What does Acts chapter 14 mean?Acts 14 records the last half of Paul's first missionary journey. He and Barnabas left their home base in Syrian Antioch with Barnabas' cousin John Mark and sailed to the island of Cyprus, where Barnabas was from. After rescuing the proconsul from a Jewish false prophet, they sailed north to the southern coast of modern-day Asia Minor. John Mark left them there and returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas traveled north to Pisidian Antioch and shared how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah. Surprisingly, a great number of Gentiles believed them while the Jewish leadership and the Gentile city leaders drove them out of town (Acts 13).
Paul and Barnabas head about 90 miles southeast to the trade city of Iconium. They have a similar experience to that in Pisidian Antioch—many Jews and Greeks believe their news about Jesus, but those who don't convince many Paul and Barnabas are false teachers despite the miracles the apostles perform. Paul and Barnabas stay and continue to teach until their antagonists threaten to stone the two, and they flee south to Lystra (Acts 14:1–7).
The small town of Lystra is no less troublesome, but for a different reason. After Paul heals a man born lame, the pagan-influenced populace declare that Barnabas is Zeus and Paul, who has done most of the speaking, is Hermes. This seems to be influenced by a local story where those two deities drowned most of the town due to inhospitality. The two evangelists barely keep the priest of Zeus from leading a sacrifice to them in worship. Just when things are calming down, Jewish leaders from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium arrive. They incite the crowd in Lystra to stone Paul, drag him outside the city, and leave him for dead. Jesus isn't finished with Paul, so the bedraggled apostle survives and the next day he and Barnabas travel east to Derbe (Acts 14:8–20).
In Derbe, Paul and Barnabas' farthest point, they make more disciples. Then, instead of crossing the mountains to Tarsus and then making the relatively short trip back to Syrian Antioch, the two return the way they'd come, encouraging the new churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. They travel south to Perga where they share Jesus' offer of salvation, then go to the port town of Attalia on the southern coast. From there, they sail home to Syrian Antioch and tell the church how God worked in the hearts of Jews and Gentiles and established new churches (Acts 14:21–28).
The missionary journey of Acts 13—14 is important because people came to a saving relationship with Christ and positioned the church to reach into Europe. But it also sets the stage for the controversy of Acts 15. The church started with Jesus' Jewish followers in Jerusalem, and until now the church has mostly been comprised of Jews. Paul and Barnabas get a glimpse of how Jesus' story will spread to Gentiles. The Jews still see Christianity as a fulfillment of their own religion; what does it mean when Gentiles, who are not under the Mosaic law, follow the Jewish Messiah? Paul and Barnabas will travel back to Jerusalem and give their testimony so Peter, James, and the other church leaders can figure out just what the Holy Spirit has in store.