MBS190 The Church at Antioch: Acts 11:19-30

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This section of the Book of Acts records the witness of

Barnabas and Saul at Antioch. This section is divided into two

units: The development of the church, and the benevolence of

the church.

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Description

MBS190

THE CHURCH OF ANTIOCH: ACTS 11:19–30

By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHURCH—ACTS 11:19–26

A. Jewish Evangelism—Acts 11:19

B. Gentile Evangelism—Acts 11:20–21

C. Antioch, the Home Church of Gentile Missions

D. The Commission of Barnabas—Acts 11:22

E. The Ministry of Barnabas—Acts 11:23

F. The Personality of Barnabas—Acts 11:24

G. The Search for Saul—Acts 11:25–26a

H. The Ministry of Barnabas and Saul—Acts 11:26b

II. THE BENEVOLENCE OF THE CHURCH—ACTS 11:27–30

A. The Prophecy of Agabus—Acts 11:27–28

B. The Relief Fund—Acts 11:29–30

They therefore that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews.

Acts 11:19

This section of the Book of Acts records the witness of Barnabas and Saul at Antioch. This section is divided into two units: the development of the church, and the benevolence of the church.

I. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHURCH—ACTS 11:19–26

A. Jewish Evangelism—Acts 11:19

They therefore that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews.

The ministry of the Jewish believers picks up where chapter 8:4 left off in that they were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen. The Greek word for scattered is the same Greek word used in both places. In Acts 8:4, we are told that the believers were dispersed; now we are told how far they traveled: as far as Phoenicia, which was along the coast north of Israel; Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean; Antioch, a city in modern Syria. At this point, they were preaching the gospel throughout these areas, but only to Jews.

B. Gentile Evangelism—Acts 11:20–21

But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they were come to Antioch, spoke unto the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number that believed turned unto the Lord.

In verse 20, those responsible for Gentile evangelism were: men of Cyprus, in the Mediterranean, and Cyrene in North Africa. When these Hellenistic Jewish believers from Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch, the largest pagan city they had reached so far, they began speaking unto the Greeks also. Now that Peter had opened the door to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, it was possible for other Jewish believers to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter no longer had to be involved and the door stayed open for the Gentiles. Notice they began: preaching the Lord Jesus. They preached Him as Lord and Savior, not as Messiah. This title would not have had any particular meaning to the Gentile mind in those days.

In verse 21, the means of the preaching was: the hand of the Lord was with them. The result was that a great number that believed turned unto the Lord. The Greek word for turned was a common term for Gentiles turning to the true God. We see this word used in Acts 14:15; 15:3, 19; 26:28, 20; and 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

C. Antioch, the Home Church of Gentile Missions

It would be helpful to know a little more about the city of Antioch in order to have a better idea of the environment in which this church became the home church for Gentile missions. The first widespread evangelization of the Gentiles was in Antioch. What happened in Cornelius’ house was limited framework for the time being, but in Antioch, we have the first extensive Gentile evangelism. As a result, Antioch became the mother church of Gentile Christianity and its center for evangelism.

The city of Antioch was founded in 300 b.c. by Seleucus Nicator, and was one of the five cities given this name by the Seleucids. This city was built on the Orontes River, and it later became the capital of the Seleucid Kingdom. It was three hundred miles north of Jerusalem, and became part of the Roman Empire in 64 b.c. Rome declared Antioch a Free City, with its own municipal government, and it became the third largest city in the Empire. The largest city was Rome; next was Alexandria; then Antioch, with a population of somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000. There was a large Greek speaking Syrian majority, and a Jewish minority.

The modern city is called Antakiyeh. As a city, it had quite a reputation, and was called Antioch the Great, Antioch the Beautiful, The Queen of the East, and Antioch on the Orontes. It was a major center of pagan worship. Its patron god was Tyche. There was also the worship of Ashtarte or the Ashteroth, which incorporated immoral festivals and religious ritual prostitution. Only five miles away was the town of Daphne, which was the center of worship of Apollo and Artemis. It was noted for its licentiousness and its pleasure-seeking temple. It was utterly morally corrupt. The Greek writer, Juvenal, in his satire wrote: “The sewage of the Syrian Orontes has for a long time been discharged into the Tiber.” He is writing about the degradation of Rome, but blames it on Anitoch.

Later, Antioch became the center of Christianity. It had a School of Theology, and it became the city and church of two of the early Church fathers: Ignatius and John Chrysostom. So, this was Antioch which became the mother of Gentile Christianity, as Jerusalem was the mother of the Messianic Jewish Movement.

D. The Commission of Barnabas—Acts 11:22

And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch.

In verse 22, there is a report, which reaches Jerusalem concerning them, that is, the Gentile evangelism; the local congregation in Jerusalem began to hear the news of mass evangelism of the Gentiles up in Antioch. Their response was to: send forth Barnabas to investigate and verify these reports. This means he did a work of evangelism up to and as far as Antioch, including other territories besides.

At this point, it might be good to summarize the role of Barnabas. First, he was an early model of a Jewish believer. Secondly, he was the one who had convinced the apostles of the genuineness of Saul’s conversion. Thirdly, he also represented the apostles in this investigation of the founding of the Church in Antioch. Fourthly, also in this context, he is the one who fetched Saul from Tarsus to Antioch. Fifth, he then became part of the first missionary journey. Sixth, he later defended Gentile Christianity at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Thus, he played a major role in the Book of Acts.

E. The Ministry of Barnabas—Acts 11:23

who, when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad; and he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.

Upon his arrival, Barnabas’ conclusion was that he had seen the grace of God. In other words, he recognized the work of Gentile evangelism and salvation to be a work of God. By so doing, he verified this ministry. The end result was: he was glad.

Not only did he verify the work, he stayed in Antioch and got involved in the ministry: he exhorted them all. The Greek word means that he kept on doing this. This is a picture of continuous encouragement, and once again, Barnabas is living up to the name given to him. His exhortation was: that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. This means he kept on encouraging them to remain loyal to the new Faith. His persistence was necessary for believers living in a city so totally given over to paganism.

F. The Personality of Barnabas—Acts 11:24

for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.

This verse gives a description of the person of Barnabas: he was a good man. The Greek word means “good by nature,” he had a benevolent disposition. Furthermore, he was: full of or “controlled by” two things: the Holy Spirit and faith. As a result, there was much people added to the Lord. Because of Barnabas’ ministry in Antioch, even more people became believers. This shows that Barnabas chose to stay behind to minister and encourage and help in this work of Gentile evangelism.

G. The Search for Saul—Acts 11:25–26a

And he went forth to Tarsus to seek for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.

After ten years of absence, Saul comes back into the narrative at this point. In verse 25, Barnabas: went forth to Tarsus to seek for Saul. The Greek word for seek for means “to seek up and down and back and forth,” “to hunt up,” “to make a thorough search until success comes.” In the Papyri, this word is used especially in association with searching for a human being, implying that this was difficult. The word is used only by Luke in the New Testament, here and in Luke 2:44–45.

Barnabas knew that Saul was in Tarsus, but he did not know exactly where; this meant he had to do a very intensive search for him until he found him.

In verse 26a, when Barnabas did find Saul: he brought him to Antioch to co-minister with him there.

H. The Ministry of Barnabas and Saul—Acts 11:26b

And it came to pass, that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people; and that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

The duration of their ministry after Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch was: even for a whole year, and they taught much people. There were many saved in Antioch, and they all had to be discipled and taught.

As a result: the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. This is the first time this term Christians is introduced, and it happened first in Antioch. The Greek form is “christianos,” which means “a partisan of Christ” or “belonging to the party of Christ.” It also means “a little Christ.” As a Greek word, it appears only two other places (Acts 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). This term Christians was given to believers by the Gentiles since Jews would not have used such a term. In fact, Jewish believers were called Nazarenes, as will be seen later in the Book of Acts. In all probability, the title “a little Christ” was intended to be a derogatory name, although it turned out to be an honorable name. However, it later became derogatory, because it has been used by so many people in such terrible ways.

The Greek word for called literally means “to transact business.” In other words, to transact business under a particular name is to become particularly known by that name. Because these saved Gentiles were propagating Yeshua (Jesus) as Christ, the pagan idea was that they were transacting business in His name, more or less; hence, that is what they called them.

II. THE BENEVOLENCE OF THE CHURCH—ACTS 11:27–30

A. The Prophecy of Agabus—Acts 11:27–28

Now in these days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius.

The occasion which gave rise to this benevolence of the church is in verse 27. The phrase these days refers to the days of the ministry of Barnabas and Saul. The prophets who came were from Jerusalem, the center of Messianic Jews, unto Antioch, which was now the center of Gentile Christianity. A prophet was one who received direct revelation from God. The Church of Antioch had its own prophets according to Acts 13:1. Other prophets who are named were: Judas and Silas in Acts 15:32.

In order to authenticate his gift, a true prophet had to predict some near events which would come to pass in his own lifetime. One of these New Testament prophets was a man called Agabus. In verse 28, there is such a prediction in his prophecy: there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit. Being a prophet, he received direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. This is one of his prophecies here; and there is another in Acts 21:10–11.

In this case, the prophecy was: that there should be a great famine over all the world. The Greek word for the world is the origin of our English word “ecumenical.” But in the Greek, this means “the inhabited world,” particularly the Roman world. It does not mean the entire globe, otherwise a different Greek word would have been used. The word here limits it to the inhabited Roman world. The fulfillment of this near prophecy would authenticate the prophetic office of Agabus.

Indeed, the prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Claudius. Claudius was the emperor of Rome from a.d. 44 until a.d. 54, and this famine is known to have come specifically in the year a.d. 46. The first century Jewish historian Josephus recorded many famines which occurred in Judea between a.d. 44 and a.d. 49. Helena was the proselyte Queen of Abiabene who converted to Judaism and moved to Jerusalem. She was a wealthy woman, and in order to help out in the famine, she brought wheat from Egypt and figs from Cyprus to distribute to the hungry in Jerusalem. In other Latin sources, we note that the reign of Claudius was beset by a succession of bad harvests, creating serious famines in various parts of the Roman Empire.

B. The Relief Fund—Acts 11:29–30

And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Because of Agabus’ prophecy of a coming famine that would hit the congregation of Jerusalem, there was the setting up of a relief fund. The gathering of the believers of Antioch is in verse 29: every man according to his ability. The Greek word means “being well off.” It is used only here. Since every man was involved, it meant this was a unified effort. Their project was that they determined to send relief. The object of their project was: unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea.

So, in this chapter, Jerusalem sent Antioch a teacher, Barnabus. Now, Antioch sends Jerusalem financial relief. This is in keeping with the principle of Romans 15:25–27, where it states that when the Gentiles receive spiritual benefits, they are obligated to share with Jewish believers in material benefits.

In verse 30, the money that was gathered up was sent: to the elders. This is the first New Testament use of the term elders. It does not say that they sent it to the apostles. This shows that the leadership of the Church of Jerusalem was being transferred from apostles to elders. This is because the gift of apostleship was only temporary, until the death of the last apostle. From then on, the leadership of the church would be in the hands of elders, not in the hands of apostles. The means of sending the gift was: by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS BIBLE STUDY, DR. FRUCHTENBAUM RECOMMENDS:

MBS159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174 and 175.