In chapter 7, Stephen was martyred with Saul overseeing the execution. As a result, the disciples in Jerusalem fled to many parts of the world. Saul was since converted to believe that Jesus is Lord and has shown himself to be a true convert to the disciples. Barnabas was a great man of faith and an encourager who believed Saul was converted and initiated the meeting between Saul and the disciples.
Peter had been taught by God to expect the gospel to extend beyond the Jews and to all the Gentiles. He was shown that God shows no favouritism.
We now return to the scattered disciples, to Barnabas and to Saul as the gospel finds a stronghold in the large Greek city of Antioch.
- 19-21 – The gospel spreading to Antioch
- 22-26 – Saul and Barnabas working together in Antioch
- 27-30 – Christian charity work
19-21 – The gospel spreading to Antioch
Antioch – this town is in modern Turkey. Jesus travelled as far north as Tyre during his ministry. Although Tyre was part of the promised land, it bordered Gentile country and had been populated with Gentiles for many centuries (since the fall of the Northern Kingdom). Antioch is much further still. As you look at a bible map, you will see that the gospel is heading to the northern corner of the Mediterranean Sea.
Antioch was a major city in Asia minor. We’ll see in this story how significant the city became for the early church. Antioch was as far as people travelled in escaping the persecution in Jerusalem. Ironically, the people who fled Saul’s persecution will be taught the faith by Saul.
“Spreading the word only among Jews.” The theme of God not showing favouritism is continued as we see the disciples break out of their exclusiveness and share the gospel with Greeks, of whom the entire city was filled.
“The Lord’s hand was with them.” The gospel was received because the Lord was active.
People came to Antioch because of persecution and then did one amazing thing: they spoke to people about Jesus. In a land that is foreign to Judaism and the ministry of Jesus, they spoke about Jesus as Lord and a great number of people believed! There is no other name! And people who have lived generations without knowing God must be prepared to meet Him by learning about Jesus.
22-26 – Saul and Barnabas working together in Antioch
“They sent Barnabus to Antioch”. Notice that Jerusalem is the headquarters for the gospel. This is just pragmatics. It’s not that it is a holy place but that this was the seed from which the gospel has come. The disciples in Jerusalem heard what was happening in this major city to the north and they sent a man who had proven to be an encourager, a good man and full of faith. He was the man who spent time with Saul when he was converted (Acts 9:27), believing that he had been saved before the other disciples did. What a perfect fit to send him to a large city which is responding so quickly and rapidly to the gospel.
Barnabas means encouragement (Acts 4:36) and this man was named because this was his gift. He did as God had gifted him to do in 11:23. Barnabas appears to be a man used by God to take the planted seed which is showing life and encourages it to grow and remain true to the faith. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:5-6 “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Not only does Barnabas encourage the believers, however, his presence and work enables the believers to grow in number (Acts 11:26).
27-30 – Christian charity work
“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul.” Amazingly, Barnabas thought that Saul was the right man to bring in on this mission in Antioch. He was the one who drove the first believers out of Jerusalem toward Antioch because of his persecution on the followers of Jesus. But Barnabas has seen that God has called Saul to the work of evangelism.
“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Saul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch and again, we are told that great numbers of people were responding to the gospel. The impression is that this large city was a harvest field for a large number of believers. When we are told that the word Christian was first used in Antioch, we must see that this was no small revival taking place. A movement had occurred which attracted a new name. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah which was used in the Old Testament to point forward to the chosen one of God. The believers in Antioch were known for their belief in – Jesus the Christ. They followed, not a lifestyle or method of religion, but a person.
“Some prophets came down from Jerusalem.” Coming down must refer to the terrain rather than the compass direction. But what about the ‘prophets’? Of course, many prophets appeared in the Old Testament to declare what the Lord has said to the people of Israel or to their kings. The entire Old Testament is described as the Law and the Prophets. Prophecy was still present in the time of Jesus (Luke 2:36) and was expected in the church in the first century (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 14:3). Prophecy is not only limited to unveiling what will happen in the future. It is a matter of revealing the truth about God and what he has declared to the world. The completion of the bible, with the words of the apostles testimony and teaching, has done away with the need for prophecy. Someone may argue that God still uses prophecy today and that may be so. But it is made insignificant next to the brightness of the gospel news written in the scriptures. The Spirit is given to the church to be able to discern right from wrong and to grow in godliness and maturity. The Son has been declared to the ends of the earth and there is no new word from God. There is no need for a new word. God has spoken, in these last days, by his Son (Hebrews 1). And prophecy was prophesied by Paul to come to an end (1 Corinthians 13). Has it ended? I’m not sure. But I do believe that it is not necessary.
The Christian movement displayed their love for their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem by aiding them through the famine. Here, in Antioch, people who believed in the name of Jesus were known as Christians and demonstrated their Christian charity across the known world. Note that the church is growing in the knowledge of Jesus as Lord and that he is Lord of all – this is the universal or ‘catholic’ church. One body.
A new hub of the Christian faith was built in Antioch. The gospel is no longer spreading out from one centre which is Jerusalem – it is now forming a network from which the gospel can be spread further. The disciples of the Disciples are now making disciples. The gospel of Jesus is growing from strength to strength.
- Barnabas was known as an encourager and sort for Christian aid to help aid the Christian church. Check out the Barnabus Fund and discuss their method, aims and beliefs https://barnabasfund.org/About/who-we-are
- What part of the work are you doing in growing the Christian community? There are planters and waterers and encouragers. Where and how has God gifted you?
- The disciples in Jerusalem targeted Barnabas to go to Antioch. Likewise, Barnabas targeted Saul to join him on the mission. These are deliberate strategies for growing the kingdom. The gospel spread initially in Antioch when the Jewish-Christians opened their mouths to talk to the Greeks. What strategies are you aware of by Campbelltown Anglican Churches to further the gospel and to strengthen the kingdom? Discuss.