4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.” (Acts 14:4-7)
There are but two responses to the Gospel. There is both repentance and faith in Jesus Christ by grace alone through God given faith alone, or there is rejection. Rejection of the Gospel is often followed by an increasing hostility to not only the message but also the messengers.
This is what occurred in Iconium. Luke records that the citizens of the city were divided. Some agreed with the unbelieving Jews while others sided with the apostles. This is the first time in the Book of Acts that the term “apostles” is used. The word apostle means “a sent one.” It may either refer to the Twelve Apostles and Paul, or it is used to refer to those sent to share the Gospel as God’s messengers (2 Corinthians 8:23).
Opponents to the Gospel, both Jews, Gentiles and the ruler of Iconium, sought to mistreat Paul and Barnabas and eventually stone them to death. Stoning was the ancient Jewish method of execution for blasphemy (Acts 7:58-59; Leviticus 24:13-16). The two apostles heard of this plot to kill them and consequently fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe. Once they arrived, they continued to preach the Gospel.
Dr. John McArthur writes that, “Lycaonia was a district in the Roman province of Galatia. Lystra was about 18 miles from Iconium, and was the home of Lois, Eunice, and Timothy (16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5). Luke mentions no synagogue in connection with Lystra, and since Paul began his ministry there by preaching to a crowd, it likely had a small Jewish population. Derbe was about 40 miles southeast of Lystra.”
Dr. R. C. Sproul comments, “What a roller-coaster ride was this missionary journey, with great in-gatherings of souls and incredibly vicious opposition. But Jesus told His followers it would be this way. We in the West mainly see indifference to the Gospel, but believers around the world face furious opposition. Pray for them and the advance of the Gospel.”
Soli deo Gloria!