What happened on Paul's first missionary journey?Here is a map of Paul's first missionary journey to help you follow along in the account of the events.
Paul's first missionary journey is recorded in Acts 13 and 14. As persecution in Jerusalem increased, Christian believers fled and dispersed throughout the region. Thus Antioch in Syria became a quickly growing church. In approximately AD 47, while the church in Antioch was fasting and worshipping, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). So after praying and laying their hands on them, the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.
Paul and Barnabas first sailed to the island of Cyprus, which was Barnabas' home territory. They arrived at Salamis and taught in the synagogues along with John Mark, Barnabas' cousin. The three continued preaching across the whole island and finally arrived at Paphos on the opposite side. In Paphos, the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, summoned Paul and Barnabas because he "sought to hear the word of God" (Acts 13:7). However, a Jewish false prophet and magician, Elymas, tried to prevent the proconsul from coming to faith. Paul, "filled with the Holy Spirit," struck Elymas blind thus performing his first miracle (Acts 13:9–11). Upon witnessing this miracle, the proconsul believed. Paul and Barnabas then set sail from Paphos to go into modern-day Turkey while John Mark set sail to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
In Turkey, Paul and Barnabas made their way to Antioch (the one in Turkey rather than the Antioch in Syria from whence they had come) where they taught in the synagogue and many believed. However, the following week when nearly the entire city gathered to hear their preaching, some Jews began contradicting them and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas. After this rejection of the gospel from the Jews, Paul said, "we are turning to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). Acts 13:48 records that "when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."
Eventually being driven out of Antioch by the Jews, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium and taught in the synagogue there. Many believed, and Paul and Barnabas performed signs and wonders during their stay in Iconium. Over time, however, the city became divided between those who followed the Jews and those who sided with the apostles. When Paul and Barnabas learned that their opposition was planning to stone them, they fled to Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding area (Acts 14:5–6).
In Lystra, Paul performed another miracle—healing a man who had been crippled since birth. Unfortunately, the miracle caused the people to believe that Barnabas was the god Zeus and that Paul was Hermes, the messenger and chief spokesman of the gods. Paul and Barnabas had to work hard to convince the people that they were mere men and prevent them from making sacrifices to them. Then Jews from Antioch in Turkey and from Iconium came and persuaded the crowds to stone Paul. After the stoning, Paul was dragged out of the city and left for dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and walked right back into Lystra. The next day, he and Barnabas went to Derbe and shared the gospel; many more disciples were made.
Upon completing their time teaching in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps returning through Lystra, to Iconium, to Antioch in Turkey to encourage the believers there and appoint elders in each church before making the trip home to Antioch in Syria. To get from Antioch in Turkey to Antioch in Syria, they passed through Perga and set sail from Attalia, taking the time to share the gospel in both places.
The entire missionary journey is believed to have taken twelve to eighteen months, thus putting Paul and Barnabas home in Syria around AD 48. In Antioch in Syria, Paul and Barnabas "gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).
We can learn many things from Paul's first missionary journey: how God calls individuals to become missionaries, the importance of having a supportive home church, the helpfulness of having ministry partners, realistic expectations that not everyone will accept the gospel message, the need to raise up leaders in groups of new believers and to check in on them periodically, and the joy of sharing what God has done by reporting back to those who have prayed for you. This first missionary journey helped spread the gospel and prepared Paul for his other journeys in the years following.
Image from: https://jesusreigns.wordpress.com/2008/08/23/apostle-pauls-first-and-second-journey-maps/
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