MISTAKEN IDENTITY AT LYSTRA (ACTS 14:8-18). The first city of Lycaonia to which Paul and Barnabas came was Lystra, about 18 miles south-by-south-west from Iconium. Like Pisidan Antioch, Lystra was made a Roman colony by Augustus. Few if any Jews were there in Paul’s time, as it was unimportant commercially. The uneducated and superstitious nature of the Lycaonians, not Greeks or Romans, is illustrated by their native cult, here appearing under a thin guise.
When Paul healed a crippled man, and the crowd was electrified. Barnabas was viewed as Zeus and Paul as Hermes.
In Lystra’s legendary past, as every child learned at its mother’s knee that the supreme God Zeus and his messenger and herald, Hermes, had disguised themselves as poor travelers and sought shelter among Lycaonians rich and poor. The gods were turned away until they knocked at the door of an old peasant couple, Philemon and Baucis, who sheltered and fed them. The gods disclosed themselves, turned the inhospitable into frogs and the cottage of Baucis into a gold and marble temple which had stood outside Lystra since long before the Romans. Lycaonians had always looked to the day when the two gods should return, this time to be treated with honor.
Although not parallel, this mistaken identification is reminiscent of Moses and Aaron in Pharaoh’s court where Yahweh made Moses like God to Pharaoh and Aaron his prophet (Exodus 7:1).
STONED AT LYSTRA (ACTS 14:19-20). Horrified to learn they were thought to be pagan gods, the apostles tore their clothes and protested, trying to convince the crowd they were only bearers of the Good News of the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Notice that Paul’s approach was completely different with this crowd, who had no Jewish background to which he could appeal. Paul, a great teacher, started with from the here and now to get to the there and then. He began with nature to get to God. His approach was effective since disciples were made.
Even so, the apostles had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. Crowds are fickle and easily persuaded. This crowd’s attitude changed quickly as Jews from Antioch and Iconium won them over. They turned into a mob that stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead.
Among the Christian converts who witnessed the beating were an elderly Jewess named Lois, her daughter Eunice, who had married a Greek, and Eunice’s son, Timothy.