Paul is addressing a crowd of Jews and Gentiles who accept his message about Jesus and a group of Jewish leaders who do not. Here, he quotes the end of Isaiah 49:6. Many times, when a New Testament speaker quotes a portion of the Old Testament, they mean to bring to mind the rest of the passage. In Isaiah 49:1–2, God chooses His Savior, one with a “mouth like a sharp sword” (Isaiah 49:2; Revelation 19:15). In Isaiah 49:3–5, Israel refuses to return to God, so God tells His messenger, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6). God wants more than just the Jews; He wants the world.
Paul applies Isaiah 49:6 to the entire nation of Israel. God made a covenant that Abraham’s descendants would bless the world (Genesis 12:3). They did so by providing the Messiah to the world, but they should have also introduced the Messiah to the world. God knew that wouldn’t happen. Much of Paul’s ministry involves telling the Jews about Jesus and building churches with the eavesdropping Gentiles who accept his message.
Simeon also quoted part of Isaiah 49:6 when he met the baby Jesus at the temple, but he added part of Isaiah 46:13, calling Jesus, “…a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Paul’s heartfelt wish, that Israel would accept its Messiah (Romans 9:1–5) will come true during the millennial kingdom. First, however, the Gentiles are invited in (Romans 11:25–27).
Acts 13 transitions Luke’s account (Acts 1:1) fully into a record of Paul’s ministry to spread the news about Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey. They teach about Jesus’ offer of forgiveness of sins on the island of Cyprus and in the district of Pisidia in modern-day south-central Asia Minor. Along the way, they face opposition, desertion, and persecution: themes that will follow Paul throughout his life. But they also experience the joy of watching the people they’d least expect come to a saving faith in Jesus.
Acts 13:42–52 details the response to Paul’s message in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. Many Gentiles and some Jews accept the news about Jesus gladly, but the synagogue leaders don’t. Since Jews live in community, and the Jewish community leaders feel threatened by Paul’s message and popularity, Paul can say “the Jews” reject Jesus’ offer of eternal life. Paul turns his attention to the Gentiles until the Jewish leaders join with city leaders to drive Paul and Barnabas out of town.