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Acts 12-14 Listen
James killed and Peter imprisoned (Acts 12:1-5)
1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
Herod is Herod Agrippa I, who was the grandson of Herod the Great, the
local governor/king during the time of Jesus' birth. Herod Agrippa I,
like his grandfather, was the puppet king (really just a governor)
employed by the Roman empire. His main job (as he saw it) was to keep
his job and live in luxury. How does one do that? Easy...keep the Jews
contented; killing James and arresting Peter seems to fill the bill.
This is the Apostle James (son of Zebedee and brother of John), the
first of the Twelve Apostles to be martyred.
Incidentally, it was Herod Antipas to whom Jesus was sent by Pilate
on the night before his crucifixion. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod
the Great. So...it was Herod the Great at the birth of Jesus, Herod
Antipas at the crucifixion of Jesus and Herod Agrippa I in this passage
- all baaaaaad men.
The reference to "Easter" in verse 4 in the KJV is translated from the Greek word "pascha." In every other instance in the New Testament it is translated "passover." As a matter of fact, Easter was not celebrated in the first century A.D., and certainly Herod, who claimed to be of Jewish descent, would have had no regard whatsoever for a holiday that commemorated the resurrection of Jesus Christ on a Sunday, but would have suspended activity for the Jewish passover. We see, in verse 3, mention of the associated festival with passover, that of unleavened bread (See notes on the festivals). Since a great many Jewish visitors were in Jerusalem during this annual festival, Peter's arrest and James' execution would have been widely circulated news among the Jews - Herod's goal. Here's Peter, outspoken evangelist for the Christian movement, being marched away by a squad of four soldiers to prison. To those who hate Christians, it doesn't get any sweeter than that.
There's no cure like secure (Acts 12:6-11)
6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
There's no cure like secure. That's an old Marine/Navy saying - speaking of securing everything in its place on the ship so it doesn't shift. After Peter's arrest, he is seeeeeecure! You can't get any more secure than two chains on Peter's body while sleeping between two guards with additional guards at the door of your cell. It would take a miracle to spring someone from that kind of bondage. Hang on! It's time for a miracle. The delivering angel even gives him time to get dressed appropriately before they just walk out of jail. That's right - just walk out! Nobody was more surprised than Peter. He thought he was having a vision (verse 9) and didn't fully appreciate the reality of his freedom until he was free on the streets (verse 11).
12 And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
14 And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.
17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
Everyone is gathered at John Mark's house (probably the writer of the Gospel of Mark - see introduction to Mark). They're praying for Peter's release. Rhoda comes to the door when Peter knocks. She recognizes him, but instead of letting him in, she runs to tell the crowd gathered there praying for his release. Verses 15 and 16 are just way too humorous not to quote, "And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished." Now...tell me again...what is it these folks were praying for? Verse 19 indicates that the guards really got a bad deal as a result. How did all of you guys lose your one prisoner? Herod decrees that these incompetent guards should be executed.
Incidentally, Peter directs them to get word to James and "the brethren." This is James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church. Peter heads northwest to the coastal city of Caesarea, about 55 miles away from Jerusalem. From this time forward, Peter only appears in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem, about 15 years or so after the founding of the church in Jerusalem.
Sooooo long Herod; it hasn't been so nice (Acts 12:20-24)
20 And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country.
21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
The people of Tyre and Sidon show up before King Herod for a handout; they needed Herod to provide food for their land, 100 miles north of Jerusalem on the coast in modern-day Lebanon. Herod gets all dressed up and addresses them. When he finishes speaking, the folks start yelling, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man." (Some people will say anything when they're looking for a handout.) Naaaaaa...he's not a god - just a vain old man who loves the limelight. God kills him - a pretty gruesome sight - must not really be a god! Acts 12:24, "But the word of God grew and multiplied."
Paul's first missionary journey begins here.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
13:1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Saul and Barnabas pick up another partner, John Mark. "John" was his Jewish name, and "Mark" was his Roman name. Most scholars consider him to be the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark (see introduction to Mark). So the church at Antioch, after prayer and fasting, decides to send out missionaries - Barnabas and Paul. We first saw Barnabas back in Acts 4:36 (see notes). He was the Levite who got saved, sold a piece of property and brought the proceeds to the Apostles for distribution. He's also the one who introduced Saul to the Apostles after his conversion. For more information regarding Barnabas, click here to see the summary on Acts 9:26-31. Here we see what we commonly know as Paul's first missionary journey (see map).
Chapter 13 is a turning point in the Book of Acts. It is from this point forward that Paul replaces Peter as the dominant figure.
4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.
5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
6 And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:
7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.
9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,
10 And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.
12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.
Bar-Jesus was this magician's Jewish name. Interestingly, Bar-Jesus in Hebrew means "son of Jesus"...actually, in Hebrew, "son of Joshua." Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name in Acts 13:8. Paul and Barnabas are trying to minister to the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, but Elymas is maliciously interfering. Paul calls upon God and prophesies that Elymas would become temporarily blind...and immediately he does. Now that'll catch the attention of some folks! That's enough for Sergius Paulus; he gets saved! Notice where their evangelistic efforts took place - in the synagogues!
The beginning of a transition is seen in verse 9 regarding Paul's name. Saul was his Jewish name and Paul his Roman or Gentile name. Both were given him at the time of his birth, but after the Jews reject his preaching in 13:46, he begins to use his Gentile name in the predominantly-Gentile settings where he ministers in the last half of the Book of Acts.
13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.
14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.
16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.
17 The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it.
18 And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.
19 And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot.
20 And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.
21 And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.
22 And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.
23 Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:
Paul and Barnabas by now are way out of the traditional preaching zone; they've gone over 300 miles across the Mediterranean in Antioch of Pisidia. John Mark leaves them and heads back to Jerusalem. So here's Paul, all dressed up in his Pharisaical garb; he's called upon to speak to the audience in yet another synagogue. Hang on folks! This message is going to be different from anything you've ever heard!
There's an important clue regarding Jewish history in verse 20, "And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet." The KJV italicizes "unto them," indicating that the editors filled in the blank to offer sense to the passage - words that were not included in the Greek text. However, the wording used in the KJV leaves one the impression that the period of the judges was 450 years, which is not correct - directly contradicting I Kings 6:1 (see notes), clearly declaring that the lapse of time between the exodus from Egypt in 1445 B.C. until the fourth year of Solomon's reign in 966 B.C. was 480 years. Both cannot be correct when Acts 13:20 is translated such. In fact, the Greek construction of verse 20 is accurately (word for word) translated as follows: "And after these [things], about 450 years, he gave judges until Samuel the prophet." Translated accordingly, we then see that the judges appear after 400 years in Egypt plus 40 years in the wilderness, plus 10 years of Canaan conquest - 450 years. So, the 450-year period refers to the time between captivity until the beginning of the judges, not the length of the period of the judges themselves. That period could not have lasted more than 350 years (see note on the introduction of Judges for more detail), and actually calculates out to exactly 346 years when this declaration by Paul is considered..
Paul's message follows along the lines of an undisputed Jewish history lesson until he transitions from the Messianic promise of David (verse 22) to the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus Christ (verse 23) - all done within one sentence. That'll get their attention!
Incidentally, notice Paul's testimony regarding King David in verse 22 where he declares on behalf of God, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart." This declaration regarding King David provides the basis for the Davidic Covenant (see article). Even though David had his faults, he was a man after God's own heart, first mentioned even before David was King of Israel in I Samuel 13:14 (see notes).
24 When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
25 And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.
26 Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.
27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.
28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.
29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre.
30 But God raised him from the dead:
31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people.
32 And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers,
33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
34 And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.
35 Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:
37 But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.
38 Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:
39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
40 Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets;
41 Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.
42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.
43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
47 For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
49 And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.
50 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.
51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium.
52 And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.
Paul is speaking to an all-Jewish audience in the synagogue. His goal is to show that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they had all been waiting. They listen intently. Since these Jews are far away from Jerusalem, they don't receive the crucifixion of Jesus by Jewish leaders with the same level of rage as their Judean counterparts.
Everything seems to be going well until we get to verse 32 - then the controversy - the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament fulfilled in Jesus. He starts by saying that Jesus fulfills Psalms 2:7 (see notes), "I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." In verse 34 he quotes a portion of Isaiah 55:3 (see notes), "Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." This was to show that the Davidic covenant must be fulfilled in someone who is everlasting in that David himself had died and not resurrected (verse 36).
Then in verse 35 he quotes Psalms 16:10 (see notes), "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." This verse Paul quotes to validate Christ's resurrection from the dead as an essential part of the fulfillment of Isaiah 55:3. Paul then tops off the message (verse 41) with a warning to the hearers from Habakkuk 1:5 (see notes), "Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you." In other words, "You better not reject this message of the Messiah!"
The message was a hit! Well, not everybody liked it. The people wanted a repeat, but the influential Jews didn't. They pull out their big guns against Paul and Barnabas in verse 50 where it says, "...the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women." Watch out when the women get upset!
Notice Paul's declaration in verse 46, "Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." This marks a turning point in Acts...even church history, when Paul and Barnabas make a decision to turn toward the Gentiles with their message. Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6 (see notes) in verse 47 when he says, "For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." So...they're off to the Gentiles. As a matter of fact, verse 51 tells us that Paul and Barnabas "shook off the dust of their feet against them." That was a Jewish gesture of scorn and disassociation usually practiced when Jews left Gentile country. Ironic...huh?
1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.
2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.
3 Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.
5 And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them,
6 They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about:
7 And there they preached the gospel.
All of these places where they are preaching are in modern-day Turkey. Next stop: Iconium. Verse 1 indicates, "...a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed." The people who seem to like the message, really like it, but those who don't...well, they they just want to stone them. Tough audience! They stayed and preached there for awhile before departing, despite the growing intensity of the dispute between the Jewish leaders and those who responded to Paul's preaching.
It is interesting how these antagonistic Jewish leaders "stirred up" these Greeks. The Greeks also had a rich heritage of tradition. It would appear from verse 2 that the Jewish leaders intentionally incited friction between those Greeks who had not received Christ and those who had. Just like their counterparts in Judea, these Jewish leaders had no scruples.
Talk about the mother of all misunderstandings! (Acts 14:8-18)
8 And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked:
9 The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed,
10 Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.
11 And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.
12 And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.
13 Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people.
14 Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,
15 And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.
17 Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
18 And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.
Paul's first act in Lystra is to heal a crippled-from-birth man; everyone's very impressed. Now Paul and Barnabas have found receptive ears in Lystra - rave reviews from the people. Well, too good, actually - the people spontaneously declare Paul and Barnabas to be Greek gods, incarnate. Before Paul can successfully dispute this acclamation, the local Zeus priest brings sacrifices to make before them. Paul, it's not nice to disrespect Zeus - could be trouble. And sure enough - trouble follows. It seems that Paul and Barnabas can't seem to hit a happy medium here - from rejection in Iconium to too much acceptance in Lystra.
19 And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.
20 Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,
22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
Well, it follows with crowds - they're not really very dependable. They'll be exuberant in your favor one moment and ready to stone you the next. That's the case with these Lystra folks - one day ready to proclaim Paul and Barnabas as gods, and now they stone Paul and leave him for dead outside the city. But was he dead? I don't know; Paul didn't even know for sure. I'm relatively certain that this is the occasion Paul spoke of in II Corinthians 12:1-10 (see notes), when he proclaims that he did not know whether he was "in the body or out of the body." They did, in fact, leave him for dead; experienced stoners would know "dead"...I think. Anyway, I'm convinced that the whole episode Paul talks about in II Corinthians 12 takes place right here following this ugly Lystra episode.
This didn't slow Paul and Barnabas down though. After being stoned, Paul gets up and heads into Derbe (verse 20) with Barnabas. It's interesting though that Paul leaves Derbe and backtracks through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch (verse 21). Hey! Once you've been stoned and left for dead, how much worse can it get? They went back through those same cities and discipled the new converts, establishing churches and appointing elders. Notice that Luke points out the "prayer and fasting" that accompanied the appointment of those elders in verse 23. It is obvious that Paul wanted to make an impact on these elders regarding the gravity of the office to which they had just been appointed.
Now, it's back to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:24-28)
24 And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.
25 And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:
26 And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.
It had been a great missionary trip. Now they're back home with the Believers in Antioch (the one located in Syria, north of Israel). Mission trip to Turkey accomplished! Incidentally, verse 27 is rather significant for us, "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." Certainly Jesus had commissioned that Gentiles should be evangelized in Acts 1:8 (see notes) and Peter opened that door while at the household of Cornelius in Acts 10 (see notes). However, from Acts 13:46 forward, Paul fully embraces the task of ministering the Gospel to Gentiles.
Paul's first missionary journey ends here.