In the first twelve chapters of the book of Acts the ministry of the apostle Peter is prominent, his ministry is to the Jews only (except in chapter 10), and his ministry is based in Jerusalem and confined to the land of Israel. In the remainder of the book the ministry of the apostle Paul is prominent, his ministry is to Jews and Gentiles outside the land of Israel, and his ministry is based in Antioch. Peter was sent to the circumcision with the gospel of the circumcision, but Paul was sent to the Gentiles with the gospel of the uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7-9).
The number thirteen in the Bible is associated with separation (unto good or bad). In Genesis 13:13 there are thirteen words that describe the rebellious sodomites. In Hebrews 13:13 there are thirteen words that describe the godly remnant of Israel. The first mention of the number thirteen concerns rebellion (Gen. 14:4). That a separation takes place in chapter 13 in each of the first five books of the Bible sets the precedent for the number thirteen in the Bible.
Paul was given a ministry that was separate from the twelve apostles (Rom. 11:13). We could call him the thirteenth apostle. His ministry to the Gentiles was not based on the rise of Israel, but on their fall (Rom. 11:11-15). He wrote thirteen epistles by inspiration of God to the Body of Christ.
This present age began with the salvation of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 (1 Tim. 1:12-16) but Acts 13 also has great dispensational significance. God did not send Paul out of the Jewish church in Jerusalem, but out of the Gentile (Acts 15:1-2) church in Antioch. God waited until he and Barnabas returned from Jerusalem before He sent them out on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25).
In Acts 13:
- Saul was officially separated unto his ministry among the Gentiles and was sent out of a Gentile church. Notice that “separate” is the 13th word in verse 2 (only in the KJB)!
- The first recorded miracle in Saul’s ministry (vv.6-13) provides a dispensational picture of this present age (see comments below).
- Saul will be known by his Gentile name of Paul from this chapter on.
- Saul was mentioned last among the prophets and teachers in Antioch (v.1). However, from this point on, it will be “Paul and his company.” This had something to do with the departure of John Mark in verse 13.
- The first recorded message of justification by faith without works was preached by Paul (v.38-39).
- Paul gave an important warning to the Jews and made an important declaration concerning his ministry (vv.40-47).
- Paul made his first of three pronouncements that he was turning from the Jews to preach to Gentiles (v.46).
- Many Gentiles were saved in the city, outside of the synagogue and apart from the Jews (vv.48-49).
- The disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost for the first time without any reference to water baptism or the laying on of hands (v.52).
- The key verses in Acts 13 are multiples of 13 (v.13, 26, 39, 52).
Paul’s First Recorded Miracle
(6) And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: (7) Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. (8) But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. (9) Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, (10) And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? (11) And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. (12) Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. (13) Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:6-13)
The name Bar-Jesus means “son of Jehovah saves.” With a name like that he must have had parents that knew the truth of God. Yet, this apostate Jew was a sorcerer and a false prophet (Deut. 18:9-14). Just being a physical Jew never saved anyone (Jn. 8:37-38, 44). He was also called Elymas, an Arabic name that means “wise one.” He was probably an adviser to the Gentile deputy, Sergius Paulus.
The Gentile desired to hear the word of God, but the apostate Jew sought to turn him away from the faith. It is significant that in the first verse that Saul (Hebrew name that means desired) is called Paul (Gentile name that means little), he is filled with the Holy Ghost and performs a miracle that provides a dispensational picture of his ministry. The first recorded miracle of Peter in the book of Acts was a dispensational picture concerning Israel’s need of healing (Acts 3:1-11). The book of Acts records Peter and Paul doing the same kind of signs, wonders, and miracles to confirm their apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12). Peter also cursed a sorcerer (Acts 8:20-23).
A Dispensational Picture
1. The Jew failed to bring God’s light to the Gentile.
Bar-Jesus represents unbelieving Israel. God said that Israel was His son (Ex. 4:22) and it was His will for them to be a light to the Gentile nations. It was God’s plan to bless the Gentiles through Israel. But they rebelled against Him and therefore failed to fulfill His purpose for them (Rom. 2:17-24).
2. The Jew rejected the word of God, but the Gentile desired to hear it.
This pattern is seen throughout Paul’s ministry in Acts, beginning in this chapter (Acts 13:42, 46; 18:4-6).
3. The Jew sought to turn away the Gentile from the faith.
Again, this will be a pattern throughout Paul’s ministry in Acts. It wasn’t enough for the Jews to rebel against the word of God, in their rebellion they sought to hinder the Gentiles from hearing it (Acts 13:44-45, 50; 1 Thess. 2:15-16). The unbelieving Jews were children of the devil who did his work (Jn. 8:44).
4. The Jew was blinded and as a result the Gentile was saved.
It is interesting that when Israel lost the kingdom and the “times of the Gentiles” began, their king was blinded (Jer. 52:10-11). In Acts 7 Israel falls spiritually and God begins to set them aside in judgment. Their fall is related to two blind Jews: Saul (Acts 9:8-9) and Bar-Jesus.
It was part of Paul’s ministry to pronounce blindness on Israel (Acts 28:24-29). As a result of Israel’s blindness many Gentiles are being saved in this present age (Rom. 11:1-15). Paulus was astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. Paul had a message for the Gentiles. As with the case of Bar-Jesus, the blindness of Israel is not permanent (Rom. 11:25-29). Just as Elymas eventually saw the light of the sun (v.11), so Israel will see the light (Mal. 4:2).
In this story we see two men named Paul: one had been a religious Jew and the other a pagan Gentile, but BOTH had come short of the glory of God and had to be saved by grace (Rom. 10:12-13).
It had been “Barnabas and Saul” and Saul was mentioned LAST among the prophets and teachers in Antioch (v.1). From this point on (v.13), it will be “Paul and his company.” John Mark was not ready to recognize Paul’s distinct ministry among the Gentiles, so he departed to return to Jerusalem. He had likely been Paul’s personal assistant, which was very important for a man with eye problems (Gal. 4:15). Mark was an unprofitable servant (Acts 15:37-38) until he later recognized Paul’s authority (2 Tim. 4:11).