ACTS - CHAPTER 14
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“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.”
Their going into the
synagogue continues to remind us that it was still a Jewish age in which the
millennial kingdom was being offered to Israel; but the conversion of a multitude of
Greeks (Gentiles) reminds us also that the Jewish age was drawing to a close, and
that God was reluctantly turning from unbelieving Israel, to offer to the Gentiles
even better blessings than those which Israel rejected.
“But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil
affected against the brethren.”
Where the truth is preached,
Satan isn’t far behind with his opposition and poison for men’s minds.
As noted already, the Jews, his primary agents, hiding behind the cloak of
religion, had others carry out their evil plans.
“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
The length of time isn’t
specified, but their remaining for a long time declares the truth that there has to
be persistence in refuting wrong doctrine, and courage in preaching the gospel.
Their speaking “boldly in
the Lord,” has been defined as their speaking “in dependence on the Lord,” JFB.
“... the word of his
grace” indicates the nature of the gospel. It
is a message of pure grace, for by it God offers blessing which man doesn’t
deserve; and His validating their ministry by enabling them to perform miracles
confirms that it was still a Jewish age, for miraculous manifestation is associated
with Israel, not with the Church. The
confirming testimony to the power of the gospel today is the convert’s transformed
Relative to signs and
wonders, William MacDonald writes, “The word ‘sign’ simply means that the
miracle conveys a lesson, whereas the word ‘wonder’ suggests that the miracle
creates a sense of awe.”
“But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part
with the apostles.”
The gospel is the great
divider of men, the Lord Himself declaring, “Think not that I am come to send peace
on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance with his father, and the daughter
against her mother .... And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household,” Mt
“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,”
“They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia,
and unto the region that lieth round about:”
Nothing provokes the hatred
of the natural heart like the gospel, that hatred being as venomous in the heart of
the irreligious, represented here by the Gentiles, as in the heart of the religious
but unconverted, as represented by the Jews. The
“rulers” were the magistrates or city authorities, reminding us that all too
often those same authorities are also the willing instruments of Satan to oppose the
gospel, and persecute those who belong to Christ, a fact all too well attested by
“... to use them
despitefully” means to ill-treat, molest, assault, abuse; and “...to stone
them” was literally to kill them. As
the enemy would be satisfied with nothing less than the death of the Lord Jesus
Christ, neither will he be satisfied with anything less than the death of those who
“They were ware (aware) of
it....” God takes care of His own, but
not always by miraculous means. Having
warned them of the planned attack, He expected them to use common sense and escape.
It behooves us to walk in such close touch with Him that we will be able to
discern His will. In the present instance, in His sovereignty He used the evil
designs of men to bring the gospel to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding area.
Nothing is beyond God’s control, and we would enjoy a fuller measure of His
peace if we walked in the confident enjoyment of that knowledge.
“And there they preached the gospel.”
That was their primary
business, and it is ours also, the Lord’s command to each one of us being, “Go ye
into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” Mk 16:15.
“And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a
cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked.”
It is instructive to find
that as there was a lame man in Acts 3, so is there here also a lame man.
The first represents Israel; this second, the Gentiles, for both are lame
spiritually: the one as much as the other being unable to walk right before God; and
as they had been born lame, so have all men been born as sinners, as it is written,
“...for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of
“The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving
that he had faith to be healed,”
“Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet.
And he leaped and walked.”
Confirming that the two men
appear to represent Israel and the Gentiles respectively, is the fact that the
cripple in Acts 3 was healed by Peter the apostle to Israel; this second, by Paul,
the apostle to the Gentiles.
Both men had to obey a
command: stand up. The gospel is a
command, refusal to believe it being disobedience of God.
Both men “leaped.” This
speaks of the abundant life that is found only in Christ, as He said Himself,
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more
abundantly,” Jn 10:10. And each man “walked.” This
speaks of obedience, and it is to be remembered that obedience is the ultimate
expression of worship, as it is written, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt
offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as
iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast
rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee....” 1 Sa 15:22.
“And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices,
saying in the speech of Lycaonia, the gods are come down to us in the likeness of
“And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the
Impressed by the miracle,
but ignorant of the One through whose power it had been accomplished, they imputed
divinity to Paul and Barnabas, even though their concept of God was limited to the
mythological figures invented by their own darkened minds.
In this is demonstrated the complete inability of the natural man to have any
right knowledge of God, as is declared in 1 Co 2:12, “But the natural man receiveth
not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can
he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
“Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and
garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people.”
“... which was before
their city” is literally “whose temple was at the gate, or just outside their
Convinced of the deity of
God’s servants, this heathen priest attempted to lead the deluded people to present
worship to mere men. One doesn’t have
to look far to see the same error being practiced today under the guise of Christian
worship, for the adulation accorded the Pope and Mary is no less idolatry than was
what the priest of Jupiter attempted that day in Lystra.
“Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their
clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,”
“And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things?
We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should
turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the
sea, and all things that are therein:”
When it has to do with
salvation, man is always more ready to work than to believe, and when it comes to
what he mistakes for worship he must have what is sensual rather than what is of the
Holy Spirit. He must have oratory,
music, vestments, ritual, art, architecture, etc., for he knows nothing of what it
means to worship God “in spirit, and in truth,” Jn 4:23.
“unto the living God,
which made heaven, and earth and the sea.” The
god’s invented by man’s imagination have need that man make images of them. They themselves are incapable of creating anything, even a figure
of themselves. Not so with God.
He is the Creator, creation itself being the eloquent testimony, not only to
His existence, but also to His power. We
who are His new creation are responsible to reveal Him to others just as did the Lord
when He was here on earth, declaring to Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the
Father,” Jn 14:9. It is God’s desire
that men should see Christ living His life in us.
Our thoughts, words, and deeds are to be similar to His when He was here as
“Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.”
Man, made in the image of
God, is a creature of intelligence, emotion, and will, and within the limits of His
permissive will God permits man to use his free will, not only to choose to obey his
Creator, but also to disobey Him. The
results of that freedom are catalogued in Ro 1:14-32, raising the question, Why does
God permit man this freedom when it has produced such disastrous results?
The answer is that were man denied the exercise of his will to choose, he would
be a mere automaton, and therefore incapable of holding communion with God - the very
purpose for which he has been created. It
is God’s desire that man, given the freedom to choose, might learn by experience
what a terrible thing sin is, and out of that experience turn again by his own
free-will choice to God Who alone can deliver him through the redemptive work of the
Man, Christ Jesus. He, however, who will
not turn to God acknowledging himself a sinner, and trusting in Christ as his Savior,
must perish, that is, die the second death, which is to enter the lake of fire to
endure eternal torment.
What God permits is not
always what He would direct, and he is a wise man who walks, not according to what
God permits, but what He directs, for His directive will produces nothing but
blessing for man.
“Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and
gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and
The rain, the seasons, and a
fruitful earth providing for man’s health and happiness, are some of the proofs of
God’s existence: an ordered creation implies the existence of an intelligent
Creator. But it is the Bible which
reveals the moral nature of that Creator: He is a God of absolute holiness and
justice, but also of love, His love impelling Him to provide for the redemption of
man, who as a fallen creature in Adam, cannot attain to the holiness required of
those who would enter God’s heaven. Man,
seeing the Creator God revealed in creation, is responsible thereafter to search out
more about that God; and the earnest seeker is never disappointed.
But the vast majority of men refuse to accept the evidence spread before them
in nature. They will not seek after God, but seek rather to deny His
“And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not
done sacrifice unto them.”
Few things are more
difficult than to convince unconverted men of the error of mere religion; and a
further truth demonstrated in the desire of the citizens to worship the apostles is
that though man is anxious to dismiss God from his thoughts, he is equally ready to
elevate mere man into the place of God, a tendency that will reach its climax in the
Tribulation as an unbelieving world acclaims the Roman beast as God and accords him
“And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded
the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been
Unbelieving Jews dogged
Paul’s steps, as intent upon undoing his work, and destroying him as they had been
His Lord, and as always, having others do their evil work.
And again the fickleness of man is revealed.
As the multitude, which at the beginning of the week hailed Christ as their
Messiah, condemned Him to death at the end of that same week, so was it here.
The very people who had been ready to worship God’s servants, now attempted
to slay them. In spite of the miracle,
they stoned Paul.
“Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into
the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.”
Nothing in Scripture
indicates that this was a resurrection of Paul.
It seems that his enemies had mistaken unconsciousness
Questions that present
themselves here are, Why did God permit Stephen to die, but save Paul?
Why permit John to die by the hand of Herod, but deliver Peter out of his
hand? The answer is that He is
sovereign, ordering or permitting the events of our lives to accomplish His own
purposes, and working all of them together for our eternal blessing.
“And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many,
they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,”
“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in
the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of
They had already preached
the gospel in Derbe, see verse 6, but availed themselves of the opportunity to
continue that good work on this second visit; nor should we miss the fact that the
preaching of the gospel was followed by their teaching
the converts. It is essential
that believers be instructed in sound doctrine.
Their teaching “many” indicates that they had won many converts to the
It seems clear that their
return to Lystra was at the leading of the Holy Spirit Who still had work for them to
do in that city. It is to be feared that
we have become so caught up in the present day frenzy of the world’s activity that
we have become largely insensitive to the Spirit’s leading, with resultant loss of
power in our preaching and teaching, so that there are few converts, and many
simply “strengthening and reassuring” so that they would continue strong in the
faith even in the midst of much tribulation. Our
failure to fervently preach a clear biblical gospel has preserved us from
tribulation, but with resultant lack of power and joy in our preaching and living,
for tribulation is God’s instrument to strengthen faith and expose false
profession. The successful Christian
life is mainly one of steady perseverance rather than of spectacular achievement.
Absence of tribulation indicates absence of faithfulness.
The lives of Paul and Barnabas lent weight to their words.
They practiced what they preached. Their
doctrine was no mere abstract theory. It was a living reality.
It is necessary to note that
this reference to entering the kingdom appears to refer to that day when we will
reign with Christ in His kingdom, for initial entry into the eternal kingdom is by
faith, the tribulation coming after conversion, and as the result of bearing a
“And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with
fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
It is to be remembered that
the Apostolic age was unique in many ways. It
was a period when Israel was still being offered the millennial kingdom.
There were two streams of Christianity: one Jewish; the other Gentile, the
divine order governing the life of Jewish converts being different from that which
governed the lives of their Gentile brethren; nor was the canon of Scripture
Eph 4:11 makes it clear that
pastoring, shepherding, overseeing (they all describe different aspects of the work
of an elder) is a spiritual gift, just as is evangelizing or teaching. Scripture knows nothing of the individual prominent in Christendom
today, and known as “the pastor,” hired by the elders (themselves pastors!), to
do virtually all the teaching and preaching in the local church, his chief
qualification being a theological education received at a Bible School or Theological
The scriptural order is a
far cry from this religious travesty. The
scriptural elder (pastor, shepherd, overseer) has been given the spiritual gift of
shepherding God’s people, and when he is exercising his gift it eventually becomes
evident to all. In the early apostolic
age when churches were being formed in many places, it is clear that the Apostles -
having had revealed to them by God, the men in those congregations who had the gift
of shepherding - pointed out, rather than ordained or appointed the gifted
men. (See ordained and appointed in Vine’s Expository Dictionary).
But as the apostolic age drew to a close, and the canon of Scripture was
completed, the normal order for the remainder of the Church age has been that as the
gifted men use their spiritual gift, the other believers recognize them as elders
(pastors, overseers, shepherds). Scripture
is silent as to the practice of having existing elders invite “into the
oversight” a brother who becomes recognized as having the gift of oversight; nor
does Scripture say anything about appointing elders. It is the Holy Spirit Who appoints them, as He appoints every man
to the work for which God has fitted him, see 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto
yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you
overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own
It should be recognized also
that in shepherding, as in everything else “practice makes perfect.”
It isn’t to be expected that the younger elder should have developed his
gift to the same degree as the man who has had twenty or thirty years experience in
doing the work of an overseer (elder, pastor, shepherd).
Since each believer receives his spiritual gift at the moment of conversion, a
man has the God-given ability to be an elder, evangelist, or teacher from that same
moment. Each man, however, is responsible, not to neglect his gift, but to
develop it by using it, and as he does, it will soon become evident that he has that
gift. It is to be feared that many,
devoting themselves, not to the exercise of their spiritual gift, but to the pursuit
of money, fame, pleasure, etc., fail to develop their gift, so that their possession
of it never becomes known - with resultant loss to God’s people, and eternal loss
to the men themselves at the Bema.
Relative to their having
“prayed with fasting,” it has to be recognized also that fasting was for Jews,
and with the passing of the apostolic age, has no place in the life of the Church-age
believer. The far more important
spiritual equivalent for believers is to abstain from the fleshly things which hinder
the running of the heavenly race.
after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.”
“And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:”
“And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the
grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.”
There is great need for men
today to fulfill the work to which they have been called by God, and commended by
their brethren. Note that they had been
“recommended to the grace of God.” That
was all they needed. Note also that they
were not directed by those who commended them, to do a specific work, but “to the
grace of God.” No Christian
(individual or group, even the elders) is authorized to dictate the work of another.
That is the Holy Spirit’s prerogative.
Scripture offers no support to the formation of committees or organizations to
direct missionary work. God the Holy
Spirit uses individuals whom He equips and calls to do His work, nor has He delegated
that authority to any man, organization, or church.
The present trend of “short term” commitment to the Lord’s work is
without Scriptural authority. There is
no such thing in Scripture as “trying out the job.”
Such methods may be necessary when the “work” has originated in the minds
of men, and is under human direction, but the Holy Spirit has no need of such
tactics. He is God.
He knows the end from the beginning, and all He needs for the accomplishment
of His purposes are obedient believers. Relative
to the Lord’s work it is written, “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and
looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,” Lk.9:62.
“And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they
rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith
unto the Gentiles.”
“And they abode long time with the disciples.”
Their calling together
“the church,” that is, the believers who constituted that local assembly, should
surely disclose the error of Christendom in regarding the building where people meet,
as being “the church.” A scriptural
church is a called out company of believers living for the most part in the same
general geographic area.
This gathering together of
the church to hear the report of the work to which the believers had first commended
Paul and Barnabas, reminds us that in that early day there was a genuine common
interest in the work of God. Sadly, that
same interest in God’s work is seldom found today.
All too many Christians are too busy with the things of this world to have
much interest in what pertains to the world to come.
It is instructive to note
also that all the focus was on what God
had done with them, they being simply instruments in His hand.
It was He Who worked, and Who deigned to use men as His agents.
There was no glory-seeking on the part of Paul and Barnabas.
Israel’s day of grace was
drawing to a close. God’s patience was
about to end. Clearly He was now turning
from rebellious Israel to offer the Gentiles the riches refused by the Jew.
And in this we are reminded of His warning to all men, “My Spirit shall not
always strive with man,” Ge 6:3, and again, “He, that being often reproved
hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.
Nor are these warnings confined only to the unbeliever. They are addressed also to the disobedient believer, the only
difference being that the unbeliever will lose his soul; the disobedient believer,
his eternal reward.
The length of time spent
with the believers isn’t indicated, but is generally believed to have been from one
to two years, and undoubtedly it was a time of mutual blessing.
This may not be taken to
justify a resident “pastor” or “full-time worker.”
The elders are the only resident workers in any local church.
Evangelists and teachers have an itinerant ministry.