What catches my eye in Acts 14 is the contradictoriness of the people. Wherever Paul and Barnabas went there was division among the people. Some were for the apostles and some against them. But, this is only natural; that is, one should expect such things when the Gospel is preached.
Paul and Barnabas had come to Lystra in Asia, after having been driven out of Antioch of Pisidia and Iconium by the Jews pursuing them. The Jews had convinced the gentile authorities that Paul and Barnabas were dangerous people, so each city had tried to kill them. When they had come to Lystra, there was no synagogue in which to preach the Gospel, so Paul simply began speaking in a public place about the Lord in terms of what he had created. A man, crippled from birth, had been listening to Paul when Paul commanded the man to get up on his feet. The man did so, and all the people rejoiced saying “the gods are come to us in human form!”
When the local priests found out, they and the people decided to sacrifice to them and were barely convinced by Paul and Barnabas that they were merely men like everyone else. At this point it gets really interesting. The same Jews who had been pursuing them caught up to Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and convinced the gentile authorities that they intended them harm, so they stoned Paul. What a contradictory thing to do. One moment all the people want to worship them like gods, and the next they wish to kill them and probably did kill Paul, but the Lord raised him.
How could the people be so contradictory? Well, first of all, they were not converted to the Lord by the words of Paul. Secondly, although they assumed the miracle performed through Paul was much more than what a sorcerer could do, they believed, in the context of their own religion, that Paul was a god come to them in human form. So, these were religious people, but Paul’s words about the love of God did not affect their hearts at all. They were still pagans zealous for their gods. When the Jews arrived and spoke with them, the context seems to show the Jews must have shown the gentiles, if they accepted Paul’s message, they would have to destroy their idols and in doing so, any part of their local economy that depended upon their former religious activity would be toast. When the gentiles who were zealous for their own religion heard such things, they grew angry and vented that anger upon Paul.
This is what I believe was behind the contradictory behavior of the gentiles at Lystra. This world’s system depends upon the fleshy desires of the people in the world, so the two mutually support the other. The world’s system is driven to satisfy the yearning of the flesh, and the cost of that satisfaction is what supports this world’s system. If one would remove either, the other would not be able to survive. God will destroy this world’s system by touching the hearts of its supporters, one believer at a time, because the Lord testifies to the message of his grace. The believer is awakened from his slumber. His spirit is reborn, and for the first time in his life he is sensitive to the things of God, and forevermore, this world’s system has lost its value in his eyes. Praise God!