Does “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” In Acts 13:48 mean that we only believe in God and go to heaven if God has chosen us to do so? Or that it’s only by his appointment that we believe, not our choice?
The context of Acts 13 suggests otherwise (covered in Part 1), and so does the book of Acts up to this point. From Acts 1:8 on it’s clear that God appointed steps in his plan of salvation: first the Jews and then the Gentiles. The Jews were the first to be appointed for eternal life, meaning God appointed them to be the first in line to hear (and be given the chance to believe) the amazing good news that, because of Jesus, the doors to eternal life had been flung open to us humans. The Jews would then fulfill the second part of God’s plan in Isaiah 49:6, of passing on that wonderful good news to the Gentiles.
Which is exactly what happened. First, the Jews heard the gospel about Jesus from the apostles, and Paul then took it to the Gentiles. To each in their appointed turn.
As Gentiles, then, it’s now our turn to grasp what “the doors to eternal life being flung open to us through Jesus” means. Does it mean eternal life in the future, for instance, like Christians today who talk about going to heaven one day? But is that what made the Gentiles in Acts 13:48 “glad,” and why they “honoured the word of the Lord” – that they too now would be going to heaven after they died? Is that what made the gospel such good news to them? Or closer to home – is that what thrilled me and what got me honouring and soaking up the scriptures too?
Knowing there’s a resurrection to eternal life in the future is certainly comforting in a world where life now has so many fears and uncertainties – but is that all Christianity has to offer, that we’re simply treading water until at last we escape this mortal coil for a blissful life in whatever we picture heaven to be? Was that the “good news” Paul was bringing to the Gentiles?
Fortunately, Paul himself answers that for us in verses 32-33, when he says, “We tell you the good news.” So here comes Paul’s definition of the gospel message, which is: “What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us,” the proof of which was the “raising up of Jesus.”
So, what God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (“our fathers”) has now been opened up to us by the resurrection of Jesus. Ever since his resurrection, then, we can experience what was promised by God in the Old Testament.
And it’s not some time in the future we get to experience it, or after we die; it’s right now. That’s why “through Jesus” we’ve been forgiven and justified (verses 38-39). Our relationship with God has been totally restored through Jesus so that in our lives in the here and now we can experience all those wonderful promises God made being fulfilled.
What better news could there be than that? But to Paul’s dismay his fellow Jews rejected it (verse 46). To which Paul replies: then you “do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life.” But why on earth would they think that when God had made them worthy by forgiveness and justification through Jesus?
Forgiveness and justification through Jesus had flung open the doors to eternal life in the here and now. That was the good news the Gentiles leapt at, because they thought THEY were the ones who were unworthy of eternal life, not being Jews.
But now they heard Paul saying in verse 47, that the Jews were supposed to be “a light for the Gentiles” (quoting Isaiah 49:6). In other words, it was God’s plan all along for the Jews to understand the good news message first so they could then pass it on to the Gentiles.
And the good news message was this: that salvation and eternal life had been opened up to the whole world to be experienced in the here and now, just as God had promised, thanks to forgiveness and justification being made possible by Jesus. And the Gentiles who heard that in Acts 13 loved it.