“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. 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. 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. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a 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 so 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 on 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? 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.”
Antioch had an obscure foundation. (Acts 11:20) It was founded by men of Cyprus and Cyrene and there were no apostles involved. The first man who can be construed as a church leader who went to them was Barnabas. (Acts 11:22-23) So their first great leader was a grace man. Barnabas brought Saul (Paul) to Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26) Barnabas had the gift of prophecy but technically he was not a pastor and teacher. He was smart enough to realize it. In this way the Antioch church had what every local church must have: someone who has the gift of teaching. The thing that sustains a church and makes it grow is the communication of Bible doctrine.
“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers.” Antioch was taught grace from the start. (Acts 11:23) Antioch was prospered of the Lord by rapid growth and expansion. (Acts 11:24) The Antioch church was interested in doctrine, which stabilized the congregation and made it possible for the great missionary movement of the first century. The gift of prophecy was more of the preaching ministry. It involved some eschatology but the primary concept of a prophet was that he had a message for the people of his own day. The gift of teaching is the gift of pastor/teacher. There are three men mentioned in this verse who had the gift of prophecy. The first is Barnabas. The second one is Simeon who was called Niger from North Africa. Remember that this church was founded by men from Cyrene and these were businessmen from North Africa. (Acts 11:20) The word “Niger” is the Latin word for black. Then there is Lucius of Cyrene.
The next two men have the gift of teaching. The first, Manaean, was an aristocrat. He was actually a very famous person who was well known in the Roman Empire. He was the step-brother of Archelaus and Antipas the Fox, sons of Herod the Great. Even though his two step brothers rejected Christ, he personally became a believer, and eventually a teacher and one of the original leaders of the Antioch church. The fifth man is Saul of Tarsus (Paul).
“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.” The selection of the first two missionaries was taken from each group—from the prophet group, Barnabas; from the teaching group, Saul of Tarsus. This was the beginning of missionary activity. They were faithful in their ministry; they fulfilled their ministry daily before the Lord. The Greek word ministering is “leitourgeo,” an Attic Greek word which was used for an orator, but an orator at his own expense, a man who was willing, apart from pay, to take over the responsibilities of running an organization. This is a very unique word for the leadership of these men. They had charge of everything in Antioch.
“Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The Greek word for set apart is “aphorizo” - apo = preposition of ultimate source; horizo = the word horizon, from which it means to set out a boundary, meaning from the ultimate source of God a boundary is set up. In other words, a person is marked out. There were five leaders and two of them were marked out—Barnabas and Saul. This meant that they were going to be removed from the leadership of the church and they were going out on a missionary journey. God must be the ultimate source for sending out or selecting the person/persons who goes to the mission field. Barnabas was the one who had the gift of prophecy and he had proved himself on the home front first. He was a leader. Missionaries must know doctrine, they must be oriented to grace, and they must have leadership gifts. Missionaries must be taken from those with the leadership gifts, and they must qualify on the basis of maximum knowledge of doctrine. Only two of the five leaders were actually chosen. Someone had to stay behind and keep the local church functioning. There must be stability at home base for missionaries in the field to function properly.
“Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Missions is a divine work. So just as the Holy Spirit is responsible for appointing spiritual gifts, He is also responsible for the placement of personnel on the mission field. Missionaries are chosen by the Holy Spirit, not by the church. The church recognizes and supports them, but it is the Holy Spirit Who chooses them. Then they fasted, but this doesn’t mean to go without food. They took time in Bible study and prayer so that they were prepared to minister. All fasting means is to take time away from legitimate and normal things to spend that time in prayer and study of God’s Word. The laying on of hands was an ordination service of the church which was merely a means of recognizing the sovereign decision of the Holy Spirit. The local church recognized that these men had been appointed by the Spirit and that this was their responsibility to send them out with the necessary means to accomplish the work God had appointed them to. They were sent from the ultimate source of the church at Antioch. The church at Antioch made one mistake which later changed the headquarters from Antioch to Ephesus. Antioch failed to continue to financially support its missionaries. Philippi was the first church that actually woke up and realized the importance of supporting missionaries financially. (Philippians 4:15)
“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 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.” Cyprus was a Mediterranean island 140 miles long and 60 miles wide at its broadest point. Salamis was the eastern seaport. Proclaim means to make an announcement according to an absolute norm. In this case the absolute norm was the Word of God. as we’ll see in verse 12. God’s power is found in His Word. This means that Paul and Barnabas had Bible doctrine circulating in their souls that they could communicate.
As became their custom, they went where people were already gathering, the Jewish synagogues, but did not neglect the Gentiles. This is a large city and it probably had more than one synagogue but they went to the Jews first. John (Mark), their helper, was the author of the Gospel of Mark.
“When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a 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 so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” The Greek word for magician is “magos,” which sometimes means a wise man but sometimes it means a demon-possessed man depending on the context. This man Bar-Jesus (Elymas) was a demon-possessed man; “a false prophet” – he was a satanic preacher. This false prophet had a great deal of influence on the ruler of the island, Serguis Paulus. This was the same principle as that found in Daniel 10:13, 20. It wasn’t the first or last time a ruler would be influenced in a negative way by a demon-possessed person.
“This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” This false prophet was influencing Sergius Paulus, the proconsul or governor of Cypress. Apparently he had heard the Apostles’ message and wanted to know more. The Greek word for sought is very important because it indicates to some extent that this man, Sergius Paulus, some years ago reached the point of God-consciousness and was positive. God was therefore responsible to get him the Gospel, and he was going to hear the Gospel and his positive volition at the point of God-consciousness would become positive volition at the point of Gospel-hearing.
“But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” Elymas also known as Bar-Jesus was Satan’s man in the court. Though we are not told what false message he was proclaiming to oppose the truth of the Gospel, his great influence on Sergius did not prevent him from hearing a clear Gospel message.
“But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on 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? 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.” Paul by means of the Holy Spirit stopped this false prophet in his tracks. The language in Greek was very strong as you can imagine and Paul unloaded a curse on him by means of his spiritual gift. Before the Gospel could be made clear to Sergius Paulus the false teaching and the false teacher had to be exposed and condemned through divine authority. This previously influential person was suddenly running around like a buffoon, he couldn’t see and he was trying to get someone to guide him. This man was blinded immediately because there was a soul for whom Christ died who had positive volition, and that soul was going to be reached right then and there with the Gospel. A demon-possessed man was now blind and the demons could no longer guide him.
“Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.” Notice what amazed this very intelligent, high ranking individual. It wasn’t the miracle. It was the Word of God! It is the Word of God which was alive and powerful, not the miracle of blindness. Miracles were performed on a regular basis at this time in order to get a hearing for the Gospel. But all the people who observe the miracle do not believe. The thing that brought this man around to believe was truth (doctrine). Doctrine simply means information—Bible information. The power of the Gospel is not in miracles, the power of the Gospel is in the Word of God itself. Therefore it was the message of the truth of the Gospel which reached this man and he believed in Christ as a result!
The Bible reveals the fact that God exists and that He has a plan for mankind. If a person says they do not believe that God exists, he must reach this conclusion based on one or more of three systems of perception:
Each of us uses all three of these methods for understanding the world around us. Since not everyone considers the existence of God reasonable and since we cannot see or touch God, we must rely upon faith as our system of perception regarding God. If we say that we believe that God exists, it is logical to have something upon which to base our conclusion. Faith is the system of perception that we use to reach this conclusion, which is based on the authority and truthfulness of God and His revealed Word.
Many people have asked, “Who is God? What is God?” These questions can be answered by the Word of God because God has revealed Himself to man. God has made Himself known in a number of ways: in the conscience of man, in creation and in the Bible. When we place our faith in the fact that God exists, we are relying upon both historical facts and Biblical facts in order to reach this conclusion. Therefore, if God exists (and we know He does) then it stands to reason that He not only created mankind, but that He also wants to have a relationship with His creation. In order for God to have a relationship with mankind He must reveal Himself in a manner in which man can understand. God does this through His Word, the Bible.
Since God is totally organized in His thinking and actions, He makes perfect organized sense in all that He does. In presenting His plan to mankind God’s plan makes organized sense and can be understood by every person, if they desire to know it. Unlike the common idea of God, He is loving and kind and desires for everyone to come to the knowledge of the truth which He has revealed. God not only created us, He also predesigned a plan specifically for each one of us in eternity past. This plan is a perfect plan because it was designed by a perfect Person (God). God’s plan for you is revealed in a logical and sensible way and He also provides the means for His plan to be carried out in your life.
Since you are a human being, God has a personalized plan for you. God was actually thinking of you in eternity past when He designed your plan. This is one of the reasons you are here on earth: to learn and fulfill God’s plan for your life. Failure to discover His plan and obey its commands will lead to a life of misery and guilt. On the other hand, if you discover God’s plan and fulfill it (regardless of how long it takes to do either), you will experience an amazing life of peace, joy and happiness beyond compare.
Since there is a God, since He has revealed Himself, since He makes sense, since He has a perfect plan, and since He has a personal plan for mankind, then everyone at least owes God a hearing. After a person has examined the facts as revealed in God’s Word about Who and what He is, then they can come to their own conclusion about His existence and His plan. Unlike religion, God’s plan is based on God’s grace (undeserved mercy and unmerited favor) not human merit. Christianity teaches that it is Jesus Christ Who binds us back to God by means of our faith in Him. It is therefore God’s plan to provide for mankind something that he cannot provide for himself – salvation, the Christian life of victory and eternal life.