A spiritual revolution (part one)

Paul’s first missionary journey quickly changed the focus of his attention. Initially, Paul followed the course of Jesus’ apostles and taught in Jewish synagogues about the fulfilled promise of a Savior for God’s chosen people (Acts 13:23), but then he turned to the Gentiles and faced a great deal of persecution from the Jews. Paul’s straightforward message was good news to the Gentiles because they understood they were being included in God’s plan of salvation. After hearing his teaching in Antioch in Pisidia, the Gentiles wanted Paul to preach to them the next week also and Luke reported, “the next sabbath came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming” (Acts 13:44).

Paul and Barnabas’ objective in turning to the Gentiles was to fulfill God’s great commission to take Jesus’ gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:19). Their succinct explanation of the situation showed that Paul and Barnabas were only interested in doing God’s will. Speaking to the Jews in Antioch in Pisidia, Luke reported, “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, 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. 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” (Acts 13:46-47). Paul and Barnabas placed the blame on the Jews for their rejection of God’s free gift of salvation. The Greek word translated unworthy, axios has to do with deserving God’s blessing (G514). Although the Jews were destined for salvation, their rejection of Jesus caused them to lose the preferential treatment they previously had through the Old Covenant. According to the prophet Jeremiah, Israel will be restored at some point in the future and will serve God as they were originally intended to (Jeremiah 30:9).

Unlike Peter’s experience with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:17-48), Paul and Barnabas’ impact on the Gentiles in Antioch in Pisidia appeared to be the result of the moving of the Holy Spirit rather than an answer to prayer. Luke said of Paul’s message of salvation, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The expression “ordained to eternal life” indicates that “eternal life involves both human faith and divine appointment” (note on Acts 10:48). The Greek word translated ordained, tasso means “to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e. assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot)” (G5021). Tasso is associated with positions of military and civil authority over others and is used in Luke 7:8 to describe the assignment of soldiers to a particular location and activity. The centurion stated, “For I also am a man set (tasso) under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Luke 7:8). Therefore, it seems likely that God’s divine appointment of certain individuals to salvation has something to do with spiritual warfare and the orderly government of his kingdom.

The great commission

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he called four men to be his disciples that were fishermen. Matthew recorded in his gospel that Peter and Andrew were the first two men that Jesus invited to follow him. He said, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20). Peter’s enthusiasm to serve the Lord was probably diminished by his realization that death would most likely be the end result of his devotion to Christ. After he denied three times having anything to do with Jesus’ ministry, “Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62), maybe because he could see the look of disappointment on Jesus’ face when he heard Peter lie about being his disciple (Luke 22:60-61).

It was probably Peter’s denial of him that caused Jesus to go to greater lengths to restore his fellowship with this particular apostle. First on the road to Emmaus, then in a locked room where his disciples were hiding out, Jesus reiterated God’s plan of salvation and explained the important role Peter and the other apostles were to play in his ministry in the coming months and years (Luke 24:25-26, 46-49). Peter’s natural leadership ability and influence on the other apostles was probably what caused him to be singled out by Satan and tempted to forsake his master (Luke 22:31). John reported that Jesus’ final appearance took place at the sea of Tiberias where Peter and some of the other disciples had gone to fish. He said, “There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing” (John 21:2-3).

Jesus chose this point in time to confront Peter with his responsibility to carry out the great commission of preaching his gospel to the whole world. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). John’s version of this assignment focused on the forgiveness of sins. He stated, “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace by unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). Peter’s failed fishing trip may have been Jesus’ way of reminding him that his first priority was to be preaching the gospel. After Jesus enable Peter to catch more fish than he was able to carry in his boat (John 21:11), Jesus asked Peter this question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” (John 21:15). Although his meaning wasn’t perfectly clear, Jesus was most likely referring to the 153 fish that Peter was now in possession of. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention on the lost souls that needed God’s word preached to them, whom he referred to as his baby sheep or lambs, and then, Jesus admonished Peter to, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).