A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 13:16-25. a). The sermon’s introduction: the Old Testament preparation.
In this brief recapitulation of the history of Israel from the patriarchs to the monarchy, Paul’s emphasis is on God’s initiative of grace. For he is the subject of nearly all the verbs. God *chose our fathers, he made the people prosper…in Egypt*, and then *with mighty power he led them out* (17). In the desert he *endured their conduct* (18, that is, ‘bore with them, RSV, an echo of Dt. 1:13), and in Canaan *he overthrew seven nations and gave their land to his people* (19). *All this took about 450 years*, Paul adds, pausing for breath. It is a round number, of course, and is probably intended to include 400 years in exile, forty years in the desert, and ten in conquering the land. After the settlement God *gave them judges* (20), God *gave them Saul* as their first king (21), and then God *made David their king*, calling him ‘*a man after my own heart*’ (22). Now, having reached David, Paul jumps straight to the promised *Saviour Jesus*, who was descended from David (23), (cf. Lk.1:32, 69; 2:4; cf. Rom.1:3; 2 Tim.2:8), and mentions John the Baptist as his immediate forerunner, who pointed away from himself to Jesus (24-25). Paul is now able to follow the Baptist’s example and direct his hearers’ attention to the same Jesus.
b). The sermon’s focus: the death and resurrection of Jesus. (13:26-37).
Paul tells the story of Jesus, as he has told the story of Israel. In doing so, he concentrates on the two great saving events, his death and his resurrection, and demonstrates that both were fulfilments of what God had foretold in Scripture. He concedes that the people and rulers of Jerusalem *did not recognise Jesus*. Nevertheless, he adds, *in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets* which they knew well, since they are read every sabbath in the synagogue (27). Although they could find no adequate ground for condemning him, *they asked Pilate to have him executed* (28). And again in so doing, though without realizing it, they were carrying out *all that was written about him*, including the transfer of his body from *the tree* (the place of a divine curse) to the *tomb* (29). But God *raised him from the dead* (30), and made it possible for him to be *seen* by those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem (1:21-22), namely the apostles. *They were now his witnesses* (31). Paul says ‘they’ not ‘we’, because he was not one of the Twelve who could bear witness to him from what they had seen and heard during his public ministry. Yet now he moves from ‘they’ to ‘we’, including himself: *We tell you the good news*, that in the resurrection (as in the cross) God has fulfilled for us what he promised to our fathers (32-33). In order to substantiate this claim, Paul goes on to quote three Old Testament scriptures – Psalm 2;7 about God’s Son, probably linked in his mind with God’s promise to David that his descendant whose throne would be established would be his son (2 Sam.7:13-14); Isaiah 55:3 about *the holy and sure blessings promised to David* (34), which could be ‘sure’, i.e.. permanent, only because of the resurrection of David’s son; and Psalm 16:10 about God’s holy one not being allowed to decay (35). David died, was buried, and decayed (36), but the son of David whom God resurrected *did not see decay* (37). All three texts may have been regarded as Messianic in pre-Christian Judaism (the evidence is not clear in each case); all three related to David from whom ‘God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus’ (23).
Tomorrow: c). The sermon’s conclusion: the choice between life and death (13:38-41).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.