Appointed for Eternal Life?
The present verse is as unqualified a statement of absolute pre-destination… as is found anywhere in the New Testament. – C. K. Barrett
I hope you were able to join us last Sunday as we continued our series ‘To the Ends of the Earth’. There was a line in our passage that we didn’t have time to discuss together, and that line was Acts 13:48. This is what the second half says, “…all who were appointed for eternal life believed”. This brings us to the teaching of election or predestination, which says that God freely and graciously predestines people deserving of judgement to be saved. Sadly, this topic often turns into an intellectual debate. So, rather than debating it. I want to ask why Luke included this verse. What purpose did it serve? Well, this seems in keeping with at least two of his emphases in Acts, the sovereign role of the Holy Spirit and salvation as pure gift.
Think back to the beginning of the chapter. It was the Holy Spirit who told the church to set Paul and Barnabas apart (Acts 13:2). It was the Holy Spirit who sent Paul and Barnabas out on their mission to spread the gospel (Acts 13:4). In other words, the Holy Spirit is running the show and calling the shots. You can imagine why Luke might have included Acts 13:48 then. The sovereign role of the Holy Spirit is a comforting truth for a church that was experiencing immense pressure to stop sharing the gospel. Paul and Barnabas were thrown out of cities (Acts 13:50), even stoned by angry mobs (Acts 14:19)! But, Luke wants us to know none of this meant that God had fallen asleep at the wheel. Instead, God has appointed people for eternal life in all places, so we shouldn’t allow the hostility of others to intimidate us. We know that God’s plan cannot be defeated. And therefore, predestination encourages us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the work of sharing the gospel!
The second reason Luke includes Acts 13:48 is because it is in keeping with his understanding of salvation as pure gift. Let me quote from a scholar here, “On their part these Gentiles took an active role in believing, in committing themselves to Christ; but it was in response to God’s Spirit moving in them, convicting them, appointing them for life. All salvation is ultimately only by the grace of God.” And that’s the point. Ultimately, Luke is giving God the glory and the credit for the belief of these Gentiles by emphasising they were saved by grace alone. They actively believed, yes, but it was in response to God’s gracious, voluntary initiative. This is meant to produce profound gratitude and humility in us. God has saved us by grace, how can we not live for him? How can we not seek to please him and obey him? How can this not give us a greater passion for others to experience this grace too?
This is what I believe Luke wants to achieve by emphasising God’s appointment of these gentiles. He wants to remind us that God is at the wheel, he is leading his mission. Who can stop God? No one! And he wants us to have the joy that comes from realising that God has freely, graciously and lovingly rescued you from the judgement you should have gotten. What a gift!
Grace and peace,
 John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 308.