecution. As a result of a plot to stone them, Paul and Barnabas were forced to leave, but not before several weeks were devoted to preaching the Word and helping the disciples to become established in the faith.

The two travelers then fled to the province of Lycaonia, where they preached in the cities of Lystra and Derbe. While they were in Lystra, a strange incident occurred. A man who had been lame from birth, and had never walked, was healed by Paul because of his faith. The people who witnessed this miracle were so awed by it that they began believing that Barnabas was Jupiter and Paul was Mercury—gods who came to them as men. As the excitement grew, the local priest of Jupiter arranged to offer a sacrifice to them as if they were gods. Paul and Barnabas had a difficult time trying to stop the proceedings, and to convince the people that they were just ordinary men. They rent their mantles and spoke to the crowd, explaining to them about the true God who made heaven and earth, and finally restrained the crowds from offering their sacrifice.

Their popularity in Lystra was short-lived, however. The Jews of Antioch and Iconium joined forces and followed them to Lystra. Convincing the people that Paul and Barnabas were imposters, they found Paul and began stoning him. There are no details given of the incident. But we can imagine as the stones began to hit Paul, the vision of Stephen undoubtedly flashed through his mind before he entered into a state of unconsciousness and was dragged outside the city’s walls and left for dead. It was a pitiful and mournful group of disciples that gathered around their beloved teacher, supposing him gone. But miraculously Paul regained consciousness, and arising, returned with the disciples to one of their homes. There he partially regained his strength, while the disciples talked over a plan for getting him away safely. When he could travel, Barnabas, and perhaps some others, took him to the neighboring town of Derbe. There one of the families took Paul and nursed him back to health in their home. It could well have been the home of Timothy’s family, who resided in that town, and of whom Paul speaks so highly in later writings.

One of the letters Paul wrote as he neared the end of his faithful service to the Lord was the Second Epistle to Timothy. It opens with a beautiful salutation to Timothy and expresses his appreciation for Timothy and his example of faithfulness. Because he was like a loving son to him, the apostle was inspired to write: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dearly beloved son: grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; when I called to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.”—II Tim. 1:1-5

It is through this letter that we learn of Paul’s great respect for Timothy’s mother and grandmother who were both consecrated sisters in Christ, and of his love for faithful Timothy. And in this epistle he also calls to mind the very painful experiences which had first brought him to their home: “Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (II Tim. 3:10-12) At the time of the apostle’s first visit, Timothy must have been a young lad, possibly just in his teens, and no doubt keenly aware of these experiences of Paul, especially of the care given to his wounds in their home.

We see how the adversary tried again to suppress the work of finding God’s people. If Paul had been killed the witness efforts in Asia Minor may have suffered a major setback. Barnabas was spared this stoning experience. Possibly, since he was an older man it would have gone much harder with him, while Paul’s youth and vigor helped him to recuperate rapidly.

When Paul was first called, the Lord told him through Ananias, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Certainly he was learning that those who live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution; and that not alone was he to suffer, but all the brethren would experience suffering as well, that they might learn this same lesson. Those who had tried to kill Paul must have followed up by also persecuting the brethren in these same cities. Later, on his return to see these Christians, one of the vital lessons taught by the apostle was, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”—Acts 14:22

One might suppose that such an experience, which almost cost him his life, would have persuaded Paul to avoid these cities where there was such severe opposition to the Lord’s work. But he could not let these newly-found brethren struggle on their own when they needed his assistance. In each of these visits he and Barnabas were forced to leave prematurely because of persecution. Paul’s love for these brethren grew as he witnessed their consecration and devotion to God.

Paul may have originally had in mind to visit his home which lay over the Taurus mountains, just beyond Derbe. But he did not do so on this journey. The stoning incident had weakened him physically. Also, the success in finding so many interested brethren required that more attention be given to their needs. So, after staying awhile and finding many disciples in Derbe, he and Barnabas started back, retracing their steps to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the truth to the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and encouraging them to endure what persecutions would come upon them.

One of their objectives in revisiting these classes was to make sure they would be organized properly along the lines of the instructions for qualifications of elders and deacons which Paul later set down in I Timothy 3:1-13, and Titus 1:5-9. It might appear from the wording of the account in Acts 14:23 that Paul and Barnabas did the selecting of the elders, performing a ceremony of ordination. However, the Greek word translated “ordained” (Acts 14:23) is cheirotoneo, and means ‘to elect by stretching forth the hand’. The procedure used by the ecclesias of the Lord today, in voting for elders and deacons, is no different than the procedure instituted for these brethren of the Early Church.

After thus seeing to the selection of elders and deacons, Paul and Barnabas found they had done all they could in each ecclesia. So they prayed with the brethren for the Lord’s help and commended them to the Lord as they started homeward. On the way back they visited other congregations on Cyprus, sailing finally for the mainland and returning to Antioch, their home class.

Their return must have been met with much rejoicing by the brethren. Paul and Barnabas had been absent for about three years, and there was much to discuss. But the important part of their report is expressed in the words of Luke, “When they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27) There could be no doubt in the minds of the Jewish brethren now. God indeed had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles!

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