|"...a good man..." (Acts 11:24)
"...the least of the apostles..." (1 Cor.15:9)
"no...boasting except in the cross" (Gal.6:14)
BARNABAS, THE LEVITE
THE GRADUAL INTRODUCTION of the truth for this present administration of
God's grace is brought before us in a variety of ways in the Word. The apostle through
whom it came describes his ministry as a continual change from glory to glory (2
Cor.3:18). Not only that, but his associates were also changing. There are five characters
which give us a biographical outline of the transition from Pentecost to the present:
Barnabas, Paul, Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus. Undoubtedly, the record we have of their
lives is limited to those features which illustrate the trend of the truth.
Among the five, we see a constant descent in physical
standing. Barnabas, the Levite, held almost the highest place the flesh could have in
relation to God. He was not only of the seed of Israel, but belonged to the one tribe
which monopolized nearness to Ieue in the divine service. Paul was a Benjaminite, not so
high in the physical scale, yet far above the despised aliens, such as Timothy whose
father was a Greek, and the uncircumcised Titus and the slave Onesimus, the lowest in the
But for two things Barnabas might have been the logical
channel to make known the truth for the present. He had a high standing in flesh,
since he was a Levite. He was not a great sinner, like Saul, hence could not be
the chief example of grace. These two advantages disqualified him. If the present grace
flowed through Israel, as was to be expected in the early chapters of Acts, Barnabas would
be an ideal channel. The Levites were teachers. Good men like him will be missionaries to
the nations when the kingdom is set up. His name means "Son of Prophecy", which
took on the sense "Son of Consolation" in Aramaic. He was a regular spokesman
for God so long as blessing, was through the chosen nation. He was a consolation in the
midst of the prevailing apostasy (Acts 4:36).
Those who read the opening chapters of Acts with
discernment will notice one great lack. In the kingdom of God to be set up on this earth
blessing will not be confined to Jews and proselytes. They are to have the more blessed
place of being a blessing to the other nations. Yet in Pentecostal days the nations were
never reached. They heralded the word to no one except to Jews only. In Antioch in Syria,
they evangelized the Lord Jesus also to the Hellenists, i.e. to those Jews who had taken
up with Greek customs (Acts 11:19-21). Peter and Philip went to proselytes, and among the
seven attested men, picked out of the Hebrews and Hellenists, was Nicholas, a proselyte
(TOWARD-COMER) of Antioch (Acts 6:1,5; 8:29; 10:20).
The question is, While they were so intent on their own
blessing, was God preparing a suitable channel for carrying the message to the aliens
in these early days? We believe that those who look beneath the surface can see plain
indications that He was. Barnabas was the one qualified for this service.
There was one thing against him so far as his standing in Israel
was concerned. Like Saul of Tarsus, he was born in a foreign land. He was a native of
Cyprus (Acts 4:36). He was a living evidence of Israel's disobedience and dispersion. His
parents should not have left the land which Ieue gave them. Yet he himself evidently
returned to Jerusalem, and we find him first under his personal name, Joseph, evidencing
his faith in God's promised kingdom by selling some property of his own and bringing the
money to the apostles in Jerusalem. Others also did this, but he is the only one mentioned
by name. His act is in contrast with that of Judas, who bought a freehold, and also with
that of Ananias and Sapphire, who dissembled and were judged.
His foreign birth, however, favored a foreign ministry. He
would be at home among the Greeks, and have perfect command of the language which was
understood in foreign fields. His name, Joseph, is another intimation. Joseph was a type
of Messiah blessing the world. Of old, Joseph not only saved his own family from the
famine, but also was the saviour of Egypt. The action of the apostles in surnaming him
"Barnabas" (Acts 4:36), is indicative of their lack of interest in the welfare
of the nations, and the ministry for which he was fitted. Like the one hundred forty-four
thousand who will carry out this ministry in the millennium, Barnabas was a celibate (1
Cor.9:5). In all things he was suited to this service. The mention of the name Joseph is,
perhaps, the earliest hint in the book of Acts indicating God's intention of evangelizing
Barnabas is intentionally brought before us as the most
commendable character in the book of Acts. No other man is called "good" (Acts
11:24). His championship of Saul at Jerusalem was mistaken, but we cannot blame him for
his ignorance. His journey to Tarsus (Acts 11:25) to bring Saul to Antioch must be
regarded as an important step toward present truth. It is difficult to understand his
career unless we consider him as the vessel tentatively chosen to reach the nations through
Israel, depending on their reception of the Messiah. As their defection spreads, Barnabas
gradually yields to his chosen friend, Saul, who was not called until Israel had given
very definite indications that they would reject the evangel of the kingdom.
SAUL -- PAUL
On so great a subject there is much to say,
but we will simply seek to point out those incidents in his career which constitute the
long ascent to present truth. Like Joseph, or Barnabas, his connection with the nations is
suggested by the place of his birth. Both were born in foreign lands, near the sea, which
is a type of the nations. Possibly there is no more blameless character in the Hebrew
Scriptures than Joseph, and few worse than Saul, the first king of Israel. The same is
true of their namesakes. Barnabas was a good man and Saul was very bad. We have no reason
to believe that Barnabas ever opposed Messiah or His people. But Saul distinguished
himself as the most malignant of His enemies, and the fiercest persecutor of His saints.
This is a most important point. Paul is not only our
apostle, but our pattern. If grace is to be the principle ingredient of this
economy, it must be manifested first of all in the call of Saul. Grace could not be called
into play in the case of Barnabas. His sins were not great enough. His background was not
black enough. Only a religious, self-righteous, murderous fanatic like Saul could rank as
chief of sinners. Add to this the notable fact that he was allowed to persist in his
course until he went outside the land, and we have a perfect premonition of God's
present work: transcendent grace outside the pale of Israel. Saul had committed the
"unpardonable" sin and was doomed to eonian extermination. Nothing could save
him in the land.
Saul's commission to the nations is too obvious to need
more than a mere mention. But the fact that he did not immediately align himself with the
leaders in Jerusalem, but went off to the Arabian desert, he himself deems a strong
argument in favor of his special ministry. It was three years before he met Cephas in
Jerusalem (Gal.1:18). He met very few of the saints in Judea. At first they were afraid of
him. Barnabas befriended him, so that he was acknowledged. But his encounters with the
Hellenists, or foreign Jews, soon made his stay in Jerusalem impossible, and he went back
to his native city, Tarsus. In the providence of God, he could not labor in Jerusalem.
Circumstances separated him from the Circumcision.
His next field is a contrast to this. Barnabas again
befriends him, but takes him to Antioch this time, where "a vast number" of
Hellenists have believed. This is more in line with his commission, hence he remains there
a whole year, teaching "a considerable throng." Then Barnabas and Saul take
their contribution for the relief of the starving brethren to the elders in Judea (Acts
Among the many intimations, in the book of
Acts, that Israel is apostate, is the world-wide famine which came under the Roman emperor
Claudius. Israel, with their soulish blessings, which were promised to those who keep the
law of Moses, should never fail to have food. Even the most unspiritual of the Jews should
have read this sign. It was unmistakable evidence that they had forsaken Ieue. They should
have been in a position to help the other nations. Instead, the disciples in Antioch send
help to Jerusalem. Undoubtedly this is the outward physical indication of their inward,
spiritual condition (Acts 11:27-30).
The religious, or spiritual failure of Israel is not fully
documented until the close of the Acts account, but the end is already apparent in the
twelfth chapter. Herod, the king, not only put forth his hand to ill-treat some of the
ecclesia, but he assassinated James, the son of Zebedee, John's brother, one of the
twelve apostles. Hitherto they had been protected by divine power. The religious
authorities, led by the chief priest, could not kill them. But now the political powers
turn against them, to please the people (Acts 12:3). Peter is jailed, and delivered by a
messenger, but he had to go underground, as we say nowadays. This probably foreshadows the
persecution at the time of the end, the great tribulation, when the nations turn against
Israel. A further picture is furnished us by Herod Agrippa, who gives us a glimpse of the
coming antichrist who will accept divine honors and suffer destruction for his inhuman
pride (Acts 12:21-23).
Thus closes the central crisis in the book of Acts.
Religiously Israel is set aside in the land, as they later were fully repudiated
in Rome (Acts 28:25-28). The ministry of this phase practically ceases. The twelve
apostles disappear. Peter is heard from only in connection with the nations (Acts 15:7).
The heralding goes forth to the dispersion outside the land by means of Saul of Tarsus and
others, though it is not adapted to the salvation of the nation of Israel, but to
make them jealous and to save some individuals among them, who have the
transcendent privilege of joining Paul in the secret administration which was committed to
him to fill in the period of Israel's apostasy.
Soon after the central crisis in the book of Acts, which
showed that the heralding of the kingdom in the land had failed (Acts 12:3), Barnabas and
Saul met a false prophet, a Jew, named Bar-Jesus, who withstood them, seeking to keep
Sergius Paul from the faith (Acts 13:6). Then Saul, who is also Paul, denounced him to his
face, and blinded him temporarily. To anyone who is saturated with the grace which is ours
in Christ Jesus today, Paul's action seems very harsh, if we do not note the crisis in
which it occurred, and the place that Bar-Jesus plays as the representative of apostate
God had blinded the chosen people, who had turned into a
false prophet by refusing His grace, and into a hindrance to its heralding to the nations,
and Paul, as his name now becomes, was merely imitating God's action by blinding an
individual in place of the nation. (Isa.8:9,10). At that time Paul blinded
Israel, as it were, yet later he enlightens all who join him, Jewish individuals
as well as those out of the nations.
SAUL-PAUL, THE UNSEEN INTERVAL
It is said that the custom of the Jews of
the dispersion was to give their children both a Hebrew and a Gentile name. It is not
intended to question whether this is accurate, but rather to point out the aptness of the
two names which the Scriptures use to designate Saul of Tarsus, who was called Paul.
In the use of the two names in the Scriptures we note that
they lie on either side of his severance as given in Acts thirteen, and none of the
epistles coming through this person use the name Saul. Further, a close attention brings
out the fact that the name Paul is associated with three ministries -- Justification,
Conciliation, and the Administration of the Secret--which are the great doctrines
characterizing the present administration of the grace of God.
Those who use the CONCORDANT VERSION will be acquainted
with the meaning of the name Paul. It comes most probably from the element PAU, meaning
CEASE, which is responsible for our English word pau-se. God ceased direct
dealing with His people Israel. At present Israel is thrust aside, but in the future God
will take them back and He will consummate to them His promises. There is a pause in the
ways of God with Israel; the ensuing interval between God's past and future dealings with
them is filled by the ministries of a person whom the Scriptures begin to name CEASED
(Paul). The cessation of God's operations with and for Israel is an essential feature
required by such teaching as equality of blessing among believers, whether out of Israel
or out of the nations. God's promises of old, the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and
the Twelve, necessitate the continuance of Israel's ascendancy among the nations of the
earth. But there is a hiatus, and this idea is enshrined in the name Paul.
However, the first name in the Scriptures which brings this
person before us is Saul, and the meaning of this is likewise notable and distinctive,
both at the moment of its first occurrence and in other connections.
The name Saul is Hebrew, and it occurs in a Greek declined
form, and also a form following the indeclinable Hebrew, the latter used only by the Lord
when meeting Saul on the Damascus way, and Ananias when visiting Saul.
Students will be familiar with the Hebrew word pronounced sheol,
but may not realize that Saul in Hebrew only differs from that word by the pointings of
the Masoretes, being Shaul. If we omit the pointings, then we have exactly the same
letters for both, i.e. Shaul.
Each of these words belong to the Hebrew word-family
represented by the root SH A L, the meaning of which is ASK. The u (or vav
of the usual grammarians) is a frequent feature of Hebrew words, and often changes the
verb to a noun, thus shal is the verb and shaul is the noun; other
members of this word-family are formed by adding e to shal, thus shale,
which gives us the feminine; another form of this group prefixes m, which is
largely equivalent to our nouns ending in "ing", hence ASKING. Though Shaul is
used as a proper name, yet its meaning remains.
We ask regarding that which we do not possess, or that
which is unknown, or is not immediately within the range of the senses; it is unseen. The
Hebrew "sheol" is the same as the Greek "hades", the imperceptible,
the unseen. A king was unseen in Israel; they did not have a king as other nations, so
they asked for a king, and Saul was given. The name marked the details of the
situation. So also Saul of the Acts. He was not seen at the beginning of the record, nor
was he seen with the Twelve, and even when introduced into the account, he is largely
unseen so far as association with the Twelve is concerned; in fact it was years before he
met them, and the name had been dropped long before the occasion when he goes to Jerusalem
for the conference (Acts 15:4).
Saul's doing at the point in the record when he becomes
seen (Acts 7:58-8:3) are such that he would be unseen in the kingdom; for Saul's attitude
against that Prophet like unto Moses was such as to lead to his utter extermination from
among the people (Acts 3:22,23).
In Acts thirteen Saul is severed (FROM-SEEIZED) for special
work. The literal Greek of this word "severed" is very suggestive when
considered together with the meaning of the name used at that point, Saul, unseen.
Saul has been brought on the horizon (SEEIZED when transliterated) in Acts nine,
but now (Acts thirteen) he is taken from the horizon (FROM-SEEIZED when
transliterated), and definitely defined to become Paul, the interval. Thus the
prior name, together with the second, suggest an unseen interval, making possible
a ministry such as has arisen through the Apostle to the Nations.
The foregoing is offered as an alternative to the customary
explanation which sees little beyond domestic reasons for the duplicate names.
PAUL, THE HERALD OF THE CROSS
"The power of sin is the law" (1
Cor.15:56). To be under it, is to be held consciously in the grasp of sin, to be shut up
as hopeless prisoners of our own misdoings. There is no escape from this calamity. The
matter stands otherwise with faith. The evangel, being the power of God, can deal
effectively with the flesh. Yes, it makes an instrument of the very flesh, which defied
the law of God, and betrayed the man to the bondage of sin and death. There is a ring of
triumph in the words, "With Christ have I been crucified, yet I am living; no longer
I, but living in me is Christ. Now that which I am now living in flesh, I am living in
faith that is of the Son of God, Who loves me, and gives Himself up for me"
The impossible has been accomplished: The body of death
becomes the organ of the spirit of life. The flesh -- the despair of the law--has
become the vessel of grace. "Now those of Christ Jesus crucify the flesh
together with its passions and lusts" (Gal.5:24).
The death of Christ was no legal subterfuge to carry out a
substitutionary compact; it was representative. "If One died for the sake of all,
consequently all died" (2 Cor.5:14). When He died God condemned sin in the flesh.
Humanity's sin is already destroyed in principle. Faith unites us to the Crucified One.
The scene of the cross is inwardly rehearsed in every believer. The stroke of God's finger
which destroyed sin crucifies the flesh. It dies a slow, lingering death, but it dies,
slowly, yet surely.
Paul, the faithful herald and defender of the cross, stands
before us a living example of its power. "Now may it not be mine to be boasting,
except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified
to me, and I to the world" (Gal.6:14).