Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly


Advance from the Capital of the Province to that of the Empire A. D. 44 To A. D. 62

Chapter 14

The First Missionary Tour Continued


Paragraph 1. PAUL AND BARNABAS AT ICONIUM. Verses 1-7.

In the same way it happened at Iconium. The Apostles went into the synagogue and so preached that a great throng believed both of Jews and Greeks. But the Jews who had not believed stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. Therefore Paul and Barnabas remained quite a period, speaking boldly, in dependence on the Lord, while He kept attesting the word of His grace, giving signs and wonders to be performed by their hands. However, the people of the city divided into parties, some going with the Jews and some with the Apostles. But when there broke out a hostile movement both of the Gentiles and Jews together with their rulers to abuse and stone them, the Apostles learned of it and fled to the Lycaonian cities Lystra and Derbe and the country round about, and continued preaching the gospel there.  


Advancing to the next prominent city southeastward, about seventy-five miles off, the Apostles, according to Luke, proceed in the same manner with precisely the same results. They are not frightened away at once, moreover, nor until a solid basis for a permanent church is laid, continuing probably for two or three months. ‘Here we see again, as at Antioch, how well invested Paul’s years have been in preparing so thoroughly for his great course as pioneer missionary, how constantly his native relation to the Greco-Roman world, and especially his Roman citizenship, stood him in great stead, how priceless was the value of his deep biblical learning, and how unspeakable was the worth of his personal experience in conversion and in realizing in his own mind and soul the overpowering and encouraging possession of the Holy Spirit. The comradeship of such a true brother of consolation and tower of strength as he possessed in Barnabas was also no small factor in the successes of this first missionary tour. One other feature in their equipment was furnished these early leaders that proved on special occasions of particular value, and it must neither be overlooked nor minimized. The power of performing miracles is frequently referred to and exercised, though never for selfish ends, and always in the selfsame manner as it was employed by their Master and Lord. After duly exercising all these talents and gifts to a successful degree, an ugly plot for their assassination being disclosed, they flee to the neighbor province, Lycaonia. Assassination is the last argument of desperation; when no other answer can be given, personal abuse, a blow on the mouth, strangulation, drowning, burning, stoning, crucifixion—these have been the resort of even the most enlightened and proud intellectuals. Surely, such souls at such times must be demon-possessed.  

Paragraph 2. PAUL AND BARNABAS AT LYSTRA. Verses 8-20.
Now, there used to sit in the streets of Lystra a man powerless in his feet, one who had never walked, being lame from his very birth. This man had heard Paul speaking for some time, and Paul, fixing his gaze upon him and seeing that he had faith to be cured, said in a loud voice,

“Stand up straight upon your feet

With that he sprang up and began to walk. The crowds, however, seeing what Paul had done, cried out in the Lycaonian language,

“The gods in human form have come down to us!”

Barnabas they began to call Zeus, and Paul, since he took the lead in speaking, Hermes. Moreover, the priest of Zeus, whose temple stood at the entrance of their city, brought bulls and garlands to the gates with the crowds and wanted to offer sacrifices. But when the Apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it they rent their garments and ran out among the crowd exclaiming:

‘O men, why are you doing all this? We are only human, of like passions with you, and the gospel we are preaching to you is to turn from such vain things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. Now, in bygone times He permitted all the nations to go their own ways, and yet He did not fail to give you witness about Himself, by His beneficence sending you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and gladness to your heart’s content.”

Even with words like these they could hardly restrain the crowds from sacrificing to them.

But a party of Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium, and when they had won over the crowds they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, supposing him to be dead. He, however, when the disciples gathered round him, got up and went back into the city, and the day following he went off with Barnabas to Derbe.

  Although the miracle wrought by Paul at Lystra was very striking and one of the few like incidents recorded in the book, it is evidently subordinate in the mind of Luke to the far more striking episode which it serves to introduce. The impotent man, like the case at the Beautiful Gate in chapter iii, was one well known, and his complete cure called universal attention to his benefactors. His extreme helplessness as his neighbors knew him in contrast to his new agility and freedom of movement could not be explained without the intervention of divine aid, and as no part of Paul’s speech had apparently dwelt on the source of his healing gift, the unsophisticated populace attributed it wholly to Paul and Barnabas, whom they took to be gods in human form. The man was clearly one peculiarly ready to sense the spiritual quality of the apostolic teachings, probably from some knowledge that he had gained of the Scriptures in his years of quietude, and showed his appreciation and attitude of mind in his glowing face, so that Paul did the healing as only incidental to what he had in hand and out of an impulse of pity, altogether apart from any expectation either on his own part or that of its object. The depth and spontaneity as well of the popular tribute, is reflected in the use of the local patois, though, of course, the throng understood Paul, who was using Greek, and generally spoke it themselves. Because of their use of the local jargon and the fact that they were engaging the priests of the Temple which stood outside the city gates to assist in their enterprise, the plan of the citizens to pay them divine honors had advanced to the danger point before the Apostles got wind of it. All the more extreme was the demonstration they made of their humanity in rending their garments and loudly proclaiming that fact. But Paul again rises to the unusual demands of the hour and delivers another unique and very significant address. Hitherto his auditors had always been either Jews or Gentiles of Jewish tendencies, and at least partial assimilation, but at Lystra the audience is purely pagan. We therefore find no quotations from the Old Testament nor references to Hebrew history. He takes a lofty and universal conception of humanity as a whole and its relation to the God of creation, and of nature, declaring that it is unworthy to attempt to appease or worship Him in ways which only carnal man might devise. These all imply, in the interests of a degrading system, the inaccessibility of God and His essential cruelty, or at least His indifference, to man without material gifts and tokens of groveling servility on his part. On the contrary, the living and only God is full of mercy and of sympathy, and seeks the companionship of His creature, and has given this message of good news to be proclaimed everywhere as they had been hearing it, when, as one of the proofs of its truth, the cripple who never had before walked, was by God’s power and grace completely restored. Paul’s eloquence and largeness of thought rouses his hearers anew, and since they know not how to express their enthusiasm at his message in any better way, again they make move toward offering their sacrifices in honor of these strange visitors. Their placing Barnabas before Paul is incidental proof of the veracity of the record in several respects. But Satan has not abdicated his throne, and even as the second climax arises the inevitable opposition lifts its voice as out of the very ground. A cavalcade of Jews, well mounted and very imposing in personnel, ride into the market place and with great clamor assert that these men are their countrymen, though unworthy to be recognized as such, having set out to destroy the religion in which they were born, and that they are unsafe to harbor in any community and ought to be put to death. The frenzy of fanaticism seizes the crowd and bursts forth in uncontrollable rage. The reaction is no more sudden than complete. One victim at least must be sacrificed, and they fall upon the smaller man. That the Jews keep control of the situation is seen in the form of execution—that by stoning right there in the center of the city. The Jews of Iconium show their utter contempt of these rustic provincials by thus profaning their city. Horrified and conscience-stricken, however, at the success of their act, they drag the body outside the gate, supposing Paul dead, and depart at once whither they had come. But Paul is not to meet the fate of Stephen. He must suffer yet many like experiences and others still more severe because of the ineffable name of his Master and King. We can see what effect such an event might have on the young Timothy, if he were standing among the sympathetic friends of Paul when Barnabas turned to them and said “He is alive!” and when they saw Paul struggle to his feet and leaning on Barnabas go slowly back to the city. Quite probably the Apostles spent that night at the house of Timothy’s mother, for from that time forth the son of Eunice and grandmother Lois was the devoted disciple of Paul.



When they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made a large number of disciples, they went back again to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch, encouraging the minds of the disciples, urging them to hold fast to the faith, and showing them that “we can make our way into the Kingdom of God only through many an affliction.” So when they had caused elders to be chosen by vote in every church, after prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had already come to believe. Then they passed through Pisidia to Pamphylia, and after speaking the Word in Perga they came down to Attaleia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had before been commended to the grace of God for the task they had now completed. Upon their arrival they gathered the church together and reported everything that God had done working with them, and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. There they remained for some time with the disciples.


As Derbe is the frontier city of the province on the great imperial thoroughfare to Cilicia, Paul and Barnabas traveled to it, and there without further apparent hindrance continued long enough to firmly plant a church, which stood as an important link in the chain of Galatian churches that Paul later visited again and again, and to which he writes one of his greater Epistles. It would have been easy and very natural for the Apostles to continue their journey across the mountains of Cilicia and through the famous pass above Tarsus, and so around the Gulf of Issus to Syria, but they evidently thought that it were far better slowly to retrace their course westward and confirm and, if possible, strengthen the work so laboriously begun. Thus early in his great evangelistic career Paul shows that spirit of unquenchable determination to leave undone nothing which might strongly establish those who had accepted his gospel teaching. At Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch they stop in turn, boldly appearing again in the very centers where, but a few months earlier, their presence had set those communities upside down. Of course this visit proved of great advantage to the young and apparently flourishing churches. Presbyters to have responsibility and oversight were appointed, and thus the work was solidified, and prayer and fasting as at other important moments in the early church play a prominent part. They finally recross the mountains to the seacoast and at Perga gather another congregation of believers where they had not been able to stop on their way inland. Not wishing to cross to Cyprus but to take a regular merchantman direct to the Syrian capital, they go some sixteen miles west of Perga to the more important port of Attaleia and evidently arrive just in time to embark without further evangelistic activities. Returning late in the summer to Antioch after a full year’s absence, they make their report to the Church which had sent them forth. The chief note in the news brought back was that great and outstanding conviction which had developed through their Galatian experience—that God had indeed opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. The natural effect of all this was to mightily strengthen and solidify the Church in the Syrian Capital so that it was ready for the plague of Pharisaic bigotry which was soon to visit it.