(Acts 13; all quotes are from the NIV. Today’s lesson is a review and a transition to Paul’s ministry as seen in Acts). Our study in Acts began with a Great Promise and a Great Commission: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8). Let us review the accomplishment of the Great Commission step by step. The fulfillment of the promise began at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They began to preach in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea,” and “The word of God kept spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem” (6:7). This brought on much persecution of this new movement called The Way. “All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. …Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (8:1, 4).
Philip, one of the seven, went to “Samaria” and preached with wonderful results: “So there was great joy in that city” (8:8). Step two of the Great Commission was being fulfilled! Step three, “to the ends of the earth,” was begun also by Philip when he led an Ethiopian official to know Christ (8:26-39). This step continued in a way that no one understood at first, with the conversion of Saul. God’s plan was revealed to Ananias concerning Saul: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings” (9:15). Then we saw the amazing story of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who became a Christian. He was not the only one who was converted in that story. Peter underwent a “conversion” of attitude concerning God’s plan for step three. Peter said, “God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (10:34-35).
Step three continued when some of those who had been scattered “went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (11:21). Barnabas was sent to Antioch, and subsequently sent for Saul to help him. After a full year of working in Antioch and teaching a great number of people, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (11:26). We arrive at chapter 13, where we read that the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (v.2). Thus began the second half of the book of Acts, detailing the missionary adventures of Paul. We read almost in passing, “Saul, who was also called Paul” (13:9). From that point on in all his missionary endeavors, he is always called Paul.