ACTS CHAPTER 14.
Paul and Barnabas at Iconium and Lystra. Acts 14, 1-18.
Success and persecution at Iconium: V.1. And it came to pass in Iconium that they went both together into the synagog of the Jews, and so spake that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. V.2. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. V.3. Long time therefore abode they, speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the Word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. V.4. But the multitude of the city was divided; and part held with the Jews and part with the apostles. V.5. And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, v.6. they were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about; v.7. and there they preached the Gospel. On leaving Antioch, Paul and Barnabas turned toward the east, pursuing their course for a distance of sixty miles over a table-land filled with countless herds of grazing sheep and goats, then crossed a small mountain ridge, and reached the thriving city of Iconiurn, which is still in existence as Konieh. It is situated at the head of a vast plain stretching toward the east, well watered and therefore important both for agriculture and for grazing. Many travelers compare Iconium with Damascus, both as to location and beauty. In both cases, also, the early history is shrouded in the mists of prehistoric times. It should be remembered that the Roman province of Galatia occupied the eastern end of ancient Phrygia, and included both the districts of Pisidia and Lycaonia. Therefore Iconium, the metropolis of western and central Lycaonian Phrygia, and thus thoroughly Phrygian in language, was a city of Galatia according to its administration. “The Romans naturally spoke of Iconium as lying in the half barbaric Lycaonia; but the people always distinguished themselves from the Lycaonians, preferring to think of themselves as citizens of a Phrygian-Hellenic city. Even the cities farther from North Galatia spoke of themselves as ‘Galatian’ and enjoyed being addressed thus. The city was strongly Roman and was given an imperial name A.D. 41.” 51) Iconium being a n important trade center, there was a strong Jewish population and therefore also a synagog. According to their custom, Paul and Barnabas went into the synagog and addressed the audience present, which consisted not only of Jews, but also of Greek proselytes, and probably of other Greeks that were favorably disposed toward the religion of the Jews. And their speaking, their testimony, made such an impression that a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed. The conclusiveness of the evidence of the Gospel, the earnestness with which it was presented, and especially the power of the Spirit in the Word carried conviction to the hearers. But it was not long before the same thing happened here as at Antioch. For a considerable time indeed the missionaries were unhindered in speaking fearlessly of the Lord, who also confirmed the Word of His grace, which both proclaimed and transmitted this grace, by the testimony of signs and wonders which were done by the hands of the apostles. But the success which thus attended the preaching of the Word grated upon those Jews that refused to believe. They therefore began, and persisted in their efforts, to incite and exasperate the souls of the people, the feelings of the Gentiles, against the brethren. As a consequence of this persistent agitation the populace of the city was divided, some people taking the part of the disaffected Jews, others that of the apostles; but the party which stood for truth and fairness, as usual, was not so active as that bent upon mischief. So the agitators finally worked up their adherents and others to such a pitch of excitement that a mob was formed consisting of both Gentiles and Jews with their rulers. The tumult with hostile intention was just about to break forth, the general plan being to abuse Paul and Barnabas, to treat them despitefully, and to stone them, when the intended victims found out about the brewing violence. Since a mob is absolutely without reason and sense, intent only upon shedding blood, and amenable only to a sudden display of effective spiritual or physical power, the missionaries did not believe it would serve the cause of the Master to await the onslaught, but fled from the city. Since Iconium was not far from the boundary of the district of Lycaonia, they crossed the frontier and went to Lystra, a distance of some eighteen miles. 52) This was a hill-town and a Roman colony, a Roman garrison being stationed there at least for some time. The native language therefore had to combat the influence of the Latin tongue. The surroundings of the city were more thoroughly pagan and less permeated by Jewish bias than in either Iconium or Antioch. The other town, Derbe, named as a town of the district to which Paul and Barnabas fled, was also in Roman Lycaonia, on the extreme southeastern edge of the Lacaonian plain, in the northern foothills of the Taurus Mountains, near a conical mountain now known as Hadje-Baba, not so very far from the pass known as the Cilician Gates; which leads down to Tarsus. In this region, the extreme frontier of Roman influence. Barnabas and Paul were now engaged for some time in preaching the Gospel, apparently without opposition. Thus the persecution and the flight of Christians has ever served to aid the spread of the Gospel.
A miracle and its effect upon the people: V.8. And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked. V.9. The same heard Paul speak; who, steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, v.10. said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked. V.11. And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. V.12. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. V.13. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates and would have done sacrifice with the people. Since there was apparently no synagog at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas very likely preached in the open space near the gates or in the market-place. Now a certain man of Lystra had been lame ever since his birth and had no strength in his feet to hold him up. He had never been able to take a step, but usually s at on the ground near the places where people assembled or passed. So his history from infancy was well known in the city. This man listened carefully and earnestly as Paul was speaking and addressing the crowds that would assemble from time to time, and, the attention of Paul being directed to the cripple, he fixed his eyes upon him to determine by this scrutiny whether the unfortunate man had learned and understood enough of the power of the Savior to believe that he could be healed. Having satisfied himself on this point, Paul cried out to the cripple with a loud voice: Stand up straight on thy feet. And without any assistance the man jumped to his feet and began to walk about. The power of the exalted Christ, through the mouth of Paul, had performed this miracle. The crowds present saw what Paul had done, and after the shock of the first surprise had only one explanation to offer, the one which was immediately suggested to their heathen minds, namely, that some of their gods: having assumed the likeness of men, had come down to them. in accordance with this idea, which they expressed in their native tongue, that of Lycaonia, although they knew and understood Greek very well, they suggested that Barnabas be called Zeus (Jupiter), who was considered the chief God of the Greeks and Romans, and Paul Hermes (Mercury), since he was supposed by them to be the messenger of the gods to men, and Paul had usually led the discussions. An inscription found a few years ago in some ruins near ancient Lystra shows that these two gods were classed together by the inhabitants of that region. 53) Now there was a temple or a place of sacrifice to Jupiter before the city, and the heathen priest attached to this place of worship immediately had the servants bring oxen and wreaths of flowers to the gates of the city, near the vaulted entrance arches where the people were assembled. His intention was to bring sacrifice to the two missionaries together with the people. This scene shows the darkness and blindness of heathenism. Tot only do the heathen serve dead idols, but they even take men for gods and offer them sacrifices and worship. And it surely is a sign of the times that it is becoming customary to extol up to heaven the merits of such as have done the country an extraordinary service, literally, to idolize them and to worship before them. This is not only revolting from the standpoint of human reason, but indicates that the fashionable world of our days is rapidly sinking back to the level of the heathen.
The horrified speech of Paul: V.14. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, v.15. and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein; v.16. who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. v.17. Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. V.18. And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people that they had not done sacrifice unto them. Evidently there was here a bilingual situation which complicated matters. While the inhabitants of the city were fully able to use the Greek language in business and matters of every-day life and could also understand the missionaries very well, their language of religion was the tongue which they had always employed for that purpose. Very likely Paul and Barnabas did not understand the outcries of the people. for though Paul, at least, had the gift of tongues. 1 Cor. 14. l8, it does not follow that it was in his power at all times. But the news of the intended sacrifice was soon brought to the ears of the two apostles, either while they were still busy with their teaching, or when they had returned to their lodgings. Shocked beyond measure by the very thought of the pretended sacrifice. Paul and Barnabas both tore their mantles in token of deep grief, distress: and horror, Gen. 37, 29. 34; Josh. 7, 6, and sprang out among the crowd, shouting loudly meanwhile to attract attention quickly. They called out: Men, what is this that you are doing? They explained that they were men, human beings, with the same affections as the citizens of Lystra. They had the same powers and appetites, needed food and clothing in the same way, and were subject to death like all other human beings. They did not preach themselves nor present themselves for adoration, but were messengers with a good, a wonderful news of salvation, namely, that the people of Lystra should turn themselves, turn entirely away from these vanities which they were professing and practicing, their idols and their worship, in doing so, they should turn to the living God, the one God who was the Author and Dispenser of life. For this true God it was that had made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything that is in them. Cp. chap. 17, 24. The living God had given evidence of His power and life in the act of creation; the God of creation and the God of redemption is one. Paul here, as a wise and careful missionary, appealed to the knowledge of natural religion, in order to build upon it the beauty of revealed religion, in the admonition of Paul that the people should turn from the vanity and foolishness of their idolatry it was implied that their ways had been wrong ways. God had, in times that were now past and should never return, shown great forbearance and patience in letting all the nations go their own ways. He did not strike down and destroy the heathen that had turned to idolatry, but permitted them to live: since there was always the chance of their searching for, and learning to know, the true God, chap. 17, 30. Nevertheless, as Paul points out, even during those times God did not leave Himself unattested. His continuous beneficent activity and goodness was manifested in His doing good; in His granting from heaven, whence all good things come, Jas. 1, 17, rains and fruitful seasons, in His filling their hearts with food and good cheer. Purposely he says ”hearts” and not ”bodies,” since he wants to lead his hearers away from a mere care of the body and this present life to the care of their immortal soul. It was a tactful, but none the less impressive reminder of the fact that they had not been guiltless in times past, since the evidence of God’s creative power and of His providence had been apparent on every hand to lead them to search more diligently for the true God. The speech barely quieted the people and prevented their carrying out the intention of offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. The behavior of the two missionaries serves as an example for the missionaries of our days. To yield to, to accommodate the Christian religion to, sinful, idolatrous practices, with the specious plea that it is necessary to gain the people’s confidence, is always foolish. The confidence of people cannot be held by a denial of the truth. Every form of enmity toward God, of idolatry, of the service of mammon, of the world, of sin, must be branded as such, not by a tactless zeal, but as the matters come forward for attention. Upon the basis of such instruction the preaching of the Gospel may then be built up and true and saving faith be wrought by the Spirit of God.
The return Journey to Syria. Acts 14, 19-28.
Mob violence in Lystra and the Gospel in Derbe: V.19. And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. V.20, Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city; and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. V.21. And when they had preached the Gospel to that city and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra and to Iconium and Antioch, v.22. confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. V.23. and when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. The news of that strange happening, in which men had almost been worshiped as gods, traveled quickly along the trade routes, reaching Iconium first and soon after even Antioch, in Pisidia, and the Jews immediately concluded that the two men could be no others than Paul and Barnabas whom they had persecuted. The fact that these men were carrying on their work in other cities of the province so angered some of the Jews that they did not hesitate to make the long journey to Lystra. Here they worked assiduously to persuade the multitudes, soon converting them into a mob and thus demonstrating again the uncertainty of temper and the fickleness of favor which characterizes crowds. It seems that the attack upon Paul was sudden, while he was attending to his duties. They stoned him and then dragged him out of the city, supposing him to have died, and ready to leave his body to its fate, like that of some wild beast. But when the murderers had left the scene, the disciples, some of whom had been gained also in this city, came out to investigate, and when they stood around Paul, probably considering the best way of burying him, he arose and went into the city. The Lord had held His sheltering hand over His servant and prevented the stones from having mortal effect upon his body. But it was clear to the apostle that under the circumstances he could not hope to have success in this city; the agitators were still present, and the minds of the people had been prejudiced against the Gospel. So on the very next day he set out with Barnabas for Derbe, a distance of some twenty miles, almost on the Cilician frontier. Here quick success attended their efforts: they preached the Gospel continuously, bringing the glad tidings to that city; they made many disciples, thus founding a congregation also here, where it must have been almost, if not entirely, composed of Gentiles. Paul now might easily have made the journey down to Tarsus, to strengthen himself and recuperate from the strenuous exertions of this missionary trip. But his love and solicitude for the newly gained converts moved him to make the return journey back over the same route, stopping at Lystra, at Iconium, and at Antioch, in order, in every city he confirmed, strengthened, the souls of the disciples by sound Gospel-preaching and by evangelical admonition. Since persecution had come upon them at least indirectly through the removal of Paul, he exhorted them, he earnestly urged them, to remain in, to abide in, to stay with the faith. Having accepted Christ in firm trust as their Savior, they should not permit tribulations and persecutions to take this faith out of their hearts. For that is true in general of the Christians: Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. That is the inevitable lot of the believers, that is what they must expect in the midst of a sinful and hostile generation. The Christians of all times have need of such encouragement to be firm in the midst of cross and persecution. On the same trip also Paul and Barnabas had the congregations in each city elect, by popular vote, by a show of hands, elders in every congregation. The Christians themselves established the office of the ministry in their midst for the continual teaching of the Word of God, in order that the disciples might be kept in the faith, and that ever more souls might be won for Christ. Note: The apostles here did not make use of any hierarchical powers, but put the matter of electing their ministers into the hands of the congregations. The Christian congregation makes use of this peculiar church power and should retain this right at all times. Paul and Barnabas finally commended all the brethren to the Lord by prayer with fasting, in the keeping, in the charge, of the Lord they are safe; His care can protect them against enmity and comfort them in persecution. Those that believed the apostles committed to the Lord; for only by faith is the communication with the Lord established, only by faith can it be maintained.
The last part of the return journey: V.24. And after they had passed through out Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. V.25. And when they had preached the Word in Perga, they went down into Attalia, v.26. and thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. V.27. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the, door of faith unto the Gentiles. V.28. And there they abode long time with the disciples. It was impossible for Paul to be inactive in the service of his Lord while he was traveling back to Syria. So he and Barnabas made a missionary trip through Pisidia, the province adjoining Roman Galatia on the south. Thus they reached Pamphylia and now took time to speak the Word of God in Perga, where they do not seem to have stopped on the journey to the upper country, chap. 13, 13. Incidentally they seem to have waited for a n opportunity of setting sail for Syria. But when no chance offered, they went down to the seacoast, to the harbor of Attalia, in Lycia, whence they sailed to Antioch. In this city they had been appointed to their office as missionaries and committed to the grace of God for the work which they had now finished. They had enjoyed the singular, merciful blessing of God on their journey, and had, above all, received abundant assurance that it is the grace of God which enables a man to do work in the Gospel. Eph. 3, 8. So it was with a heart full of thankfulness that they returned to the congregation at Antioch, just as soon after their arrival as it could be arranged, there was an assembly of the congregation, in which the two missionaries reported in full on the success of their labors, as they stated it, how many and how great things God had done with them as the instruments of His grace, and also on their behalf, in being with them and aiding them, both in performing the work of their calling and in enduring the persecutions that had come upon them. It is God who must give the increase whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached. It was He that had opened to the Gentiles the door of faith, making their hearts willing, and giving them free access to the salvation of Jesus Christ. Note: It is altogether well-pleasing to God if the missionaries at home and abroad make reports of their work to the congregations that have sent them forth, thus showing that God is with the work, and that He opens the doors to the preaching of the Gospel. After this, Paul and Barnabas both spent a long time with the disciples of Antioch, probably more than a year, busy with their work of preaching and gaining new members for the congregation of Christ.
Summary. Paul and Barnabas preach the Gospel at Iconium, at Lystra, and at Derbe, enduring persecution for the sake of the Lord, and then retrace their steps for the sake of strengthening the brethren, continue their work in Pisidia and Pamphylia, finally returning to Antioch, in Syria.