PERSECUTION AT PISIDIAN ANTIOCH (ACTS 13:14-52). The first goal of Paul and Barnabas’ thrust into Asia Minor was the city of Antioch in the Roman province of Galatia (South-central Turkey).
Galatia was named for the Gauls, a Celtic tribe from the same stock, which inhabited France. They had the same temperament and characteristics that marks the majority of the American population. Caesar had this to say of them: “The infirmity of the Gauls is that they are fickle in their resolves, fond of change, and not to be trusted.” Another writer of that period described them as “frank, impetuous, impressible, eminently intelligent, fond of show, but extremely inconstant, the fruit of excessive vanity.”
Paul twice returned to Pisidan Antioch to support his converts (14:21; 16:6). Paul entered his hardest mission field. His two return trips and a reading of his Letter to the Galatians support this assumption. These people were spiritually bent in the wrong direction. They were constantly wandering off the narrow road.
It was no easy journey, Antioch lay about 100 miles to the north across the formidable Taurus Mountains and about 4,000 feet in altitude. The city was in a lofty tableland setting of the lake district. The city had been re-founded by Emperor Augustus as a Roman colony to keep the peace in the hills. It still had a frontier air.
Pisidan Antioch boasted native Galatians, Phyrgians, Greeks, Jews, and Romans for Antioch had recently admitted a large influx of veterans from the Roman army. Coins from the city display the river-god Anthios, and Men was the city’s chief deity.
For several reasons, the two missionaries began preaching at the Jewish synagogue even though Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. (1) Paul knew he would get a hearing among the Jews in the synagogue and this made it the logical place to start; (2) he had a personal burden for his people; and (3) he wanted his nation to hear God’s Word and so be without excuse.
Luke chooses the synagogue of Antioch as the setting for his fullest account of Paul’s preaching to the Jews (13:14-41). While at the same city, Paul is shown preaching to a mass audience of Gentiles (13:44).
Paul began his message with a historical sketch closely modeled on Stephen’s unforgettable defense of Christ. Where Stephen got no further than King David before the atmosphere grew so hostile that he broke off to accuse his audience, Paul was heard with complete attention. After Paul finished, many of the Jews and proselytes begged to hear more of the grace of God.
On the next Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear the Word of God. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 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. 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” (Acts 13:46-47).
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. Luke is not teaching predestination. In fact, the opposite is true. The Jews had been appointed as a nation to eternal life, but they rejected it. God’s plan included Gentiles in salvation (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), those who believed were appointed. “Appointed” is a military term to place in orderly arrangement. These Gentiles aligned themselves on God’s side as opposed to the Jews.
The Word of the Lord spread throughout the whole region. But the Jews stirred up persecution against the evangelists and they were expelled from their region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.