Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.Acts 14:19-22
These are the remaining questions. I am slowly making my way through the stack you left me. You sure come up with some sharp questions.
- Why didn’t Luke tell us anything about what Barnabas had done, the focus seems to be more on Paul?
- How come Paul was stoned but Barnabas was spared?
- Paul should have died, can he really fake his death against angry mob who dragged him out of town ?
- If he is dead and he was resurrected, why does Luke’s story seems to downplay the miracle by not telling it more plainly?
- How could Paul and Barnabas returned to towns that had rejected them? Did the people just forget about them?
- I would like to know about the way Paul strengthened them. Can I conclude that the believers live in oppression and must have met secretly to go to church?
- How could Paul and Barnabas appoint elders in every church when they didn’t really know the people and didn’t belong to the church or have authority there?
- I find it amazing Ian that we are reading all about this and you are experiencing it as you write in Jakarta. How can that be?
- I love how God uses you wherever you are. I want Him to use me like that. Tell me how it happens.
- Looks like the enemies of Christianity followed Paul and Barnabas and stirred up the crowd. Sounds like where you are Ian?
Here we have another understated miracle. But before we get to the miracle itself, note the lengths the Jews went to prior to the stoning. Even the mere fact that Paul was stoned pointed to Jewish instigation. I have commented before that it appears there was no synagogue in Lystra, suggesting that the Jewish population was not strong. Oh there may well have been a few Jewish shopkeepers or traders there but no synagogue. This opposition walks over 200 kms to pursue Paul and Barnabas to another town on the edge of the region. They were clearly incensed by what Paul (and Barnabas) were doing to the extent they were willing to walk so far to deal with them. This ws not a case of a spontaneous riot started by some Jewish shopkeepers in Lystra. These guys were provocateurs who were hell bent on killing Paul to the extent that they followed him to this backwater in order to do the job. They won the crowd over to participate it seems in their evil intent.
Just stop and consider for a moment what had to happen here. We have just moved from an adoring crowd to a murderous crowd. How did they manage that? They must been pretty skilled provocateurs. Well yes and no. Crowds are fickle and given the right mix of circumstances they can change quickly. While it is remarkable how quickly this change happened it may not necessarily have happened on the same day. We may be dealing with a few days here. It is clear that Paul and Barnabas were in town for a while. Whatever the case these Jews have managed to get the crowd on their side and participate in the stoning. They moved from thinking Paul and Barnabas were godlike one day to wanting to kill them the next. Yes welcome to the world of public opinion. If you are putting your trust in an adoring public be careful. Things could easily change.
It’s a good question as to why only Paul was stoned and not Barnabas too. Especially as Luke tells us a number of times Paul and Barnabas “spoke to the crowd”, “preached the good news”. Yes Barnabas took a hand in it too but Paul was clearly the prime speaker of the two, hence they labelled him Hermes. I suspected it was either a case of Barnabas relaying the same message in a crowded place as I have said before, or it was both men preaching much the same message which Luke laid out for us in Antioch in Pisidia and it didn’t not change too much from place to place. Whatever the case Paul clearly was the main speaker and as such bore the brunt of the anger of the Jewish of opposition who were tracking them. These Jews take up stones to stone him inside the city, the very place where the crowds were adoring him a day or so before. They stoned him inside the city and then dragged him outside the city gates to be left for dead. That is interesting. Stoning was a very Jewish punishment but it most often took place outside the city, not inside. At least any official stoning. This appears to have happened spontaneously inside the city. Were these Jews in a rush to get the job done and get away? If this had been a pagan led stoning they would likely have left the body on the street inside the city. But because this was Jewish instigated, Paul’s body was dragged outside the city to be left for dead. This was the ultimate insult to be given someone, when they executed evil doers their bodies were usually dragged by the heels outside the city gates to be left lying there as food for the scavenging dogs. These Jews wanted to leave Paul’s body with the ultimate insult. Are you connecting up some of these elements and applying them elsewhere? – to Jesus and his crucifixion outside the city gates. There are parallels. Note too that the temple where the crowd were wanting to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas was also at the city gate. How quickly things can change!
Now we turn to the matter of whether Paul actually died and was resurrected or was he almost dead and stood up and walked away. Well in many ways it matters not – in either case it was a miracle. When you are stoned by an angry mob there is not much life left in the body. Dead or just close to death – same difference really from a practical point of view. I have just finished writing up a story of a family who suffered persecution and one of whom was beaten to within in an inch of his life. The perpetrators supposed him to be dead. The difference between actually being dead and being on the point of death after a beating is pretty thin. Dead or almost dead is only a matter of a few breaths. To all intents and purposes these Jews supposed Paul to be dead. To the point where they were satisfied their work was done. He was not going to survive that. I am sure those behind the stoning were adept enough at knowing when to stop. Having reach that point the ring leaders grab him by the heals and drag him outside to be left to the dogs. Paul in their minds is effectively dead. When you are in that kind of state, like the man whose story I had to write up, you can’t just get back on your feet again. It took the man whose family we are helping to get UNHCR assistance some time to recover from his wounds. In Paul’s case there is much debate among the commentators as to whether this was a miracle or not. In any normal circumstance the believers would gather around the body to mourn him and then to bury him. But Luke leaves us with the curiously short account – “as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town.” Say that again Luke. Ok Ian – “as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town.” You are kidding me. How can that be? I have lots of questions to ask about that. I think you will have to conclude like me, that whatever happened on that day after Paul was stoned was a miracle. Whether he was dead or just almost dead – either way he was resurrected. Resurrected from the dead or resurrected from being on the point of death. You don’t just get up and walk away from a Jewish stoning. Just like you don’t normally get up from your coffin and walk away. I can assure you, Paul was not faking anything. It had nothing to with what Paul was doing. Paul was the patient (in the grammatical sense) – the one to whom violence was done. I am sure he wasn’t lying there on the road thinking, “I will just play possum at this point and hope they walk away.” If he wasn’t dead he was almost dead.
Now let’s turn our attention to what the believers were doing. The believers did no more than gather around. Luke does not tell us:
- The believers gathered around and prayed.
- The believers gathered around and anointed him with oil.
- The believers gathered around and pleaded with God to raise him from the dead.
- The believers gathered around and held a funeral service.
No, in this case the believers just gathered . . . That is the end of the story. Paul’s response was to get up. Do I hear you say, “Impossible”? That ought to be our normal reaction, right? Under normal circumstance you don’t just get up from a beating like that and walk away. You ought to need some kind of first aid before you go off to life as normal again. Note the other thing – he got up and went back into the town. Pardon me, what did he do? He want back into the town. You are kidding me again. He went BACK INTO TOWN. Back for more of the same. Yep and do you know what’s more, the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. Beaten to within a inch of his life and the next day he starts the walk to Derbe. Derbe is 100 kms north-west of Lystra. It takes about 3 days to walk there. The day after Paul has been beaten and left for dead he walks 100 kms over three days? Wow. It took the refugee in the story I mentioned above weeks to recover from the severity of his beating.
We will handle the remaining questions in the following Gem.
If you’re absent during my struggle, don’t expect to be present during my success.Will Smith
Success most often comes after counting the number of times you had to pick yourself up and get back in the race.Ian Vail
Edison failed 10,000 times before he made the electric light. Do not be discouraged if you fail a few times.Anon
You don’t need a certain number of friends. You just need a number of friends you can be certain of!Rick Godwin