(This is part 3 of a series on Acts 13:48. To start at the beginning of this series click here.)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.
In this verse Luke gives us an outline of the book of Acts. The book is not a general history of the early church, but a specific account about the spread of the gospel to the Gentile world. It starts with the gospel being publically proclaimed to a large crowd of Jews and converts to Judaism on the day of Pentecost. That day a remnant (3,000 people) of the crowd came to faith in Christ. By chapter 8 the gospel has spread into Samaria and once again the crowds are listening to, and responding to, the public proclamation of God’s word. This account is the Samaritan equivalent of what happened to the Jews in Acts 2.
In the next chapter Luke begins to set the stage for the Gentile Pentecost. In Chapter 9 He tells us of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and his divine call to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Then, in chapter 10, Peter is sent to a Gentile family where he shares the good news in a private setting. This is only a foretaste of what we will happen a couple chapters later in the chapter that we are considering.
Chapter 13 is the climax of Luke’s narrative. It is not just another story in the book. It is a key chapter filled with great significance; it is the Gentile Pentecost. It is not only the first account Luke gives us of the public proclamation of the gospel to a primarily Gentile crowd, but we also see a shift in focus. From this point on in Luke’s narrative, the Gentiles, not the Jews, will be the primary beneficiaries of the apostolic ministry. The point of chapter 13 is most clearly seen in verses 46-47.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
The rejection of the gospel by the Jews has opened up the door for the Gentiles. Paul quotes Isaiah to show that this was not a newly formulated plan, but had been in God’s mind for a long time. Paul writes of this plan in Ephesians.
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Jesus Christ through the gospel.
It had always been God’s plan to bring salvation to the “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, 13:47). And it is in this chapter that we start to see the real first-fruits of that plan. This chapter is filled with eternal purpose. And Luke is trying to make this point clear. He wants us to know that this is not an accident of history. This has been accomplished “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). God foreknew those who would believe, and he had always planned to give them an eternal inheritance. And now, in Acts 13:48, this eternal plan is starting to come to pass as some of those Gentiles who had been “appointed to eternal life” according to the foreknowledge of God, came to faith when they heard the gospel proclaimed by Paul. It was here that God’s plan to form a people made up of believing Jews and Gentiles started to be manifest in history (Eph. 2:11-22). Jesus had not only come to “give repentance to Israel” (Acts 5:31), but “to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
Luke wanted to make a very clear contrast between the rejection of the gospel by the Jews and the welcoming of the Gentiles into the chosen people of God. He wanted everyone to know that the Jews had been given every opportunity to promise of life in Jesus Christ, but had “thrust it aside and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). And the Gentiles who believed had not come into the kingdom of God by accident but had “been appointed to eternal life” (Acts 13:48). He wanted to emphasize that God foreknew that the majority of the Jews would reject the gospel and that particular Gentiles, including those individuals present that day, would believe in God’s good news (Acts 7:51, Rom. 8:28-29). And Luke wanted to be clear that God, by his infinite wisdom, caused this all to fulfill his definite plan (Eph. 1:11-13). In Ephesians chapter one we are told that it is not unbelievers who were chosen before the creation of the world to be adopted as God’s children, but those who believe (Eph. 1:1, 1:4-5, 1:13). And here in Acts 13 we see this plan starting to take shape in history.
In order to clarify that this is indeed the overall sense of the passage we are considering we must look at two parallel passages in the book of Acts.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
This passage has many parallels to chapter 13. We see Paul speaking to the Gentiles, being rejected and then turning his focus to the Gentiles and being received. In particular we see Paul once again placing the responsibility for rejection of the gospel squarely on the shoulders of those who chose to resist the word of God. And only those dedicated to certain unbiblical doctrines would deny that men are only responsible when they are “able” to “respond.” The reason the Jews were guilty of rejecting the gospel is because they could have received the gospel had they chosen to humble themselves before God. As it is written, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:5).
When they [Jewish leaders of Rome] had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore, let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; and they will listen.”
We have here, at the conclusion of Luke’s book, the same theme we saw in Acts 13 and 18. And in fact it is the theme that Acts 1:8 told us Luke was going to discuss. The Gospel started with Jews in Jerusalem, spread to the Samaritans and by Acts 13 had reached the Gentiles. From that point on we see Paul consistently rejected by the Jews and turning to the Gentiles in accordance with the calling he had received from the Lord Jesus.
Here in Acts 28 we see using the prophetic Scriptures to prove that God foreknew that the Jews in large part would reject the Gospel. And we see him reiterating the fact that God foreknew that the Gentiles would be more open to the message than the nation of Israel.
My interpretation of Acts 13:48b:
“…as many as were appointed to eternal life [according to the foreknowledge of God] believed.”
At this point my Calvinist brethren will accuse me of reading into the text. I will not deny that charge. But I will point out that by keeping in mind the biblical concept of exhaustive divine foreknowledge the verse fits in very well with the context. It takes nothing away from the biblical teaching of genuine responsibility that is affirmed throughout scripture, including in Acts 13:46. This also flows well with verse 27 that reminds us that the salvation of the Gentiles was not an accident of history, but was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). God planned to save the Gentiles through faith, and he made this plan in conjunction with his foreknowledge of future human actions and decisions (Gal. 3:8, Rom. 8:28-29). Luke has used a theological point to give us a fuller appreciation of the significance of the historical events he is relating.
If this does still not clear me of guilt for reading into the text, let me just turn the tables by taking a look at the Calvinist interpretation of the verse. By doing this it will become clear that though the Arminian allows the biblical teaching of divine foreknowledge to inform his interpretation, the Calvinist brings a lot more into the text. Sure the Arminian brings a carry-on bag, but the Calvinist checks-in a couple extra bags, and has to pay an overweight fee on top of that!
“…as many as were appointed to eternal life [according to the unilaterally predetermined plan of God] believed [by the irresistible grace of God that regenerated them without them playing any role whatsoever and thus made it impossible for them to remain in unbelief].”
To Be Continued…