Today: [Acts 13:] The Ecclesia Manifests! In Acts 13 we see the rise of the Ecclesia that Jesus prophesied about in Matt. 16:18. The Ecclesia of Jesus day is an entirely different thing than the church as we know it. In Antioch when the believers conducted themselves as an Ecclesia, the history and spiritual trajectory of the entire region was shifted, and the womb of the Christian faith changed from Jerusalem now to the city-state of Antioch.
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[Act 13:1-24 KJV] 1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid [their] hands on them, they sent [them] away. 4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to [their] minister. 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. 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, [Ye] men [and] brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. 16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with [his] hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. 17 The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. 18 And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. 19 And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. 20 And after that he gave [unto them] judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the [son] of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will. 23 Of this man’s seed hath God according to [his] promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: 24 When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
In chapter 13 we find the first church that actually conducted itself like the “ecclesia” that Jesus said He would raise up. In Matt. 16:18 Jesus declared to His disciples that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The word that Jesus used that is translated “church” was “ecclesia”. What we need to know about this word is that it was not unknown to the disciples at the time that Jesus used it. I was not unknown to them, and the image it cast in their minds was nothing compared to what the word “church” suggests to us today. The word “church” derives from an old English/Germanic word “circe” or “kirke” which means “a place of assembly set aside for Christian worship.” That word in no way describes or connects with the word “ecclesia” that Jesus chose to declare what He would build. An ecclesia was a foreign army, raised up for the invasion of enemy territory that was led by a general called an “Apostolos”. In the first century there was not one person in Judea who didn’t instantly and completely know what this meant because the Roman empire and the Greek empire under Alexander had dominated and conquered the people of the Middle East operating as a classic “ecclesia” for centuries.
The word “ecclesia” at the time Jesus used it had absolutely no religious connotations. The sense that it evoked in Jesus hearers would be the same idea we think of when we say “army rangers” or “navy seal team” only on a much, much larger scale. An ecclesia was not only a military body but also a governmental one. In ancient Greece, an ecclesia was formed by a quorum of 6000 battle-hardened soldiers who convened to decide whether to go to war against a foreign power. Once the decision was made, the 6000 soldiers would choose a leader from among their ranks who would be called an “Apostolos” to lead them into battle. Once the Apostolos is chosen the members of the ecclesia would then finance and build with their own two hands a fleet of ships which they would then man to sail into battle.
When the fleet of an ecclesia would land on foreign shores the Apostolos would lead a delegation of peace to the population of the nation they are annexing into their empire. He would make the case for peaceably accepting the rule of their empire, and if the offer were turned down, they would then invade and take the area by force. All of this was common knowledge to Jesus’ hearers. They knew that Jesus was drafting them to war in Matthew 16:18 and they knew that Peter was being appointed as the first and primary Apostolos.
In the beginning days of the early church in Jerusalem and Samaria, they didn’t act much like an ecclesia. The church was full of power and life and spread quickly from house to house and city to city with very little organization or structure. The primary connection between the church in one town and another was maintained by the 11 original apostles sending one of their number out to sanction an outpouring of the Spirit in the nearby cities. When we come to Antioch, however, there was a marked and telling shift in how the church operated that resulted in the launching of the ministry of Paul. The ministry of Paul was inaugurated by and supported by the believers in Antioch – and his influence on the church and all of human history could not be overestimated. The implication being for us is that if we learn to be an ecclesia as the church in Antioch did we will see men and woman of God raised up who will confront our world with the claims of Christ even as Paul did as an apostle sent out by and backed by the church at Antioch.
Why would God choose the city of Antioch to launch the ministry of an apostle Paul? Antioch was the provincial capital of the Roman empire in the area. In fact, the city of Antioch was the imperial center of power that controlled the Middle East and the entire Orient as far as the Roman empire extended. The only city larger in size and greater in importance than Antioch was the city of Rome itself. Because of what the church did in Antioch and how they conducted themselves, historians call this city and not Jerusalem “the cradle of Christianity.”
In verse 1 of our chapter, we see that the prophets and teachers in Antioch came together for a period of days to fast and minister to the Lord. Where did these prophets come from? In Acts 11:27 we find a report that a group of prophets led by a man named Agabus banded together and moved from Jerusalem to Antioch? Why did they do this? The Spirit of God led them. The first thing Agabas did was to prophesy to the Antioch church that they needed to gather monies together to send to the Jerusalem believers because their economy was about to crash and they would need help financially. The believers in Antioch obeyed and sent the funds gathered to Jerusalem by the hands of Barnabas and Saul who had just arrived from Damascus.
After delivering the financial gifts from Antioch to the Jerusalem church Barnabas and Saul traveled back to Antioch to find the prophets and teacher fasting, praying and prophesying in the only conclave of the prophets mentioned in the New Testament narrative. While they are fasting and praying a prophetic word from an unnamed member of their company came forth “separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them…” This was unmistakable ecclesiastical verbiage and ecclesiastical activity on the part of this governing body of believers. Rev. 19:10 tells us that the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus and through this prophetic company Jesus is raising up Barnabas and Saul precisely as a Roman ecclesia would raise up an Apostolos.
In sending Barnabas and Saul out, the believers laid hands on them as an act of identifying with them and charging them with their mission. They were saying to Barnabas and Saul “we are with you, we are sending you, we are supporting you in your going out to proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom…” They are described then in verse 4 as being sent out by the Holy Ghost, and they immediately sailed to Cyprus and preached Jesus in the synagogues of the Jews. What are they doing? They are confronting the Jewish people with the claims of Christ and making a case for them to come peaceably into the kingdom of God. We know that the Jewish people as a whole rejected this call. What was the result? Just as an ecclesia would become an invading force, so the results of the nation not accepting the Messiah through the declaring of God’s apostlos, in just a few short years the capital of Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple leveled.
Ask yourself do you want to see America bow its knee to Jesus? How badly do you want to see our nation come to Christ? Jesus sent the disciples out telling them not just to teaching individuals but disciple the nations. This is exactly what Paul and Barnabas did and because the Jews rejected the gospel their nation ceased to exist. Would you be willing to see God raise up a Paul and Barnabas in our day that would so radically present the gospel of the kingdom that if American didn’t accept the message, it would cease to exist as a nation? The answer to that question locates us regarding the condition of our heart. Do our loyalties lie with our country or with the kingdom?
[Acts 13:25-52 KJV]
25 And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not [he]. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of [his] feet I am not worthy to loose. 26 Men [and] brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. 27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled [them] in condemning [him]. 28 And though they found no cause of death [in him], yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took [him] down from the tree, and laid [him] in a sepulchre. 30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. 32 And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, 33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. 34 And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, [now] no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. 35 Wherefore he saith also in another [psalm], Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: 37 But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. 38 Be it known unto you therefore, men [and] brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; 41 Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you. 42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so hath the Lord commanded us, [saying], I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.
Notice when Paul and Barnabas went out together that from the very beginning Barnabas is named first even in the prophetic word that commissioned them in the first place. Paul was anointed and called but Barnabas was more mature. Somebody always has to be in charge. Anything with two heads is a freak. You will notice as well that God didn’t send them out one by one but two by two. God works in the context of companionship and teamwork.
When they travel to the island of Paphos, they are confronted by a sorcerer who held sway over the governor of the area. When you are around influential people always look for the sorcerer. Christians operating in the spirit of sorcery abound. They call themselves “protectors of the anointing” and “armor bearers.” They are spiritual, even profoundly spiritual but they are not godly. He or she is the one who is always calling everyone else a Jezebel when the very heart of their character is manipulative, deceptive and dangerous.
Elymas tries to run interference between Paul and the governor of the area. Have you ever encountered those who seek to run interference between you and a leader? We aren’t talking about operating in good order and suitable necessary structure. We are talking about those who try to suppress anything that they can’t control. Paul looks at the man and calls him out for his mischief. Notice what Paul does: the blindness that came upon Paul on the road to Damascus is now transferred as an impartation to Elymas. Was Paul trying to destroy Elymas? No, he knew the value of what happened to him on the Damascus road. He recognized in Elymas what had been exposed in his own life. You can’t give what you don’t have. What was the result? The governor (or deputy) has his eyes immediately opened and accepts the gospel. Is your city resistant to the gospel? Locate the sorcerer. Is your nation resistant to the gospel? Find those operating in the spirit of sorcery and control and militate in prayer against that and things will change.
Paul and Barnabas go on in their missionary journeys but in v. 46 make a pivotal turn. The Jews have aggressively resisted the faith, and as a nation, Paul and Barnabas rejected them and turned to the Gentiles. This is the beginning of the curtain falling spiritually on the Jewish people. They will languish and still languish under the consequences of rejected the message of God’s apostlos sent to them. The light of the gospel now turns to the Gentile nations and eventually reaching down through time to you and me.
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