13. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
We learn that the temple of Zeus was actually in front of this very city of Lystra. No wonder, then, that these people not only knew this myth, but took it seriously. Zeus was the patron god of their city. His true devotees would have known all the myths about him. This one of him taking human form and visiting cities of men must have been especially a favorite. They probably wished many times that he would honor their city with such a visit. What better city, they must have reasoned, than the one where his temple was built? And they would have firmly determined with themselves that should he ever show up in this way, THEY would not fail to recognize him and THEY would not fail to give him the honor he was due. With such a mindset, no wonder they jumped to this conclusion with Barnabas and Paul.
These people in their zeal for Zeus quickly call the priest of Zeus from his temple. The myth is coming true, and the two gods are even now in their city, they must have told him! The priest hurries to bring oxen to sacrifice to these gods with the multitudes of Lystra, and garlands with which to decorate them. They are determined to let these gods know that they, unlike the city in the myth, know how to honor their gods when they come to them!
14. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out
We can well imagine how horrified Barnabas and Paul were when they heard the people of the city talking and realized what they had decided and what they were doing! They had come to the city to preach the Lord Jesus Christ, and now they are being used by the people to prop up their ancient superstitions about gods and goddesses. This was not only not what the apostles were about, but was the very thing they were battling against! No wonder they were greatly distressed, and tore their clothes, that great oriental sign of grief and regret.
When the apostles realize what is going on, they are so mortified that they start to act in a way that really is almost reckless. They run in among these enthusiastic idol worshippers, crying out to them to stop what they are doing. This may not have been the wisest course of action, but it certainly is consistent with the Godly horror these men must have felt at the thought of being worshipped as pagan gods.
We notice that Barnabas is listed first, the most prominent place, here once again by the Author. We would suggest that this is only fitting in this case. Though incorrectly, Barnabas had been identified by these men as the leader, and so it was his job to take the lead in straightening them out and informing them that what they were thinking was not the truth.
15. and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,
As they run among the idol worshippers trying to get them to stop their misguided ceremony in their honor, they cry out to them these words. They ask them why they are doing such a thing? Why would they offer sacrifices to mere men? For that is what Barnabas and Paul are, and not gods. They explain this to them in no uncertain terms. Far from having some hidden, divine nature, they are men with the same nature of a man as all the rest of them have. By no means are they there to pass themselves off as gods! Rather, they are proclaiming to them that they should turn from these useless gods they worship to serve the living and true God. He is the One Who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in these three things.
“The heaven” here probably refers to the sky in this case, coming as it does along with the earth and the sea. “Heaven” is uncharacteristically singular here. The Greek word ouranos means over and above, which certainly describes the sky. The earth then would be the dry land. The things in them would be the birds of the sky, the animals of the land, and the fish of the sea.
16. who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.
In bygone generations, they admit, this living God has allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. He has allowed men like the idol worshippers of Lystra to ignore him and make up gods out of their own fancies. They imply that now, however, a change is about to be made in this, and God will allow all nations to walk in their own ways no longer! This would soon have come to pass had the kingdom of God come at that time, as expected. Instead, as we know, that kingdom was delayed, and nearly two thousand more years have passed in which God has allowed all nations to continue to walk in their own ways.
Notice that the apostles testify to the fact that God has allowed the nations to do as they please. Some imagine that everything that happens takes place because God decreed it somehow. In their minds, the nations do nothing but what God determined in advance for them to do. Yet this passage denies any such thought. God has not been determining every single thing for the nations to do. He has allowed them to walk in their own ways, and what they have done has been according to their own whims and desires, not according to God’s decree.
Notice this word “nations” here. This is a form of the Greek word ethnos that is elsewhere translated “Gentiles.” The translators have been forced to make it “nations” here, and this word should always be translated “nations.” Whether or not all nations besides Israel or all nations including Israel are meant must be determined from the context. In this context, we would suggest that all nations excluding Israel are meant, for God did constantly chasten His people, and He did not allow them to walk in their own ways, as He did the other nations.
17. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Barnabas and Paul, still pleading with the idolatrous people of the city, nevertheless do not want to give a wrong impression of God. They do not want these people to think that God is cold or uncaring, and that is why He has allowed the nations to walk in their own ways. He has not left them without a witness to Himself, the apostles tell them. He shows His existence in several ways in which He does good for mankind. One is by sending rain from heaven. This causes fruitful seasons, with good crops and the health and wealth that go along with them. By these seasons He fills the hearts of people with food and gladness.
These good things in life, these pleasures and joys that Barnabas and Paul list, are all indications that there is a God, and He is good. By contrast, we would suggest that the opposite, the bad things in life, all testify to the fact that there is an enemy, and that he is wicked and destructive. We do not count things like hurricanes and tornados as “acts of God.” We do not think that every time someone dies prematurely or in some terrible accident, this is because God wanted it that way. The bad things in life do not show that there is a God Who causes disaster and pain. Rather, they show us the opposite, that God is not the only force at work in this world.
Nevertheless, the fact that these good things are a testimony to a good God is interesting. It would be good if people would see things this way, and understand that the truly good things in their lives are from the hand of God. Too often we selfishly blame God for what we don’t have, rather than being thankful for the good that we do have.
18. And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.
Their words to the idol worshippers of Lystra certainly should have convinced them that they were not Zeus and Hermes. Indeed, they did, although not without difficulty. These men had the idea in mind that they were not going to miss this visit from the gods and thus prove they were better than the city in the myth. With this thought in mind, it was hard even for the ones they supposed to be gods to convince them otherwise. Not only so, but anytime when a mob has an idea in mind, it is very hard to turn it, and Barnabas and Paul scarcely succeed in doing so. Yet they finally do, and succeed in convincing the mob not to sacrifice to them.
Now they have stopped this error from happening. Yet this is still a very volatile situation. The crowd is in a highly emotional state, and now their emotion has been checked without them being able to release it to their desired end. The whole city is now a powder keg waiting to explode in some direction, and all it will take is someone with persuasive words to push it to violent action. We will see that this indeed did happen and what the results of it were in the next verse.
19. Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
Now a new factor enters into the equation. Jews from Antioch in Pisidia and from Iconium come to Lystra. These were Jews who had heard Paul’s message when he spoke in their cities, and had rejected it. They use this volatile situation to turn the crowd against Paul. We can see how easily they could have done this. Probably they accused Paul of impersonating the gods, or else that he had dishonored them when he protested that he was not one, but that there is only one God. At any rate, they win over this mob, and the same ones who were previously ready to worship Paul now are ready to execute him. This is a fast turn-around indeed, but it is all too typical of mob behavior.
Now, worked up to this fever pitch, the mob quickly carries out their plan. They stone Paul and drag him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. They thought they had brought an end to Paul, and no doubt his enemies from Antioch and Iconium thought that they had ended his career and brought a stop to his message once and for all.
What exactly did happen here, we might ask? Was Paul really dead, or was their supposition wrong? We need to consider several things, first of all what “stoning” was at the time. This really was a means of execution, and saying that they stoned Paul is about the same as saying someone was electrocuted today, or put in the gas chamber, or hanged. This was a means of executing a person, and it was unlikely to fail. They did not just pick up little rocks and throw them at Paul, either. They would lay the stoning victim down in a vulnerable position. Then, the one who threw the first stone would pick up the largest stone he could comfortably lift, and would smash it down into the victim’s chest or unto his skull. This first blow would be likely to kill him. Yet then, the witnesses also would do the same thing with equally large and heavy stones, showing their solidarity in this execution. The likelihood of someone coming out of this procedure alive is very low. Even if he was still alive, he would be mortally wounded to the point where he could not live for long. Yet we would argue that the chances of him being alive at all are very minor.
So what does this mean that they were “supposing” that he was dead. Doesn’t this imply that they were wrong? Well, this word is not always translated “supposing.” It is the Greek word nomizo (pronounced no-MEED-zoh). Sometimes, this is translated “think.” It means to think something because of custom, law, evidence, or long experience. They assumed he was dead because their experience with stoning could leave them with no other conclusion. This word never means to imagine. No one could survive who had been treated as Paul had been. They knew from experience that a person who had gone through this procedure would be dead.
The fact that Paul died here and was brought back to life should not surprise us. It fits right in with what Paul himself says in II Corinthians 11:23. In this portion, he is listing the many sufferings he passed through in the course of his ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ. He says:
23. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
Paul says here that he was “in deaths often.” I believe that this means that Paul was dead more than even this one time. In fact, in verse 25 of the same chapter he says “a night and a day I have been in the deep.” Since the “deep” refers to below the surface of the water, there can be little doubt but that Paul drowned. Thus even in this passage we see other times that Paul died.
Some who argue that Paul did not die here will claim that he was among plagues often, and that the plagues are referred to as “deaths.” Yet with the power to heal, it seems unlikely that Paul would count being among plague victims a suffering. Being able to go among these and heal them would rather be a great blessing!
Others argue that Paul means he was on the verge of death many times, but did not actually die. Yet when Paul referred to being near to death, he would speak as he did in Philippians 2:27, when he said of Epaphroditus, “he was sick almost unto death,” or as he said of him in verse 30, “he came close to death.” Paul does not say in such a case that he was “in death.” Thus I believe that the right conclusion to make here is that Paul was stoned, and he was dead. Yet as we are about to see, God raised him from the dead!
20. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
When the mob action was over and the crowds had returned home, there were some there who had listened to Paul and had not agreed with the actions of the rest in putting him to death. These had become disciples, and they gathered around Paul in mourning for the injustice that had been done. No doubt their intent was to bury him. However, at this point a miracle occurs. Paul rises up, and goes under his own power into the city. Surely this could be nothing but a miraculous event!
Here we see the extent to which the Lord was working with Paul. He had a mission He had in mind for Paul to perform, and He was not going to allow Paul to be stopped one step short of performing it. Though enemies might put Paul to death, the Lord would not allow their injustice to prevail. Paul would be His spokesman, even if it meant he had to raise him from the dead.
It took some level of courage to get up and go right back into the city that had just attempted to murder you. Paul was never lacking in courage, however. No doubt he wished to encourage those who had become disciples and promise them that he would return to them again as soon as he could. Then, the next day, he and Barnabas depart to go to the nearby town of Derbe.
21. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch,
Now Paul and Barnabas proclaim the gospel to the city of Derbe. This time, the Spirit does not choose to give us any details of the events that took place in Derbe as they proclaimed, though no doubt many interesting stories about their work in that city could be told. The Spirit is picking out for us the stories here, not based on how interesting they might be, but rather on the lessons He wishes to teach us through these events. What we do know, however, is that many disciples were made in Derbe.
Now completing their work in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retrace their steps. They return to Lystra, no doubt continuing the work that was cut short by the persecution there. Then they return to Iconium, where they had also faced opposition, and spend some time there. Then it is back to Antioch in Pisidia, where they also visited earlier, as we saw in chapter 13.
22. strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
Now we learn what Paul and Barnabas did on their return to these towns. They had not been able to complete their work in these places due to the opposition that arose. Now that this has cooled down, they are able to work more with the disciples in these places. The souls of these disciples needed more teaching and strengthening in the truth. The “soul” here might well be put for the whole person, but it is also connected with the emotions. They needed to be strengthened in their attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ, lest their souls being unstable might be won away from Him through their emotions.
Thus, the apostles exhort them to continue in the faith. The word for “exhort” here is the Greek word parakaleo, and means to comfort or to come alongside to help. It is the verb form of the paraklete, the word applied to the Holy Spirit as the One Who comes alongside God’s people to help them. In this case, Paul and Barnabas are acting as paracletes to the believers, exhorting them to continue in what they have believed.
Moreover, the apostles warn them that more persecution and trouble will follow. Their opposition will not be happy simply because Paul and Barnabas are no longer there! Trouble will follow for those who have chosen to believe in Christ. Nevertheless, their endurance will be rewarded, for they are promised that once they have passed through these many trials they will enter the kingdom of God. God’s government was their goal, and as of this time they still had every reason to believe that they might enter that government before they ever entered the state of death. As we know now, however, that government was delayed, and nearly two thousand years have passed without the kingdom coming. However, this promise still was true, for these believers will enter the kingdom of God as surely as when they were given this promise. This truth does not change just because one of the troubles they had to pass through was death!
23. So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Another thing Paul and Barnabas did in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch was to appoint elders in every church. This deserves more careful consideration, however. The word for “appoint” is cheirotonesantes, and means to designate by pointing with the hand. Paul basically pointed out these men. Then what he pointed them out as was elders. But this is the Greek word presbuterous, which means “representatives.” This was not an office, or at least not a religious one, but rather a political one, for the Jews had such representatives in every city. They had no separation of church and state as we do, however, and so their representatives would act on a religious matter as well. However, I believe what Paul was marking out here was his own representatives. If he were to write a letter to this city, then, it would be addressed first of all to these representatives of Paul, and they could pass the word from him on to the rest of the believers in the city. If some problem arose in this city, it would be these representatives who would be expected to write to Paul or to journey to Paul to get his help regarding it. We could list further examples, but hopefully the idea is now clear. These men were designated or marked out to represent Paul in their home city.
The phrase “in every church” is just kat ekklesian in Greek, which means “according-to (the) ekklesia.” The ekklesia were the men who had a position out of others in the city, and so these were men who already were entrusted with leadership positions. It was according to these that Paul chose his representatives. He chose them from men who were already leaders, and trusted by the people. This is all these words mean, and has nothing to do with a “church” as we think of it today.
Now having done this, they pray with them in every city and fast with them as well, seeking the Lord’s watchfulness over the brothers they are leaving behind in His care. Then they leave them. They will no longer be present to help them, but they know they are leaving them in the best of hands: those of the Savior. They thus commend them to Him in whom they had believed.
24. And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.
Leaving Antioch, they continue to retrace their steps. Passing through Pisidia, they return to Pamphylia.
25. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
Though Paul and Barnabas had passed through Perga before, as we saw in Acts 13:13-14, they had not stopped to proclaim the word there. Remember that Perga was where John Mark left them and departed for Jerusalem. Perhaps whatever circumstances had prevented them from proclaiming the word the first time are also what had discouraged him and induced him to return home.
At any rate, now upon returning to Perga they do what they had not done the first time, which is proclaim the word there. We have no other details about this, or what success they enjoyed, or how many might have believed, or what persecution they might have faced. All we know is that they proclaimed there, and the Spirit leaves it at that.
Attalia means “Yah’s Due Season” according to Strong’s Concordance, an interesting name for a Gentile city in Pamphylia. It was a coastal town, and a place from which the two apostles could catch a ship to return to their starting point in Syria.
26. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.
From Attalia, as we suggested above, they booked passage on a ship. Here they stop retracing their steps, as they do not return to Cyprus, the first stop on their original journey. Instead, they sail directly back to Antioch in Syria, the place from which they had first departed, and where, as we read here, they had been commended to the grace of God by the believers there for the work the Spirit had for them. That work they have now completed.
Thus Paul and Barnabas return to their home base, their mission fulfilled, and their work completed. It was hard work, and the opposition was strong, but the Spirit had been with them the whole way, and their enemies had not been able to stop them, even by stoning. God had fulfilled His promise, and had worked with them all the way, even as we are told in Mark 16:20.
20. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
Even so He had worked with them, and their entire mission is now accomplished.
27. Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
After they come to their home base in Syrian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas are eager to report all that has taken place. They gather the ekklesia together, there, and report to them all that God had done with them. They knew that the work was not truly theirs, but God’s, and they were just His agents. They were not reporting what they had done, but rather what God had done through them. These men were not “missionaries” as men speak of them today. They were apostles, sent out and commissioned by God to perform His tasks on His behalf. Though some might go out and proclaim the gospel today, they cannot say they are doing it by direct commission of God, as these men could. They truly were acting on behalf of God Himself!
In their report, Paul and Barnabas declare how God had opened the door of faith to the nations. That is truly what was happening here. The nations they traveled to had not been in on any of the work when the Lord Jesus was on earth. They had had no opportunity to believe until now. Yet now the door was opened to them, and they were allowed to believe. These nations included mostly Jews, to whom they had proclaimed in the synagogues. However, as we saw in Pisidian Antioch, they even included some Gentiles as well, who believed when the door was opened to them. All these things these apostles reported to their fellows in Antioch.
28. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Having completed their mission, Paul and Barnabas do not run out eagerly to begin another. They must wait upon God’s leading before they take any such step. For now, they are satisfied to remain in their home base of Antioch with their fellow disciples. This they do for “a long time.” How long this is exactly we do not know, but surely it must have been more than mere weeks. The Companion Bible suggests two and one-half years. However long it was, we know they settled down there, satisfied with the work they had completed, until God should call them again to the work He had for them.