As we saw in our last article, by receiving the forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant, Israel was receiving the faithful mercies promised to David and being restored to the Davidic kingdom under the reign of Jesus, the Son of David.
In Acts 13, Paul gave a word of exhortation to the Jews while he and Barnabas visited the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia on the Sabbath day. Upon hearing the gospel, the people begged Paul and Barnabas that “these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42). A week later, nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord, but when the Jews saw the crowds they were filled with jealousy and began to “contradict the things spoken by Paul” (v.45).
Paul’s response to these hard-hearted Jews was yet another inspired apostolic testimony that the calling of the Gentiles in the first century was the result of the then-present restoration of Israel. Let’s take a look…
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’ When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Now admittedly, on the surface this text seems to indicate that the calling of the Gentiles was the result of the rejection of the gospel by the Jews. But as we shall see, this is only a partial truth. These words of Paul must be interpreted in their immediate context.
Paul wasn’t saying that because the Jews in general had completely rejected the word of God, that the gospel offer was now completely withdrawn from them and would go exclusively to the Gentiles. If we keep Paul’s words in context, he was simply saying that since the gospel had been first preached to the Jews in Antioch in Pisidia and they rejected it, he and Barnabas would not focus their efforts on the Gentile citizens of the city. Paul’s order of preaching in every city was to the Jew first, then to the Greek (Romans 1:16), and Paul knew according to the scriptures that only a remnant of Israel was to be saved (Isaiah 10:22, Romans 9:27). The faithful remnant in Antioch in Pisidia had heard the gospel and had believed (Acts 13:43), and the rest had judged themselves unworthy. Thus, they “turned to the Gentiles”.
And according to Paul, it was the Lord God himself through the prophetic scriptures that had “commanded” them to preach to the Gentiles. In other words, Paul’s ministry of calling the Gentiles into the promises of Israel was to fulfill the Old Testament scriptures. In Acts 13:47 Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah verbatim.
“For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.”
As it is written….
He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations, so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
Notice in Isaiah 49 that the “Servant” of the Lord would raise up and restore the “preserved ones” (the remnant) of Israel. This Servant is the prophesied Messiah who is identified as “Israel”. Jesus represented the nation of Israel, in whom the glory of the Lord was revealed (v.3, Hosea 11:1, Mathew 2:15, Hebrews 1:3)
What’s so remarkable about Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 49:6, is that Paul identifies the “Servant” as himself, and by extension the apostolic body (the apostles). Notice again Paul’s words…
“For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you for a light to the Gentiles…”
According to Paul, what Jesus had initiated in his earthly ministry, he and the apostles had been commissioned to continue. I think it’s significant that the apostle Paul even borrows some of the Messianic language of Isaiah 49 when speaking of his personal calling and ministry in his epistle to the Galatians.
Notice the parallels….
“God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb…”
“The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother…”
“…to reveal His Son in me…”
“in whom I will show my glory”
“…so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…”
“…I will also make you a light to the nations…”
Paul’s personal ministry and apostleship to the Gentiles was an extension of Jesus’ work of the restoration of Israel and the calling of the Gentiles into Israel’s promises. Without a doubt, the calling of the Gentiles was the result of the restoration of Israel. Notice again the words of Isaiah…
“It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations, so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
The word “also” is what we need to notice in the text. The Servant could not and would not be a light to the nations unless he was already raising up the tribes of Jacob. The calling of the Gentiles was a work of redemption additional to the restoration of the preserved ones of Israel. In other words, the Gentiles would not receive the “light of salvation” until that salvation was being received by the remnant (preserved ones) of Israel.
Jesus was not sent as a “servant to the circumcision” (Romans 15:8) to restore the remnant (preserved ones) of Israel only, that would have been “too small a thing” (too simple of a work for the Almighty God). Jesus was also made as a light to the Gentiles, (as a “banner for the nations” Isaiah 11:12), that the salvation of God would go beyond the restoration of Israel and extend to the end of the earth.
The same is true of the apostolic ministry of the first century. Jesus had told his disciples, “….as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). The disciples were to preach the gospel in “all the world” as a “witness to all nations”, beginning in Jerusalem (Mathew 24:14, Acts 1:8).
What this means is that Paul and the apostles were made as a light to the nations (Gentiles) to bring them into the salvation of Israel. Therefore, the calling of the Gentiles in the New Testament and specifically Paul’s application of Isaiah 49 in Acts 13, serves as definitive proof that restoration of Israel was taking place in the first century through the ministry of Paul and the apostles.
Acts 13:48 sums this article up nicely….
“When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed”.
The Gentiles had understood Pauls’ message. They were being called into the restoration and salvation of Israel, and as many as had been appointed to eternal life through the faithful mercies of David believed. The Gentiles were being made “fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6), and for this they began “rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord”.
Continued in Part 11