Acts 14:19–28 (ESV)✞: Paul Stoned at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria
In the last passage Paul healed a man in Lystra, after which the population of the town was barely prevented from worshipping Paul and Barnabas because they assumed the two men were gods.
Just as they avoid this danger, however, Jews come to Lystra from Antioch and Iconium (from which Paul and Barnaas had previously had to flee), “persuade” the crowds, and have Paul stoned! His presumably dead body is dragged out of the city but when the disciples gather around him he gets up and they all head back into the city.
The next day he and Barnabas go to a city named Derbe where they preach the Gospel and make a lot of disciples. And then they go back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (the passage doesn’t mention how long this trip takes), where they “[strengthen] the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” verse 22 (ESV)✞. They also appoint Elders in all the local churches.
After this they continue on in their travels (a bunch of locations are called out in verses 24–26 (ESV)✞), ending at Antioch, which, we might recall, was where Paul and Barnabas started from; it was at Antioch where the Holy Spirit chose them to go on this missionary journey in the first place. So when they arrive they have good news to share:
27And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28And they remained no little time with the disciples. (verses 27–28 (ESV)✞)
There are some secondary thoughts I have on this passage (about Paul getting back up after his stoning and about the appointment of Elders in the local churches), which I’ll get to in a second, but the main thing that strikes me about this passage is Paul’s reaction to his stoning.
- First, although it might seem like I’m stating the obvious, the immediate thing Paul does after getting stoned is go back into the city. Back into the midst of the people who just tried to execute him! There’s a fearlessness here that’s remarkable. I think he would have been fully justified in going somewhere else, or even camping outside the city, but no, he goes back in.
- Then he goes to Derbe and does the very thing that almost got him stoned in Iconium and did get him stoned in Lystra: he preaches the Gospel.
- He then returns to Lystra, where—I keep repeating myself, but—he received a stoning, and what does he do there? He strengthens others, encouraging them, and saying that we must enter the Kingdom of God through many tribulations. I think everyone knew some of those specific tribulations!
Regardless of the danger to himself Paul’s passion is to preach the Gospel. We’ll see him say so explicitly later on in Acts:
… 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:23–24 (ESV)✞)
And again a little later, when he’s being handed over to the Romans and his fellow disciples are warning him about the danger:
13Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13 (ESV)✞)
Paul’s commission was to preach the Gospel, so he preached the Gospel. When Jesus was ready for Paul to die he’d die, and in the meantime he’d do what he’d been commanded to do.
Paul Getting Back Up
I don’t think it’s a miracle when Paul gets up after his stoning—meaning I don’t think he was dead, dragged out of the city, and then rose from the dead—I think it’s a case of the people being mistaken about him being dead. If others disagree I don’t have strong arguments on it, it’s just how I read the passage.
We’re told that Paul and Barnabas, as they’re going back to the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, appoint Elders in those local churches. I think this is the first time this is happening in a Christian Church context; “elders” have been mentioned before in Acts, but I think this is the first time the concept is being introducd into local Christian churches.
If I’m right, I’m guessing it’s because the early Christians are realising that the current model of the Church—where its head is the Apostles, as opposed to local people—isn’t going to scale. The Church is growing, and, frankly, the Apostles aren’t going to be around forever, so it could be that this is them realising that local churches are going to need their own leadership.