Pretty much all we know about these leaders (v.1) is that they are all Jews, for those are Jewish names. One might even have been kin to Paul (Rom.16:21). This reminds us that the church in Antioch was started by Jews who preached the Word “to none but the Jews only” (Acts 11:19-26). They preached the word of the kingdom gospel (Lu.9:2), the kingdom of heaven on earth (Dan.2:44), the gospel the Lord Himself preached by saying it was “at hand” (Mark 1:14,15).
The kingdom didn’t begin, however, because the Jews rejected their kingdom when they rejected their King and stoned His prophet, and God put the kingdom on hold and sent Paul to preach the gospel of grace instead (Acts 20:24). People who believed that gospel will be raptured to heaven, not live in the kingdom on earth. And since Paul preached that gospel in Antioch for a year, we know there were Body saints in Antioch as well as kingdom saints.
We know the leaders were all kingdom saints though, for they “ministered to the Lord” (Acts 13:2), which usually means they brought Him sacrifices (Ezek.43:19). But sacrifices could only be offered by priests in Jerusalem, not by elders in Antioch, so we know those leaders were ministering to the Lord by praying instead (cf.Ps.141:2). And as they were praying, the Spirit said to separate Saul and Barnabas from themselves (Acts 13:2).
Paul was separated from the warm, comfortable “womb” of apostate Judaism when he got saved (Gal.1:13-16), but God also wanted him separated from the true Judaism of these kingdom saints (Acts 13:2). That’s because Judaism was a religion for one nation, the nation Israel, while God sent Paul to preach “grace” to “all” nations (Rom.1:1,5). Paul had been preaching grace to all nations for years, but he had been doing it alongside kingdom saints. Here, God was separating him to this ministry. It’s only men who mix them!
This was Paul’s ordination (cf.ITim.2:7). The leaders in Acts 13:1 are probably mentioned by name because they were witnesses to his ordination who signed his ordination certificate. We know Paul had one, because he was angry with the Corinthians for insisting on seeing it (IICor.3:1). When Acts 14:25 calls what happened here a recommendation, that tells us that that’s all an ordination is, a letter saying a church recommends a man for the ministry. We “com-mend” a man by putting him in God’s hands by prayer (Lu.23:46; Acts 14:23), then we recommend him to others.
Barnabas was a kingdom saint (Acts 4:36), but he was ordained with Paul to remind people we have a connection to the kingdom church. Paul’s gospel was a mystery (Col.1: 25,26), but it has a connection to the kingdom message (cf. Rom.1;1,2). So God had Paul ordained by a church filled with Body and kingdom saints, then sent him to preach grace with a kingdom saint.
The Jews “fasted” (Acts 13:3) to show God they were serious about something (cf.IISam.12:13-18). Fasting is also associated with solemnity (Joel1:14), and Paul’s ordination was a solemn occasion. The laying on of hands (Acts 13:3) spoke of associating yourself with someone or something, as when the priest associated Israel’s sins with that goat (Lev.4:15). Ever after Paul’s ordination, he was associated with the leaders in Antioch. That church became his base of operations in Acts. In Bible days, the laying on of hands could also impart the Spirit to men (Acts 8:17, and the power to heal (Mark 16:18). But in the dispensation of grace, we can only impart a recommendation to a man by laying hands on him.
Acts 13:3 says that those leaders sent Paul away, while verse 4 says the Spirit sent him away. That’s because that’s how the Spirit works in the dispensation of grace, through the local church (ICor.5:4). Today, God works through the power found “in us” (Eph.3:20), i.e., us members of the Body.
A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: “The Separation of Paul and Barnabas” Acts 13:1-5