Acts chapters 13-14 describe what is typically referred to as Paul’s first missionary journey. He began his “second missionary journey” at the beginning of Acts 16, just after he and Barnabas decided to go their separate ways.
But, the “first missionary journey” began in Acts 13, while Paul and Barnabas and others were serving/worshiping while praying, fasting, prophesying, and teaching among the believers in Antioch. During that time, the Holy Spirit directed Paul and Barnabas to leave Antioch in order to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. The church agreed so the sent Paul and Barnabas on their way. (Acts 13:1-3)
The pair traveled from Antioch down to the coastal city of Seleucia and, from there, they sailed over to the island of Cyprus. (Acts 13:4-12) After visiting several cities on Cyprus, they sailed across to Perga in the region of Pamphylia, the north to another city named Antioch, this one located in Pisidia. (Acts 13:13-50) When they were run out of Antioch, the two traveled over to Iconium, then finally to the Lycaonia cities of Lystra and Derbe. (Acts 13:51-14:19)
Although they were not far from Paul’s hometown of Tarsus and not too far from their starting point in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas decided to travel back through the cities they had just visited so they could strengthen the believers there. (Acts 14:20-25)
(By the way, as an aside, it was very dangerous for Paul and Barnabas to travel back through those cities, since they had been run out of town. In fact, Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra, but after spending some time in the nearby city of Derbe, Paul returned to Lystra. Apparently, strengthening and encouraging the believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch was very important to Paul and Barnabas.)
Finally, the pair sailed back to Antioch. Once there, they gathered the church together (another interesting statement by Luke) and reported everything that God had done through them, especially the fact that God was saving Gentiles. (Acts 14:26-28)
While describing the return trip to Antioch, Luke makes the following statement:
And from there [Attalia] they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. (Acts 14:26 ESV)
Now, Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what Paul and Barnabas thought God had called them to do (i.e., what Luke calls “the grace of God for the work”). However, he does indicate that, at this point, Paul and Barnabas thought they had completed that work (“the work that they had fulfilled”).
Certainly, this could simply indicate that Paul and Barnabas only thought that this particular part of the work (i.e., the “first missionary journey”) was complete. However, it could also indicate that, at this time, Paul and Barnabas thought this particular trip was all that God wanted them to make.
The final statement of chapter 14 seems to suggest that Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for some time: “And they remained no little time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:28)
It doesn’t bother me to think that Paul (and Barnabas) did not completely understand what God was calling them to at this point. It’s clear at the end of Acts 15 that they decided to go back to the believers in the cities they had visited previously (with Barnabas traveling back to Cyprus and Paul traveling back to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia). But, even at that point, there’s no indication that either of them planned to travel to other cities and proclaim the gospel to people who had not yet heard. (Acts 15:36)
So, what do you think? Did Paul and Barnabas only plan to make one missionary journey? If so, what do you think we can learn from that?