Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly


Advance from the Capital of the Province to that of the Empire A. D. 44 To A. D. 62


Antioch the New Center of Evangelism


Paragraph 1. A STRONG GROUP OF LEADERS. Verses 1-4.

Now, there were at Antioch among the members of the local church some prophets and teachers—Barnabas, Symeon, surnamed Niger, and Lucius the Cyrenæan, besides Manaen, the foster brother of Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,

“Set apart for me now Barnabas and Saul unto the work to which I have called them.”

So they fasted and prayed and laid their hands upon them, and sent them off. They then being thus sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed thence to Cyprus.  


We now leave the twelve Apostles and their distinctive field of operations. New wine demands new bottles; new conquests, new captains. By action of the Apostles themselves, as we have already seen, Barnabas was delegated from the very first to correlate the new movement at Antioch with that in Jerusalem. Though a property holder of Cyprus, he had been foremost in laying his possessions at the feet of the Apostles for the common good. He had led in raising funds at Antioch for the good of the home church; therefore he must have been a man of substance. ; That he was a man who commanded the confidence of every section of the community is seen in his handling of Paul’s interests, time and again, both in and out of Jerusalem. Not the least compliment to his power is his evident dominance over the man from Tarsus, until the latter had become thoroughly oriented to his life mission. Barnabas stands at the top and Saul at the bottom of the list of leaders here named. The others were new names, and so referred to more fully. Both Jewish and Gentile names are given of the first, of the second only the Latin name and the fact of his African nativity. In the case of the third we have another of those interesting links uncovered whereby ancient society was linked together. It will be remembered that Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch, was during all of Jesus’s lifetime ruler of Galilee, and that his court at Tiberias on Lake Galilee was affected by the Messianic movement, his own chamberlain Chuza, and Johanna his wife, being its open supporters. Now we find that a foster brother of this same Herod was also brought into the circle of the same influence, and here at Antioch holds a high position in this earliest Gentile Christian center. That the church at Antioch was truly cosmopolitan is attested by the names in this brief list. That its spirit of Christianity and zeal also reached out to the uttermost parts is seen from the formal and unanimous manner in which it heard the command of the Spirit and boldly set apart and sent abroad two of its most gifted prophets and teachers. The Holy Spirit, both in the call of Barnabas and Saul and in their solemn ordination, warrants Luke in calling them Apostles from this time on and in classing them as not beneath that dignity in the fields to which they minister.  



Having arrived at Salamis, they began to declare the Word of God in the Jewish synagogues. Moreover, they also had John as assistant. They went through the whole island as far as Paphos, where they came across a Jewish magician and false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was a friend of Sergius Paulus, the Proconsul, a man of high intelligence, who called into his presence Barnabas and Saul, and asked to hear the Word of God. But Elymas, the magician, for that is the meaning of his name, opposed them, trying to dissuade the Proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked with fixed gaze upon him and said:

“You incarnation of all craftiness and deceit! Son of the devil! Enemy of all righteousness! Will you never cease perverting the straight paths of the Lord? Look you, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the light for a while.”

And with that there fell upon him a dark mist, and he went groping about for some one to lead him by the hand. So when the Proconsul saw what had happened he believed, being struck with astonishment at the teaching of the Lord. 


Luke rightly repeats at the start the fact that this enterprise was directly inspired from on high, and thus holds our attention true to his purpose in the book as a whole, namely, the carrying out of the Saviour’s plan to evangelize the entire world. Barnabas and Saul go down the Orontes River to its mouth, about sixteen miles, and at Seleucia take the most natural step in their projected tour by sailing to the first foreign port, the city of Salamis, on the island of Cyprus, less than a hundred miles away. There is no immediate change in method. They confine activities to the Jewish synagogues and for weeks pursue an even and thorough course, going from town to town until they at last reach Paphos, the capital, at the extreme western end. Here the incident of importance takes place, and Luke gives it full attention. Possibly Paul was his informant. In any case this battle with the magician marked a moment of importance in his experience only second to that on the Damascus road. As at Samaria, the power of the black art had to be faced and overcome, so thus early in this new course the issue was drawn on much the same grounds. Bar-Jesus has succeeded in interesting the Proconsul by his clever tricks and pseudo-philosophic talk until he supposes his monopoly is secured. Three strange and very gentlemanly teachers come to town, and anon by sheer earnestness, sincerity, and intellectual power become the subjects of all inquiry and conversation. The Proconsul invites them to speak at his official residence, and shows by his inquiries real inclination to favor the new form of faith. The magician, who is a renegade Jew and possibly a Levite and can quote the Hebrew prophets with glibness, repeatedly breaks in upon Barnabas, denying the accuracy of his statements and telling Sergius Paulus that his guests are trying to deceive him for their own gain under cover of preaching a new religion. Finally Saul can endure no more. He has not given a lifetime to the study of the Scriptures in the combined light of the Hebrew and Christian faith to stand speechless in the face of such transparent fraud. Inspired by the Holy One, he sees that BarJesus is in even worse state than he himself had been before his conversion, and that to strike him with temporary blindness would be not only wholesome but possibly in the end curative. His terrible words of wrath and judgment are none too severe. Elymas quails like a self-confessed demon before him, and Saul, “who is also called Paul,” captures his Roman namesake—a thing impossible under the circumstances, unless as a man of high intelligence he were wholly convinced of the hollowness of the magician’s claims as well as of the verity of the new religion. It must be noted that the interest and astonishment of the Proconsul is not said to rest in any way upon the demonstration against Elymas, but both before and after the incident to center upon “the teaching of the Lord.”



Then Paul and those with him sailed from Paphos unto Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and went back to Jerusalem. But the others journeyed on from Perga and arrived at Pisidian Antioch, where they went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets those in charge of the synagogue sent word to them,

“Brother men, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, speak.”

Then Paul stood up and, raising his hand for silence, said:

“Men of Israel, and you who live in the fear of God, hear me.”


From Paphos, Paul and those with him—note the change in leadership—sail across to Perga on the seacoast of Pamphylia. We accept the view that the plan of their tour had originally been to follow the sea journey westward along the coast, Ephesus being quite likely their ultimate aim. This was abandoned for some unexplained reason, and that is probably excuse for Mark’s return to Jerusalem. Had their objective been Galatia from the first, the approach would more naturally have been by way of the overland roads and through the Syrian and Cilician passes northwest of Antioch. Dr. Ramsay’s contention that Paul had a sudden and very severe illness at Perga, one for which a higher and dryer climate was needful, explains many things—among them the failure to preach in Pamphylia at this time, the condition of illness and weakness in which Paul reached Galatia, and also perhaps Mark’s defection. In case Luke was a member of this first party of foreign missionaries, as not a few scholars have come to believe, there are again some points which go well with the general situation. First, we have an easy solution for the vivid and full reports of Paul’s speeches throughout the tour. Then the departure of Mark from Perga at so critical a moment is not difficult, supposing Paul to be ill and in need of medical treatment and change of climate. The presence of Dr. Luke and his prescription and charge of the case, of course, bring thus immense relief to us as readers, as they must have brought to Barnabas. Finally the total lack of mention of Luke’s name in the account is rather favorable than otherwise to the theory, since he only names Mark after they get to Cyprus, though he started with them from Antioch. Moreover, it assumes the validity of the ancient tradition of both Eusebius and Jerome that Luke was from Antioch. It also cares for the case of the “we” that slips into the text at Chapter xiv, 22, indicating, like all the other “we” passages, the presence of Luke with the Apostolic company on this journey. Not even the most narrow literalist. will claim that Luke leaves invariable evidence of his presence wherever and whenever he might do so.

By forced marches they reach Pisidian Antioch and are very cordially and considerately received. They enter very quietly into the local synagogue one Sabbath, and after the regular readings, at the point in the service where the discourse or sermon took place, are invited to address the assembly. The report of Paul’s first gospel sermon follows. It includes pious men not Hebrews, though chiefly shaped upon Jewish premises and history—indeed, it has been suggested that Paul’s discourse was intended to serve as sermon to the texts of the day, Deut. i, from the Pentateuch, and Isa. i, from the Prophets. It falls into three sections.



“The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and advanced them while they dwelt in Egypt, and with an outstretched arm brought them out from it, and for about forty years He bore with them like a nursing father in the desert. Then after He had destroyed seven nations in Canaan He allotted their land to them for about four hundred fifty years, and thereafter He kept giving them judges down to the time of Samuel the prophet. And then they implored for a king, and God gave them for forty years Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin. After displacing him He raised up David to be their king, and to him He bore witness and said,

‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after Mine own heart, who will do everything I desire.’

“It is from the offspring of this man that God brought to Israel according to His promise a Saviour in Jesus, before whose coming John had preached to all the people of Israel a baptism of repentance. Now, as John was nearing the end of his career he used to say:

“What do you think me to be? I am not the Christ! But He comes after me, and I am not worthy to unloose the sandals of His feet!”



Paul begins with the Hebrews in Egypt, where the lesson from the law naturally suggested his point of departure, and with graphic but brief outline sketches the divine leadership of the chosen people, despite the drawbacks of perpetual misunderstandings both on the part of the race as a whole and of its consecrated leaders, until the time of David. In David Jehovah found the type of the Son of Man, one who would do all His will. With a masterly stroke Paul refers to Jehovah’s explicit promise to David, that of his seed should surely come the nation’s Redeemer, as fulfilled in Jesus, whom John the Baptist clearly pointed out as such, though multitudes at the time were ready to accept John himself as the Messiah. But he, quoting Isaiah, claimed only to be Messiah’s forerunner, preparing His way and unworthy even to act as His sandal-bearer. This brings Paul’s hearers directly to the center of his discourse.  


“Brother men, sons of Abraham’s race, and those among you living in the fear of God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. For those dwelling at Jerusalem and their rulers failed to recognize Him, and in condemning Him they have fulfilled the very language of the Prophets, which are read every Sabbath. Moreover, they besought Pilate to have Him put to death, although they found no ground for the death penalty. So, having carried out every detail written about Him, they took Him down from the cross and placed Him in a tomb. God, however, raised Him from the dead. And for many days He appeared to those who had gone up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and these are now His witnesses to the people. Thus we are now bringing the glad news that the promise made to our fathers God has completely fulfilled to us their children by His raising up Jesus; just as it is written in the second Psalm:


“Moreover, as proof that He raised Him from the dead, never again to return to corruption, He has spoken thus :


and, going further, He says in another Psalm:


“Now, David himself having served God’s will in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid away beside his fathers, and suffered corruption. But He whom God raised up did not suffer corruption.”



In his earnestness Paul sweeps his glance over his most attentive audience, and leaning forward again makes his acknowledgment of their two points of view, as sons of Abraham and as pious men not of that stock. But he includes them all, and thus appeals equally to each as he cries:

“Brothers, do you realize that to us in this day—here and now— the good news comes of the fulfillment of this high promise? To be sure, the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem and most of the people at large did not recognize their Messiah, for they only read a part of the prophecies concerning Him and themselves, and in ignorance fulfilled that part which foretold His ignominious death as an atonement for the race. Thus, I say, they unwittingly fulfilled by causing His death His immediate and final enthronement, for it is as spiritual and universal King that He is antitype of David. It is a notorious and actual fact that they drove the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate to crucify Him. He actually died as a public malefactor and was buried in a new-made tomb. But God raised Him from the dead! Of this fact there is ample and indisputable proof. For several weeks He appeared under every possible circumstance to His friends—to more than five hundred in a single gathering— and then He ascended into Heaven. Now, His rising from the dead before real dissolution had set in is one of the oft-repeated prophecies of David himself, and God hath set His own seal on Jesus as the one designated in those prophecies by raising Him again from death. All this occurred only a few years ago, and most of those who had the sublime privilege of seeing Him again alive are witnessing as we do here to this wondrous truth.  


“Now then, my brother men, you must clearly understand that it is through this Man that forgiveness of sins is openly declared to you, and that every believer in Him is absolved from everything he could not be absolved from under Moses’s law. See to it then lest what is said in the prophets should come upon you:






“Brothers, the meaning of all these things is far deeper than appears upon the surface. The fact of sin is the most appalling and degrading fact in human history. It has weighed on the consciences of Jew and Gentile alike with the same oppressive power. To the Jew was given a system of laws, ordinances, and sacrifices as a preparatory step to God’s sacrifice of His own Son as a full propitiation and atonement for sin. The keeping of the laws of Moses, even if possible, assured no soul of a sense of true justification or even of forgiveness in the sight of a Holy God. These things were only palliative, temporary, preparatory, and prophetic. Now comes the supreme spiritual satisfaction in the death and rising again of the Christ, who fulfills every prophecy, furnishes full and free forgiveness, gives to the believer the assurance of final justification, and uplifts the mind and soul with an experience of permanent and unquenchable joy.”  

Paragraph 4. TWOFOLD EFFECT OF PAUL’S ADDRESS. Verses 42-52.

Now, as they went out the people kept beseeching Paul and Barnabas to tell them about these same things the next Sabbath. And after the assembly broke up, members of the Jews and of the devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who continued talking to them and urging them to persevere in the grace of God.

On the following Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the Word of God. The Jews, however, seeing the crowds, were filled with jealousy, and kept contradicting what Paul was saying and heaping abuse on him.

Thereupon both Paul and Barnabas spoke out fearlessly and said:

“We were bound to declare the Word of God to you first, but as you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, why, we now turn to the Gentiles. For the Lord thus commands us:


When the Gentiles heard this they began to rejoice and glorified the Word of God, and as many as were appointed to life eternal believed. Thus the Word of the Lord was being carried throughout the whole country. The Jews, however, raised the devout women of rank who worshiped with them, and the chief men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of their territory. They, however, having shaken off the dust of their feet against them, went to Iconium. As for the disciples, they abounded in joy and in the Holy Spirit.  


The immediate effect of Paul’s impassioned sermon seemed altogether favorable. The audience as a whole wished to hear further of his teaching and asked if the Apostles might not be present and speak the following Sabbath. Mutual understanding to that effect between them and the officials evidently took place, since the crowds gathered for that end seven days later. Moreover, numbers of both Jews and proselytes at once accepted the new doctrine, since Paul and Barnabas kept urging them to continue and persevere in the divine favor. But the powers of bigotry and of darkness were by no means asleep, nor did orthodox Hebrews propose that, unchallenged, this specious heresy should sweep away their stand upon the true Mosaic law and Levitical customs as they had been handed down and understood for over a thousand years. We must not think that Paul and Barnabas were not intensely active meanwhile, nor that they were unprepared for the developments that came. At length the Sabbath arrives and with it throngs of people; “almost the whole city” assembles at the Jewish synagogue, not out of idle curiosity but from the best motives—“to hear the Word of God.” Paul is again the chief speaker, and doubtless pursues the same line of reasoning and appeal already taken. But certain of the leading Jews take issue with his use of the Old Testament in supporting his contentions, and finding him more than a match for them in this direction proceed to heap personal abuse and contempt upon him. Both he and Barnabas soon see the impossibility of further peace, and boldly accepting the gage, turn the tables with great diplomacy. Can we not imagine them earnestly conferring together for a moment, and then tall, quiet-mannered Barnabas in a clear deliberate tone, not high pitched, give their ultimatum?—

“We are Jews of some standing and reputation both in our own native communities and in Jerusalem, where we have lived for many years. We were both deeply prejudiced against this teaching until overwhelmed by the evidence of its truth, and having once embraced it we experienced all the satisfaction and joy which it claimed. We have devoted our lives to proclaiming it as widely as lies in our power. Through an unexpected providence we reached your city and were warmly welcomed in your synagogue. We have sincerely presented to you, as was our duty, the first opportunity to accept this which we believe to be the true interpretation of the Word of God, the very word of eternal life. Since you, our brethren and countrymen according to the flesh, reject it, we now turn to the Gentiles, for our commission, as you have rightly judged, includes them; as Isaiah himself says, speaking of Messiah,


The outcome was, of course, twofold. First, the acceptance of the gospel by multitudes of the Gentiles, not only residents of the city but throughout the immediate region. Second, the rousing of all the forces of opposition, both racial and social, against the Apostles, and finally their expulsion, though their dignity was not violated in the order of their going. Dr. Ramsay makes able argument for holding that they spent the winter in Antioch, for time would be needed to evangelize the contiguous territory; the Jews could not compel their withdrawal without prolonged process of pseudo legal nature and Paul would be disposed to stand his ground until expediency dictated otherwise.

Thus fully has Luke recorded another of those strategic developments in the progress of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. The “Door of the Gentiles” is at last flung wide open, and there are many adversaries. Dr. Hort truly says, “This incident in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch is the true turning point at which a Gentile Christianity formally and definitely begins, and so a Judaistic Christianity becomes possible.”