From Iconium to Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe: Part 1 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

And there they preached the gospel.

And there they preached the gospel.

Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe


Lesson: IV.A.4: From Iconium to Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe (14:1-7)


Scripture (Acts 13:42-52; KJV)

1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.
2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.
3 Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.
5 And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them,
6 They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about:
7 And there they preached the gospel.


Introduction

The pattern of a mixed response set in Pisidian Antioch again greeted the missionaries at their next place of witness, Iconium1. It was not an easy journey. Iconium was about seventy miles southeast of Antioch by the Sebastian way, the main route that connected Ephesus with Syria and Mesopotamia. Iconium was located on a plateau 3,370 feet in elevation. In many ways, the city was Hellenized because it had been under Seleucid rule during the second and third centuries before Christ. In short, Paul and Barnabas encountered a cultural blending—native Phrygians whose ancestors had occupied the area from ancient times, Greeks and Jews who dated back to the Seleucid period (312-65 b.c.), and Roman colonists whose presence dated from more recent times. Geographically, it was the most ideal place for human settlement in an otherwise desolate area, and there is evidence for a town there from ancient times right down to the present.


Commentary

1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.

If you follow the journey of these two missionaries on a map, you will notice that they crossed over the length of the island of Cyprus, and then sailed to Perga in Pamphylia. Then they traveled up into the country of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. These are the cities of Galatia. So they are now in the heartland of Asia Minor.

Paul and Barnabas had come to Iconium (the modern Konia); a city more Greek than Roman. In setting up their witness in the major city of the area, the two missionaries followed a pattern Paul would continue to follow—establishing his work in the main population centers. Paul and Barnabas began their work in the usual manner—“they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews.” Instead of using the word “together,” it might be better to say, “In the same way” as they had done at Antioch. They went first to the Jewish synagogue: he used the synagogue as a springboard to get to the Gentiles. Even though Paul’s words in Pisidian Antioch had a somewhat definitive ring to them about turning to the Gentiles, they evidentially only applied to that city—“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Throughout Acts, Paul’s usual method was to go to the synagogues first, where they were permitted to preach, in accordance with the custom prevailing among the Jews at that time. There was wisdom to this. For one, Paul never gave up on the Jews. There would be some who would hear gladly the message of the Messiah’s coming. Also, there would be present in the synagogues Gentile proselytes and other Gentiles who believed in God and would be particularly open to the inclusive Christian message. To be sure, verse 1 attests to Paul and Barnabas being successful with both groups, Jews as well as

Gentiles. Barnabas accompanied Paul almost everywhere he went, even though Paul was now the prominent speaker and personality.

The apostles spoke so clearly, with such evidence and proof of the Spirit, and with such power; so warmly, and with such concern for the souls of men that those who heard them could not keep from saying, “God is definitely with them.” The proof of their success was “that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed,” meaning probably the religious proselytes, as opposed to the Gentiles mentioned in verse 2. Yet, their success was not to be attributed to the manner of their teaching, but to the Spirit of God who used that means. Perseverance in doing good, amidst dangers and hardships is a blessed evidence of grace.


2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.

This verse relates the reaction of the unbelieving Jews. Not only did they resist the missionaries’ witness themselves, but they also poisoned the minds of the Gentile populace against the Christian witnesses. That is what is meant by “and made their minds evil affected against the brethren,” which usually has the meaning “to ill-treat” but which can also have the meaning “to embitter someone against someone else.” “The unbelieving Jews” and Gentiles disliked one another, yet were united against Christians. In the Book of Acts, the “unbelieving Jews” were the instigators of much of the persecution against the apostles, though they themselves did not necessarily administer the punishment. They were masters at persuading the Gentiles to carry out their wicked purposes.

Paul and Barnabas faced almost impenetrable paganism in Galatia. I personally believe the Galatian field was the hardest mission field that Paul ever entered. You only need to read the Epistle to the Galatians to discover that. Galatians was the hardest epistle that Paul wrote. He wrote it to a group of people who had a spiritual leaning, but in the wrong direction. They were constantly going off the track. He visited those churches more than any others.


3 Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

In this verse, there is a phrase which we must closely scrutinize: “Long time therefore abode they,” that is, at Iconium. They stayed so long because, in spite of all the opposition they met with, they were having good success. Wherever we find the word “therefore” we should ask ourselves “wherefore?”Let us go back to the preceding verse: “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.” “Therefore,” the apostles stayed for a long time in Iconium. The reason for the long stay was not the success of the work, but its difficulties. The reason why they stayed was that persecution had come to those disciples who had come together. This reveals the persistence of their method. All new difficulties only served to inspire these men to persistence and perseverance.

Verse 3 is in immediate tension with the preceding verse and emphasizes the power of the Christian witness and the divine enabling behind it. Even though there was strong resistance to the Christians (v. 2), they were still able to maintain their witness. The two apostles were not about to back down. They had the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to speak “boldly” for the Lord and to depend on Him for the results—“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:29-31). Far from being intimidated, they were inspired to be even bolder witnesses.

“Speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace.” That was the one theme of these men as they traveled. In this book Acts of the Apostles wherever that word “Word” occurs in this connection the first letter should be capitalized.

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