The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
DISCIPLES WERE CALLED CHRISTIANS FIRST IN ANTIOCH
- Acts 11:19 refers to "they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen."
- This is the third reference in the book of Acts to this scattering.
- Acts 8:1 says, " And at that time (when Stephen was martyred) there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles."
- Acts 8:4 says, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word."
- Here in Acts 11:19, Luke says the disciples were driven as far as Phenice (Phoenicia, where Tyre and Sidon are located), Cyprus (where Barnabas was from -- Acts 4:36; cf. 11:22), and Antioch, "preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only."
- Probably these believers had not heard the news about the conversion of Cornelius and so they preached the Gospel to "the Jews only" (cf. 11:1, 2).
- "The Grecians" in verse 20 refers to Jews who spoke Greek and were Greek in their customs (cf. 6:1; 9:29).
THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH IN ANTIOCH (11:19-21)
- Antioch was the capital city of the Roman province of Syria. It was the third greatest city of the ancient Roman world, after Rome and Alexandria.
- It is not to be confused with Antioch in Pisidia (cf. 13:14).
- Antioch had a population of about 500,000 and was famous for its commerce, art, and literature.
- It was also infamous for its wickedness and vice. About five miles outside the city was the temple of Daphne, where sex was worshipped through priestesses who were really religious prostitutes.
- The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, "The citizens were a vigorous, turbulent and pushing race, notorious for their commercial aptitude, the licentiousness of their pleasures, and the scurrility (grossly abusive, vulgar, coarse) of their wit. Literature and the arts, however, were not neglected."
- In other words, Antioch was an ideal place to plant a Gospel-preaching church!
- Today Antioch is called Antakya, and it is a small city in southern Turkey, near the border with Syria.
- Acts 11:21 says, "And the hand of the Lord was with them."
- The expression, "the hand of the Lord was with them," refers to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Nehemiah referred to "the good hand of my God upon me" (2:8, 18).
- Ezra 7:6 says that the king of Persia "granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him."
- And Ezra said in Ezra 7:28, "And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me."
- First Kings 18:46 says, "And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah."
- Second Kings 3:15 says, "And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him" (Elisha).
- Because the hand of the Lord was with them in Antioch, "a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (11:21).
THE FURTHERING OF THE CHURCH IN ANTIOCH (11:22-26)
- The work was furthered in Antioch through the soulwinning efforts of Barnabas and Paul.
- Because "a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord," the good news quickly reached the church in Jerusalem (11:22).
- So the church in Jerusalem sent forth Barnabas to see what was going on (11:22). Barnabas was from Cyprus (Acts 4:36), and so were many of the people in Antioch (11:20).
- We first met Barnabas in Acts chapter 4. Barnabas was a generous man. Acts 4:37 says Barnabas owned land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
- Barnabas was a generous man, and "a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith" (11:24). When a man is "a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith," he will be a generous man too.
- W. Graham Scroggie said, "Barnabas seems to have had an unusual power of doing the right thing at the right time. This is something we should all covet and cultivate" (The Acts of the Apostles).
- You will recall that when Saul of Tarsus was converted, all the disciples “were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). Acts 9:27 says, “But Barnabas took him…”
- Barnabas was willing to befriend Paul. That is why it is not surprising that Acts 11:25 and 26 says, "Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch."
- The church in Antioch was growing rapidly. Verse 21 says, "a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."
- Verse 23 says that when Barnabas came to Antioch, he saw the grace of God, and was glad. Barnabas saw the grace of God in the changed lives of the believers there in Antioch. So he exhorted them to "cleave unto the Lord" (11:23).
- Verse 24 says, "much people was added unto the Lord."
- So verses 21, 22, 23, and 24 all refer to the rapid growth of the work in Antioch. This is why Barnabas departed to Tarsus to seek Saul. Barnabas needed help, and he knew Saul would be a big help in the work there in Antioch. And he was (11:25, 26).
- Soon it went from “Barnabas and Saul” (13:1, 7) to “Paul and Barnabas” (13:43, 46). Barnabas knew this would happen, and that was fine with him, because Barnabas was a humble man.
- Spurgeon said, “It takes more grace than I can tell, to play the second fiddle well.”
- It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (11:26). The word "Christian" is only found three times in the Bible.
- Acts 26:28 says, "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." That was about twenty years after Acts 11, so apparently the word had become popular.
- First Peter 4:16 says, "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf."
- Earlier, I quoted the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which says the citizens of Antioch were notorious for their abusive and vulgar wit.
- W.A. Criswell said the term "Christian" didn’t come from the Jews because they denied that Jesus was the Christ (Messiah). He said it didn’t come from the disciples because they referred to themselves as disciples or brethren or saints, etc.
- Criswell said the name "came from a city that was adept at nicknaming. It was a contemptuous epithet of the idolatrous population of Antioch, who with scorn and contempt, turning their wit to ridicule, called these nondescripts Christians.”
- This could very well be true, but in any event the name stuck, and it is an excellent name.
THE FUNCTIONING OF THE CHURCH IN ANTIOCH (11:27-30)
- The church in Antioch sent relief to the brethren which dwelt in Judaea (11:27-30).
- Prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch, and one of them, a man named Agabus, signified by the Holy Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the (Roman) world (11:27, 28).
- This famine came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar (11:28). This famine is recorded and verified in secular history.
- Luke refers to Claudius later in Acts 18:2, where he says, "Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome."
- Claudius was the fourth emperor of Rome, serving from 41 to 54 AD. Tradition has it that Claudius' wife killed him by feeding him poisoned mushrooms.
- After Claudius' death in 54, his grand-nephew and adopted son Nero succeeded him as emperor. Nero was a murderous maniac who persecuted Christians.
- When the church in Antioch heard about the famine they collected relief money and sent it to the elders in the church in Jerusalem.
- The famine affected the entire Roman Empire, but the need was particularly great in Jerusalem because the church there had been persecuted, and many of the members had scattered (cf. 11:19).
- Barnabas and Saul were chosen to carry the funds (11:29, 30).
- It is ironic that that Saul was chosen to carry the money to the church in Jerusalem, because it was on account of his fierce persecution that the church in Jerusalem was suffering (cf. 8:1-4; 9:1).
- J. Vernon McGee said, "Saul had been one of those who had wasted the church in Jerusalem by his relentless persecution of them. How wonderful it is to see that by his own hands a transformed Saul now brings relief to that same church" (Thru the Bible).
- This is the first time the word "elders" is used in the book of Acts in reference to church leaders. In Acts 4:5, 8, 23; and 6:12, it is used in reference to Jewish elders.
- The same Gospel that transformed Saul and Barnabas transforms every sinner into a saint.
- In I Timothy 1:16, Paul says his conversion was "a pattern to them which should hereafter believe" on Christ to life everlasting.
- Acts 11:24 says Barnabas "was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord" through his ministry.
- Every Christian should be like Paul and Barnabas!
- Every Christian should be a good man or a good woman, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith (11:24)!