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Missionary Labors in the Cities of Asia Minor
Summary —Paul and Barnabas at Iconium. Flight to Lystra and Derbe. The Cripple at Lystra Healed. The Heathen Seek to Worship Paul and Barnabas as Gods. A Persecution Raised by the Jews. Paul Stoned Until Supposed to Be Dead. They Return to Visit the New Churches. Elders Ordained. The Return to the Syrian Antioch. The Report of Their Labors.
1. They went … into the synagogue of the Jews. Just as in the island of Cyprus and at 477Antioch. In almost every principal place a colony of Jews and a synagogue were found. Here, among their own nation, and in accordance with the customs of the synagogue, they spoke, and first declared the gospel. The result seemed uniformly to reach some Jews, and a number of the “devout Greeks” who attended the synagogue to learn more of God. Thus was formed the nucleus of the church. At Iconium, “a great multitude both of the Jews and the Greeks believed.”
2, 3. The unbelieving Jews. Here, as elsewhere, there was division. Those who stubbornly rejected the gospel were filled with hatred and opposed in every possible way. As they could do nothing without the aid of the Gentiles in that Gentile city, they sought to prejudice them. Notwithstanding, for a long time, Paul and Barnabas, continued to preach there with great success. How long they continued at Iconium is unknown, but as the first missionary journey occupied three or four years, they probably were here several months.
5, 6. There was an assault made. Hardly an assault, so much as a movement to make one. The Greek term implies a sudden movement. The attempt was avoided by the preachers receiving information and escaping from the city. In this effort there was concert of action between the Gentiles and Jews, the rulers of the synagogue joining, and the purpose was murderous. Paul (2 Cor. 11:25) says, “Once was I stoned.” That stoning was at Lystra. There was an attempt to stone at Iconium, but not a stone was thrown. Fled to Lystra and Derbe. These were Lycaonian cities, not far from Iconium. Neither now exists, but the ruins of Lystra, and those of Derbe it is thought, are identical. The first is called by a name meaning “The Thousand and One Churches,” on account of the ruins of so many sacred edifices. Lystra is named frequently in early church history as a center of Christian influence.
8–10. There sat a certain man at Lystra. The account of the healing of this cripple is related, not as an unusual occurrence, but because it led to the attempt to deify Paul and Barnabas. As to the frequency of the miracles, see verse 3 above. The same heard Paul speak. He might have been carried by his friends to the place of speaking, some open square or thoroughfare, to gratify his curiosity, or even to ask alms. He had faith to be healed. Wrought by hearing the word. As faith is a gospel 478requisite that we should be healed of our sins, so it was required as a condition of miraculous healing of bodily diseases. Note that this miracle, like those of Christ, is a parable of redemption. There is (1) Hearing of the Word; (2) faith which comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17); (3) the command that calls for an exercise of faith; (4) the effort to obey in faith; (5) salvation from the infirmity by obedience. As Christ so often said, so might Paul, “Thy faith hath saved thee.”
11–13. When the people saw what Paul had done. It must be kept in mind that the people of Lystra were heathen, that they believed in many gods, that their legends taught them that the gods had often come down in the form of men and interfered in human affairs. Hence, it is not strange that when they witnessed this miracle, unlike anything ever seen before in their city, they exclaimed, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.” In the speech of Lycaonia. Paul had preached in Greek, which was understood over all the East, but the native dialect of the Lycaonians was different, and in that they confer together. Called Barnabas, Jupiter. The chief of the gods in the Greek and Roman Pantheon. Barnabas was no doubt a more stately man than Paul, who says that his own “bodily presence was weak and speech contemptible,” and there was also a reason why they thought Paul, Mercurius. Mercury was the “interpreter of the gods.” His Greek name, Hermes, is the origin of our word Hermeneutics. Paul, eloquent, persuasive, active, was thought to represent the part of Mercury. Then the priest of Jupiter. There was a temple of Jupiter before the gates of the city, with the usual priest, and carried away by their idea, they prepared to offer sacrifices to the gods whom they supposed to have visited them. Brought oxen and garlands. The oxen for sacrifices; the sacrifices before being offered were crowned with garlands. Floral crowns were also worn by the priest offering sacrifice.
14–18. Which when the apostles. The term “apostles” is used in verse 4. It is applied in the New Testament a number of times to persons not of the twelve, but apostolic men (see 2 Cor. 8:23). Paul 479was an apostle, chosen by the Lord, and Barnabas was an apostolic missionary, sent out (apostle means “one sent”) by the Holy Spirit. They rent their clothes. A sign of great grief, and even of indignation and horror. See Gen. 37:29 and Matt. 26:65. We are men. Not gods, but human, human as you are. See in this protest the unfaltering devotion to truth of these men. No advantage to themselves would induce them to permit a deception. Should turn from these vanities. From this idolatry. Instead, they called them to the worship of the Living God, the Creator of all things. Who in times past. He had left the nations to their own conceits until it should be demonstrated that man by searching cannot find out God. The efforts of human wisdom were a failure. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness. Nature with many voices testified of him. See Rom. 1:18–21.
19, 20. Came thither Jews. These inveterate opposers followed from the late scenes of gospel triumphs, and found the Lystrians disappointed that they had not been allowed to adore Paul and Barnabas. From one extreme they were easily led to the other. If they were not gods, they were bad men. The fickle populace was easily stirred to riot, and, led by the Jews, they seized and stoned the great apostle until they supposed he was dead. This, the first bodily injury he suffered for Christ, of which we have record, is alluded to in 2 Cor. 11:25, where he gives some account of what he had endured. After the stoning, his enemies dragged him out of the city as they would a carcass. When Paul's enemies had gone, the disciples gathered around, and to their joy and surprise he rose up, and came into the city. Whether he had received a blow that rendered him unconscious and apparently dead, until he recovered from the swoon, or whether his restoration was miraculous, cannot be surely determined. As commanded by Christ, when persecuted in one city, they departed and came the next day to Derbe, to labor for a time.
21–23. They returned again to Lystra. After a season of work at Derbe. The Jews had gone, the excitement had subsided, and it was needful to revisit their fields of labor to organize the churches. It is well to remember that one of the converts was Timothy (16:1). Confirming the souls of the disciples. Not an outward rite, but words of cheer that strengthened their souls. Through much tribulation. They taught them that they must expect trials and persecutions. All have to bear the cross. See Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 4:17; Heb. 12:5–11. And when they had ordained them elders. Observe (1) that elders were not appointed as soon as the churches were planted; time must be taken so as to know what men were fitted for the office; (2) that elders were not appointed to preside over a district, but in every church; (3) that there was a plurality; (4) that they were set apart with fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands. It is not here stated who selected the men, but from Acts 6:6 we would infer that they were chosen by the church under the advice of the apostles.
24–28. Preached the word in Perga. Here they had landed early in this missionary journey, but did not then, from some cause, pause to preach the gospel. See 13:13, 14. Went down into Attalia. A seaport not far from Perga. Thence they sailed to Antioch. The Syrian Antioch, the first Gentile 480church, the mother church of Gentile missions, the church that sent them forth several years before (13:1, 3). Exactly how long a time had been occupied in this missionary tour cannot be ascertained, but it is almost certain that the visit to Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 11:29, 30 and 12:25, took place in a.d. 44, while that mentioned in 15:2 took place in a.d. 51, there being six or seven years between. This time was occupied with the missionary journey and the stay at Antioch. The first probably extended over three or four years. They rehearsed all that God had done with them. They very properly made a report to the church that had sent them forth. It was a very cheering report. The gospel had been planted in the great island of Cyprus, received by the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, and extended through Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycaonia, strong churches having been planted in their principal cities. Abode there a long time. As near as we can learn about two years, no doubt busy all the time preaching in the great city. 480
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