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Acts 14:1-7 meaning

Driven out of Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas preach in the synagogue of Iconium. Many Jews and Gentiles hear and believe in Jesus. But some of the Jews are hostile and do not believe. They sow hatred in the hearts of some of the Gentiles in Iconium, and although Paul and Barnabas are able to perform miracles and preach for a long time, eventually they leave town to escape a plot to stone them to death.

After a persecution began in Pisidian Antioch against Paul and Barnabas, the pair of missionaries “shook off the dust of their feet in protest against [the persecutors] and went to Iconium” but the new believers in Pisidian Antioch “were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:51-52). 

Pisidian Antioch was roughly 100 miles north of Perga, where Paul and Barnabas’ ship had made port after sailing up the Mediterranean Sea from the island of Cyprus. Now they have come to Iconium, which is nearly 100 miles southeast of Pisidian Antioch. Like Pisidian Antioch, Iconium was a city in the ancient Roman province of Galatia (modern-day Turkey), and still stands to this day, now named “Konya.”

The events in Pisidian Antioch unfortunately foretell a pattern in Paul’s ministry. Over and over, he would arrive in a new town, successfully preach the gospel and bring many people to faith in Christ, and establish a local church. Then rivals would organize a persecution against him, driving him out of town, while those who believed would continue in their faith. 

Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that once Paul and Barnabas were In Iconium, they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks (v. 1). 

This approach was similar to how Paul introduced the gospel in Pisidian Antioch. He began by preaching in the local synagogue of the Jews. The fact that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks shows that in Iconium there were apparently Greeks who had converted to Judaism (proselytes), just as in Pisidian Antioch. Presumably, these Greeks were more “God-fearing proselytes” (Acts 13:43) in attendance to Paul’s sermon at the synagogue of the Jews in Iconium

Although some believe, those who did not become enemies and desire to overturn the gospel message. Paul and Barnabas meet with hostility again:

But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren (v. 2).

There were Jews in attendance to Paul’s preaching who disbelieved; they did not trust the message of the gospel, and sought to silence it. In seeing a large number of their fellow Jews and proselyte Greeks believe in Jesus, these Jews who disbelieved went outside their immediate group for support. 

They stirred up the minds of the Gentiles of Iconium, the pagan Greeks and Romans who believed in their own pantheon of gods. The disbelieving Jews began rabble-rousing; they spread slander and incensed the people of Iconium so that they were embittered against the brethren

They were not only embittered against these traveling preachers, Paul and Barnabas, but against the new believers in Jesus, the brethren. The term brethren refers to those who had believed in Jesus. Once someone believes in Jesus, they are born into God’s family and are therefore spiritual brethren. 

Having described the two opposing sides, Luke then summarizes an undisclosed period of time (though he writes that it was a long time, v. 3). During this period Paul and Barnabas’s ministry continued in the city, bolstered by the power of God: Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands (v. 3)

Though they faced opposition from some of the Jews and the Gentiles of Iconium, Paul and Barnabas were given time by the Lord to teach the Gospel. Luke mentions several descriptions of their ministry in Iconium,

  • They were speaking boldly
  • They were ministering not in their own strength but in reliance upon the Lord
  • They were performing miracles through the power of God, who was granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands

Interestingly, during the first leg of their journey through Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Pisidian Antioch, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit performing any miracles through Paul or Barnabas. 

There is only one supernatural occurrence, when a magician who opposes the Gospel is struck temporarily blind, but Paul merely informs the man that he will lose his sight, attributing it to “the hand of the Lord” (Acts 13:11). Otherwise, Paul and Barnabas are described as going from town to town, synagogue to synagogue, declaring the good news of Jesus the Messiah through words only. 

Yet here in Iconium, we see that not only were they speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, God was granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. During their lengthy ministry period in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas performed signs and wonders, “attesting miracles” which confirmed to their audiences that they were ambassadors of the Living God. Based on what we are told, these miracles appear to typically be supernatural healings. 

Most of the miracles Jesus performed during His earthly ministry were those that undid the corruption of sin and death in the world. This included making the lame walk, the blind see, freeing people from demonic possession, bringing peace to those suffering chronic pain, and bringing the dead back to life (John 5:1-9, Mark 8:22-26, Matthew 17:14-21, Luke 8:43-48, John 11:38-44). 

The apostles in Acts healed in a similar way. Their work is always attributed to the power of God, never to any individual man. Luke writes that as Paul and Barnabas were speaking the Gospel boldly, without fear, the cause of their courage was through their reliance upon the Lord, and that the Lord Himself was testifying to the word of His grace by granting these signs and wonders. Jesus similarly asserted that He only did that which His Father led Him to do (John 5:19). 

The Lord was directly participating in the spread of the word of His grace (the message about His freely-given favor to anyone who believes in Jesus) by allowing Paul and Barnabas to heal others (v. 11). These signs and wonders were evidence that these men were not swindlers; these men were speaking on behalf of real power, of God Himself.

Even so, the hostility in the city did not disappear. Often in Jesus’s ministry, His miracles persuaded some, and hardened the hearts of others (usually due to jealousy and fear) (John 9:39-41, 11:47, 53). 

In Iconium, two camps formed, for and against the gospel message:

But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles (v. 4).

The Jews here references those who opposed Paul, not all Jewish citizens of Iconium (the city). We have already seen that many Jews in Iconium believed in Jesus (v. 1). 

A plot is formed to rid the city of Paul and Barnabas:

an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them (v. 5).

At last the tension of these two sides boils into action. The people of the city who sided with the Jews plotted the murder of Paul and Barnabas. Luke tells us it was an alliance of Gentiles and the Jews planning this murder, as well as the Jews with their rulers, their local rabbis, community elders, and people of influence. The same problem arose in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:50). 

While there were some Pharisees and priests who did believe in Jesus (John 12:42, John 19:38-39, Acts 15:5), most seemed to be more interested in maintaining their positions of authority and influence. The cliché that “power corrupts” seems proven wherever the gospel was taught, in that often the civil and religious leaders wherever Paul preached eventually grew fed up with the disruption, and sought to drive him out of town or destroy him. 

This is the same basic division that occurred during Jesus’s ministry. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, there were Jewish leaders who seemed completely oblivious to the fact that an incredible miracle had occurred. All they seemed to care about was that if people followed Jesus, it would threaten “our place and our nation” (John 11:48). This similar spirit now opposed the spread of the gospel in Iconium. 

It was not always the case that rulers opposed the gospel. In the previous chapter, Sergius Paulus the proconsul of Cyprus believed in Jesus (Acts 13:12). Cornelius the centurion was also someone of power and influence who believed in Christ (Acts 10:1-2, 44). 

Men and women are individuals, and God saves all whom He has called to Him (John 10:27-28). But there is a general pattern which can be observed in scripture, that those who wield power are often less likely to yield to God. When we serve self-interest, self-promotion, and control over others, we are less likely to see the truth (Proverbs 4:19, 11:2).

This alliance of Jews and Gentiles opposing the gospel planned an attempt to both mistreat Paul and Barnabas (probably to flog and beat them) and then to stone them, to brutally kill them by throwing rocks at them until they died. In Jewish law, stoning was a method of execution for those properly tried and convicted. In this case, this was planned as an illegal mob action.

Paul and Barnabas catch wind of the plot and shrewdly leave town: they became aware of it and fled. Some of their new friends and believers probably learned of it and informed them accordingly. While Paul was always willing to suffer for the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:8-12), he did not go out of his way to experience abuse. 

Jesus Himself warned Paul in a vision to leave Jerusalem before his enemies killed him (Acts 22:18). Paul was generally sensible in stewarding his ministry, while also being bold. Toward the end of his ministry he went to Jerusalem even though he was warned not to. But in that instance it was a matter of calling (Acts 21:13). 

Suffering for Christ is expected for believers who choose to live as Christ did (2 Timothy 3:12). New Testament believers are commanded to choose to adopt the same attitude or perspective that Christ chose when He came to earth in obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:5-8). There is great reward promised to those who choose to suffer the rejection of the world and gain the inheritance of ruling in Christ’s future Kingdom alongside Him (Romans 8:17, Philippians 2:8-10, Revelation 3:21). Jesus warned His disciples that they would suffer for His sake (John 16:33, Matthew 5:10-12). But He also promised them that they would reign with Him in the kingdom that was to come (Matthew 19:28). 

But here, while Paul perseveres in being faithful to preach the gospel, he is also evading his enemies to avoid death, as he has had to do several times before (Acts 9:23-25). He and Barnabas both eventually will die for the gospel’s sake. According to church tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome, while Barnabas was stoned to death in Salamis, Cyprus. But, to the best of their ability, they wanted to preach the gospel for as long and for as often as they could. Jesus commanded His disciples to be wise as well as innocent (Matthew 10:16). Paul and his companions provide such an example. 

We should not have to invite suffering into our lives through foolishness or vainglory; suffering will happen, but we should hope to only suffer for doing good, not because we deserved to suffer for having done evil (1 Peter 3:17). Through walking in the Spirit we can be wise, strategic, and avoid dead-ends. In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas’ time to minister was at an end, for now. They had preached for a long time (v. 3) and a large number of people believed (v. 1). They were faithful and active in their calling for as long as possible, and now it was time to move on to another location. 

Paul and Barnabas, having escaped the attempt by their enemies to stone them to death, proceeded to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; and there they continued to preach the gospel (vs. 6-7). Lycaonia was a district in the province of Galatia, and Lystra and Derbe were cities within the district. Lystra was around 20 miles south of Iconium, so Paul and Barnabas essentially moved on to the next town over, a full day’s walk away. Their experience in Lystra is described in detail from verse 6 through verse 20 of this chapter. 

Here Luke is giving an overview, that they preached in these two cities of Lystra and Derbe which were in the district of Lycaonia, as well as unnamed places in the surrounding region, before he (Luke) hones in on the particulars of what happened in Lystra. The suffering Paul and Barnabas will experience in the city of Lystra is directly related to the enemies of the gospel that organized in Iconium

Though they escaped the stoning that was plotted against them by the Iconiumians, it proved to be only a temporary delay. The enemies they have made on their mission trip in Galatia have not given up on defeating them. Trouble will follow them to Lystra, from Iconium as well as all the way from Pisidian Antioch (some 120 miles away to the northwest). In Lystra, Paul will undergo cruel suffering for the sake of his faithful witness to the good news of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 14:19). 

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