Paul's Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36–18:21)

Paul';s second missionary journey started like this: “After some time Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let';s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing';” (Acts 15:36).

Of course, Barnabas was all for a follow-up visit to the cities where he and Paul had preached the gospel message, but that was followed by an unfortunate disagreement. Acts tells us that Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, who had left them on their first missionary journey and returned home, but Paul didn';t think it was wise. That led to something of a split between Paul and Barnabas. Although there was no animosity between the two — in fact, Paul later spoke very highly of Barnabas and also made up with John Mark (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11) — the two never traveled together again.

It was during Paul';s second missionary journey that Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, personally joined the missionary party. From Acts 16:10 on, the narrative changes and uses the pronoun we. (“So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.”)

The apostle';s second missionary trip was far longer than the first. It started around A.D. 49 and lasted for about three years. This time, instead of traveling with Barnabas, Paul was accompanied by a man named Silas. The second trip was over land, through Syria and Cilicia, so that Paul could visit the Asian churches he had established in his first journey.

Among those churches were the ones at Derbe and then the one at Lystra, where a young preacher-to-be named Timothy joined him (Acts 16:1– 5). From there they went north through places called Phrygia and Galatia (16:6), the home of the church to which Paul wrote the book of Galatians, which is in the New Testament.

The Biblical account of Paul';s second missionary journey is filled with incredible adventures and spiritual visions on the part of Paul, including the following:

  • After leaving Galatia, Paul wanted to travel to Bithynia, which is located on the shore of the Black Sea, but he and his companions were stopped when, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there” (Acts 16:7). Instead, they traveled to a seaport called Troas, which was on the shore of the Aegean Sea, and preached and taught there (16:8). After staying in Troas for a while, Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia begging him to come and help the people there (Acts 16:9). Realizing that this was a message from God, Paul and his companions set sail for Macedonia, where he worked to establish churches in Philippi (16:11–39), Thessalonica (17:1–9), and Berea (17:10–15).

  • Facing threats of death, Paul was sent away from Berea while Silas and Timothy stayed behind. Paul, leaving instructions for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him as soon as possible, was taken to Athens, Greece, a city filled with pagan idolatry. While there, Paul observed a huge altar to “an Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). Paul pointed out to the high council of Athens that they had been worshipping a deity they didn';t even know, but he could tell them who God really was and that this God was the one who had power over death (17:24– 32). Some who heard Paul';s message laughed at him, but some — including a council member named Dionysius and a woman named Damaris — joined him in believing in Jesus Christ.

  • From Athens, Paul traveled to Corinth, which was the seat of the Roman government of Achaia. Paul stayed there for a year and a half successfully preaching the message of Jesus Christ to Jews and Greeks alike. While in Corinth, Paul wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica, which are in the Bible today as First and Second Thessalonians.

  • To understand the nature of the apostle Paul';s missionary journeys, it is vital to understand that they were not without their problems. In the second expedition, for example, Paul and Silas often faced fierce opposition and death threats and were even thrown in jail for casting a spirit out of a fortune teller (Acts 16:16–40).

    Following several other visits in the region, many of them quite fruitful, Paul began working his way home to Jerusalem because he, being a devout Jew, wanted to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem. Later, he returned home to Antioch (Acts 18:18–23).

    Study Questions

    Read again what Paul said to Barnabas as he prepared him to set out on another missionary journey (Acts 15:36). What was Paul';s motivation in visiting those churches again?

    Read Acts 16:7.. What does Paul';s change in course tell you about his relationship with God?

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