The record of the first missionary journey continues through chapter 14. Following their custom of going first to the Jews, Paul and Barnabas spoke effectively in Iconium. The power of the gospel turned many hearts to the Lord, both Jews and Gentiles. Unbelieving Jews “poisoned” the minds of Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. It is easy to imagine how they may have cast doubt on the apostles’ character. Poison propaganda has caused much ill in the world. Consider the work of Hitler, and of those today who continue to hold people in their sway through lies and fear. Still, much good was done until a plot against their lives caused Paul and Barnabas to leave for the area of Lycaonia, a part of Galatia.
In this chapter, Barnabas is called an apostle (14:4, 14). After Judas died, a successor named Matthias was divinely chosen to be one of the Twelve (Acts 1:24-26). Paul was certainly an apostle of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the term (Rom. 1:1). Barnabas is likely designated an apostle in the wider sense of the term, one sent on a mission (Acts 13:1-3).
As the crowd in Lystra observed the healing of a man who had been crippled from birth, they quickly and incorrectly identified Barnabas and Paul as mythical gods. Zealous for their false religion, the people of Lystra wished to offer sacrifice to their gods. The missionaries passionately rejected their designation as deities, tearing their clothes. Some good was done in Lystra, and Paul and Barnabas later returned to strengthen the disciples. A young man named Timothy was among the converts (Acts 16:1). First identified as a god, then vilified, Paul suffered stoning in Lystra. This was a Jewish means of execution, often the effort of an angry mob. God kept Paul alive to continue his work.
Derbe was the turnaround point on the first missionary journey. From there, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps back to the seacoast. As they strengthened and encouraged disciples along the way, they warned that many hardships would be endured for the kingdom of God. Those who turn to Christ must know of the difficulties as well as the blessings. Jesus made it clear that his followers can expect to suffer rejection as he did. Paul would later write, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
On their return trip, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each of the churches (14:23). No details are given as to whether the local members participated in the process. A relatively short time had elapsed, but Paul surely had insight into the character of those appointed. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul sets out qualifications for those who are chosen for this key role of leadership (1 Tim 3, Titus 1). In the infancy of the church, apostles led the way in both evangelism and organization of churches. As time passed, the role of elders became firmly established. Servants known as deacons also have a crucial role in churches.
Upon their return to Antioch of Syria, the missionaries “reported all that God had done through them” (14:27). To God be the glory. Great things he hath done!
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.