In these verses we have,
I. The preaching of the gospel in Iconium, whither the apostles were forced to retire from Antioch. As the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the church, so the banishment of the confessors has helped to scatter that seed. Observe, 1. How they made the first offer of the gospel to the Jews in their synagogues; thither they went, not only as to a place of meeting, but as to a place of meeting with them, to whom, wherever they came, they were to apply themselves in the first place. Though the Jews at Antioch had used them barbarously, yet they did not therefore decline preaching the gospel to the Jews at Iconium, who perhaps might be better disposed. Let not those of any denomination be condemned in the gross, nor some suffer for others’ faults; but let us do good to those who have done evil to us. Though the blood-thirsty hate the upright, yet the just seek their soul (Prov. 29:10), seek the salvation of it. 2. How the apostles concurred herein. Notice is taken of this, that they went both together into the synagogue, to testify their unanimity and mutual affection, that people might say, See how they love one another, and might think the better of Christianity, and that they might strengthen one another’s hands and confirm one another’s testimony, and out of the mouth of two witnesses every word might be established. They did not go one one day and another another, nor one go at the beginning and the other some time after; but they went in both together.
II. The success of their preaching there: They so spoke that a great multitude, some hundreds perhaps, if not thousands, both of the Jews and also of the Greeks, that is the Gentiles, believed. Observe here, 1. That the gospel was now preached to Jews and Gentiles together, and those of each denomination that believed came together into the church. In the close of the foregoing chapter it was preached first to the Jews, and some of them believed, and then to the Gentiles, and some of them believed; but here they are put together, being put upon the same level. The Jews have not so lost their preference as to be thrown behind, only the Gentiles are brought to stand upon even terms with them; both are reconciled to God in one body (Eph. 2:16), and both together admitted into the church without distinction. 2. There seems to have been something remarkable in the manner of the apostles’ preaching here, which contributed to their success: They so spoke that a great multitude believed—so plainly, so convincingly, with such an evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, and with such power; they so spoke, so warmly, so affectionately, and with such a manifest concern for the souls of men, that one might perceive they were not only convinced, but filled, with the things they spoke of, and that what they spoke came from the heart and therefore was likely to reach to the heart; they so spoke, so earnestly and so seriously, so boldly and courageously, that those who heard them could not but say that God was with them of a truth. Yet the success was not to be attributed to the manner of their preaching, but to the Spirit of God, who made use of that means.
III. The opposition that their preaching met with there, and the trouble that was created them; lest they should be puffed up with the multitude of their converts, there was given them this thorn in the flesh. 1. Unbelieving Jews were the first spring of their trouble here, as elsewhere (Acts 14:2): they stirred up the Gentiles. The influence which the gospel had upon many of the Gentiles, and their embracing it, as it provoked some of the Jews to a holy jealousy and stirred them up to receive the gospel too (Rom. 11:14), so it provoked others of them to a wicked jealousy, and exasperated them against the gospel. Thus as good instructions, so good examples, which to some are a savour of life unto life, to others are a savour of death unto death. See 2 Cor. 2:15, 16. 2. Disaffected Gentiles, irritated by the unbelieving Jews, were likely to be the instruments of their trouble. The Jews, by false suggestions, which they were continually buzzing in the ears of the Gentiles, made their minds evil affected against the brethren, whom of themselves they were inclined to think favourably of. They not only took occasion in all companies, as it came in their way, but made it their business to go purposely to such as they had any acquaintance with, and said all that their wit or malice could invent to beget in them not only a mean but an ill opinion of Christianity, telling them how destructive it would certainly be to their pagan theology and worship; and, for their parts, they would rather be Gentiles than Christians. Thus they soured and embittered their spirits against both the converters and the converted. The old serpent did, by their poisonous tongues, infuse his venom against the seed of the woman into the minds of these Gentiles, and this was a root of bitterness in them, bearing gall and wormwood. It is no wonder if those who are ill affected towards good people wish ill to them, speak ill of them, and contrive ill against them; it is all owing to ill will. Ekakosan, they molested and vexed the minds of the Gentiles (so some of the critics take it); they were continually teasing them with their impertinent solicitations. The tools of persecutors have a dog’s life, set on continually.
IV. Their continuance in their work there, notwithstanding this opposition, and God’s owning them in it, Acts 14:3. We have here, 1. The apostles working for Christ, faithfully and diligently, according to the trust committed to them. Because the minds of the Gentiles were evil affected against them, one would think that therefore they should have withdrawn, and hastened out of the way, or, if they had preached, should have preached cautiously, for fear of giving further provocation to those who were already enough enraged. No; on the contrary, therefore they abode there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord. The more they perceived the spite and rancour of the town against the new converts, the more they were animated to go on in their work, and the more needful they saw it to continue among them, to confirm them in the faith, and to comfort them. They spoke boldly, and were not afraid of giving offence to the unbelieving Jews. What God said to the prophet, with reference to the unbelieving Jews in his day, was now made good to the apostles: I have made thy face strong against their faces, Ezek. 3:7-9. But observe what it was that animated them: They spoke boldly in the Lord, in his strength, and trusting in him to bear them out; not depending upon any thing in themselves. They were strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 2. Christ working with the apostles, according to his promise, Lo, I am with you always. When they went on in his name and strength, he failed not to give testimony to the word of his grace. Note, (1.) The gospel is a word of grace, the assurance of God’s good will to us and the means of his good work in us. It is the word of Christ’s grace, for it is in him alone that we find favour with God. (2.) Christ himself has attested this word of grace, who is the Amen, the faithful witness; he has assured us that it is the word of God, and that we may venture our souls upon it. As it was said in general concerning the first preachers of the gospel that they had the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by signs following (Mark 16:20), so it is said particularly concerning the apostles here that the Lord confirmed their testimony, in granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands—in the miracles they wrought in the kingdom of nature—as well as the wonders done by their word, in the greater miracles wrought on men’s minds by the power of divine grace. The Lord was with them, while they were with him, and abundance of good was done.
V. The division which this occasioned in the city (Acts 14:4): The multitude of the city was divided into two parties, and both active and vigorous. Among the rulers and persons of rank, and among the common people, there were some that held with the unbelieving Jews, and others that held with the apostles. Barnabas is here reckoned an apostle, though not one of the twelve, nor called in the extra-ordinary manner that Paul was, because set apart by special designation of the Holy Ghost to the service of the Gentiles. It seems, this business of the preaching of the gospel was so universally taken notice of with concern that every person, even of the multitude of the city, was either for it or against it; none stood neuter. “Either for us or for our adversaries, for God or Baal, for Christ or Beelzebub.” 1. We may here see the meaning of Christ’s prediction that he came not to send peace upon earth, but rather division, Luke 12:51-53. If all would have given in unanimously into his measures, there would have been universal concord; and, could men have agreed in this, there would have been no dangerous discord nor disagreement in other things; but, disagreeing here, the breach was wide as the sea. Yet the apostles must not be blamed for coming to Iconium, although before they came the city was united, and now it was divided; for it is better that part of the city go to heaven than all to hell. 2. We may here take the measures of our expectations; let us not think it strange if the preaching of the gospel occasion division, nor be offended at it; it is better to be reproached and persecuted as dividers for swimming against the stream than yield ourselves to be carried down the stream that leads to destruction. Let us hold with the apostles, and not fear those that hold with the Jews.
VI. The attempt made upon the apostles by their enemies. Their evil affection against them broke out at length into violent outrages, Acts 14:5. Observe, 1. Who the plotters were: Both the Gentiles and the Jews, with their rulers. The Gentiles and Jews were at enmity with one another, and yet united against Christians, like Herod and Pilate, Sadducees and Pharisees, against Christ; and like Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, of old, against Israel. If the church’s enemies can thus unite for its destruction, shall not its friends, laying aside all personal feuds, unite for its preservation? 2. What the plot was. Having now got the rulers on their side, they doubted not but to carry their point, and their design was to use the apostles despitefully, to expose them to disgrace, and then to stone them, to put them to death; and thus they hoped to sink their cause. They aimed to take away both their reputation and their life, and this was all they had to lose which men could take from them, for they had neither lands nor goods.
VII. The deliverance of the apostles out of the hands of those wicked and unreasonable men, Acts 14:6, 7. They got away, upon notice given them of the design against them, or the beginning of the attempt upon them, of which they were soon aware, and they made an honourable retreat (for it was not an inglorious flight) to Lystra and Derbe; and there, 1. They found safety. Their persecutors in Iconium were for the present satisfied that they were thrust out of their borders, and pursued them no further. God has shelters for his people in a storm; nay, he is, and will be, himself their hiding place. 2. They found work, and this was what they went for. When the door of opportunity was shut against them at Iconium, it was opened at Lystra and Derbe. To these cities they went, and there, and in the region that lieth round about, they preached the gospel. In times of persecution ministers may see cause to quit the spot, when yet they do not quit the work.