"And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God," (vs. 42, 43).
This is the Word desired. Following a sermon by Paul in which he rehearsed an abbreviated history of God's dealings with Israel, the people wanted to hear more. We're not given their motive for this desire; no doubt some were curious without thought of commitment, while others were genuinely impacted by the truth. For the opposing Jews, the seven intervening days would be time to rouse those willing to attack both the messengers and the message.
"And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God," (v. 44). The Word draws. Reminiscent of the Lord Jesus' ministry, when the common people heard Him gladly, the purity and authority of God's truth was winsome, drawing multitudes to hear it proclaimed.
Our Lord's parable of the soils (Luke 8) reminds us of the difference there can be between initial response and authentic results. The Lord Himself knew better than to trust men, for He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24, 25). Hence, the presence of large crowds must be seen in perspective: many are called, few chosen.
"But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming," (v. 45). The Word divides. The gospel truth, spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, always confronts and forces a decision: either rejection or acceptance. The Lord Jesus declared, "he who is not with Me is against Me..." (Matthew 12:30a).
These Jews decided to reject Messiah, His message, and His messengers. Incensed by the popular reception from the Gentiles (whom they considered to be dogs), as well as the proselytes (Gentiles who converted to Judaism), these legalistic religionists actually spoke evil of the very God they claimed to adore in the course of their vehement objections to Paul's preaching.
"And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, 'It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For thus the Lord has commanded us, 'I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT TO THE GENTILES, THAT YOU SHOULD BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.' " (vs. 46, 47).
This is the Word determined. Rather than being thwarted by the frantic efforts of the unbelieving Jews to discredit their message of truth, Paul and Barnabas became all the more determined and bold in their delivery. As Proverbs 28:1 states, "...the righteous are bold as a lion." Such a stance in the face of fierce opposition speaks strongly to the Holy Spirit's anointing that was upon the two men.
Note: see the human responsibility aspect of salvation here. In repudiating the word of God spoken by these servants of the living God, the Jews judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. Their damnation was deserved in the light of such privileged exposure to God's truth, their unbelief the root of their judgment.
By quoting Isaiah 49:6, Paul was employing a messianic passage that describes the heart of God's commitment to non-Jews. Although the Jews considered salvation for the Gentiles unthinkable, God was revealing His determined will through Paul's declarations.
"And when the Gentiles heard this, the began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed," (v. 48). This is the Word pre-determined. Luke would have us understand that salvation is a sovereignly-initiated work of grace which the living God orchestrated before the foundation of the world. Paul speaks of our salvation as being "according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity," (II Timothy 1:9). Paul tells the Ephesian believers that God the Father "chose us in Him (the Lord Jesus) before the foundation of the world..." (Eph. 1:4). Thus, the "had been appointed" (or ordained) speaks of eternity past as its origin.
Someone has wisely warned that we are not to invert the order of the verse: as many as believed, were appointed to eternal life. No, God does not see who will be saved and then decide they are elect. Such a view is counter to Scriptures quoted here, as well as the biblical picture of man's complete and total spiritual helplessness. Were it not for God's gracious initiative in predestinating the elect from eternity past, no one would be saved at all (Romans 3:10-12).
"And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region," (v. 49). This is the Word disseminated. With the salvation of great numbers of Gentiles, testimonies as to the change the Lord Jesus makes in one's life spread rapidly and widely. That aspect of Christ's great commission "even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8) was being carried out through the apostles' obedience.
An important concluding thought: from beginning to end of this episode of evangelism in the early church, the central focus is the word of God. Paul and Barnabas did not lecture on the psychological basis of conversion, or societal ills, or the politically adverse landscape related to Roman oppression.
Rather, the tremendous life-changing impact altering the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people stemmed from the word of God anointed by the Spirit of God according to the gracious will of the living God.