The Return to and Stay at Antioch: Part 1 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

December 1, 2014

Acts of the Apostles


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 easternmost 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 evangel1. 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 was “that 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).

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