Acts 14 – The Conclusion of the First Missionary Journey
A. In the city of Iconium.
1. (1) Paul and Barnabas have evangelistic success in Iconium.
Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.
a. They went together to the synagogue of the Jews: The leaders of the synagogue in Antioch had just expelled Paul and Barnabas from that city. Yet when they came to Iconium, they again began their evangelistic efforts by preaching in the synagogue. It was still a good way to start.
b. So spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed: Paul and Barnabas had success among the Jews and the Greeks, presenting the same gospel to both. The fact that Jews and… Greeks believed shows that Paul preached the same thing to both groups: That salvation is in Jesus, and we appropriate it by our belief (trust in, reliance on) in Him.
i. The success is refreshing, because they had just been kicked out of Pisidian Antioch, after much success there (Acts 13:50).
ii. On other occasions Paul was inclined to stay in a region for an extended period of time, strengthening the churches and working where evangelistic efforts had already borne fruit. Therefore, it may be best to see the persecution Paul had in Pisidian Antioch as God’s way of moving him on to Iconium and other places.
iii. And so spoke: Paul and Barnabas presented the gospel in a way that invited belief. The way they preached encouraged people to believe in the message of who Jesus is and what He had done for them.
2. (2-6) Successful ministry creates opposition, forcing Paul and Barnabas out of Iconium.
But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.
a. Unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren: Luke made it clear that it was not all the Jews of Iconium who did this, because many believed (Acts 14:1). Yet some not only rejected the message, but stirred up others to reject the message and the messengers (against the brethren).
b. Therefore they stayed a long time: They stayed as long as they could, despite the opposition, leaving only when it was absolutely necessary. They did this because they knew that these Christians in Iconium needed all the grounding they could get to stand strong in a city with much opposition.
i. “It took a long time, however, for the opposition to become serious, and the missionaries continued to preach the gospel freely and boldly.” (Bruce)
c. Speaking boldly in the Lord: Despite the opposition, Paul and Barnabas continued to preach boldly, bearing witness to the word of His grace and touching others with the power of Jesus.
i. Granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands: “For no apostle could work a miracle by himself; nor was any sign or wonder wrought even by the greatest apostle, but by a special grant or dispensation of God. This power was not resident in them at all times.” (Clarke)
d. Bearing witness to the word of His grace: The miraculous works done confirmed this message they preached – the word of His grace. That is the only word by which both Jews and Gentiles could be saved on an equal basis.
i. “The gospel is here called the message of his grace because divine grace is its subject matter.” (Bruce)
e. A violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it and fled: When forced to, Paul and Barnabas left Iconium for Lystra (some twenty miles away) and Derbe. Their perseverance under the difficulty in Iconium didn’t mean that it was time for them to become martyrs.
i. Acts 14:4 is the first time Paul and Barnabas are called apostles in the Book of Acts. The only other time the title is used for them in Acts is at 14:14. Paul often used the title of himself in his letters.
f. Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia: William Ramsay demonstrated that Lystra and Derbe were indeed together in the Roman province of Lycaonia, but only between A.D. 37 and 72, the exact period these events in Acts took place. This kind of accuracy persuaded Ramsay that the Biblical account was true, especially in an age when they were all thought to be fables and made-up stories.
B. In the cities of Lystra and Derbe.
1. (7-10) In Lystra, a lame man is healed.
And they were preaching the gospel there. And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.
a. And they were preaching the gospel there: Paul and Barnabas did many miraculous works, one of which is recorded in the following passage. Yet they did not travel as miracle workers. Their focus was always preaching the gospel.
i. “The apostles did not go into these cities to do miracles, and then to preach. Rather, it was the other way around: They went to preach; then sometimes there were healings.” (Boice)
b. This man heard Paul speaking: The crippled man heard Paul preach about Jesus. When he heard about Jesus, his face and manner showed that he believed Jesus could touch his life; he had faith to be healed.
i. This certain man without strength in his feet made the important transition from hearing about the work of Jesus to believing that it was for him. Not everyone makes this same transition, but they should.
c. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed: There was something about this man’s faith that was evident, and it is likely that God gave Paul the gift of discernment, so much so that Paul knew God intended to heal the man at that moment.
i. “That this lame man had faith was made plain by his ready obedience to Paul’s command to stand up.” (Bruce)
2. (11-13) The excited crowd in Lystra declares Paul and Barnabas to be Greek gods, visiting the earth.
Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
a. The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men! These people saw a stupendous miracle happen before their eyes, yet their idea of who God is had not changed. Therefore it seemed logical to them to consider Paul and Barnabas gods.
i. The miracle merely attracted attention, and in a way, it was unwanted attention. The miracle itself saved no one.
b. Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker: In Greek mythology, it was common for the gods to come to earth in human form, though they did not always do so for the good of man.
i. The people of Lystra had a legend that once Zeus and Hermes visited their land disguised as mortals, and no one gave them any hospitality except for one older couple. In their anger at the people, Zeus and Hermes wiped out the whole population, except for the old couple. This may help explain why the Lystrians were so quick to honor Paul and Barnabas.
c. And Paul, Hermes: He was known as the messenger of the gods, so it made sense to the Lystrians that Paul (the more talkative one) was Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Barnabas apparently had an air of authority about him, so they regarded him as Zeus.
i. Their adoration of Paul and Barnabas progressed because they praised them in the Lycaonian language. “The crowd’s use of Lycaonian explains why Paul and Barnabas did not grasp what was afoot until the preparations to pay them divine homage were well advanced.” (Bruce)
ii. But when Paul and Barnabas saw the priest of Zeus, with oxen and garlands… intending to sacrifice, they knew things had gone too far. This was far more than honoring guests to the city.
3. (14-18) Paul appeals to the crowd, asking them to recognize the true God instead of worshipping Paul and Barnabas.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.
a. They tore their clothes: They did this to show that they were completely human, just as the Lystrians. They also did it out of an instinctively Jewish reaction to blasphemy. For Paul and Barnabas, it wasn’t just inconvenient that they were called gods; it was blasphemy.
b. That you should turn from these useless things: These were strong words from Paul to people who took their pagan worship seriously, but Paul wasn’t afraid to confront this mob with the truth, and the truth was that their idolatry was wrong. They had to turn from it.
i. As Paul told them more about Jesus and what He has done, he especially wanted them to turn from these useless things to the living God. Jesus could not merely be added to their pagan ways.
c. To the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them: Paul called the Lystrian crowd to consider the real God, the One who stands behind all creation, not one of the lesser (and imaginary) Greek gods.
i. The things Paul mentions in Acts 14:17 (He did good… gave us rain from heaven… and fruitful seasons… filling our hearts with food and gladness) were just the kind of things these people would think that Zeus gave them. Paul told them these blessings come from the true God who lives in heaven, not from Zeus.
ii. God’s kindness to all men (in giving rain and fruitful crops) should be seen as a witness of His love and power, something theologians sometimes call common grace.
iii. Paul did not preach to these pagan worshippers the same way he preached to Jews or those acquainted with Judaism. He did not quote the Old Testament to them, but instead appealed to natural revelation, to the things that even a pagan could understand by looking at the world around them.
d. And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them: Even with all this, Paul and Barnabas had an extremely difficult time challenging the wrong conceptions of God held by the Lystrians.
4. (19-20a) Persecution follows Paul.
Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city.
a. Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came: These opponents were not content to kick Paul out of their own region (Acts 14:5-6); they followed him and brought their persecution with them.
i. Some of these persecuting Jews from Antioch and Iconium traveled more than one hundred miles just to make Paul miserable. They were dedicated adversaries of Paul.
b. Having persuaded the multitudes: They incited the people of Lystra against Paul and Barnabas, and instigated the stoning of Paul. This was obviously an attempt to execute Paul and Barnabas – with the rocks being thrown by the same people who wanted to worship them shortly before.
i. This is a dramatic demonstration of how fickle a crowd can be. Their admiration of the miracle and desire to honor Paul and Barnabas as gods did not last long.
ii. It is dangerous for any spiritual leader to cultivate or allow a kind of hero-worship. The same people who give this honor will feel terribly betrayed when the leader is shown to be human.
c. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city: Paul was miraculously preserved here. Some think that he was even actually killed and raised to life again, because stoning was usually reliable form of execution.
i. When Paul later wrote, I bear in my body the marks of Jesus (Galatians 6:17), he may have had in mind the scars from this incident. He certainly later referred to this stoning in 2 Corinthians 11:25.
ii. It has been suggested that the heavenly vision described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 took place at this attack. This is possible, but only conjecture.
iii. It’s reasonable to think that Paul remembered Stephen when he was being stoned, and how he had been a part of Stephen’s execution (Acts 7:58-8:1).
d. He rose up and went into the city: When Paul was revived, he did not flee the city that stoned him. Instead he immediately went back into it. He had been driven out of Antioch and Iconium by this traveling mob, and he was determined to leave Lystra on his own terms.
i. In Acts 16:1, we learn of a young Christian in Lystra and his mother – Timothy. Perhaps Timothy saw all this and was inspired to the high call of the gospel by noticing Paul’s courage and power in ministry.
5. (20b-21a) Paul leaves Lystra for the city of Derbe, where they find more evangelistic success.
And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples.
a. When they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples: Despite the persecution in Lystra, the work of God continued – just in a different place, Derbe. Yet Paul and Barnabas continued their work: preaching the gospel and making disciples.
C. The return trip home to Syrian Antioch.
1. (21b-22) The message of Paul and Barnabas on the return trip.
They returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
a. Strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith: As Paul and Barnabas decided to head back home to Antioch, they passed through the cities they had visited before, to strengthen and encourage the Christians in those cities. Paul and Barnabas wanted to do far more than gain conversions; they had a passion to make disciples.
i. Many Christians need strengthening in their souls. Many need exhorting… to continue in the faith. It is no small thing to walk with the Lord, year after year, trial after trial. It takes a strong soul and an encouraged faith.
b. We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God: This was the message that helped strengthen and exhort these disciples. This was a simple message, proved in Paul’s personal experience. Paul could preach that message because he had lived that message.
i. This is for many a forgotten message today. They consider any kind of tribulation completely counter-productive to Christian living, failing to note the significant place suffering has in God’s plan.
2. (23) The work of Paul and Barnabas on the way home to Syrian Antioch.
So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
a. So when they had appointed elders in every church: Paul and Barnabas were committed to not just making new Christians, but in establishing new churches, places where these new Christians could grow and be established in the Lord.
i. “The apostles had left behind only a tiny core of believers, and these had hardly been taught anything, since the apostles had been there at best for only a few weeks. How could this little group survive? It survived because the work was actually being done by God. The church was his church.” (Boice)
b. When they had appointed elders in every church: Paul and Barnabas knew that these churches must have proper administration, so they appointed elders in every city where there were Christians.
i. “It has more than once been pointed out that more recent missionary policy would have thought it dangerously idealistic to recognize converts of only a few weeks’ standing as leaders in their churches; perhaps Paul and Barnabas were more conscious of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the believing communities.” (Bruce)
c. And prayed with fasting: Paul and Barnabas demonstrated their great concern for the health of these churches by their prayer and fasting.
d. They commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed: But in the end, they can only trust in God’s ability to keep these churches healthy, having commended them to the Lord. It was in the Lord they had believed, not in Paul or Barnabas or the elders. The church belongs to Jesus.
3. (24-26) The itinerary of Paul and Barnabas on the way home.
And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.
a. After they had passed through Pisidia: On the continent, they returned pretty much the same way they came. They did not stop on the island of Cyprus, but sailed to Antioch, returning to their home congregation.
b. For the work which they had completed: These beautiful words were only partially true. Although the immediate mission was accomplished, the work of planting new churches and strengthening existing ones has never ended. This would be merely the first of several missionary journeys.
4. (27-28) Paul and Barnabas arrive back in Antioch.
Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
a. They reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles: Their success with evangelism among the Gentiles, and the blessing of God that it demonstrated, showed that what God did in Antioch was not unique. God wanted to replicate this work all over the world.
i. “In saying that the missionaries reported these things, Luke has used the verb in the imperfect. This may mean that the report was repeated as the two met with different groups scattered throughout the city. But the word church is in the singular. There may have been a number of groups meeting separately, but there was only one church.” (Williams)
b. He had opened the door of faith: The trip was a great success, though not without great obstacles: The difficulty of travel itself, the confrontation with Elymas on Cyprus, the quitting of John Mark, being driven out of the cities of Antioch and Iconium, the temptation to receive adoration, and being stoned in Lystra. Yet Paul and Barnabas would not be deterred from the work God had them to do.
i. It can and should be asked of each follower of Jesus, “What will it take for you to back down from doing God’s will? What kind of temptation or obstacle or opposition will do it?” Nothing stopped Jesus from doing God’s will on our behalf; as we look to Him, we won’t be stopped either.
ii. Paul later expressed this drive in a letter to a congregation: Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
c. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples: Back at their home church in Syrian Antioch, we can assume that Paul and Barnabas took a long break and found plenty of ministry to do back there.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission