38 Let it be known to you, brethren, that through (Jesus) is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: 41 ‘Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe though one were to declare it to you.’ ” 42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you (Jews) first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts13:38-48)
I am focusing on the conclusion of Paul’s sermon in the synagogue at Antioch. One reason it is notable is that it is one of the few references to justification in the evangelistic preaching of the New Testament. Those who believe in Jesus, said Paul can be “justified from that from which one could not be justified through the Law of Moses”. As explained in an earlier post, there was provision in the Law of Moses through animal sacrifice for forgiveness of sins committed in ignorance (cf. Num15:26-28), but not for (the many more) sins committed willfully. This message greatly pleased Paul’s Gentile listeners but it should be noted that a good number of Jews and proselytes also followed Paul and Barnabus in response to this preaching (v43). Paul urged them to “continue in the grace of God”. That is as opposed to doing what he later had to chastise some within the Galatian Church for doing. They, he said had “fallen from grace” by attempting to be justified by the Law (Gal5:4). He explains elsewhere in his pastoral epistle that by this he meant they had “turned again to the weak and beggarly elements (of the Torah), desiring again to be in bondage, observing days and months and seasons and years (Gal4:9-10)“. This is the true context of Paul’s often misunderstood law/grace dichotomy and will be examined in more detail when we come to his epistles.
Whist some of his Jewish hearers were positive to Paul’s message others within the synagogue (probably including most of its leaders) were hostile. He warned them as follows: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you (Jews) first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (v46). As I explain in my book** and as Paul affirms in Romans chapter 11, it was not simply a matter of order or protocol that the Gospel be preached to the Jews first, it was because they were the fore-ordained children of God’s Kingdom (Mt8:12). They were about to be usurped as such in view of their unbelief – much to the benefit and spiritual prosperity of the Gentile world (Rom11:12). Yet as verse 48 indicates it was never God’s intention that all in the current age should come to gospel salvation. Rather, “as many as were appointed to eternal life” were enabled by the Spirit of God to receive Christ (cf. Jn6:44). Once the Church as God’s inaugurated kingdom on earth is understood within the context of broader providence, the doctrine of predestination insisted upon in particular by Paul will not be a problem or detract from the Creator’s loving providential plans for humanity.
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