The Spirit’s Selection

Acts 13:1-12

Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper. And when they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for thus his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him, and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? “And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.

Few things have truly changed the world. Many things have induced slight shifts, such as world wars, ferocious famines, the internal combustion engine and smartphones. But very few things have actually changed the world. Eight years from now, according to a grumpy, old, white dude (who holds more hypocrisy in his hand than he has homes, of which he has more than most, homes which run off “fossil fuels”), our world will be changed and doomed forever by the burning of said fossil fuels. That is if we don’t drastically change our ways. To which, as always, I have a question and a statement; what happens when he is proven wrong? And, “you go first.” A more likely result is that fear of a world changing event will induce a slight shift but the world will not be transformed. Even the hotly debated dropping of atomic bombs by the United States on the Empire of Japan didn’t change the world. It killed many people but it also probably saved more lives in the end. The problem is that we don’t know that for sure and many of the wrong people died. Nevertheless, it brought about a peace between the United States and Japan, who were actually allies in less than 10 years. But geopolitics are not my thing, and I always believe that war should be the absolute last option. Therefore while wars and other attacks change people’s worlds, they don’t necessarily change the world. And yet I believe what happened in today’s text absolutely changed the world. Like the fall and the flood there was a seismic shift stemming from the Spirit’s selection of Paul and Barnabas.

But I am getting way ahead of myself. First, let’s look back at Matthew 24, where Jesus was speaking to his disciples, alone, after he said that the temple would topple they asked him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.”

This morning I went to a faithful follower of my missives and played a clip from a dogmatic dispensational radio show, which was uploaded to YouTube. I wanted to show the difference between the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics and ripping verses out of context, reading into the text, rather than drawing things out by Considering the Context, Aspirations of Author to his Audience, Genre, Exegesis of Examples and then Dividing rightly the word of truth. I will write this quote from the clip which is only days old and already has 21,000 views and 1,100 likes: “It says in Revelation 13 that ‘Their empire will come to power for seven ignominious years which will literally be hell on earth.'” Is this careful consideration of the context or absolute eisegesis? Only one way to find out–read the Bible, using the CAGED method. Luckily for us, there is an easier way. Yet I would suggest that anyone who claims to be a Christian should read the entire Bible, using the CAGED method. I truly believe it would clear up many of our presuppositions and preconceived notions. Unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught. This quote is precisely why I write. For time’s sake, let’s look at the easy way to see that the CAGED method was not used but rather egregious eisegesis.

Once again, the dogmatic dispensationalist’s paraphrase of Revelation 13. “Their empire will come to power for seven ignominious years which will literally be hell on earth.” But how does Revelation 13 really read? “And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; and they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?’ And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him.”

Must be that new math. That is an incredible imposition on the text. But the dogmatic dispensationalists’ impositions don’t end there–we will come back to this.

Why do I fight tooth and nail with words against the dogmatic dispensationalists? It’s the same reason I speak against the arrogant environmentalists. If the world is still spinning in 8 or so years, don’t wonder why. The Bible is clear in that, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” as Peter wrote. However we look for earth-shattering, world-changing, catoclysmic calamity. Whether it be in the form of a mini iceage, a hole in the ozone, global warming, climate change or a rapture. But Peter says that we await a New Heaven and a New Earth. And yet Earth-shattering, world-changing, constructive, restorative events have happened. From the fall to the flood, onward to the cross, sin increased, slowly but surely. Yet, there was a pivot point; “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Surely we can all agree that the cross was earth-shaking, literally and figuratively. The question then is, does the world get better; and has the world gotten better or worse since the cross? Not only in an instant but progressively as well. And in its perceived progression, are other things purged? In the increase of God’s government, is there an ebb and flow, trials and tribulations, triumph and tremendous blessings?

I have wasted enough of your time trying to clear our proverbial pallets so that we will put aside preconceived notions and presuppositions. Let’s let the context speak for itself, remembering that Matthew 24 applied to their generation, or Jesus needs to go back to grammar school. Not to come off as sacrilegious but how can “this” mean “that?” I would argue that stars falling from the sky should be taken figuratively and symbolically, while simple phrases such as “this generation,” should be taken literally, at their word, at face value. We all have a choice to make, either “this generation” is to be taken literally or certain celestial signs and wonders are. While I could write a book on fulfilled prophesies sans the sky falling, I won’t take the time to do it now, we have context to consider, hoping to clarifying my position.

“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”

Context is King; Luke has Paul and Barnabas going to bring relief from famine to the church in Judea from the church in Antioch. Now Paul and Barnabas have returned to Antioch after the successful mission. Luke now writes of the men who were prophets and teachers in Antioch; “Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” Five ministering men to the church in Antioch, who were fasting and praying, seeking the Spirit. Somewhat ironically enough, one man, Manaen, grew up with Herod the tetrarch. Herod the tetrarch, or Antipas was the Herod in between Herod the Great and Herod Agrippa. Luke thought it pertinent to mention, therefore I point it out as well. The church in Antioch was diverse, yet they prayed and fasted together and the Spirit answered them. “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Notice that they didn’t immediately send Paul and Barnabas but kept right on praying and fasting. “Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Fasting and praying is not only about asking but also for thanksgiving and preparation. They had their answer but fasted together in full fellowship acknowledging the task at hand. This also includes the laying of hands on Paul and Barnabas and it also includes them sending Paul and Barnabas away. It was an all inclusive mission.

“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper.” Sent by the Spirit and sent by the church, Paul and Barnabas, with the help of John, left the church in Antioch to more remote locations. The context reads, “they sailed to Cyprus.” We don’t need a map to know that they have left the mainland. They sailed to the northeastern coast of the island, Cyprus, to a town called Salamis, preaching in the synagogues​ there–plural. They didn’t only go to one–that is important to keep in mind.

“And when they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for thus his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” Clarity is confirmed by the context which is confounded by presuppositions. Elymas BarJesus was a Jewish, false prophet. The proconsul  Sergius Paulus was the intelligent man whom Elymas was trying to lead astray. Jesus spoke of false prophets misleading many in Matthew 24, Elymas BarJesus would certainly fit into that category. He is a false prophet, even his name is a dead giveaway, and he did his false prophecies in the mid first-century. Paulus wanted to hear from Paul and Barnabas. Word of mouth was spreading and we read, “this man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for thus his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” Another partial prophetic fulfillment of Matthew 24? I don’t know how anyone could argue otherwise.

“But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him, and said, ‘You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.’ And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.”

In my missives we have already switched from Saul to Paul because he wrote as Paul. Luke also, from this point forward in his narrative, refers to him as Paul. King Saul was the first king of Israel from the tribe of Benjamin. Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin also, but he chose to write in his Greek name not his Hebrew name and Luke no longer calls him Saul after today’s text. I don’t believe that Paul changed his name, but chose to use one of his names over the other. Like most people in that era, he had more than one. Such as John, who is also called Mark, BarJesus whose name is translated Elymas, Peter is Simon and many others. They lived in a cross-cultural country. But the significance is not only the choice to prefer Paul but the timing and which name Paul chose to write under. Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was the Greek form. Paul chose to not use his Hebrew name. Nevertheless remember what the context says, “Saul, who was also known as Paul.” It was not a name change but a name choice. Lord willing we will see it develop in the future but we also see a glimpse now, and will come back to this.

Paul was filled with the Spirit and lashed out at Elymas. “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” Let it sink in and remember that a true prophet, the one Jesus said was more than a prophet, was prophesied by Isaiah to make straight the way of the Lord–John the Baptist. Yet this false prophet, Elymas, BarJesus, was making the path of the Lord crooked. Meaning that he was speaking that which was false, as Jesus predicted and promised in Matthew 24. And if it seems like I am beating the proverbial dead-horse, I am. However I have to do it until we understand that to this day, false prophets and teachers exist–history repeats itself–but Jesus was speaking of their generation specifically. Why is this important?

Because the world changes drastically with the Acts of the apostles–all of them, and most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim that no one is more important than another but deep down we all know that Paul, formerly Saul, aka, “the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle,” changed the world. But what’s in a name, anyway? That depends upon how deep one desires to dig. We definitely don’t want to read anything into the context but we do see similarities and the sublime string.

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim that Paul changed his name because he went to the gentiles. I believe that there is merit to that but Luke used Paul in today’s text, before he switched from the synagogues to the “churches.” It is right around the corner but has not happened yet. Some pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers argue that Paul changed his name to fit that of which he thought of himself–the least and most unworthy apostle because Paul means small. Again, there may be merit to this. Saul was the name of Israel’s first king, who was a head taller than everyone else. Saul means “asked for,” as the people prayed to God for a king. Remember, God was supposed to be their king and was angry with the people for wanting another. Now that Jesus had come and began his kingdom made up of all peoples, it would seem fit that Paul changed his name from the lofty Saul to the humble Paul. But why now, why does Luke, in his historical narrative, switch from Saul to Paul at this moment? I believe we can assume that it is deliberate.

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, pet peeves I had as a youth director was parents elevating me only to bring me down. “We think you’re doing a great job with this and you’re really good at that…but…” It got to the point where the minute anyone offered me a compliment, I would say, “just give me the but.” I hate to be a hypocrite BUT, the translators of the Bible did a magnificent job with a very difficult task. BUT, I can’t figure out why they did what they did with proper names. We have the absolute anglicized names of Jesus and Paul but in today’s text Sergius Paulus, is in Latin. The Bible wasn’t written in Latin. Why did they not either transliterate the Greek or anglicize his name? Probably because they wanted to differentiate between Sergio Paul and Paul. But I believe Luke’s aspiration is for his audience to see that the proconsul and Paul shared the same name. Luke never wrote Paul before today’s text and never writes Saul again except for quoting Paul, quoting Jesus. I hardly think that this is a coincidence.

Speaking of coincidence, BarJesus, meaning “son of Jesus” is blinded temporarily much in the same way Saul, also known as Paul, was and for the same reason. Symbolically speaking, both Saul and BarJesus were blind in their promotion of their Jewish religion and being against the church. This is where I have to be very careful with my words against the mega-church pastors and the dogmatic dispensationalists. I don’t want to hinder the gospel in any way, on the contrary, I want to promote the gospel. I want the church to be front and center as did Jesus and Paul–that is the point. Nevertheless, the mega-church pastors and dogmatic dispensationalists are not in line with this. The mega-church pastors preach a false promise and the dogmatic dispensationalists preach a parenthetical church. But the church is not parenthetical but eternal–and it changed the world forever.

Consider the context; “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers:” Paul, Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius and Manaen. But we also see a false prophet, “a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus.” And this false prophet was leading Sergio Paul astray, even as he sought schooling from Paul and Barnabas. See the sublime string and understand that the dogmatic dispensationalists have Matthew 24 all wrong–they read into it the exact opposite of what Jesus was communicating. Today’s text is a key to unlocking the CAGED Scripture that has been caged by their presuppositions. They claim that Matthew 24 ushers in the return of the Jewish religion but it is actually God’s judgment against the Jewish religion and promotion of his eternal church made up of both Jews and gentiles–true Israel. Look at today’s text.

The prophets in the church prayed and fasted and the Holy Spirit (God) said to set apart and send Paul and Barnabas. The church sent Paul and Barnabas just as the Spirit said. They went to the synagogues preaching Jesus and his church. They were opposed by a Jewish false prophet named BarJesus. The proconsul, Mr. Paul, sent for Paul and Barnabas and let’s not forget little John. But BarJesus promoted Judaism to Mr. Paul while Paul promoted the church. BarJesus was blinded and Mr. Paul believed what the apostle Paul said. “Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.”

Temporary blindness or a partial hardening? It is easy to jump to the conclusion that BarJesus’ temporary blindness is a parody of the partial hardening of Israel because of our presuppositions and preconceived notions brought on by the dogmatic dispensationalists ripping verses out of context. But here, we consider the context and see the similarities and sublime string. Luke now calls Saul, a Hebrew name, Paulos, a Greek name, which is the same name as in Sergios Paulos, the translators should have made this more clear. The Jewish, false prophet BarJesus was temporarily blinded to remind the reader that Saul, Hebrew name, now Paul, was temporarily blinded as well, until he was converted to christianity. We remember the context of Acts chapter nine because that is where Luke points us–Romans has yet to be written. Paul was worthless and a hindrance before his conversion. Never forget that.

Ergo the partial hardening of Israel is religious in nature, whether or not temporary blindness is equated with partial hardening. That is until Israel is grafted back in by faith in Christ–being part of his church; his chosen people, they are outsiders. Israel as a religious order, doesn’t return to the Lord by the blood of bulls and temple service–shadows to the substance of Christ but the way in which they first came, no matter how few–believing God. That is, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Believing in the Old Testament but not the New Testament means that one doesn’t truly believe in the Old.

It may be difficult for us to see because we have been trained and taught that death and destruction awaits everyone but the church, including 2/3rds of Israel. But true Israel are those who make up the church, having the faith of Abraham, believing God, whether Jewish or gentiles. Notice that the church prophets believed God (the Holy Spirit) but the Jewish BarJesus did not. And by prayer and fasting, the church agreed with the Spirit and sent Paul and Barnabas and the world was forever changed. Without Paul, none of us would be here. No Romans, half of Acts, 1+2 Corinthians, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1+2 Thessalonians, Titus, the letters to Timothy, Philemon, Galatians and all the people he reached in his missionary journeys–which no one could count–try it, it is impossible to know.

In closing let’s look at what Jesus said to Ananias concerning Paul in Acts chapter nine. “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Dogmatic dispensationalists, whose name does Paul proclaim and to whom? Answer: Jesus to everyone. Does Paul’s suffering compare to your suffering with the drag-queens in the public libraries? I guess maybe the world is not spinning out of control after all.

Why the selection of Paul over Saul in this context? Somehow the simple answer is usually the best answer. Luke and Paul were associating Paul closely to the gentile, Sergius Paulus and distancing Paul from Elymas the Jewish false prophet. Elymas BarJesus was Paul’s past, Sergius Paulus is Paul’s present and future. See the sublime string, the Holy Spirit was behind it all. Application: Jesus is the first and the last, the alpha and omega, who was and is and is to come, no one gets to the father but through him. The world has drastically changed for the better by his righteousness and sacrifice of himself. There is no other name upon which men can call. Not Abraham, not Isaac nor Jacob, Paul realized this and wrote about it prolifically and it changed the world. We don’t go back, we go forward and every nation is invited, even if some, a few, a partial part, were hardened. Hardened by unbelief, even after Matthew 24 came to pass and the end of the age of the Old gave way to the New. We don’t live in a parenthetical time but in the New, world changing,  Covenant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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