Paul’s first missionary journey changed the course of history in that it turned the tide toward non-Jewish conversions to Christianity. After they were expelled from Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas traveled east to Iconium where the multitude of the city became divided between loyalty to the traditional teaching of the Jews and Paul’s gospel message (Acts 14:4). The problem Paul and Barnabas faced in Iconium was that things turned violent. A plot to stone them to death caused the two missionaries to flee to Lystra and Derbe, “and unto the region that lieth round about” (Acts 14:6). While they were in Lystra, Paul healed a man that had been crippled from birth (Acts 14:8-10). This miracle caused the people of Lystra to associate Paul and Barnabas with the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. It says in Acts 14:11, “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lift up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.”
The people of Lystra seemed to be ignorant of or perhaps, chose to ignore the existence of the god that created the universe. In his argument against worshipping false deities, Paul encouraged the people of Lystra to turn from their false religion to the living God, “which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things therein: who in times past suffered the nations to walk in their own ways.” (Acts 14:15-16). Even though he was able to convince the people of Lystra that he was an ordinary man like them, Paul’s accomplishment backfired when Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and persuaded the people of Lystra to stone him. Luke’s description of this incident (Acts 14:19-20) suggests that Paul’s death was never verified, but Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 of a man that was caught up to the third heaven and heard words that could not be repeated is thought to be a personal testimony of what happened to him after he was stoned to death in Lystra.
In spite of the dangerous situations they faced in the cities they had already preached in, Paul and Barnabas returned to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:20-21) in order to further establish and strengthen the churches started there. Luke tells us Paul and Barnabas were “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Greek word translated tribulation, thlipsis means “‘a pressing, pressure’, anything which burdens the spirit” (G2347). Thlipsis is used in Revelation 7:14 to refer to the great tribulation that is expected to take place just before the millennial reign of Christ. Paul’s statement “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” seems to suggest that satanic attacks or spiritual warfare are a normal part of Christian life and must be endured by every believer. Paul and Barnabas’ example of courageous perseverance made their first missionary journey a tough act to follow.