Antioch Christians - Part 1

INTRODUCTION: The church at Antioch was the place where the followers of Christ were first called Christians, and it had other important distinctions. In Part 1 of this study the following will be explored: a) this church was founded not by an apostle, but by Christians who were dispersed after Stephen was martyred, 2) Antioch sent out the first recorded relief to another church, and 3) Antioch commissioned the apostle Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. The missionary journey will not be exhaustively examined since it is only part of the main topic about the Antioch church. This Antioch of ancient Syria was situated on the river Orontes, and was at one time the capital of Syria. There was another city mentioned in scripture named Antioch which was in Pisidia on the borders of Phrygia, which Paul and Barnabas visited on the first missionary journey.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the Revised Webster Bible.


A - JEWISH CHRISTIANS TOOK THE GOSPEL TO ANTIOCH GENTILES

Acts 7 "59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon [God], and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. 8:1 And Saul was consenting to his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen [to his burial], and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and dragging off men and women committed [them] to prison. 4 Therefore they that were scattered went every where preaching the word."

Acts 9 "26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him, and brought [him] to the apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. 29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. 30 [Which] when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. 31 Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied."

Acts 11 "19 Now they who were dispersed upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but to the Jews only. 20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord. 22 Then tidings of these things came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. 23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and many people were added to the Lord."

COMMENTS: Many followers of Christ were dispersed after Stephen was martyred, but the apostles remained in Jerusalem. At this same time Saul of Tarsus was zealous to persecute Jews who had become followers of Christ. But after Saul's conversion, he disputed for about three years (see Galatians 1:15-18) with unconverted Jews in Damascus, proving that Jesus was the Christ, until his life was threatened. He then went to Jerusalem where he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Grecians until they planned to kill him. The brethren then escorted Paul to Caesarea, and from there he went to his home city of Tarsus.

Meanwhile, the Christians dispersed from Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen, preached the gospel as they returned to there various home territories. Beginning at Acts 11:19 it is recorded that these new Christians preached only to other Jews, but some who came from Cypress witnessed to Greeks at Antioch and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord. The church at Jerusalem heard about events at Antioch and sent Barnabas there. Barnabas saw the grace of the Lord, brought about in part by disciples from Cyprus, and he was glad; and many people were added to the Lord at Antioch. Barnabas was of the priestly tribe of Levi and he also was from Cyprus (see Acts 4:36).


B - BARNABAS BROUGHT SAUL FROM TARSUS TO ANTIOCH

Acts 11 "25 Then Barnabas departed to Tarsus, to seek Saul: 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

COMMENTS: There is no definitive time frame in scripture in months or years for the development of the church at Antioch, after the persecution of Stephen had happened. But we do know from the referenced passage from Galatians that there was at least three years after Saul's conversion at Damascus, before he traveled to Jerusalem, Caesarea, and then to Tarsus where he remained until Barnabas came to him there. This could mean that there was perhaps three years or more for the church at Antioch to have early independent growth. After Barnabas brought Saul back to Antioch with him, they were there a whole year assembling with the church. They taught many people, and their teaching would have been in very sound doctrine judging from the character attributed to each of them in various scriptures. Without further explanation about the origin or application of the term, the scripture states that disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. There were no special ceremonies and no apostolic conferring procedures described as prerequisite for the designation of Christian for any of them. Their Christianity was the result of followers of Christ preaching the Lord Jesus to others, and that the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord. Barnabas had required nothing further for these new Christians; he simply exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would continue with the Lord. By bringing Saul to join him in teaching, he was providing additional authoritative spoken word about fulfillment of the Old Testament scripture by Christ Jesus, as the New Testament scriptures were not yet available to serve that purpose. Saul also had a rather unusual conversion experience that he could share with new believers.


C - ANTIOCH PROVIDED THE FIRST RECORDED RELIEF MISSION TO ANOTHER CHURCH

Acts 11 "27 And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren who dwelt in Judaea: 30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul."

Acts 12 "11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, Now I know with certainty, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and [from] all the expectation of the people of the Jews. 12 And when he had considered [the thing], he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying."

Acts 12 "25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled [their] ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark."

COMMENTS: Though there is no explanation of why this is the case, the scripture records, "in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch." This is another noteworthy fact about that church that not only did they have Barnabas and Saul in their midst, but there were prophets of God who spoke to them. After the prophet Agabus by the Spirit told of a coming widespread famine, Barnabas and Saul were chosen by the disciples at Antioch to take relief gifts for the brethren in Judaea, and these were delivered to the elders. From the beginning of Acts chapter 12 the scripture states that about this time Herod the king killed James the brother of John, and subsequently put Peter into prison. Through a miracle of the Lord, Peter was released from prison, went to the house of the mother of John Mark, where many were praying for him, and then went to an undisclosed location. From the narrative of the scripture, it is very likely that Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark all knew of Peter's dramatic rescue before Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul back to Antioch, and what a startling series of events they could then report to the church there.


D - ANTIOCH IS THE FIRST CHURCH TO COMMISSION MISSIONARIES

Acts 13 "1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid [their] hands on them, they sent [them] away. 4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, departed to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John as [their] helper."

COMMENTS: Barnabas is at the beginning of the list of prophets and teachers at this unique church in Antioch, and Saul is last in the list. The others represent an interesting diversity: Simeon that was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch. There was ministry and fasting in that church, and the Holy Spirit was active within the body of believers. As it was revealed that Barnabas and Saul were to be separated to a work called by the Holy Spirit, there was more fasting and prayer, followed by a laying on of hands. The scripture states that they were sent forth by the Holy Spirit, and departed to Seleucia (the sea-port of Antioch, near the mouth of the Orontes). From there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis (a city on the south-east coast of Cyprus), they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews, not at this time going specifically to Gentiles. Jewish Christians had gone from Cyprus to Antioch and had preached the word of the Lord to Gentiles, and now Barnabas and Saul began their Holy Spirit directed work at Cyprus directly in Jewish synagogues. The scripture does not state that John Mark was separated by the Holy Spirit for the work as was the case for Barnabas and Saul, but it is recorded that he began the journey with them as their helper in Cyprus.


E - FROM CYPRUS BACK TO THE CONTINENT

Acts 13 "6 And when they had gone through the isle to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name [was] Barjesus: 7 Who was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. 9 Then Saul, (who also [is called] Paul,) filled with the Holy Spirit, set his eyes on him, 10 And said, O full of all deceit and all mischief, [thou] child of the devil, [thou] enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord [is] upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord."

Acts 13 "13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, Men, brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on."

Acts 13 "49 And the word of the Lord was proclaimed throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their land. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Spirit."

COMMENTS: Without providing how many were in the group, the scripture states that Paul and his company left Cyprus from Paphos. Paphos was on the west side of the island, and was the capital, and therefore the residence of the Roman governor who had asked to hear from Barnabas and Saul. The governor had converted to Christianity after witnessing the power of a miracle by Paul that eliminated the interference of a sorcerer to the gospel message. They landed at Perga which was the capital of Pamphylia, a province about the middle of the southern sea-board of Asia Minor. Pamphylia lay between Lycia on the west and Cilicia on the east, and Perga was northwest of Paphos. When they arrived at Perga, John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. There is no detail given as to why John Mark left at that point.

There is no description of ministry in Perga, and they went from there to Antioch of Pisidia where they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath. After the reading of the law, they were invited to speak to the people. Paul's used this opportunity to speak boldly about Jesus as the Christ, and his message was effective to those who believed, as it spread throughout the whole region. But eventually Jews who rejected the message were able to mount strong opposition that resulted in Paul and Barnabas leaving there and going to Iconium.


F - SEVERE PERSECUTION OVERCOME THROUGH STRENGTH FROM THE LORD

Acts 14 "1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. 3 A long time therefore they abode speaking boldly in the Lord, who gave testimony to the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use [them] despitefully, and to stone them, 6 Being aware of [it], they fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region: 7 And there they preached the gospel."

Acts 14 "19 And there came there [certain] Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew [him] out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But, as the disciples stood around him, he rose, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and [to] Iconium, and to Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained for them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed."

COMMENTS: Paul and Barnabas continued to move to other cities spreading the gospel, and in some locations they were under severe persecution and even life threatening circumstances. But they spoke boldly in the Lord, who displayed his grace in them, and enabled them to perform signs and wonders. Paul was finally stoned at Lystra and thought to be dead, but after he revived he went back into the city before Paul and Barnabas went on to Derbe the next day where they again preached the gospel. Then they went back through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (cities where they had ministered in spite of serious opposition), strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain faithful, noting that there would be much suffering before entering into the kingdom of God. When elders were chosen in every church, Paul and Barnabas prayed with fasting and entrusted the leaders to the Lord in whom they had believed.


G - THE RETURN TRIP TO THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH

Acts 14 "24 And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: 26 And from there sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended from to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. 27 And when they had come, and had gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And there they abode a long time with the disciples."

COMMENTS: After they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia, and now it is recorded that they preached the word in Perga. From there they went down into Attalia (a maritime city of Pamphylia, very near the borders of Lycia) and from there sailed back to Antioch. The scripture states that they had fulfilled the work that was given them by the grace of God. When they arrived they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done with them, and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. This would have been good news for the Antioch church since it included Gentiles in the sending body for this missionary trip. But it is also clear from the record that Paul and Barnabas had usually started at Jewish synagogues where they could reach Jews and proselytes who had knowledge of God through the Old Testament scriptures. This section then closes with the statement "and there they abode a long time with the disciples."


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord as I began to concentrate on what scripture contains about this local church in Antioch of Syria, I was surprised at how much your blessings had been bestowed on them. What a significant part they had in demonstrating how a church can be started by dedicated believers who make specific efforts to share the gospel with others, and then join together in fellowship as a body. You brought a representative from the apostles in Jerusalem in those early days of church formation to confirm the legitimacy of that church. Barnabas and Saul provided strong teaching for continued growth, and the church demonstrated their compassion for the material needs of other churches when they sent relief during a famine. If those things weren't enough, you enabled them to listen to the Holy Spirit to send out Barnabas and Saul on the first missionary journey commissioned by a local church. After Barnabas and Paul returned and gave their report, there was much joy in the church, and an open acceptance that Gentiles were to share in the kingdom of God. I pray Lord that you will continue to use the knowledge of these things in my life to influence me to be a better part of my own local church, and to share in the joy of seeing the spread of the gospel through whatever means guided by the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah, Amen!

Published 18 October 2012

Antioch Christians - Part 2