There is one more matter in Acts 13 that I wish to mention before going on to the next chapter. That is what Paul said in verse-41:
Acts 13:41 NASB ‘BEHOLD, YOU SCOFFERS, AND MARVEL, AND PERISH; FOR I AM ACCOMPLISHING A WORK IN YOUR DAYS, A WORK WHICH YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU.'”
Paul was quoting Habakkuk 1:5 as found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew. This was the Bible used in the Diaspora, so the text was known by the Jews, just as we see it in the New Testament. Notice that Paul claimed God worked a work in the 1st century which no one would believe, even if it would be described beforehand. What does this mean? Does God blind people to his word? If so, wouldn’t this mean man’s unbelief is God’s fault?
Let’s look at another passage and perhaps it will become clearer what Paul means here. The passage I have in mind is found in 2Corinthians 4. Notice:
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NET. (1) Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. (2) But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God.
Here we see that Paul and company have rejected all means of hiding the truth for gain. They behave themselves as honestly as they know how to be. They have tried to make the Gospel very clear to those who listened to them. So, what about what God said concerning our inability to believe? Notice the next two verses:
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NET. (3) But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, (4) among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.
It is spiritual wickedness behind what occurs before our eyes that hides the clear truth of God’s word. I am sure everyone has at one time or another neglected to see what was right before his or her eyes. It may have been something you were looking for but missed because it blended in with its surroundings, or it may have been you were looking for something else and missed a very important matter right in front of you, simply because you were not looking for “it”!
We all have these experiences at one time or another, and this is similar to what occurs in the spiritual realm. Spiritual wickedness hides the truth that is before our very eyes. Unless God himself breaks through this spiritual veil, no one can believe the truth of the Gospel, though it is explained in detail to us. Paul says as much in his letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:1-10 NET. And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, (2) in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, (3) among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… (4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, (5) even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you are saved! — (6) and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (7) to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; (9) it is not from works, so that no one can boast. (10) For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. [underline emphasis mine]
In verse-1 Paul tells us we were all in the same boat—dead (spiritually). The dead can do nothing, say nothing or believe nothing. The (spiritually) dead are simply without any sensitivity to spiritual life. We all lived according to the ways of this world at some time in our lives, according to the rule or law of the one who governs spiritual wickedness (verse-2). The world lives off the flesh and the flesh lives off the world. Take away one and the other cannot survive. We lived according to the flesh, keeping the world’s system alive (verse-3). But God, rich in mercy, loved us (verse-4), and made us alive in Christ (verse-5). That is, he made us “sensitive” to his word. He caused us to be able to do something we could not do before, namely, to understand and believe the Gospel. He raised us up with Christ or (put another way) we were “born again” in him. (verse-6). He saved us by grace alone (verse-8), that is, our new life and sensitivity to the spiritual is a gift from him. We didn’t have this ability or this life before he had mercy on us. We could not obtain it through our labor (studies, listening to others etc.), so we cannot boast if we have it now. Even the faith by which we believe (verse-8) is a gift from God. Simply put, we are unable to believe God or the Gospel until God opens our the eyes of our hearts. This is what being spiritually dead means–we are unable (without God) to understand the things of God.
What mercy! What love! What a Savior we worship! Praise God!