Acts 14 Opposition Follows the Apostles
A major dilemma is on the horizon for the early church. The new covenant is radically different from the Law of Moses. Gentiles are turning to Jesus by the thousands. But questions are looming. Are there to be two Christianities, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles? Do Gentile converts need to be circumcised and come under the covenant of Moses? Is the new covenant simply the covenant of Moses made new, or is it altogether a new covenant?
The questions are many but they will have to wait for now. The apostles and elders must meet together. This crisis can only be settled under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We don't get to that until Acts 15.
For now let get back to Paul and Barnabas. This is Acts028 - Acts 14 Opposition Follows the Apostles.
Vss1,2: " In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren."
.... Iconium was part of the Roman Galatia. Paul will later write the churches of Galatia, with warnings about turning to a false gospel.
.... "Spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed."
The penetrating power of the gospel was so strong, that it resulted in a great many of the Jews and Greeks turning to Jesus. Once again we see the make up of the synagogue, that is, Jews, or Judeans as they were often called, and Greek proselytes.
.... "But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren."
The Greek word for 'stirred up' is 'epegerio'. It means to arouse or excite. The unbelieving Jews knew exactly what to say to poison the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. But this takes place outside the synagogue. The unbelieving Jews were unable to stand against the gospel as it was being presented. Their only means of defense was to stir up opposition throughout the city.
Vs3: "Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands."
.... The apostles continued to preach boldly. And the gospel did what it is designed to do, it drew the peoples to Jesus. As for the signs and wonders, these were not things the apostles did on their own. The Lord provided the working of wonders according to His own will. This is a lesson all believers should learn. There are no 'wonder workers' in the body of Christ. All works of power are the doing of the Lord alone.
Vss4-7: "But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; and there they continued to preach the gospel."
.... "The people of the city were divided."
We may find it odd how anyone could disbelieve when the gospel was going forth with signs and wonders, but it happens. In this case there was another issue involved. The peoples of that time were very superstitious. Sorcerers and false prophets abounded, and the working of demonic signs were common. You can be sure the non-believing Jews used this to their advantage.
.... "Fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe."
It wasn't simply a matter of saving their own lives. They left behind a people who had come to know Jesus, and it was time to spread the gospel in other parts. It is more likely that the Holy Spirit directed them to their next venture. Jesus had instructed the disciples, "When they persecute you in one city, flee to the next." (Matt10:23)
Vss8-18: I will provide a synopsis on these verses. At Lystra, Paul saw that a lame man had faith to be healed. From this came a miracle healing. The peoples in their superstitious zeal thought the gods had come down. They began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes. (Zeus was the supreme deity of the pagans, and Hermes was the messenger or speaker for the gods.) The priest of Zeus came with oxen to offer sacrifices with the crowds.
Here again we see the heart of all true servants. Both Barnabas and Paul tore their robes, and began crying out that they were only men who came with the good news that the peoples were to turn from their idolatry to the living God. Eventually the crowds were restrained.
But not for long. Sure enough, the enemy is fast on their trail. It says.
Vss19,20: "But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe."
.... These Jews who followed after Paul and Barnabas were not simply sinners of the regular sort. They had made themselves avowed enemies of the cross. Think about this for a moment. Does this not bring back a memory. The man Saul was an enemy of Jesus before he became the great apostle Paul.
But how could the unbelieving Jews turn the peoples against the apostles? It may have been through the embarrassment of the people. These Jewish men were probably well adapted at psychology. It happens today. Some men are masters at crowd manipulation.
.... "Stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead."
This is a horrid picture. The Gentiles not only stoned Paul, but they drug him through their streets and out the gate. The very ones who wanted to worship him as a god, are now treating him with scorn and ridicule. He was left on open ground, unworthy of being buried.
Was Paul dead? Most likely. This may be the time that Paul spoke of being caught up into paradise. He wrote:
"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago-- whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows-- such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man-- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows--was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." (2Co12:2-4)
.... "While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city."
Could there be a picture of bravery greater than this? Paul walk right back into Lystra. Somewhere during these happenings there were people coming to the Lord. Paul will shortly come back through Lystra to strength the disciples that have been made there. But for now he needs to get on with the Master's business. The next morning after being left for dead, Paul departed for another city. There was so much work to be done.
Vss21-23: "After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'"
.... "Returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch." Each of these cities had been troublesome places for the apostles. Yet the souls of the new disciples were precious to God. They needed to be encouraged.
.... "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
This statement is troublesome to some, for the simple reason that it is the commonly taught that we enter the kingdom of God when we are born again. So is Paul speaking of God's heavenly kingdom, and that we will face many trials in this life? That is a good answer. But what Paul is saying can also be understood in its Hebrew sense.
The word for 'enter' is 'eiserchomai'. This word includes the idea of 'coming under' or 'taking possession' or 'have part in, or 'share in' and 'live among.' Paul may well be speaking of the believers coming under kingdom rule. The term kingdom of God to the Hebrews usually meant the direct rule of God.
When we first become believers we know so little about how God rules in our lives. But the ancient people of God had a grasp on His rule. This is why every morning they would say, "Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai echad." (Or, 'Hear O Israel. The Lord is our God. The Lord is One.') And this is how they were taught to put on the kingdom of God.
So, through many tribulations we learn the rule of God. (Something to think about.)
Vs23: "When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed."
.... You can be sure that the elders set in place would be similar to that of the synagogues. These gatherings of disciples needed their own order and the synagogue pattern would have been normal for them. Actually there were various names that the leaders went by, depending somewhat on the language and culture. Elders, pastors, and bishops were different ways of referring to the same leadership.
Since they were all young in the faith, the initial eldership may have come largely from those who turned to Jesus from the Jewish faith. This would be either Jews or proselytes. They would already have a background of the Scriptures. But it was serious enough to be accompanied by prayer and fasting. Whoever these elders were, the Holy Spirit would have given a spiritual consensus to all those involved.
Vss24-28: A synopsis: The apostles continue their journey, sharing the gospel, and then arrive back at Antioch, from where they had begun. It says, "When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples."
... It is generally estimated that from the sending out of Barnabas and Paul from Antioch, up to the council in Jerusalem was approximately five years. This means we have covered another five years of early Church history. The council was held in 51 a.d. That date would place the apostles ages at fifty years and older.
We will conclude the study here. Our next study is going to cover some very interesting issues. "What do we do with the Gentiles?"
This study was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.
Page added October 22, 2004
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