The Apostles Paul and Barnabas Flee to a Neighboring Province to Avoid Persecution and Death

Minister Paul J Bern
8 min readJan 7, 2023

The Apostles Paul and Barnabas are Forced to Flee From One Region to Another

(Acts chapter 14, verse 1–13)

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Book cover for the Social Gospel Teaching Series Vol. 2: the Acts of the Apostles

Last week when we concluded Acts chapter 13, Barnabas and the apostle Paul had just completed their work in Pisidian Antioch, preaching and teaching the Word to any and all who would embrace it, and so dedicate the rest of their lives to serving Christ by ministering to others. They did not allow themselves to be dissuaded or discouraged by those who opposed their message, and there were quite a few of those. There are many today who still refuse to embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

I Have Personally Experienced a Lot of Resistance As I Share Christ On the Web

Thanks to the internet, and particularly social media, the opponents of Christ are more vocal today than ever before. I should know, I get trolled all the time for my Social Gospel messages. Sometimes, I get trolled by Atheists and agnostics with bad attitudes. Other times, the trolls can be other Christians from the ultra-right. Back in the 1st century, all the trolls simply followed Paul and Barnabas everywhere they went. Ditto for the other Apostles, all of whom were still alive when this portion of Acts was first written.

Let’s Get Started

This week as we move on to Acts chapter 14, we find Paul and Barnabas in the city of Iconium. Iconium lay some 60 miles to the east-southeast of Pisidian Antioch along the eastern branch of a Roman road that had been constructed in 6 B.C. for military purposes, the via Sebaste. Considering that Paul and Barnabas likely stopped and talked along the way to all those who were receptive to their message of salvation in Christ, this 60-mile trek must have taken them three or four days, possibly longer. And so this week, as we take up where we left off, we find these two heroes of the early Church and disciples of Christ just arriving in Iconium, and as usual their first stop was the local synagogue. So let’s all get started at verse 1 of Acts 14:

Part One of This Week’s Study Verses

1) At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2) But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3) So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4) The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5) There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6) But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7) where they continued to preach the gospel.

Christian Teachings Bring Dissension

People from similar backgrounds tend to hang out together, and Jewish people are no different. Paul and Barnabas were themselves Jewish, so they always proceeded directly to the local synagogue whenever they entered another new city or village. “There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2) But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” ‘Greeks’ from a Jewish standpoint in that time and place was a synonym for all non-Jews, with the majority being of Greek extraction due to Greece’s relatively close proximity to the Middle East.

We can also see here that — by this time — Paul, Barnabas and all the other apostles and their disciples had preached and taught about the ministry, sacrifice and ultimate resurrection of Christ that they had become very well-spoken. So much so, combined with the Holy Spirit that lived within them, that they had all become the first evangelists despite encountering fierce opposition.

The World Needs a Lot More People Like Paul and Barnabas

3) So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.” Paul and Barnabas were two very tough and fearless individuals, something the world needs a lot more of. They could not be bullied or intimidated in any way, because they knew the Lord was totally on their side, being that they were totally on the Lord’s as well. They were also well aware of the great reward that awaited them, provided they kept their faith strong. They put up with their ‘trolls’, who were in their faces every time they spoke, constantly interrupting them and being argumentative and abusive, even being belligerent and threatening at times.

The Controversial Nature of the Gospel

4) The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.” As it was back then, so it is today. The Gospel of Christ reaches down inside the heart, mind and soul of every human being who has ever lived, who lives today, and whoever will live. Those who hear the Word of God and reject it will do so vehemently, and those who receive it will do so with gladness and thanksgiving. But the Gospel always has been and always will be highly controversial, as it is written: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’” (Isaiah 65: 1)

Paul and Barnabas Flee to a Neighboring Province

“There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6) But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe….” A more accurate translation of verse 6 would have been that there was a plot that was hatched by Jewish and Gentile businessmen, presumably the ones who were the biggest contributors to the synagogue where Paul and Barnabas were preaching. The Gospel of Jesus, it seems, was viewed as a threat to their way of life. They were deeply concerned that the Gospel could ruin attendance at their services, and rightfully so. “But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe.” These cities were in a province of Asia minor that was adjacent to where they had been ministering. This brings us to the second half of this week’s study, starting at verse 8.

Part Two of This Week’s Study Verses

8) In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9) He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10) and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11) When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12) Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13) The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”

The Power of the Lord Can Be Overwhelming

““8) In Lystra there sat a man who was lame….. 9) He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10) and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.” The Spirit of the Lord is powerful in that it can heal all those who avail themselves to it. This must have been quite evident in this case, since Paul — possibly prompted by Barnabas — could see by the expression on the lame man’s face that “he had faith to be healed”. I can see him now, looking up towards heaven and asking the Lord to send the power through himself to heal the lame gentleman, and the response was immediate and overwhelming.

The Town Villagers Try to Offer Sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas

11) When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12) Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.” Let’s keep in mind that Paul and Barnabas had only arrived in town that same day. Since this was in a different region of Asia Minor than the one they had just left, they may have had a limited understanding of the local dialect. I am certain, however, that Paul and Barnabas knew who Zeus and Hermes were. They were likely saying, ‘no, no, we’re not Zeus or Hermes’ to the citizens of Lystra, but apparently they weren’t getting through, as we see by the very next verse. “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”

The Apostles Shun Opportunism

If Barnabas of Paul had not fully understood what the Lystran’s were saying to them before, they surely did by now. There before them was the chief priest of their pagan “temple”, who had brought some bulls (it doesn’t say how many) and some commemorative wreaths to have a great pagan feast in honor of Paul and Barnabas. Obviously this was not what Barnabas and Paul originally had in mind. Still, this could well have been a considerable temptation to them both. They could have set up a Christian church, and had the whole town eating right out of their hands if they wanted to. In a way, it could have been an excellent opportunity to turn the entire town to Christ. But would that have been the right way to go about it? To find out the answer, be sure and come on back next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 14. Shalom!

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Minister Paul J Bern

Rev. Paul J. Bern is a Web pastor and blogger on The Social Gospel Blog on Medium and Substack. Longtime Atlanta Ga. resident; stroke survivor; piano player