Read Acts 12:1-12 (Perhaps people could share this reading)

1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.

Let’s have a closer look at these leaders.

Barnabus we have met before; he was originally from Cyprus, a Jew – from the tribe of Levi (Acts 4:36)

What else can anyone remember about him?

(See Acts 9:27, 11:22, 11:25-26, 11:30)  

Simeon and Lucius:

We read in Acts 11:20 that ‘men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also’. Cyrene was in Libya, North Africa, and if you were sailing to Antioch you would have to pass (or more likely call in at) Cyprus.

Niger simply means black, and it is an obvious guess that Simeon and Lucius were two of the original church planters. Probably they met with other like-minded men in Cyprus before continuing to Antioch – an important town on major trading routes.

Manaen: ‘brought up with Herod the tetrarch’ – the original Greek term means ‘nursed together’ and many translations have ‘foster brother’.  (People have different ideas about what this may have meant but it is probably a fruitless task to look any further!)

Saul we know, but half way through this chapter we will start using his preferred name, Paul.

We should also mention here John Mark, son of Mary, whose house in Jerusalem was used for the prayer meeting to which Peter went from prison. Little detail is known about him, but he was obviously a young man, but old enough to accompany Barnabus and Saul to Antioch as their helper (v5). It is generally accepted that he wrote the Gospel of Mark (and some conjecture he wrote down the sermons of Peter to use as his material; also he may have been the young man in Mark 14:51-52.)

It is worth remembering that only a few years before, Saul himself had been described as a ‘young man’ in charge of the clothes of those stoning Stephen (Acts 7:57)

2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

Many translations say that they were ministering, but there is no contradiction – as we worship, so we minister to those around; as we minister to others that too is a form of worship to the Lord. The fact that they were also fasting indicates that they took their worship seriously.

The Holy Spirit would also have been active in their worship but at some point he gives his instruction.

How did he do that?

Was it spoken? To whom? Or was it simply an understanding sensed by all that this was what they had to do?

3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Again we are told they fasted – why was that?

It seems that in the early church, prayer and fasting were inseparable. I doubt that they immediately sent off the Apostles that night; it would mean a major change in their church: to send two of their best leaders on a missionary endeavour.

I think that they then called the church to a time of fasting and prayer to confirm that what they had sensed was indeed the Lord’s will.

There must have been a time of preparation – even planning – before they set off under the direction of the Holy Spirit on what would be called ‘Paul’s first missionary journey’.

Why did they place their hands on them?

Not as an act of ordination – they were already recognised ministers in Christ’s service.

Rather it was an act of consecration – being set apart for this new ministry.

It was also a sign of the church’s approval.

It indicated that the church was in effect going with them

It also confirmed that they were praying for them, and the success of their mission.

4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

Actually three of them (v5) but John Mark was only a lad and so he didn’t really count! Seleucia was the port, about ten miles from Antioch where the Orontes River meets the sea.

Who decided they should evangelise in Cyprus?

The Holy Spirit

What a gentle touch that their first missionary endeavour would be to the home country of Barnabus!

5 When they arrived at Salamis (now Famagusta), they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

This would have been standard practice. Synagogues were considered to be much more than a ‘church’; they were also the Jews meeting places for many social purposes, and anyone could bring messages to share.

6 They travelled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.

As a Roman, the Proconsul would have accepted that Cyprus was the birthplace of Venus (Greek: Aphrodite), and may have attended her temple. There were other gods worshipped there including (of course) the current Roman emperor.

But it seems that Sergius Paulus ‘an intelligent man’, was not satisfied with the claims of false gods and was seeking the truth. Perhaps he had sent his ‘religious man’ to arrange a meeting with Barnabus and Saul.

8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.

Obviously he enjoyed a position which enabled him to interrupt, question, and attempt to divert the Proconsul from the truth of what Saul was saying.

9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.’

Saul remembered bitterly how he too had argued like this against the claims of Jesus. Now that he knew the truth for himself, the words of Elymas must have been particularly hurtful. He also remembered the penalty he had received at the hands of Jesus and, filled with the Spirit, he pronounced the same fate for Elymas.

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Just like Saul, Elymas too now needed to be led by the hand. Unlike Saul though, we know no more of him. The Proconsul however had ‘seen the light’ and recognised the truth of Saul’s words. Again we hear no more about him but obviously his life had changed!

So too had things changed for Saul. Now, referred to as Paul he becomes the leader and Barnabus seems to take second place.

Now read verses 13-15

13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.

In Acts 15:37-41 Paul refers to John ‘deserting’ them and the prospect of venturing into a foreign country may have been too much. Or as a young man he was simply homesick (it may have also been that the ship they were on was heading home and the opportunity was too much to ignore).


14a From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch.

Just to confuse us, several towns had the same name; so the town where Paul and Barnabus had come from was often called ‘Syrian’ Antioch, and where they were heading was ‘Pisidian’ Antioch.

14b On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down.

It has been suggested that one sat to speak in the synagogue; if that was so then it was obvious that these visitors had a message to bring.

15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.’

There is now a long passage which I don’t intend to comment on – perhaps several people could share reading it – Acts 13:16-41

Following that, the study resumes and I suggest that you read verses 42 - 49 first.

16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: ‘Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.

‘After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled for forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”

23 ‘From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: “Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

26 ‘Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognise Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed.

29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 ‘We tell you the good news: what God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

‘“You are my son;
    today I have become your father.”

34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,

‘“I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.”

35 So it is also stated elsewhere:

‘“You will not let your holy one see decay.”

36 ‘Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

38 ‘Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:

41 ‘“Look, you scoffers,
    wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
    that you would never believe,
    even if someone told you.”’

Read 42-49

42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.

Initially Paul’s message was well received and many were intrigued enough to ask him to come back next week and tell them more.

43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Not surprisingly, some in the congregation wanted more now – following the Apostles and questioning them about their faith, but also encouraging them ‘to continue in the grace of God’. Perhaps some had already believed and began to spread the word.

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.

Good news travels fast and it seems that everyone wanted to hear for themselves. But there are always two alternative responses when a visiting speaker packs the church – joy or jealousy.

45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.

The Jews who ran the synagogue sensed that their power was about to be taken from them – remember the way Saul and Elymas had reacted?

46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

‘“I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’

As Jews, Paul and Barnabus felt compelled to tell the Good News to their own people first; but when they had refused to listen they recognised that it was the confirmation of their call to go to the Gentiles.

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

Would someone like to explain the second part of that verse?

Our conversion is not our own doing; we have to accept that some are appointed for eternal life – which suggests that some are not. At the same time

‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:12)

Ephesians 1:4-5 ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will’

(Predestination was covered in two studies in John15d.)

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.

And the result was

52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Today we would call this an amazing time or revival. But for these new disciples nothing like this had ever been seen before and the growth of this new group of Christians was just like the start of the church in Jerusalem.

 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

Antioch was a Roman town, in the Celtic nation of Galatia which had become part of the Roman Empire in 25BC, and unlike in Jerusalem, the Jews had no political authority there.

But there would have been some people of influence who had adopted the Jewish ways and who attended the synagogue – and as today, it may have been more women than men; but with their husbands, and the other people of high standing enough pressure could be brought to drive Paul and Barnabus out.

51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

What was this ‘shook the dust off their feet’ all about?

It is suggested that the Jews thought the land of Israel so peculiarly holy, that when they came home from any heathen country they stopped at the borders, and shook or wiped off the dust of it from their feet, that the holy land might not be polluted with it. But see Matthew 10:14. It seems that rejection works both ways.

It appears that Paul and Barnabus were unfazed by their rejection and probably went on their way rejoicing!

Acts 14Acts 12

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Acts 13 Paul's 1st missionary journey with Barnabus (also Mark). to Cyprus, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium.