In Acts 13:48 the Gentiles (in Pisidian Antioch) “were glad and honoured the word of the Lord, and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
It’s a key verse used by some to prove predestination, that God predestined, pre-appointed, pre-determined, chose, called and elected only some people for belief and eternal life. And plain observation seems to back that up too, because most people aren’t “glad” and don’t “honour the word of the Lord.” It looks like God meant it to be that way, then, that only some people would be saved and appointed for eternal life, while a huge majority wouldn’t be.
But where is the good news in a message like that? And what kind of picture of God does it paint, too? Because it doesn’t sound fair at all. It also contradicts Peter’s statement in Acts 10:34 that “God shows no favouritism.”
So where do we go from here? Fortunately, there are obvious hints in the context as to what’s going on here, the first of which, in verse 45, is the Jews being “filled with jealousy,” because they thought that God had only chosen and appointed them for eternal life.
So when they saw “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord,” including those awful, undeserving Gentiles, it must’ve been really galling. Why should Gentiles receive the same understanding and privileges as Jews, when it was the jews who had “honoured the word of the Lord” for all those centuries, and the Gentiles hadn’t?
It’s like watching new immigrants waltzing into your country and immediately being given the same privileges you’ve worked all your life and paid taxes for, and they haven’t.
So Paul reminds these jealous Jews in verse 47 that God “made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth,” quoting Isaiah 49:6. The Jews had been given the amazing privilege by God of being the first to understand salvation. So, yes, it was true, that to begin with God had only chosen the Jews and appointed them for eternal life – but there it was in their very own scriptures that God had also appointed the Jews to “bring salvation” to the rest of the world, which meant the Gentiles too.
But instead of these Jews accepting what their own scriptures said, they “talked abusively against what Paul was saying” (verse 45) and “rejected” it (verse 46). So Paul tells them, “We had to speak the word of God to you (Jews) first,” because that was the first part of God’s plan, to give the Jews the understanding of Jesus now being the key to salvation and eternal life (which was done by the apostles in Acts 2, 3 and 4 ). But the second part of his plan was the Jews passing that good news on to the Gentiles. The Jews, however, didn’t like that idea at all, because they were jealous of the Gentiles being just as privileged as they were.
Paul’s reaction in verse 46 was blunt: “Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”
What a kick in the pants that was, because the Jews thought it was the Gentiles who were unworthy of eternal life, not them.The Gentiles, meanwhile, were thrilled (verse 48), because they thought Jesus was only Israel’s Saviour, not theirs. But here was Paul saying it was their turn now to be appointed for eternal life, just as scripture had predicted, and they jumped at it.
So verse 48 in context has nothing to do with only some people being appointed for eternal life and the rest aren’t. It’s talking about the Gentiles being given their turn at receiving eternal life, and believing the scriptures that proved it. The Jews had been given that privilege first, but they’d rejected it – and rejected their calling in Isaiah 49:6 too – so Paul and Barnabas “shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium,” Acts 13:51.