We come in this message to 13:13-52. In this portion of Acts Paul and his companions came to Antioch of Pisidia, where they preached the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ as the Savior (vv. 13-43). However, as we shall see, they were rejected by the Jews (vv. 44-52).
Acts 13:13 says, “And putting out to sea from Paphos, Paul and his companions came to Perga of Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” Based upon 15:38, the reason for John’s leaving must have been negative and hence a discouragement to Paul and his companion. However, he was recovered to Paul in his later ministry (Col. 4:10-11; 2 Tim. 4:11).
Acts 13:14 says, “And passing through from Perga, they arrived at Antioch of Pisidia; and going into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, they sat down.” The purpose of the apostles’ going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day was not to keep the Sabbath. Rather, their purpose was to grasp the opportunity for preaching the gospel. As in 13:5, they did not go to attend the Jewish synagogue gathering, but to take advantage of the gathering to announce the word of God, just as the Lord Jesus did in His ministry (Matt. 4:23; Luke 4:16).
Here in Acts 13 we see a complete pattern for us to follow today. In going to the synagogue, Paul was following in the steps of the Lord Jesus, who taught in the synagogue. If there was a synagogue in a particular city, Paul would go there, not because he was Judaic or intended to keep the Sabbath or learn the word of God. On the contrary, Paul went to the synagogue to take advantage of the opportunity to speak the word of God’s gospel. In every synagogue the holy Scriptures were taught, and there were a number of people, both Jews and Gentiles, who were seeking God. Therefore, it was wise of Paul to go to the synagogues.
In 13:15 we see that in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia Paul was given the opportunity to speak: “And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent to them, saying, Men, brother, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” Literally, the Greek words translated “if you have any word” mean “if there is in you any word.” When Paul rose up to speak, he addressed those in the synagogue, saying, “Men, Israelites, and those who fear God” (v. 16). Here the ones who fear God are Gentile seekers after God.
Paul’s going to the synagogue also matches the basic principle that God’s gospel should go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16).
In John 10 the Lord Jesus indicates that of both Jews and Gentiles are sheep that make up the unique flock. In John 10:16 He says, “I have other sheep which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” Here the other sheep are the Gentile believers (Acts 11:18). The one flock signifies the one church, the one Body of Christ (Eph. 2:14-16; 3:6), brought forth by life, which is the Lord imparted into His members through His death (John 10:10-18). In John 10:16 the fold is Judaism, and the flock is the church. Outside the fold of Judaism, there were other sheep, the Gentile believers, who would be gathered together to be one flock with the Jewish believers. As we have pointed out, this one flock is the church.
Certain hymns have been written in which the church is regarded as the fold. This is a mistaken concept. The church is not a fold that keeps the sheep. Rather, the church is a flock, that is, the totality of the sheep. The fold and the flock are two things, but the church and the flock are one thing. Judaism was a fold used by God to keep His sheep temporarily. A fold is used to keep sheep during the winter, bad weather, and the night. The Old Testament time was the nighttime. The Lord’s sheep were kept in this fold until the day dawned with the coming of the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:78-79). As the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus called the sheep out of the fold; that is, He called them out of the Jewish religion.
Christians today may regard denominations as churches. Actually, the denominations are folds that keep the believers, who are members of the church. Whereas every denomination is a fold, the church is the flock.
In the ancient times the synagogues in Judaism were folds, and many of God’s sheep were kept in these folds. When the Lord Jesus came, He called God’s chosen people out of the fold of Judaism. Paul followed Him to do the same thing. Whenever he came to a city, he would go to the fold, the synagogue, in that place, for he knew that a number of God’s sheep were held there. For this reason, when Paul preached in a synagogue, a number of the people believed. Among the believing ones were some Greeks. The ministry of the apostle Paul was not only to call out God’s chosen people from the Jewish religion, but also to gain Gentile believers. Then the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers were put together to form the church, the one flock. Today in the Lord’s recovery we are not building up a fold; rather, we are taking care of God’s flock.
Paul’s going to the synagogues is an aspect of the pattern portrayed in Acts 13. We may learn of Paul to go to those places where God’s chosen people meet.
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