From Iconium to Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe: Part 2 of 2
by John Lowe
“The word of his grace” was the theme of the preaching. The phrase stands for all the facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which these men were telling as they went. They told what we speak of as “the old, old story.” They told the story of the life of Jesus; they told the story of His death; they told the story of His resurrection, because by His resurrection everything else was transfigured, illuminated, and interpreted. They were tellers of tales; and the message was always the same: “The word of His grace.” These men went into new cities with no new message, but with the same message; adapting their method of presentation, but never changing the truth.
“Signs and wonders” are two different words for miracles. The word “sign” simply means that the miracle conveys a lesson, whereas the word “wonder” suggests that the miracle creates a sense of awe. The Lord “granted signs and wonders” to the apostles, and acts of such divine power confirmed that Paul and Barnabas spoke for God, and they can be taken as evidence that the mission met with some success. The “signs and wonders” served as their “credentials” that they were undeniably servants of the true God. Faith is not based on miracles—“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:5)—but faith can be bolstered by miracles. The important thing is “the word of his grace” that performs the works of His grace—“From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed” (Acts 14:26).
4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.
As the apostles continued their witness, the city became more and more polarized into two groups; those who supported them and those who opposed them. It needs to be pointed out that Luke used the term “apostles” to refer to Paul and Barnabas, but Barnabas was not an apostle in the same sense as Paul and the Twelve since he was not an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ nor had he been called by Him. It is best, therefore, to translate “apostles” here as “messengers”—“Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:23). The Twelve and Paul were apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:6), while Barnabas and others were “apostles of the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:23); Barnabas having been sent by the church at Antioch on the Orontes River (Acts 13:3) with the church's authority. Here and Acts 14:14 are the only places where he applied the term to anyone other than the Twelve Disciples. The word means literally one who is sent and is used to designate official delegates and emissaries. Paul used the term regularly to refer to his own commission as an emissary of Christ. He applied the term to others as well: James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7); Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7); and an unnamed group whom he distinguished from the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:7; 15:5). In Acts, Luke used the term in a restricted sense, which includes only the Twelve who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ entire ministry. Acts 14:4, 14 are the exceptions to the rule. Perhaps Luke indicated here that Paul and
Barnabas were delegates of the Antioch church, commissioned by them for their mission. Perhaps it indicates Luke’s awareness of the wider applications of the word and that he here slipped into the more customary and less specialized usage.
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,
The opposition to the two grew to such a point that a plot was hatched to stone them. It does not seem to have been a question of official synagogue stoning since the Gentile populous was equally involved with the Jews. The whole picture seems to have been one of mob violence rather than expulsion by the city officials, as was the case in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:50). “With their rulers”probably refers only to the “rulers” of the Jews: it would have been more difficult for the apostles to return to Iconium (v. 21) if the civil authorities had also taken action against them. Both Gentiles and Jews with their leaders planned to assault the two missionaries with the intention to “stone them.” This proves that their Jewish opponents were the instigators, since stoning was a Jewish form of execution, usually for blasphemy. In any event, Paul and Barnabas learned of the plot and fled to the nearby towns of Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia. In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul says, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.”
6 They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about:
The result of preaching the Gospel was that the city was divided and the Christians were threatened with public disgrace and stoning, and hearing there was a plot to take his life, Paul and Barnabas left Iconium and traveled forty miles to the southeast, and came to Lystra, where there was no synagogue. At other times in their missionary labors, they seemed to stay put in a place in spite of danger. Why did they escape from some threats of danger and stand their ground at others? There does not seem to be any neat explanation. The great controlling principle in Acts is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. These men lived in close, intimate contact with the Lord. By abiding in Him they received marvelous communications of the divine mind and will. To them, this was the important thing, rather than a well-arranged set of rules of conduct. Though they fled Iconium, we know that after some time they returned there, so there must have been some believers there. In Lystra, Paul entered into the most pronounced atmosphere of Gentile life and thought. Thus we follow the movement of the Christian faith into an entirely new atmosphere, where believers are further removed from the influence of Hebraism. In Lystra, as in Antioch of Pisidia, as in Antioch of Syria, as at Jerusalem at the beginning, they had one message: “The word of his grace (v. 3).”
GOD HAS A SHELTER FOR HIS PEOPLE IN A STORM; HE IS, AND WILL BE THEIR HIDING-PLACE.
7 And there they preached the gospel.
Paul and Barnabas did not go to Lystra and Derbe simply to escape persecution; they also went to preach the Gospel.1
Iconium was located in the ancient region of Phrygia. It had been incorporated by the Romans into the province of Galatia in 25 b.c.