December 1, 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.6: The Return to and Stay at Antioch (Acts 14:20b-28)

 

 

Scripture (Acts 14:20b-28; KJV)

 

20b and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

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,

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.

 

 

Commentary

20b and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

21a And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many,

 

Paul and Barnabas did not linger in Lystra. It was no longer safe to remain there. The very next morning they set out for Derbe. Since Derbe was some 60 miles southeast of Lystra the journey would have taken several days on foot. This is miraculous! A man who had been stoned would be severely wounded. But Paul got up from the ground, and the very next day he was able to travel. This was a miracle whether or not he was raised from the dead.

 

Follow-up is something most churches do a very poor job of. I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say, “So and so was saved a while back, but we haven’t seen her since.” The newly converted should be kept in touch with and encouraged to come to church and join the fellowship. Discipleship training should begin immediately to teach the important doctrines of the Christian religion and those unique beliefs of your denomination.

Luke related no specific narrative about the ministry in Derbe but only gave the essential details that a successful witness was carried on there (“taught many”) and many disciples were won to the Lord. There is no mention of Jews in the city, which is one reason for their success. From other writings we know that in Derbe the apostle gained a friend, a companion, a fellow-helper by the name of Gaius. Derbe was the eastern most church established on the mission of Paul and Barnabas. Had the two chosen to do so, they could have continued southeast from Derbe on through the Cilician Gates the 150 miles or so to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus and from there back to Syrian Antioch. It would have been the easiest and quickest and safest route home by far, for the distance was very little in comparison with the route taken. But they must have received word that hostility had subsided since they chose to retrace their footsteps and revisit all the congregations that had been established in the course of the mission. In so doing they gave an important lesson on the importance of follow-up and nurture for any evangelistic effort. Paul would again visit these same congregations on his next mission (see Acts 16:1-6).

 

The fact of this backward journey is significant. The outward journey had been one of missionary enterprise; it was the journey of a pioneer, the going into new territory with a new evangel[1]. He created division wherever he went, dividing cities and men into two camps, believers and blasphemers, men full of jealousy, men filled with joy.

 

 

21b they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

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.

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 two apostles returned by the way they had come, revisiting the newly established churches along the route—first Lystra, then Iconium, and finally Pisidian Antioch; the places where Paul had been reviled and persecuted, but where he had left as sheep in the desert the disciples whom his Master had enabled him to gather. They needed building up and strengthening in the faith, comforting in the midst of their inevitable suffering, and to be fenced around by permanent institutions. Paul described the process in Colossians 1:28, 29: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” It is difficult to understand how they got back into the cities from which they had been expelled, but the Lord opened the doors. Paul was driven to go back the way he had come first by his consciousness of the importance of the truth which he had declared, the great Gospel of which he was not ashamed, which he knew to be the power of God unto salvation. He had passed through these cities preaching two things exceptionally well: first, the risen Christ; and secondly, the possibility of man’s justification by faith in the risen Christ. These were great truths, attracting men, compelling attention, restricting belief in certain cases and blasphemy in others. He not only went back to instruct them in the great truths of Christianity, but also to give further support to these churches, to interpret to them the meaning of their life in Christ; the young child of God must be taught the meaning of life in Christ.

 

But those who had been won to Christ by the words that Paul spoke did not fully understand the full value of them. There were implications in the doctrines of resurrection and of justification. These men were situated in an atmosphere of antagonism so severe that they might be overcome and devastated unless they received further instruction. Full knowledge makes faith mightier, and hope burn more brightly, and love more intense. When he went through the cities the first time he proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and convinced men to enter the Kingdom of God. But he went back in order to instruct these same men in the principles of the kingdom so that truth might triumph in their lives. A person enters the kingdom of God in the first place by the new birth. Finally, he was drawn, not only by passion for truth, but by the fellowship of the saints. I believe that Paul was drawn to take the long way home by the desire to fellowship with the new Christians he had left behind in Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch.

 

Tribulation.  The apostle’s message for believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch wasthat we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Certainly Paul was a man who could speak with authority about tribulation and trouble. Since the day of his conversion, his life had been one tribulation after another. Everywhere he went he was met with opposition. Yet he assured his converts in Asia Minor that the only way to enter in the fullness of life is by way of trouble. What did he mean by that? Well, for one thing, trouble makes us conscious as nothing else ever does that we are dependent creatures. Then when trouble comes, we know exactly where we stand—that our own resources are not adequate, and that we rely constantly on the power of God. Besides that, trouble draws us closer to other human beings as nothing else does.


In each congregation they performed three essential ministries. First they strengthened the disciples (v. 22a). This probably refers to their further instructing the Christians in their new faith. Second, they strengthened (“confirmed”) them and encouraged (“exhorted”) them “to remain true to the faith;” continuing true to the faith is a proof of true faith in Jesus Christ: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). Paul made it very clear that living the Christian life was not an easy thing and pointed out the “many hardships” (“much tribulation”) they might encounter for bearing the name of Jesus (v. 22b).

Paul and Barnabas had themselves experienced persecution on this trip in almost every city where they witnessed. They reminded the Christians that this was not just the lot of missionaries but could be expected of all who carry

Christ’s name. The theme is one Paul often sounded in his epistles—we must be willing to suffer with Christ if we expect to share in His glory (see Romans 8:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:12); the path to resurrection is by way of the cross. Paul went back to exhort them to “continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” The meaning of that declaration is not that through tribulations individual men enter into the Kingdom of God. It is rather that we can expect to encounter trouble and tribulation as we live the Christian life, and it is our faith that will overcome every obstacle in our path. It is an encouragement to every child of God that we shall not be lost and perish in it. We must never forget that the Kingdom of God was established by the Lord Christ Himself.

 

The final ministry of the two apostles was to organize and establish leadership in the new congregations. For these early churches there was no professional clergy to assume the leadership. Consequently, the pattern of the Jewish synagogues seems to have been followed by appointing a group of lay elders to shepherd the flock. They were probably Jews who came out of the synagogues where they had been steeped in the Scriptures. Thus elders from the synagogues became elders in the churches. There is some question in this particular instance about who appointed the elders—the apostles or congregation (v. 23). This seems to be an exception to the more common practice of the congregation appointing its leadership (see Acts 6:1-6). At this time the New Testament was not yet written to give explicit instructions concerning the qualifications of elders. The apostles knew what these qualifications were, however, and they were able to single out the men who met the scriptural requirements. [The qualifications for elders are in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.] Perhaps in these early congregations the wisdom of the apostles was needed in establishing solid leadership over those so recently converted from paganism. Perhaps even in these instances the selections of the apostles were confirmed by a vote of the congregations. If you compare Titus 1:7-9, you will see that “elder” and “bishop” (overseer) refer to the same office, and both are equivalent to “pastor.”

 

The word translated “ordained” means “to elect by a show of hands.” It is possible that Paul chose the men and the congregation voted its approval, or that the people selected them by vote and Paul ordained them (see Acts 6:1-6).

 

 

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

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

 

Verses 24-25 complete the mission of Paul and Barnabas, giving the final leg of the return trip. Again they traversed the rugged mountain paths of Pisidia into the lowlands of Pamphylia and arrived at Perga where they had started: “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia. . .” (Acts 13:13-14a). No mention was made earlier of any witness in Perga, but now they devoted some time to preaching the Gospel there. And then they descended to Attalia, the main port town of that region. From there they took a ship and sailed to Seleucia, the port of Antioch in Syria.

 

 

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

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.

28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.

 

The first missionary journey was completed with the return of the apostles to Syrian Antioch. They had been gone at least a year, maybe two, and it must have been exciting for them and the church when they arrived back home. [Some commentators believe the two apostles had been gone some four or five years, and since the missionary journey would probably occupy less than two years, the rest of the time would be the period of their stay at Antioch.] Paul and Barnabas had traversed more than 700 miles by land and 500 miles by sea. But more than that, their ministry succeeded in demolishing the wall between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14-16). They had by the grace of God, fulfilled the work God had given them to do; and they joyfully reported to the church family, “all that God had done with them,” that is, by and for them. Verse 26 forms a connection with Acts 13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” It was the Antioch church that had commissioned the apostles, committing them to the Lord by prayer, and fasting and identifying with their mission (“work”) by the laying on of hands. The work was now complete, and the two missionaries gave their report to the sponsoring congregation. They revealed that God had now definitely opened the door of the Gospel to Gentiles. When the Gospel started out, the churches were comprised entirely of Hebrews. Then they became partially Gentile. And now the Gospel is definitely going to the Gentiles. Now the churches in Asia Minor are comprised entirely of Gentiles. Although there also may have been some Jews in these churches, it seems that in most places the Jews rejected the Gospel and the Gentiles received it.

 

Verse 27b marks a transition. The subject of opening “the door of faith to the Gentiles” would be the main topic of the Jerusalem Conference in the next chapter. This clause is very important for several reasons:

  1. It shows that the gospel had gone to the Gentiles.
  2. It was a “by faith” message and not by works of the Law.
  3. God did it—He is the One who opened the door.
  4. It summarizes the primary significance of the mission in chapters 13-14.

This would perhaps be the first “missionary conference” in church history, and what a conference it must have been.

 

Evidentially the report of this mission did not immediately reach Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch for “a long time” (v.28). Word would eventually spread to Jerusalem and provoke the major debate that is the subject of chapter 15.

 

 

 

 


[1] The good tidings of the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ; the gospel.

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