There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news. (Acts 14:5-7)
When they arrived in Lystra, they continued to preach the good news, the very thing which got them in such trouble previously! Why did they do that? Because they chose to remain faithful to God.
Paul must have been open air preaching in public, as street preachers do. A lame-from-birth man, who heard Paul, had faith to be physically healed! Paul could tell he had faith to be healed and told him to do something which is impossible for lame people to do, that is, to stand up on his feet. He jumped up and walked! That miracle of God was apparent before everyone, who knew that man was crippled.
In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. (Acts 14:8-10)
The observing crowd didn't dispute the miracle of God, but thought the source was from their own pagan gods! In Lystra, at that time, idolatrous acts to the mythical god of Zeus was common. The spiritually dark people there actually thought Zeus manifested himself as Barnabas, and Hermes manifested himself as Paul! (Paul was the chief speaker, as reflected by thinking he was Hermes, the messenger of the gods.) Zeus was the king of the gods among the idolatrous Greeks, possibly reflecting the striking physical appearance of Barnabas.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. (Acts 14:11,12)
Because the people thought the gods were present, the appropriate thing for them to do would be to offer sacrifices to them. Hence, they were going to offer animal sacrifices.
The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. (Acts 14:13)
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." (Acts 14:14-17) Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14:18)
The religious lost who hated Paul's teaching arrived from Antioch and Iconium. They found Paul! Paul's enemies trailed him to Lystra as bounty hunters trail the ones they hunt for the bounty! The unbelieving Jews from Antioch and Iconium were so persuasive and convincing, as wicked people can sometimes be, that they actually caused a complete flip-flop in the way the people of Lystra viewed Paul! Previously, they were ready to sacrifice to them as gods, but now were trying to kill Paul with stones by hitting him in the head! SHOCKING! That event was one of the, at least 9 times, that Paul shed his blood serving God.
Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. (Acts 14:19)
Paul was dragged outside the city, as dead people are. The disciples (plural) gathered around Paul (and prayed). What disciples? We know Barnabas was there and Luke, who wrote down Acts, but could that number include new converts and baby Christians from Lystra too, who just got saved? Possibly, but we don't know. What is important is, Paul got up and went right back into Lystra where he was stoned! WOW! The fear of man and death never slowed him down! Afterwards, they left there to go to Derbe.
But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. (Acts 14:20) They preached the good news in that city [Derbe] and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, (Acts 14:21)
The motive of why the apostles returned to such DANGEROUS areas is clearly revealed in verses 22 and 23. It was for the purpose of strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. Paul endangered his own health and physical life to spiritually strengthen and encourage the disciples. It was that important! Their exact message as to how they strengthened them with TRUTH is revealed. That truth was "We [followers of Jesus] must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," and the context reveals hardships to be persecutions! Persecutions for believing and obeying God are the NORM for Christians, as strange as that might sound. Again, persecution and suffering for righteous living, while on the road to life towards PARADISE, is the norm!
strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith."We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:22,23)
Christians must remain true to the faith, which doesn't always happen! Defection from the Christian faith occurs sometimes. Such a departure brings forth spiritual death for the righteous and loss of salvation, but it does occur. Christians must be careful and on guard. The apostles wanted the new converts to be aware of such a vital salvation truth, which is antithetical to the counterfeit security and grace message of our day, commonly called once saved always saved or eternal security. The apostles believed in a definite conditional salvation and were clear about it, as many scriptures reveal (Gal. 6:8,9; Rom. 11:19-23; Eph. 5:5-7; etc.).
After Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (which were not voted in as in our dark day) to lead the local congregations, they moved on to other areas! The moral and spiritual qualifications for such elders and spiritual leaders are very high, unlike in our day. See 1 Tim. 3, Titus1 and 1 Peter 5 for details. Such qualifications exclude the vast number of people in these offices today, as well as the popular TV evangelists and radio teachers!
What a godly team Paul and Barnabas was. Godly COURAGE and boldness reeked from them both. They had the vital truths of the gospel and were heartily committed to spreading that message, with its conditional security (1 Cor. 15:2). Paul's enemies didn't stop him from being faithful to God, which should always be the case for disciples, even in our day.