Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Luke returns to the point in history when the Jews martyred Stephen. That was the trigger for persecution against the church. To this point, he had focused on the happenings in Jerusalem. He introduced us to Saul, and Peter’s introducing Christ to the Gentiles.
Now he follows another group during the persecution. Luke followed those who went north. Looking back we see God at work. God used persecution to disperse the believers. This resulted in the Gospel spreading. Luke tells us, “the hand of the Lord was with them.” We see that now. But at the time I am sure none of them thought, “Praise God He is sending us to spread His Gospel.” They may have prayed, “Why God, why?”
When they arrived at their destination they presented the word only to the Jews. But then some men went to Antioch and spoke to Gentiles.
Antioch was a major city. It was the third-largest city in the Greco- Roman world, Alexandria was second and Rome was the largest city.
It is in Antioch that we have the first account of the gospel preached to the idolatrous Gentiles. Before this, all Christian converts had worshiped the God of Israel. They were either Jews or God-fearers.
As a result of the preaching, many turned to the Lord. Luke tells us “The hand of the Lord was with them.” As Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:6 Men preach, but it is God who causes the church to grow. This shows that preaching to the Gentiles pleased God. God called Gentiles and Jews together There was no longer a distinction.
The church did not trust their ingenuity and effort. They preached only Jesus. Today we have a church growth movement. This says preaching Jesus will not attract people to church. We must make church relevant. We must make it entertaining. We must make the church attractive.
The core assumption is we must build the Kingdom. But it is God who builds. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Psalms 127:1. They preached “the Lord Jesus.” We do not build the Kingdom. God allows us into His kingdom. We do not build the church. God does. Let us only proclaim Jesus.
When the church at Jerusalem heard about the goings-on in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to check it out. We see two things from Luke’s report on Barnabas at Antioch. First, the gospel they received was true. Second, Barnabas sought only Christ’s glorification. He aided them in their preaching. He did not try to correct or adjust anything that did not need correction. He saw God’s grace. And he encouraged them to continue.
Luke tells us Barnabas was a good man. And He tells us why Barnabas was a good man. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. This should remind us of what Jesus said, “No one is good except God.” (Mark 10:18b, Luke 18:19b). Barnabas had no goodness in him apart for the Holy Spirit.
Barnabas appears to be a good leader. He provided what they needed, instruction, tools, and material. Then he got out of the way. One of the things they needed was a better grounding in the context of the Gospel. That is, they needed to know about the old covenant. And he knew the guy who could help. In fact, there was none better. Saul of Tarsus. He was an expert in the law. He studied under the leading scholars of the day. He was Jewish but also a Roman citizen. He had a foot in both worlds. And besides that, he was not doing anything at the time. What luck! Or was it providence?
The name Christian originated in Antioch. Before that the terms Nazarenes and Galileans were used. Why the name Christian? Christianity is of Jewish in heritage. It claims the God of the Jews. Yet it attributes everything to Jesus Christ.
The word “Christian” occurs only three times in the New Testament. Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16. Its use is uncertain. It may have originated in the church. Or it may have been a derogatory term used by outsiders.
Prophets came down from Jerusalem. Direction up and down was not used as we use it today. When we say up, we mean north. And when we as down, we mean south.
This is because of the normal origination of a map. North is the top of the map and South at the bottom. The New Testament maintained the Jewish idiom of up and down. Rather than North and South, any direction from Jerusalem was down.
Luke said some prophets came down. The New Testament mention of Prophets is rare. Luke mentions “prophet” only here, Acts 13 and Acts 21:10. This is unlike the Charismatic movement which has a prophet behind every brush.
A prophet named Agabus prophesied a famine would occur in all the world. During that time the phrase “all the world meant all the Roman empire. This famine is well established in history. It occurred 45-48 AD. So that helps place these events in Antioch.
Because of wars and other miseries Jerusalem was worse off than other areas. Luke commends the men of Antioch. They heard of the need in Jerusalem. They sent them aid. Paul mentioned the special need in Jerusalem to the Galatians (Galatians 3).
The men of Antioch provided aid without being asked. This lesson hits home to me. A lady in our church suffered a fire at her apartment complex. When people asked her what they could do to help she said nothing. But some took it upon themselves not to ask they just did things. She did not need to ask. They were there for comfort. They brought food, clothes. They aided without being told what to do was the greatest gift. It showed love.
When people asked if they could help she said no. The reason was she did not know what to ask for. What were people capable of and willing to provide.
I am sad to admit I was not one of those who just helped. I was one of those who asked what could I do. But those who helped have taught me by their example. And I hope my relaying this will help you. Don’t ask if you can help just help.
We see that type of love here in Antioch. They did not wait to see what the people in Jerusalem needed. They did not wait for someone to ask them to help. They gave.
Christ did not wait for us to ask Him for help. He came and sacrificed Himself without being asked. Why? We would never ask. He knew our need. He loved us without our loving Him.