14:1 At Iconium [important trade center in Roman province of Galatia; major population center] Paul and Barnabas went as usual [same approach as used at Pisidian Antioch (cf. Acts 13:14)] into the Jewish synagogue [cf. Rom. 9:1-4 re: Paul’s desire to see Israel saved; began their ministry where there were many people]. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.
The church at Antioch had a concern that extended to those who lived beyond their community. They were the first local church to act upon such a concern by commissioning Paul and Barnabas to serve as missionaries. Like many missionaries to follow, these first missionaries would face many troubles as a result of their faith in Jesus and their efforts to spread the gospel.
Paul and Barnabas strategically went to cities where there were many people. When they arrived in Iconium in the Roman province of Galatia, they went first into the Jewish synagogue (see also Acts 13:14). Paul never lost his desire to see his fellow Jews saved (Rom. 9:1-4). Preaching in the synagogues gave Paul and Barnabas the opportunity to speak to Jews, to Gentile proselytes, and to other Gentiles who would be open to their message. A great number of both Jews and Greeks in Iconium listened to their message and believed.
14:2 But the Jews who refused to believe [to disobey, used here as the opposite of belief; “Unbelief and disobedience are both involved in the rejection of the gospel.” (Rienecker/Rogers)] stirred up [to excite; cf. Acts 13:45,50 re: similar experience at Pisidian Antioch] the Gentiles and poisoned [make evil, injure, irritate, harm, embitter] their minds against the brothers.
Not all of the Jews, however, were receptive to the gospel. As in Pisidian Antioch (see Acts 13:45,50), the Jews who refused to believe, or who rejected the gospel, stirred up opposition among the Gentiles. These unbelieving Jews initiated a smear campaign against Paul and Barnabas and also against all those who believed. The “phrase poisoned the minds” literally means “to cause their minds to think evil.” Those who oppose the gospel today still resort to such tactics.
After leading a team to share the gospel with hundreds of people on an island in the Bay of Bengal, we learned that the local religious leaders had a meeting immediately after our departure. They went about telling the people not to believe our message concerning Jesus Christ and to destroy the copies of the Scriptures that we had distributed.
14:3 So [therefore, because of the opposition] Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time [persisted] there, speaking boldly [with reliance upon the Lord] for the Lord, who confirmed [authenticated] the message of his grace [the gospel] by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Instead of shaking the dust off their feet (see Luke 10:10-11) and moving on to the next city, Paul and Barnabas chose to stay in Iconium. In spite of the opposition, they stayed there for some time and continued to preach the message of His grace—the gospel. God authenticated their message and their credentials by enabling them to perform signs and wonders, which likely included healing the sick and casting out demons.
My friend Abdul has suffered repeated threats on his life for sharing the gospel in dark and hostile parts of South Asia. When I asked him why he did not flee to safety, he said that God had convicted him to stay, and by so doing, encourage other believers to continue speaking boldly in the face of opposition.
14:4 The people of the city were divided [split; polarized]; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles [those who are sent; specifically Paul and Barnabas in this context].
The impact of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry was felt throughout the city. Some of the people believed the rumors started by the unbelieving Jews and sided with them. Others sided with the apostles. The term apostles means “those who are sent.” Originally used to describe the twelve who had witnessed the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Luke used the term in this context to refer specifically to Paul and Barnabas. When the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles conspired with their rulers to assault and stone these missionaries (Acts 14:5), they fled Iconium and took the gospel to other cities (Acts 14:6-7).
14:5 There was a plot [violent impulse or assault; cf. Acts 9:23-24] afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders [perhaps synagogue leaders or city magistrates], to mistreat [treat shamefully; “insulting and outrageous treatment which is calculated publicly to insult and openly to humiliate the person who suffers from it” (Rienecker/Rogers)] them and stone them.
14:6 But they found out [to become conscious of, “to get wind of”] about it [plot] and fled to the Lycaonian [area in Roman province of Galatia] cities of Lystra [about 20 miles from Iconium; Timothy lived in this city (Acts 16:1)] and Derbe and to the surrounding country,
Note: “Did the missionaries lack faith because they escaped when their lives were threatened? No, their actions demonstrated the use of common sense in determining God’s will. Since God had provided them a way of escape, to stay would have been foolish.” (Swindoll • The Growth of an Expanding Mission • p. 89)
14:7 where [Lystra and Derbe] they [Paul and Barnabas] continued [cf. 1 Cor. 15:58; they did not give up] to preach the good news.
14:8 In Lystra [small town located about twenty miles south of Iconium; evidently no Jewish synagogue there] there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked [cf. Acts 3 re: Peter and John healing a lame beggar].
14:9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed
14:10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
14:11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they [the crowd reacted in a manner consistent with their pagan beliefs] shouted in the Lycaonian language [Paul and Barnabas did not speak or understand this language], “The gods have come down to us in human form! [they people believed an ancient legend that said Zeus and Hermes (the Roman names were Jupiter and Mercury) had once visited their region disguised as humans]“
Paul and Barnabas fled from Iconium and traveled twenty miles south to the smaller town of Lystra. Evidently there was no Jewish synagogue in this predominantly Gentile town. There they met and healed a lame man who had never walked.
When the native Lystrans saw what Paul had done they interpreted this event in light of their pagan mythology. The emotional crowd cried out, “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!” They believed an ancient legend that said Zeus and Hermes had once visited their region disguised as humans.
Paul and Barnabas did not speak the Lycaonian language and therefore had no idea what the crowd was shouting.
14:12 Barnabas they called Zeus [head of Greek pantheon; Roman name Jupiter], and Paul they called Hermes [Roman name Mercury; spokesman for Jupiter; Greek god of oratory and inventor of speech] because he was the chief speaker.
The crowd started to call Barnabas, Zeus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was the head of the Greek pantheon. Perhaps they gave Barnabas this designation because he had a reserved and dignified appearance. Paul, who had done most of the speaking, was thought to be Hermes, the spokesman for Zeus and the inventor of speech.
14:13 The priest [saw this as an opportunity to lead the people of the city in honoring Zeus] of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city [Zeus was the patron deity of Lystra], brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
The temple of Zeus, the patron deity of Lystra, was located just outside the town. The priest of Zeus saw this occasion as an opportunity to lead the people in honoring their patron deity. He arrived on the scene with sacrificial oxen draped in garlands. He and the people intended to offer sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, who by now sensed that something was terribly wrong.
Like Lystra, many towns and villages in the world today have plenty of religion, however misguided it may be. Religion does not satisfy the deepest hunger of the soul. Only a relationship with Jesus Christ can do that.
14:14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this [that the people intended to offer a sacrifice on their behalf], they tore their clothes [gesture expressive of sorrow (cf. Gen. 37:29,34), distress (cf. Josh. 7:6), or horror or protest (cf. Mk. 14:63)] and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:
When Barnabas and Paul finally understood what was happening they were horrified. They expressed their protest in a visually dramatic way—they tore their robes. Tearing one’s garments was a gesture that could express sorrow, distress, or protest. In this case, Barnabas and Paul rushed into the crowd to protest the intended sacrifice. Even today, people cannot resist the temptation to exalt the messenger above the message. We must always be careful to give glory to God alone.
14:15 “Men, why are you doing this [Paul and Barnabas wanted off the pedestal]? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things [their pantheon of gods] to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.
The last place Paul and Barnabas wanted to be was on a pedestal. They told the misguided crowd that they were not visiting gods, as they supposed, but mere men. They were no different than any of them.
Earlier in Acts, a crowd had shouted to Herod Antipas that his was “the voice of a god and not of a man” (Acts 12:22). The prideful Herod had accepted the people’s worship instead of giving glory to God and died as a result.
Paul and Barnabas understood that there is but one God. They tried to direct the people from the worship of worthless things to the living God who had made heaven and earth and all that exists.
Note: Luke recorded Paul’s messages in…
• Acts 13:16-41 — to Jews in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia
• Acts 14:15-17 — to Gentiles on the streets of Lystra
• Acts 17:22-31 — to intellectuals on Mars Hill
• Acts 20:17-38 — to church leaders (the Ephesian elders) at Miletus
14:16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way.
14:17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
14:18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
Paul and Barnabas designed their message to their audience—people who were not literate in the Scripture but rather were accustomed to superstition. Instead of quoting Old Testament scriptures, they appealed to the evidence in nature that point to the existence of God. They pointed out that God is the Creator of all life, has demonstrated great patience and mercy to the nations, and has revealed Himself in nature. Such evidence leaves people without excuse (see Rom. 1:20). However, in spite of their words, they had a difficult time countering the impact of the miracle of the healed man and stopping the crowds from sacrificing to them.
14:19 Then [trouble followed closely behind them] some Jews came [to Lystra] from Antioch [about 100 miles away] and Iconium and won [persuaded] the crowd [who earlier had acclaimed Paul and Barnabas as gods] over. They stoned [previous threats escalated to actual violence; cf. 2 Cor. 1:8-9; 11:25] Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking [supposing] he was dead [apparently Paul was unconscious].
As if Paul and Barnabas did not have enough to deal with, more trouble was close at hand. Some Jews from as far away as Antioch and nearby Iconium arrived on the scene. They may have been traveling Jewish merchants or Jews who had intentionally followed Paul and Barnabas. They were unquestionably hostile and persuaded the crowds to turn against Paul and Barnabas.
The fickle crowds, perhaps frustrated that their expectations had not been fulfilled, became violent and stoned Paul. Luke did not record what the crowds did to Barnabas, who was evidently not present. Paul later wrote about his experiences in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8-9) and about the stoning (2 Cor. 11:25).
Note: Paul “was enduring the same kind of brutality that killed Stephen, the martyr whom he had once eagerly watched die in Jerusalem.” (Swindoll • The Growth of an Expanding Mission • p. 92)
14:20 But after the disciples had gathered around [encircled; after the mob had disbanded; perhaps prayed for him] him, he got up and went back into the city [did not leave town, went back to spend the night]. The next [following] day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
Those of us who live in the relatively safety of America often forget that opposition to the gospel takes the form of hostile and physical violence in some parts of the world. Paul not only suffered serious physical injuries that resulted from the stoning, his injuries were further aggravated when the mob dragged his limp body out of town where he was left for dead.
A group of unnamed believers went to the place where the angry mob dumped Paul’s body and surrounded him. Perhaps they prayed for him. At some point, Paul regained consciousness and saw these concerned believers standing over him. He got up, most likely to their amazement, and then did something unthinkable. He walked back to the town where he had been assaulted by the angry mob.—a courageous act.
Paul and Barnabas did not allow difficulties or discouragements to cause them to lose sight of their purpose. They persevered, as should we when we encounter set-backs in sharing the gospel. The following day Paul and Barnabas set out for Derbe, a small town located about sixty miles southwest of Lystra. Every step must have been painful for Paul in light of his injuries.
Note: Trouble will come. Be prepared!
T = Troubles will come sooner or later to those who faithfully live out their faith. Expect it.
R = Remember that you are not the first to experience opposition because of your Christian faith.
O = Opposition to the gospel takes many forms. Be wise.
U = Unite with other believers when facing trouble. There is strength in numbers.
B = Bounce back quickly. Don’t let troubles keep you down.
L = Lean on the Lord and continue to serve Him, no matter what.
E = Explain the truth to those who misunderstand you or your presentation of the gospel.
14:21 They preached the good news in that city [Derbe] and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned [backtracked or retraced their route; stresses their concern for the churches they had planted] to [places where they had been in danger and had faced intense hostility] Lystra, Iconium and Antioch,
Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Derbe and made many disciples there. They likely did not encounter opposition and were therefore able to move from evangelism to discipleship. Making disciples was essential for the continuing evangelization of the region. New believers must be taught how to share their faith with others.
The results that Paul and Barnabas experienced in Derbe remind us of the importance of persevering in sharing the good news. How sad it would have been if Paul and Barnabas had retreated home to Antioch after their painful experience at Lystra. Giving up ultimately hurts those who are still waiting to hear the good news.
When Paul and Barnabas completed their work in Derbe, they started their journey home. However, in typical fashion, they decided to take the hard route home by retracing their bloody steps back to Lystra and then to Iconium and Pisidian Antioch.
Note: “While the first part of the journey had been for evangelism, this last part is for edifying new converts.” (Swindoll • The Growth of an Expanding Mission • p. 97)
14:22 strengthening [to make more firm; “to beef up” or add additional strength] the disciples and encouraging [“word is used of exhorting troops who are about to go into battle” (Rienecker/Rogers); give vital spiritual instruction] them to remain true to the faith. “We must [future is not trouble-free for believers; no rosy or misleading picture painted for these new believers] go through many hardships to [when we] enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
Paul and Barnabas had a specific purpose for retracing their steps. They wanted to strengthen the hearts of the disciples in each of the cities they had visited. This process likely included further instruction about their new faith and answering any questions these new believers might have had. They also encouraged them to remain true to the Lord despite hardships and opposition. These new believers were not exempt from the many troubles Paul and Barnabas had experienced. Persecution is not reserved solely for missionaries, but for all who bear the name of Christ.
Note: “They took great care to preserve the fruit of their work, by encouragement, instruction, and organization.” (Curtis Vaughan • “Acts” • p. 96)
14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed [Gr. cheirotoneo: cheir = hand; teino = to stretch; to elect by a show of hands] elders [Gr. presbuteros; first reference to elders in NT; these individuals had to meet the spiritual qualifications Paul later listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9] for them in each church [organization and leadership are essential to the health of any church] and, with prayer and fasting [important part of decision-making process], committed them to the Lord [this commissioning probably involved laying on of hands], in whom they had put their trust.
Organization and leadership are essential to the health of any church. By the time Paul and Barnabas returned to the churches they had established, they were able to identify those who had gifts of leadership. They therefore appointed elders in every church and gave them the responsibility of caring for the flock. These individuals had to meet the spiritual qualifications Paul later listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
The selection of these elders came only after a period of prayer and fasting. Once selected, Paul and Barnabas commissioned these men who would have oversight for the spiritual welfare of their respective congregations. This commissioning likely included the laying on of hands. Thus the first missionary journey came to an end. Paul and Barnabas had visited four provinces and founded churches in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
14:24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia,
14:25 and when they had preached [no mention of preaching in Perga in Acts 13:13-14] the word in Perga [located about six miles from the coast; the place where John Mark had left them, cf. Acts 13:13], they went down to Attalia [seaport].
14:26 From Attalia they sailed back to [Syrian] Antioch, where [approximately 2-3 years earlier] they had been committed to the grace [enabled them to complete their task] of God for the work they had now completed [fulfilled].
14:27 On arriving there, they gathered the church [people, not the building; perhaps John Mark was present] together and reported all that God [gave credit to God] had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
14:28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.