October 26, 2014

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV. The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                

Subtopic A: The First Missionary Journey (Acts 13, 14)                             

                                                                            

Lesson: IV.A.4: From Iconium to Lycaonia, Lystra and

Derbe (14:1-7)                                                            

 

 

 

Scripture (Acts 13:42-52; KJV)

 

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.

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

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.

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

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,

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

7 And there they preached the gospel.

 

 

Introduction

 

The pattern of a mixed response set in Pisidian Antioch again greeted the missionaries at their next place of witness, Iconium[1]. It was not an easy journey. Iconium was about seventy miles southeast of Antioch by the Sebastian way, the main route that connected Ephesus with Syria and Mesopotamia. Iconium was located on a plateau 3,370 feet in elevation. In many ways the city was Hellenized because it had been under Seleucid rule during the second and third centuries before Christ. In short, Paul and Barnabas encountered a cultural blending—native Phrygians whose ancestors had occupied the area from ancient times, Greeks and Jews who dated back to the Seleucid period (312-65 b.c.), and Roman colonists whose presence dated from more recent times. Geographically, it was the most ideal place for human settlement in an otherwise desolate area, and there is evidence for a town there from ancient times right down to the present.

 

 

Commentary

 

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.

 

If you follow the journey of these two missionaries on a map, you will notice that they crossed over the length of the island of Cyprus, and then sailed to Perga in Pamphylia. Then they traveled up into the country of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. These are the cities of Galatia. So they are now in the heartland of Asia Minor.

 

Paul and Barnabas had come to Iconium (the modern Konia); a city more Greek than Roman. In setting up their witness in the major city of the area, the two missionaries followed a pattern Paul would continue to follow—establishing his work in the main population centers. Paul and Barnabas began their work in the usual manner—“they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews.” Instead of using the word “together,” it might be better to say, “In the same way” as they had done at Antioch. They went first to the Jewish synagogue: he used the synagogue as a springboard to get to the Gentiles. Even though Paul’s words in Pisidian Antioch had a somewhat definitive ring to them about turning to the Gentiles, they evidentially only applied to that city—Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Throughout Acts, Paul’s usual method was to go to the synagogues first, where they were permitted to preach, in accordance with the custom prevailing among the Jews at that time. There was wisdom to this. For one, Paul never gave up on the Jews. There would be some who would hear gladly the message of the Messiah’s coming. Also there would be present in the synagogues Gentile proselytes and other Gentiles who believed in God and would be particularly open to the inclusive Christian message. To be sure, verse 1 attests to Paul and Barnabas being successful with both groups, Jews as well as Gentiles. Barnabas accompanied Paul almost everywhere he went, even though Paul was now the prominent speaker and personality.

 

The apostles spoke so clearly, with such evidence and proof of the Spirit, and with such power; so warmly, and with such concern for the souls of men that those who heard them could not keep from saying, “God is definitely with them.” The proof of their success was “that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed,” meaning probably the religious proselytes, as opposed to the Gentiles mentioned in verse 2. Yet, their success was not to be attributed to the manner of their teaching, but to the Spirit of God who used that means. Perseverance in doing good, amidst dangers and hardships is a blessed evidence of grace.

 

 

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

 

This verse relates the reaction of the unbelieving Jews. Not only did they resist the missionaries’ witness themselves, but they also poisoned the minds of the Gentile populace against the Christian witnesses. That is what is meant by “and made their minds evil affected against the brethren,” which usually has the meaning “to ill-treat” but which can also have the meaning “to embitter someone against someone else.” “The unbelieving Jews” and Gentiles disliked one another, yet were united against Christians. In the Book of Acts the “unbelieving Jews” were the instigators of much of the persecution against the apostles, though they themselves did not necessarily administer the punishment. They were masters at persuading the Gentiles to carry out their wicked purposes.

 

Paul and Barnabas faced almost impenetrable paganism in Galatia. I personally believe the Galatian field was the hardest mission field that Paul ever entered. You only need to read the Epistle to the Galatians to discover that. Galatians was the hardest epistle that Paul wrote. He wrote it to a group of people who had a spiritual leaning, but in the wrong direction. They were constantly going off the track. He visited those churches more than any others.

 

 

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.

 

In this verse there is a phrase which we must closely scrutinize: “Long time thereforeabode they,” that is, at Iconium. They stayed so long because in spite of all the opposition they met with, they were having good success. Wherever we find the word “therefore” we should ask ourselves “wherefore?”Let us go back to the preceding verse: “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.” “Therefore,” the apostles stayed for a long time in Iconium. The reason for the long stay was not the success of the work, but its difficulties. The reason why they stayed was that persecution had come to those disciples who had come together. This reveals the persistence of their method. All new difficulties only served to inspire these men to persistence and perseverance.

 

Verse 3 is in immediate tension with the preceding verse and emphasizes the power of the Christian witness and the divine enabling behind it. Even though there was strong resistance to the Christians (v. 2), they were still able to maintain their witness. The two apostles were not about to back down. They had the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to speak “boldly” for the Lord and to depend on Him for the results—Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:29-31). Far from being intimidated, they were inspired to be even bolder witnesses.

 

Speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace.” That was the one theme of these men as they traveled. In this book Acts of the Apostles wherever that word “Word” occurs in this connection the first letter should be capitalized.  

 

“The word of his grace” was the theme of the preaching. The phrase stands for all the facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which these men were telling as they went. They told what we speak of as “the old, old story.” They told the story of the life of Jesus; they told the story of His death; they told the story of His resurrection, because by His resurrection everything else was transfigured, illuminated, and interpreted. They were tellers of tales; and the message was always the same: “The word of His grace.” These men went into new cities with no new message, but with the same message; adapting their method of presentation, but never changing the truth.

 

“Signs and wonders” are two different words for miracles. The word “sign” simply means that the miracle conveys a lesson, whereas the word “wonder” suggests that the miracle creates a sense of awe. The Lord “granted signs and wonders” to the apostles, and acts of such divine power confirmed that Paul and Barnabas spoke for God, and they can be taken as evidence that the mission met with some success. The “signs and wonders” served as their “credentials” that they were undeniably servants of the true God. Faith is not based on miracles—Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:5)—but faith can be bolstered by miracles. The important thing is “the word of his grace” that performs the works of His grace—“From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed” (Acts 14:26).

 

 

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

 

As the apostles continued their witness, the city became more and more polarized into two groups; those who supported them and those who opposed them. It needs to be pointed out that Luke used the term “apostles” to refer to Paul and Barnabas, but Barnabas was not an apostle in the same sense as Paul and the Twelve since he was not an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ nor had he been called by Him. It is best, therefore, to translate “apostles” here as “messengers”—Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:23). The Twelve and Paul were apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:6), while Barnabas and others were “apostles of the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:23); Barnabas having been sent by the church at Antioch on the Orontes River (Acts 13:3) with the churches authority. Here and Acts 14:14 are the only places where he applied the term to anyone other than the Twelve disciples. The word means literally one who is sent and is used to designate official delegates and emissaries. Paul used the term regularly to refer to his own commission as an emissary of Christ. He applied the term to others as well: James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7); Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7); and an unnamed group whom he distinguished from the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:7; 15:5). In Acts, Luke used the term in a restricted sense, which includes only the Twelve who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ entire ministry. Acts 14:4, 14 are the exceptions to the rule. Perhaps Luke indicated here that Paul and Barnabas were delegates of the Antioch church, commissioned by them for their mission. Perhaps it indicates Luke’s awareness of the wider applications of the word and that he here slipped into the more customary and less specialized usage.

 

 

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,

 

The opposition to the two grew to such a point that a plot was hatched to stone them. It does not seem to have been a question of official synagogue stoning since the Gentile populous was equally involved with the Jews. The whole picture seems to have been one of mob violence rather than expulsion by the city officials, as was the case in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:50). “With their rulers” probably refers only to the “rulers” of the Jews: it would have been more difficult for the apostles to return to Iconium (v. 21) if the civil authorities had also taken action against them. Both Gentiles and Jews with their leaders planned to assault the two missionaries with the intention to “stone them.” This proves that their Jewish opponents were the instigators, since stoning was a Jewish form of execution, usually for blasphemy. In any event Paul and Barnabas learned of the plot and fled to the nearby towns of Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia. In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul says, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.”

 

 

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

 

The result of preaching the Gospel was that the city was divided and the Christians were threatened with public disgrace and stoning, and hearing there was a plot to take his life, Paul and Barnabas left Iconium and traveled forty miles to the southeast, and came to Lystra, where there was no synagogue. At other times in their missionary labors, they seemed to stay put in a place in spite of danger. Why did they escape from some threats of danger and stand their ground at others? There does not seem to be any neat explanation. The great controlling principle in Acts is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. These men lived in close, intimate contact with the Lord. By abiding in Him they received marvelous communications of the divine mind and will. To them this was the important thing, rather than a well-arranged set of rules of conduct. Though they fled Iconium, we know that after some time they returned there, so there must have been some believers there. In Lystra, Paul entered into the most pronounced atmosphere of Gentile life and thought. Thus we follow the movement of the Christian faith into an entirely new atmosphere, where believers are further removed from the influence of Hebraism. In Lystra, as in Antioch of Pisidia, as in Antioch of Syria, as at Jerusalem at the beginning, they had one message: “The word of his grace (v. 3).”

 

GOD HAS A SHELTER FOR HIS PEOPLE IN A STORM; HE IS, AND WILL BE THEIR HIDING-PLACE.

 

 

7 And there they preached the gospel.

 

Paul and Barnabas did not go to Lystra and Derbe simply to escape persecution; they also went to preach the Gospel.


[1] Iconium was located in the ancient region of Phrygia. It had been incorporated by the Romans into the province of Galatia in 25 b.c.

Make a Free Website with Yola.