As Paul and Barnabas made their way through the different cities of Asia Minor they discovered a similar pattern of experience began to emerge. They would preach, some would accept their message, others would reject it with hostility, and strong opposition would show itself.
Initially the preachers had great success after preaching in the Jewish synagogue in Iconium – a great number of their listeners, both Jews and Greeks, accepted the message that was declared. It is interesting that Luke connects the success to how the preachers spoke. While he does not elaborate on how they spoke, his description indicates that there are better and worse ways of preaching.
Perhaps we can imagine them preaching depending on God. Or we can see them declaring truths about Jesus from the Old Testament in a clear manner. And we can think about how they would have been very direct in addressing specific groups among the listeners. We should ask God to help the preachers we hear to speak in an acceptable manner.
Although there was immediate opposition, Paul and Barnabas remained in the city. No doubt one reason they did so was to help the church there in its early days. Luke tells us that the opposition did not deter them from bold speech and God did not deprive them of his approval. I suspect the two go together usually.
We are not told what signs and wonders they did, but it is clear that those miracles did not diminish the existence of opposition. Perhaps we might imagine that such evidence would convince and convert all who witness them. Yet that was not the case in Iconium. Instead those who opposed Paul and Barnabas tried to kill them by stoning. The preachers took the opposition as a sign that they should leave the city quickly.
Why did they read divine providence in this way? They did not leave the city because they were afraid, so it was not their personal fears that moved them. Probably they wanted to remove danger from the new congregation they had started, and they would have been confident that God could keep it going. They also knew that their mission had to continue elsewhere. So we can deduce that they read their providence as to how the cause of Jesus would be affected. If it was better for them to go, they would go, which is what they did. And we should read personal providences as to how they will affect the cause of Christ and how we can help it.