Acts Chapter 14: Paul and Barnabas in Iconium, Paul Stoned, Retrace Steps back to Beginning

Feb 8th, 2010 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts Chapter 14: Paul and Barnabas in Iconium, Paul Stoned, Retrace Steps back to Beginning

Acts 14:1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.

Paul and Barnabas had been in Antioch, where they were successful at first but then had to flee and shake the dust off their feet. Now they were in Iconium. The “Greeks” were Gentile Jewish proselytes, the product of a mixed marriage, etc. Paul and Barnabas, two strangers, went into the synagogue and “so spake” in such a persuasive, effective, and earnest manner that a “great multitude” of both Jews and Gentiles believed. What a wonderful response on this initial occasion!

Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.

While Paul and Barnabas were the leading spokesmen, other “brethren,” including probably Luke, accompanied them. The “Gentiles” who were stirred up by the unbelieving Jews were probably the “Greeks” of the preceding verse. This change in attitude shows that many people can be warm and responsive when they first hear the message of truth, but then others can undercut even the most powerful message with insidious remarks, false accusations, innuendoes, a questioning of the character of the speakers, and other forms of slander. After a joyous, trusting attitude and a great response, their minds were poisoned with evil. Acts 13:50 shows that one technique was to go after the women.

Acts 14:3 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.

Paul and Barnabas tried to undo the damage and did not give up easily. They spoke boldly and testified “unto the word of his grace.” The nature of their discourses, therefore, was along the lines of the love of God. The Creator is magnanimous in His concern for those He has created regardless of race or nationality or even religious views. There is a door of opportunity for life for all because of His love that was manifested in Christ. These words were very comforting. God permitted Paul and Barnabas to have extraordinary power to perform “signs and wonders,” that is, miracles of healing and demonstrations of power such as casting out demons. Such miracles were necessary before the existence of a written Word. Even with Jesus, miracles were needed to call attention to his message. The experience of the Ethiopian eunuch with Philip the evangelist and the miraculous appearing of the glorified Lord to Saul were needed initially. A counterpart today, even with the Word of God, is that some have unusual experiences as individuals when they first come into the truth. No reasoning is required because the Lord’s overruling or intervention is so obvious. Later on, the experiences are different, generally speaking, and often a providence has to be studied in order to see the Lord’s hand in it.

Acts 14:4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.

The populace was divided in their opinions. Some sided with the unbelieving Jews who opposed Paul and Barnabas, and others sided with the “apostles.” Barnabas was “one sent,” and Paul was “one specially sent.” In other words, both were “apostles” in the sense of being blessed with the Holy Spirit to go on the missionary tour, but Paul was an extraordinary apostle.

Acts 14:5 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,

Acts 14:6 They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about:

Acts 14:7 And there they preached the gospel.

The storm of opposition was of sufficient depth and rancor that Paul, Barnabas, and those with them felt it was prudent to move on. They left Iconium and went to nearby Lystra in the province of Lycaonia and then to Derbe and to the surrounding region, or suburban area. They preached the gospel in these places.

Q: Then do verses 4 and 5 show the following? Some Jews opposed Paul and Barnabas, and some Jews supported them. Some Gentiles opposed Paul and Barnabas, and some Gentiles supported them.

A: Yes. With the multitude being divided in their opinions, the reaction was similar to what will happen in the near future when the Elijah class smites the Jordan. In the type, the waters divided right and left, showing a division of sentiment, and Elijah and Elisha walked over dryshod.

Acts 14:8 And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked:

Acts 14:9 The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed,

Acts 14:10 Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.

This man had been crippled from birth and had never walked. Of course the inhabitants of Lystra would have known about him because the infirmity had existed for so many years. It is interesting that Paul could perceive the faith and the intensity of this crippled man by the radiance and the joy that were reflected in his eyes as he listened to Paul speak. Following Jesus’ usual method of healing on the basis of “according to your faith be it unto you,” Paul could tell that this crippled man was not only a wonderful candidate, or subject who would respond, but that he would be useful to advertise the truth in that region (Matt. 9:29).

For the crippled man to stand up and walk and then all of a sudden jump up and down and not lose his balance was an astounding miracle. People who are confined to bed with a prolonged illness generally have trouble walking when they first get out of bed because they have not exercised. Now this man, who had been completely incapable of standing or walking, was healed in a dramatic fashion when Paul commanded, “Stand upright on thy feet.”

We are reminded of the incident when Peter healed the lame beggar at the most prominent temple gate called “Beautiful” (Acts 3:1-11). The miracle proved to be a very powerful witness, but it eventually brought persecution.

Acts 14:11 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.

The healing was even more effective than Paul had anticipated. In fact, it was so effective that the populace considered Paul and Barnabas to be gods who had come down from heaven in human form, and they wanted to give homage.

The apostles and the brethren knew Greek, Hebrew, and probably Latin, but the “speech of Lycaonia” was a different dialect that they could not understand. To them, therefore, the emotional excitement with the dialect would have seemed almost like chattering monkeys or delirium. Consequently, there was a delayed reaction before the apostles and the brethren realized what was happening. Not until verse 14 does the account say, “When the apostles … heard [understood] … they rent their clothes,” etc. In other words, they sensed the emotion but did not understand the situation at first.

Comment: Reprint No. 4369 says that according to tradition, Mercury and Jupiter had come sometime in the past and been rejected, causing punishment to come on the city. Therefore, when the people thought the gods had returned, they wanted to honor them.

Reply: There was a tradition in another city not far away with regard to the statue in the Temple of Diana. It was believed that a stone had fallen down from heaven and that the stone materialized as Diana. And in Egypt, the Pharaohs claimed to be begotten by a god of heaven through a human woman.

Acts 14:12 And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.

Acts 14:13 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.

In the midst of the excitement, a wagon suddenly came to the city gates, where the miracle and the preaching had taken place. The city gates were important places in those days, for many things occurred there such as the sitting of judges, commerce, and bartering. Now oxen and garlands were brought in a wagon to the city gates. The priest of Jupiter intended to kill the oxen for sacrifice unto the apostles.

Acts 14:14 Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,

Acts 14:15 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:

Acts 14:16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.

Notice how demonstrative Paul and Barnabas were. They ran in and out among the people, shouting and rending their clothes. They wanted to destroy any impression they were superior men. Thus they even ripped their clothing in an effort to break down any charisma that might come from their appearance. The people were so frenzied and delirious that they had to be counteracted in this way.

Evidently, Barnabas was impressive to look at, for he was likened to Jupiter, the chief god. He must have had a noble, serious, and serene appearance. Paul, the main speaker but with a less impressive appearance, was likened to Mercury, the chief messenger of the gods—something like the Logos but in a heathen sense.

Paul and Barnabas properly and aggressively tried to stop the delirium and the adulation. It is to their credit that they did not just act like stoics and try to make themselves immune to what was happening. They shouted, “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.”

They were telling the people in effect, “Pay attention to the real, the chief, the living, the invisible God, and do not be so readily persuaded by signs, superstitions, and tradition.”

In verse 16, Paul and Barnabas said that God “in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways [and lusts].” Paul expressed a similar thought in his Epistle to the Romans when he said that God gave men over to reprobate minds when they turned away from worshipping the Creator (Rom. 1:28). God “winked” at men’s ignorance and transgressions; that is, He permitted evil but did not sanction it (Acts 17:30).

Comment: Verse 15, like many other Scriptures, shows that God is the Creator, not Jesus.

Reply: Yes, sometimes it is very hard—in fact, almost impossible—to teach those who are indoctrinated with certain preconceived opinions.

Acts 14:17 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.

Paul tried to use common-sense, plain reasoning. When he told the people to give up their strange traditions, he did not want them to give up religious or elevated thinking but to consider matters from another standpoint. He was saying, “Consider God’s goodness to all and His handiwork over all creation. He provides rain, food, grass, sunshine, and all kinds of benefits. Look at what God has done and not at this worship of statues and idols.”

Acts 14:18 And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.

Despite all of the desperate efforts of Paul and Barnabas, the people were “scarce[ly]restrained” from the evil of sacrificing to men. Although the people did not follow through on their intentions, they almost did. It is hard to reverse crowd emotionalism and hysteria.

Acts 14:19 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.

Acts 14:20 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.

Trouble-making Jews came to Lystra from Antioch, where Paul had shaken the dust off his feet, and Iconium, from which he had fled because of persecution. These Jews were so effective in arousing the people of Lystra against Paul that the very ones who had just wanted to worship Paul now opposed him. The people exhibited an exact opposite attitude—going from an attitude of almost idolizing Paul and Barnabas to hating them and stoning Paul! Evidently, Barnabas was spared the stoning because of his appearance, and Paul was singled out because of his aggressive talk. The Jews felt that if they could stop Paul’s mouth, then they could stop the more-restrained Barnabas as well. In other words, Paul was considered the ringleader. We are reminded of Jesus’ popularity when he rode into Jerusalem on a white donkey at the end of his earthly ministry and was proclaimed by the multitudes, “Hosanna to the son of David” (Matt. 21:9). Several days later the people, incited by the chief priests, shouted, “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:13,14).

Comment: The situation may have been overruled by the Lord to permit only Paul’s stoning as retribution for his earlier part in Stephen’s stoning.

Reply: Yes, Paul had to have the retribution in the present life. When certain sins are committed with a certain degree of knowledge, the individual incurs responsibility. Adamic sin can be forgiven when proper steps are taken, but willful sins require stripes.

Even after the emotional frenzy had subsided in Lystra, the people continued to view Paul and Barnabas favorably for a few days—that is, until the Jews entered the city and launched their attack. The Adversary would have prompted the hateful attitude of the Jews, which was effective in turning the sentiments of the people.

Q: Were those trouble-making Jews following Paul and Barnabas?

A: They had probably gotten wind of the successful influence Paul and Barnabas were having in Lystra and then traveled there, being determined to stop the two.

Probably a few days elapsed after the people of Lystra had acclaimed Paul and Barnabas, just as five days elapsed with Jesus until the Crucifixion. Then Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city by a horse or mule, and left as dead. From a deep coma (“supposing he had been dead”), he miraculously revived. The word “disciples” in verse 20 shows that two or three other brethren besides Paul and Barnabas were present.

What a startling experience and reaction of Paul once again! When he revived, he returned to the very city where he had just been persecuted by the populace almost unto death. It is psychologically known that when a person is lynched and the furor dies down, those with any tender conscience at all realize the injustice and the enormity of the crime. The people had considered Paul dead. Imagine the stones hitting him and then his being left as a corpse! When he re-entered the city, the people would have experienced fear and stricken consciences. But all these things aside, it was remarkable for Paul to go back into the same city, especially when he would still feel the wounds. Thus when Paul said, “I bear about in my body the marks of a slave of Jesus Christ,” his words were very meaningful (Gal. 6:17 paraphrase).

The next day Paul and Barnabas departed for Derbe. Paul’s leaving at this point was proper and normal after having gone boldly back into the city. Jesus gave the principle that when a Christian is ill-treated, he should go on to another place. Paul was a most unusual person. In fact, he was so extraordinary that to compare any others to him would be most inappropriate.

Next to Jesus, he was the most faithful of the brethren, being head and shoulders over even the other apostles, who were all extraordinary men themselves. Paul not only went back into the city but continued to preach, not knowing if he would be stoned again.

Comment: The people of Lystra must have been terrified when Paul reappeared. First, they thought he was a god, and he stopped them. Then they stoned him, and he came back to life, as it were. Now, for sure, some must have thought he was a god.

Reply: And Paul’s leaving the city right away the next day was constructive, for he thus gave the people more opportunity to repent and to reflect on what they had done. If he had stayed and preached for a period of time, the whole incident would have been forgotten, but now those who favored Paul—those who had some grain of remorse or appreciation for what this remarkable person had done previously—felt a loss upon his departure.

Acts 14:21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

Paul and Barnabas backtracked to cities already visited. Originally, they had gone from Antioch to Iconium and then to Lystra and Derbe. Now they retraced their route, going backwards to the places they had started with.

Comment: This revisiting required courage because of previous persecuting experiences.

Acts 14:22 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.

Acts 14:23 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.

Acts 14:24 And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.

Acts 14:25 And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:

Paul and Barnabas kept backtracking. They went back to confirm the converts in their faith and to encourage them to continue on in the narrow way. Notice that a big change occurred. On their return visits, Paul and Barnabas did not go to the synagogues but went instead to those who were receptive, to those who had a hearing ear. The disciples would have been strengthened in their own faith to see Paul’s courage in returning to these cities. Paul’s willingness to suffer persecution gave more and more credence to what he was preaching and showed that he and Barnabas were men of conviction who were not fearful of persecution because they believed wholeheartedly what they preached.

By example, Paul and Barnabas were saying, “Do not be surprised if at some point, the Lord requires you to suffer what you saw us go through, for it is a part of the Christian learning experience.” It would be interesting to know what Old Testament Scriptures were used to demonstrate the principle of suffering. Paul told those with a hearing ear that the Kingdom of God is entered “through much tribulation” (verse 22). Those who favorably responded to the truth were really interested. Of course the thought of persecution eliminated or prevented the less sincere from responding. Ephesus had more crown winners than any other period of the Church, proportionately speaking. Stated conversely, Ephesus had fewer crown losers because in those days, discipleship, as well as believing in the first place, cost something. Thus faith was sincere. Notice that Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted (probably for more than a day) and then commended the elders to the Lord.

Q: We have a general rule not to elect novices as elders. Since there was not a long time lapse for the development of the brethren after Paul’s first trip to these cities and his return, wouldn’t two factors have come into play? (1) The brethren had unusual experiences that helped develop character quickly. (2) Paul could read the heart and hence could suggest who should be the elders.

A: Yes, and these “elders” may have been previous leaders who were misinformed—like Paul himself. They were selected because they had character and influence, because they sincerely believed this new gospel message, and because in living godly, they received persecution readily.

Q: Was there a stretching forth of the hands, or did Paul and Barnabas select the elders?

A: Probably Paul and Barnabas did the selecting. This infant church needed nourishment, so Paul and Barnabas did what they could in a limited time. Also, Paul knew he would be back.

Acts 14:26 And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.

Acts 14:27 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.

Acts 14:28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.

Paul was probably low-key and spoke very little about his own persecution, but those who accompanied him would have told of his experiences. Paul’s conversation would have enthusiastically focused on the wonderful open door of opportunity for witnessing to Gentiles in harmony with Peter’s vision of the sheet with clean and unclean animals.

(1991–1992 Study)

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