The Apostle Paul evangelized Lystra during his first, second and third missionary journeys and founded its Christian church. His discourse to the people during his first journey is a testament not only to God's grace but to the witness he leaves all mankind through nature (Acts 14:15 - 17).
The city is the location of two pivotal events in the ministry of Paul. The first, which occurred during his initial visit to Lystra, was being stoned and left for dead by the city's inhabitants after Jews from Antioch and Iconium stirred them up against the gospel (Acts 14:19 - 20).
The second crucial event in Paul's life happened near the start of his second journey, was his meeting of a young man named Timothy (16:1 - 3). A resident of the city (2Timothy 3:10 - 11), he will become Paul's travelling companion and trusted fellow evangelist. Some commentaries speculate that Timothy may have witnessed Paul's stoning a few years previous.
Tarsus was the chief city and capital of the Roman Province of Cilicia which was located in the eastern part of Asia Minor. It was known for its wealth and schools of learning, which is why Apostle Paul described it as "no insignificant city" (Acts 21:39).
According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, Tarsus and the region that surrounds it were first populated by a grandson of Japheth named Tarshish (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 6). Japheth was one of Noah's three sons who survived the great flood in the ark.
Tarsus was the cult center for the oriental pagan god Sandan (Herakles by the Greeks), who is shown riding a mythical beast (Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, Volume 2, by Gill and Gempf, Chapter 4).
Paul was born in Tarsus around 2 A.D. to a family who were descendants of the tribe of Benjamin and who maintained an orthodox Jewish background (Philippians 3:5 - 6). Although he was a Jew, his birth in this Roman "free city" granted him the privilege of Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28), a status that was highly sought after not only by slaves but also by those in the military.
Soon after his conversion, Paul revisited Jerusalem and was so convincing in his teaching that those who opposed the gospel wanted him killed. His presence in the city created such a stir that brethren sent him back home to Tarsus, where he stayed for four years (Summer of 36 A.D. to 40 A.D.) until he was needed to help new believers in Syrian Antioch (Acts 9:29 - 30, 11:25 - 26). It is noteworthy that after Paul was sent out of Jerusalem the Bible says "the churches throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria had PEACE . . ." (Acts 9:31)!