Paul and Barnabas respond to hostile nonbelievers with boldness and perseverance
In the Old Testament, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, are a set apart nation. They are to keep separate from the other nations around them and if they will, God promises to bless them. They also look forward to a promised king who will change everything.
Jesus—a Jew, by the way—comes as foretold. Most of those who accept him, assume he is there only for the Jewish people, that he is their savior and only theirs, that they must continue to keep the Gentiles at a safe distance and isolate themselves from unholy contamination.
A careful reading of the Old Testament, as well as Jesus’s words, however, gives us an expanded view: that Jesus comes for everyone, both Jew and Gentile.
With this in mind, let’s look at Paul and Barnabas when they arrive at Iconium. As is their practice, they head to the synagogue, the place where Jews hang out. Clearly their initial focus is the Jewish people. Their message connects with many of the Jews, as well as many Greeks (Gentiles). The Bible says, “that a great number believe.” So far, so good.
But some Jews don’t believe. Perhaps they don’t like change. (Sound familiar?) Maybe they see Paul and Barnabas (who are also Jews) as a challenge to their longstanding traditions. Or it could be they don’t appreciate that Paul and Barnabas are letting the Greeks in on the good news of Jesus.
Whatever the reason, they don’t disagree quietly. They stir up trouble. How this must vex Paul and Barnabas. They come there to tell their fellow Jews some good news, but some of them object and respond by forming an opposition movement.
How do Paul and Barnabas react? They get out of town as soon as possible, right? No! In the face of opposition, perhaps because of opposition, they stick around, for a good long while, speaking boldly the whole time.
As we follow Jesus, we should expect conflict and not be surprised if it comes from within our own tribe instead of from the outside. And when that resistance shows up we can opt to follow Paul and Barnabas’s example by doubling down and increasing our boldness.