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.
Acts 13:50 (KJV)
And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. Gal 2:13 (KJV)
It is a sad truth that good people can be led astray.
Jesus said “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19) And at a later date, God confirmed this principle when He commanded “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” (Matt 17:5)
How heartwarming it is to behold a man or woman who forsakes following the dictates of Satan and who commits to hearing Christ and following Him! The initial transformation of a life is wondrous to see. And what joy it is to watch this new creature as he walks the road of life in years to come, faithful to follow the Master and be transfigured more and more into the image of Christ.
For “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1) is an ongoing process. And the only way we can accomplish this is to continue hearing and following Christ.
And yet, even after a wonderful start, a few miles down the road good people are sometimes led astray. This is evidenced by the scripture texts. Let’s examine them a little.
Acts 13:2 relates that “…the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. “ These holy men went from city to city preaching Jesus Christ as messiah and doing wonders and miracles by the power of the Holy Ghost.
When they came to Antioch, they were given an opportunity to preach in the local synagogue. Paul began at Moses and reminded those Jews of how God had so wonderfully been with the people of Israel and her leaders down through history. He showed them that Christ was the promised Messiah, come to earth through the lineage of David. He sadly recounted how recently the Jews in Jerusalem and their leaders hardened their hearts toward Christ and condemned him, finally convincing Pilate to crucify him. Paul then proclaimed the good news that Jesus had conquered death, coming back from the grave, and brought to us this great salvation!
This was the most wonderful news that could ever be reported, and the Gentile proselytes (Gentiles who had been converted to Judaism) received the gospel with gladness (vs. 42 and 48). But the Jews who were in charge were jealous of Paul and Barnabas (vs. 45). Too many people were seeing the truth of Jesus as Messiah, and were deserting their ship. Perhaps the Jewish elders had had it cushy for too long, and didn’t like their set up being shaken!
And so, we come to verse 50 which relates “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.”
It seems a contradiction, but nevertheless, here it is. Honorable women and the chief men of Antioch persecuted and expelled messengers of God from their city!
Were these people true and honorable, but ignorantly following the orders of elders they were trained to obey since childhood? Or does it show that “not all that glitters is gold”? Perhaps God used this incident to reveal that the people of this city were inwardly something very different from what they professed outwardly. Maybe it was some of both: some were good but not too wise, and some were hypocrites all along, just like their leaders.
These Jewish elders were able to create a false impression of the apostles in the minds of the majority of the people. Astounding! But having the majority does not automatically make for righteousness. In the end, the apostles suffered shame and condemnation in the eyes of a corrupt society. But the all-knowing and righteous God of heaven looked on them with favor and honor, knowing that the apostles had only obeyed Him.
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Eph 5:15-17 (KJV)
Walk circumspectly. Circumspect comes from the Latin words circum (circle) and specere (to see). In other words, look around. Be aware of what is around you. Or, as Webster says, “careful to consider all circumstances and possible consequences” The folks who condemned Paul and Barnabas at Antioch failed to do this. How about us?
Peter was certainly a great man of God. He had walked on water. He preached a great sermon on the day of Pentecost where three thousand souls got saved. And he had received visions directly from God.
In one vision, God taught Peter not to discriminate against the Gentile converts, because they were cleansed and accepted of God, just like believing Jews. But he pulled away from his Gentile brethren while the Jews were in town. Peter, a good man, was led astray because of his fear of the Jews from Jerusalem. (Thus, the reason for Paul’s rebuke. - Gal 2:11)
And consequently, Peter infected another good man, Barnabas, with divisiveness. Barnabas, this strong apostle of God “carried away”? Yep. It happened.
It is ironic that at Antioch, Barnabas was a victim of people who were led astray, but he in turn was led astray and offended Gentiles who had done him no harm!
Folks, this should show us that none of us are infallible. If the honorable and chief people of Antioch can be led into doing great sin to God’s emissaries, it is possible for us to do the same. If great luminaries such as Peter and Barnabas can be pulled into error, we in this day and age can also be led astray. Let us be careful to walk circumspectly and not be pulled into that number called Good People Led Astray.