Pastor David B. Curtis


Paul Gets Stoned

Acts 14:19-28

Delivered 06/28/2009

We are studying Paul's first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14. We saw in Acts 13:1-3 the divine intervention of God into the affairs of the church at Antioch, instructing this body of believers to send forth Barnabas and Saul to the work to which they were called.

In the first leg of their journey they minister on the island of Cyprus (where Barnabas had been born: Acts 4:36). Their approach was to visit those cities where Jews and synagogues were found and to preach Jesus as the promised Messiah on each occasion. On this Island Paul is demonstrated to be an apostle. We see the conversion of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul.

They first passed through Perga, where Mark deserted them (13:13), but where evangelization was delayed until the return visit of Paul and Barnabas (cf. 14:25). Then they traveled to Antioch and then to Iconium and from there to Lystra.

In our last study Paul healed a lame man, and the whole town thought he and Barnabas were gods and sought to worship them. Paul stops the worship stating that they are only men and that only the one living God should be worshiped. Now watch what happens next:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. (Acts 14:19 NASB)

What are Jews from Antioch and Iconium doing in Lystra? Those Jews in Antioch, who drove Paul and Barnabas out, had obviously followed them:

But the Jews aroused the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. (Acts 13:50 NASB)

From Antioch they followed the apostles and brought their persecution with them. They had tried to stone them in Iconium:

And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, (Acts 14:5 NASB)

So those who had planned the stoning of Paul and Barnabas in Iconium were joined by some from Antioch and came to Lystra to find them. Some of these persecuting Jews would have traveled more than one hundred miles just to persecute Paul!

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. (Acts 14:19 NASB)

The crowds, having had their favorite gods blatantly denied, were ripe to be persuaded to go from worship to murder. Would you be involved in stoning a man who had just healed a lame man? I don't think that I would want to mess with him.

Up to this point in his ministry, Paul had experienced opposition and persecution. However, this was the most violent persecution he had known. He must have been reminded by the words of the angel who told him that he would suffer for Christ. He had caused great suffering among the Christian believers prior to his conversion, and now he was experiencing the same treatment at the hands of the religious community of which he was a part.

Stoning was a Jewish punishment, so it was probably the Jews who led the way in hurling the stones at Paul, and soon all joined in.

The Mishnah, the Jewish codification of law, tells us that the drop from the stoning place was twice the height of a man. It was a precipice of at least ten feet with rocks below. One of the witnesses would push the criminal off from behind so that he fell face forward onto the rocks. Then, he would be turned over on his back. If he died from the fall, that was sufficient. If not, the second witness was to take a large stone and drop it on his heart. If this caused death, that would be the end, but if not, then the accused would be stoned by all the congregation of Israel.

Can you even imagine what it would be like to have a group of people pick up rocks and throw them at you until they thought you were dead? This would have to be a very painful experience!

Paul had no idea he was going to be healed. For all he knew, this was the end of the road. Do you suppose in his mind he remembered when he stood there and watched Stephen stoned to death and watched how Stephen died? I think he probably did. Later in Acts Paul says:

'And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.' (Acts 22:20 NASB)

Paul undergoes the very thing he had helped to bring upon Stephen. In the case of Stephen, God did not intervene; in Paul's case, He did.

This stoning was the equivalent of a mob lynching. And once they were convinced that they had killed him, they dragged his body out of the city and left him for dead, possibly in what constituted the site for town rubbish.

Did this stoning kill Paul? Some scholars believe that Paul died from this stoning and experienced resurrection. Adam Clark writes: "They did not leave stoning him till they had the fullest evidence that he was dead; and so, most probably, he was." F.B. Hole writes: "Whether Paul was really dead, or whether only battered nearly to the point of death, we have no means of knowing."

Was he dead? Dr. Luke says, "No," he was not dead. The text says, "supposing him to be dead." The Greek word translated "supposing" is nomizo. It is used 15 times in the New Testament, and in most of its uses, it has the meaning of: "supposing something that is not true." For example:

"And when those hired first came, they thought [nomizo] that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius. (Matthew 20:10 NASB)
but supposed [nomizo] Him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.(Luke 2:44 NASB)
"And he supposed [nomizo] that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand. (Acts 7:25 NASB)
But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought [nomizo] you could obtain the gift of God with money! (Acts 8:20 NASB)

So nomizo has the meaning of: "supposing something that is not true," so they thought Paul was dead, but he was not. The word "supposing" would be unnecessary if Paul had been dead. In fact, if it was a miracle of resurrection, then using the word "supposing" takes away the power of the miracle.

When, some years later, he recalled the hardships he had endured for the Gospel's sake, he says:

Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. (2 Corinthians 11:25 NASB)

"Once I was stoned"--refers to this occasion in Lystra. And when, writing to Christians in the cities of Galatia, Paul says:

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17 NASB)

You can bet that those marks certainly included the indelible scars left by the stones at Lystra.

Please notice here, the Jews were the main instigators of persecution against the Christians. This was true throughout most of the first century. Notice also the great lengths that the Jews went to to persecute the Christians. They followed Paul 100 miles on foot just to persecute him.

Notice what Jesus says to His Church about this Jewish persecution:

'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NASB)
'Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie-- behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you. (Revelation 3:9 NASB)

Who would say they were Jews, but weren't? Physical Israel. Jesus said that an unbelieving Jew was of the synagogue of Satan. Jesus is quoting here from Isaiah 60:

"And the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. . (Isaiah 60:14 NASB)

If we were an Old Covenant Jew, we would understand this prophecy of Isaiah as our Gentile enemies being subservient to us. But Jesus uses this verse and applies it to the Church, that is true Israel, and it is Old Covenant Israel that is persecuting the Church. Jesus said that the Old Covenant Jews were going to come and bow before the feet of the Church, the true Israel of God.

So while preaching to the cities of Galiata, Paul is stoned and left for dead. What would you do at this point? Would you strongly consider leaving missionary work? I know that I would. Please notice how Paul responds to this stoning:

But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 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." (Acts 14:20-22 NASB)

Paul never misses a beat, he gets up and goes right on preaching! He even goes back to Lystra and encourages the believers to continue in the faith. Picture it! Paul must have been badly bruised and bloodied.

"While the disciples stood around him"--have you ever witnessed a violent act? It can be very disturbing. Imagine watching the man who led you to Christ and taught you the Word of God put to death by a mob right in front of you.

There may be a hint here that it was to be seen as a kind of resurrection. Certainly it was symbolically so. Luke did not claim a resurrection for Paul, but some miracle must have been involved because he got up and went back into the city, and the next day he walked 60 miles to Derbe.

Paul and Barnabas had been expelled from Antioch of Pisidia, threatened in Iconium, actually stoned in Lystra, but yet, when God raises Paul up, they go right back into those same cities to strengthen the disciples. That kind of courage comes only from trust in the Living God.

Until God was done with Paul and Barnabas, there was no stopping them. They understood the truth of:

You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer. (Job 14:5 NLT)

So Paul got up and walked right back into the city that he had been stoned in. It is strange that neither the young converts at Lystra, nor Barnabas, were involved in this persecution! It seems to have had Paul alone for its object.

I think it is a remarkable thing how little the New Testament writers, as with Luke here, concentrate on the depth of their joint sufferings. They looked on them as a necessary part of their ministry and almost shrugged them off. It's as if Luke says: Paul got stoned, and the next day he continues to preach, like it's no big deal!

Paul doesn't get mad at God--he is serving Christ, and people stone him. Would you question God if something like this happened to you? Wouldn't you wonder why God didn't protect you in His service? Paul doesn't even complain. He just keeps on doing what God has called him to--preaching the Gospel. He leaves the next day for Derbe. It was from Derbe that Gaius, the companion of Paul, would come (20:4).

From Derbe, it is only about a hundred and sixty miles to Tarsus, Paul's home, and another way back to Antioch in Pisidia. So, what would you think these beaten, battered missionaries would do? Do you think they would go home? Not them!

And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, (Acts 14:21 NASB)

Instead of heading home, they went back, back the sixty miles to Lystra where Paul had been stoned and left for dead, back the further twenty four miles to Iconium from which they had fled in danger of imminent stoning, back the further eighty miles to Pisidian Antioch from which they had been expelled so forcefully; and all this in order that they might minister to the disciples. It was dangerous for Paul and Barnabas to return to those cities. This shows us their love for the Church of Jesus Christ.

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." (Acts 14:22 NASB)

The word "strengthening" comes from the Greek word episterizo, which is made up of epi, meaning "upon," and sterix, meaning "a prop" or "a support." Paul and Barnabas went back to prop up the disciples. Episterizo is used four times in the book of Acts for propping up new believers (Acts 14:21; 15:32, 41; 18:23). What was it they did to strengthen these disciples? They taught them the Word of God:

"And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32 NASB)

It is God's Word that builds us up, that strengthens us:

I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:14 NASB)

That's the key to strength, the Word of God.

"Encouraging them to continue in the faith"--Charles Dailey writes: "Not 'Once saved, always saved.' Falling away is a genuine possibility, and idolatry has its allurements and social pressures from friends and neighbors."

Is Paul worried that these Christians would fall away from Christ and be lost? No, how long do you suppose that everlasting life would last? So if you have everlasting life, how could you possibly lose it?

They are encouraging the disciples to continue in the faith. Notice what the writer of Hebrews says to the believers:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1 NASB)

It is necessary that we give heed to what we have heard "lest we drift away." The words "drift away" are translated from the Greek word pararrhueo. It is constantly used of things which slip away, as a ring from a finger, or take a wrong course, as a crumb of food passing into the windpipe. But it is most often used of something that has carelessly or thoughtlessly been allowed to slip away.

It can be used of a ship that has been carelessly allowed to drift past the harbor. It contemplates Christians as in peril of being carried downstream past a fixed landing place and so failing to gain its security. We need to be aware that major defections can be the result of a drift. Major defections from Christianity don't happen overnight. Usually they are preceded by neglecting the Christian disciplines: a lack of Bible study, prayer, church attendance.

If we're honest, we'll admit that our tendency is to drift along with earthly things, moving away from the things of God. It takes no life and no motion to float by. One need only do nothing, and you will float by. There is always a real danger of slipping away from the things of God.

The writer of Hebrews is warning believers that if they do not vigilantly pay closer attention to the Word of God, they will float by--they will drift away from God's word. We all know people that this has happened to. There is no urgency. No vigilance. No focused listening or considering or fixing the eyes on Jesus. And the result has not been a standing still, but a drifting away. That is the point here; there is no standing still. The life of this world is not a lake; it is a river, and it is flowing downward to destruction. If you do not listen earnestly to Jesus and consider him daily and fix your eyes on Him hourly, then you will not stand still, you will go backward. You will float by.

Drifting is a deadly thing in the Christian life. And the remedy to it, according to Hebrews 1, is: "Pay close attention to what you have heard." That is, consider what God is saying in His Son Jesus. Fix your eyes on what God is saying and doing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The only thing that keeps us from this is our sinful desire to go with the flow. This is a solemn invitation to be satisfied in Jesus so that we do not get lured downstream by deceitful desires.

So Paul and Barnabas encourage the disciples to continue in the faith: "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God"--notice that they didn't hide from the disciples that suffering was before them, but rather they told them that it was inevitable. Paul says of his own life:

For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. (2 Corinthians 7:5 NASB)

As we have said over and over, suffering is a normal part of the Christian life, it is beneficial in turning our eyes from ourselves to God. It causes us to be dependant upon Him, to trust Him, and not ourselves.

If you are faithful in living the Christian life and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world, you will be persecuted for it, count on it, expect it.

"We must enter the kingdom of God"--when do we enter the kingdom of God? When is the kingdom to come? Is it here now or is it yet future? When Jesus began to preach, He said that the kingdom of God was "at hand"--it was near! Later in His ministry, Jesus said that the kingdom had arrived:

"But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28 NASB)

Now, if the kingdom of God had come in the first century, then it should be clear that the nature of the kingdom was spiritual. Time defines nature. Jesus said that the kingdom "has come"--TIME; so the NATURE of His kingdom must be spiritual. I think that Jesus tried to stress this point by saying that the kingdom did not come with observation:

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; (Luke 17:20 NASB)

The spiritual nature of the kingdom is easy to understand if you see that the kingdom is the Church. I believe that the kingdom and the Church are synonymous.

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." (Acts 14:22 NASB)

Commenting on this verse, one commentator writes: "There is an eternal or inheriting phase to the kingdom of God. We are citizens now, but we inherit later just as those leaving Egypt were counted among Israel after crossing the Red Sea, but they did not inherit their land until they crossed the Jordan."

If you don't understand the transition period and what age we are living in, you will miss this just as this writer does. It's interesting that he sees the type. but misses the anti-type. Those leaving Egypt inherited when they crossed the Jordan at the end of the forty years, and Christians inherited when they entered the consummated kingdom in A.D. 70 after forty years of transition.

And 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. (Acts 14:23 NASB)

This is the first reference to elders outside the church at Jerusalem. The position of "elder" was probably, at this stage, mainly based on the idea of synagogue elders.

Three terms are used somewhat interchangeably to describe these leaders. "Elder" looks at the spiritual maturity of the man. Their maturity will be in relation to a particular local church. These elders that Paul and Barnabas appointed were fairly new in their

Christian experience, but they were the most spiritually mature men in those churches. Many of these men could have been Jewish synagogue elders and would have quickly qualified to be elders in the emerging churches.

Usually there is a correlation between physical age and spiritual maturity. Elders should normally be old enough to have the wisdom that comes from years of living.

"Overseer" looks at the work itself. Elders are to have oversight of the flock, to make sure that people are growing in godliness and that the church is doctrinally sound. The third term, "pastor," looks at the job from the analogy of a shepherd. Some of the elders should devote themselves to the ministry of the Word, and to that end Paul directs that they be financially supported (1Tim. 5:17-18).

That there was a plurality of elders in each congregation could hardly be disputed by an unbiased reader of the New Testament. Two facts, alone, would seem sufficient to settle this question: first, the fact that Titus was to ordain elders, not an elder, in every city (Titus 1: 5). Second, that the elders, and not an elder from the church in Ephesus, came to meet Paul at Miletus (Acts 20: 17).

"What kind of Church government is Biblical?" I believe in the kind of Church government where there is a plurality of elders who rule the church.

And they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. (Acts 14:24 NASB)

Passing through Pisidia, they traveled the hundred miles to Perga in Pamphylia, and this time they took the opportunity of "speaking the Word" in Perga; after which they went down to Attalia:

And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. (Acts 14:25-26 NASB)

They catch a ship and sail back to their home church, back to where they started several years earlier:

And 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. (Acts 14:27 NASB)

Upon arriving in Antioch, they had the first missionary conference ever held. They reported all the things that God had done with them: how Paul's apostleship was validated in Paphos; his sickness on the journey to Antioch; their boldness in the synagogue in Antioch; the persecution they suffered from both Jews and Gentiles in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra; their turning to the Gentiles in Antioch; the signs and wonders granted them in Iconium; the healing of the lame man in Lystra, and the response of the onlookers who thought they were gods; and finally, the establishing of churches and appointing of elders.

They did not report on all the things that they had done, and how they had the brilliant insight of taking the message to the Gentiles. Rather, they reported on "all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."

It is noteworthy that there is no thought of reporting to Jerusalem. While it was still accepted as an administrative and guidance center because of the presence of apostles, it was no longer seen as the center for evangelism because of the revealed attitude of Jerusalem as a whole to the Christian Church. They had forfeited their right to hear, and therefore to send.

The fact that God had granted salvation to Gentiles equally with Jews simply by faith in Christ would have been of special interest to Luke's early readers. This new phenomenon had taken place before on the Gaza Road, in Caesarea, and in Syrian Antioch. However, now large numbers of Gentile converts were entering the church through the "door of faith" without first becoming Jewish proselytes. This situation constituted the background of the Jerusalem Council that Luke recorded in the next


And they spent a long time with the disciples. (Acts 14:28 NASB)

They settled down in Syrian Antioch for a time so that they could feed and strengthen their own mother church from which they had originally gone out. It was probably during the time Paul was in Syrian Antioch, after returning from the first missionary journey and before attending the conference in Jerusalem (ch. 15), that he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. This would have been in the late A.D. 40's, probably A.D. 49. Galatians appears to have been the first of Paul's inspired Epistles.

This brings to a formal close what we generally call Paul's First Missionary Journey. The chronological references in Acts and the Pauline Epistles make it difficult to tell just how long it took Paul and Barnabas to complete the first missionary journey. Commentators estimate it took them between the better part of one year and almost two years. They travelled a minimum of 500 miles by sea and 700 by land.

How does this experience of Paul and Barnabas relate to our lives today? The Gospel message has not changed, and the numbers of people who need to hear the Gospel are still beyond our ability to reach. Consequently, we have just as much a responsibility to share the message as Paul and Barnabas had. When we do so, we can expect rejection. However, it is not us who are rejected, but the Gospel message. Therefore, the conflict is not between ourselves and the hearers of the Word. This responsibility to share Christ is given to all Christians, not just a few selected leaders or full-time missionaries. All Christians are to be salt and light to a dark and decaying world.

So, how long has it been since you went face to face with somebody and told them about the life-changing message of Jesus? I know that we are not afraid of being stoned, so what is it that hinders us from sharing the glorious Gospel of the blessed God?

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