Acts: Antioch Disciples — Christians

Read: Acts 11:19-30

Luke takes us back to the stoning of Stephen where the disciples were scattered to continue the story of the gospel spreading far and wide. First, the Jews heard the good news, then the Greeks. When Barnabas was called to Antioch, he saw something special in this group and reached out to Saul. This was truly significant. The result was continued growth and the spread of the gospel and the disciples coined the term Christians.

One thing to look for as we continue reading through Acts is how the leaders of the early church leaned on each other’s gifting and roles without any selfish desire to be set on stage or highlighted one above another. We’ll read details about this in the coming books, but the evidence of how they acted in unity is seen throughout this passage in particular. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but we’ll continue to hit the highlights as we see how an effective church operated back in the first century.

Spreading The Gospel

The disciples were on the run. They traveled far from Jerusalem but kept on preaching the gospel wherever they wend. At first, it was just to the Jewish community, but some took the risk of sharing with those outside their comfort zone.

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Acts 11:20-21

The unnamed few evangelized the Gentile world. The historical note at the bottom serves to give us some context. Antioch was a huge city. Far from God, it’s likely that they worshipped all kinds of deities if they worshipped at all. We need to appreciate the world in which they lived to bolster our own desire to make disciples, spreading the gospel, with people we see daily.

I’m convinced there are those amongst us who are living faithfully, doing just that, in our cities today–we just don’t read about them in Christianity Today because they’re focused on answering Christ’s call rather than making headlines.

Barnabas Called

We lose track of time and probably don’t appreciate the distance involved, but Luke tells us that the news of their success reaches back to Jerusalem.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. Acts 11:22

I love this idea. The young disciples are dispersed, scattered to places they are unfamiliar with so what do they do? They reach back and ask for support from one who has proven himself already. Barnabas didn’t come in blazing on a stallion to save the day, he entered the scene as an encourager, leading from within, building up the believers.

Long ago, Moses needed Aaron’s oratory gift to do God’s work with a huge, probably unruly crowd. Barnabas is called to help the young disciples (in terms of faith, not necessarily age). He gets the ball rolling, then he calls Saul for support.

Barnabas Reaches Out To Saul

As I’ve alluded to before, this is not an egocentric, personality-driven movement. This is all about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Barnabas knew that Saul was an amazing preacher and Antioch needed that skillset at this time.

Sidenote: It’s ironic that those early disciples were actually running from Saul and his band of Christ-following killers. Now Saul comes to teach them what it means to follow Christ. You have to appreciate the irony.

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26

The dynamic duo, Saul-Barnabas, worked together to cement the foundation of the church in Antioch. I’m sure Saul used many of the lessons learned here as he continued his missionary journey throughout the area.

Agabus Prophesied

Luke helps us understand the timing of these events by referring to a famine that historians mentioned in that area and at that time. Of course, he does this by demonstrating another role within the church, a prophet named Agabus.

Agabus stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. Acts 11:28

There are many ways for prophecy to support the local church. In this case, it was very specific and targeted at preserving the growth of the early church. Recognizing this major problem, people pitched in to help.

The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:29-30

“As each one was able.” I hope we don’t miss this important phrase. It’s important not to project our relative wealth or capability on someone else. This was a picture of a church which was devoted to each other and on a mission for a single-minded cause: to spread the news about Jesus.

Lord, I hope and pray we can see this kind of unity in Your church today. May we be like the Christians of Antioch. I trust we can with Your help and blessing.


Historical Note from the NIVAC:
With an estimated population of about 300,000 Antioch in Syria was the third largest city in the Roman empire, surpassed in population only by Rome and Alexandria. It was also the seat of administration of the Roman province of Syria. A large Jewish population lived there, estimates of which range from 22,000 to 65,000.
Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 81964-81968). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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