Luke, the historian, is picking up the narrative after the events described in Acts 8:1-4. This was the scattering of the church after the stoning of Stephen. It was said that everywhere they went they preached the Word.
The Beginning of the Work in Antioch (Acts 11:19-22) In verse 19 it reads “19 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.”
Garreth Reese writes the following, “…in some of the earlier chapters he (Luke) has shown Phillip going down to Samaria, Saul to Damascus, Cypress and Antioch, telling the message only to the Jews.”
Concerning Antioch, Irving Jenson write, “Antioch of Syria is located on the Orantes River, fifteen miles inland from the sea. When Syria was brought into the Roman Empire in 64 B.C., it became a free city. During the days of Acts it was the third largest city in the Empire, surpassed only by Rome and Alexandria. Although Antioch was a cosmopolitan city of various races and religions, it was predominately a Gentile city. The city was branded with a wide reputation of loose morals, it is very possible that Luke was a native of Antioch.”
We also have the phrase, “that they spoke the Gospel to the Jews alone.” It was apparent that those scattered had not come to the conclusion that the good news was also for Gentiles.
The events described took place before the conversion of Cornelius. In verse 20 we’re told that the men of Cyprus and of Cyrene began speaking to Gentiles also. J. W. McGarvey wrote the following,
“It appears that these men came to Antioch at a later period that did those who spoke to Jews alone. It is clearly implied that something else had taken place in the interval to cause the change. What could that event be, save the conversion of Cornelius, which Luke had just related. So, while Peter’s work opened the way, this work in Antioch was the first vigorous invasion of the Gentile world by the advances of the Lord’s army.”
What was the probable date of the coming of these men? It was somewhere after the conversion of Cornelius and the death of Herod which is mentioned in Acts 12. Herod died in A.D. 44. In verse 26 we’re told that Paul and Barnabas labored together for an entire year. So, it follows that Barnabas brought Paul to Antioch in A.D. 43. Further in verse 20, Luke tells us that the men were preaching the Lord Jesus Christ. The emphasis was on the Lordship of Jesus. Verse 21 informs us that they were successful in their actions and that many were added to the body of Chris. Garreth Reese write,
“…Now there is a church in Antioch made up of converts from both Jewish and Greek backgrounds, and this church then became the springboard for evangelistic efforts to the Gentile world at large.”
Barnabas is Sent by The Jerusalem Church to Antioch (Acts 11:22-24)
In verse 22 Luke tells us that the news of Gentiles becoming Christians had spread back to Jerusalem. We’re told that the Jerusalem Church sent Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas was introduced in Acts 4. In verse 23 we read the following, 23 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.
In verse 24 we’re told why Barnabas was chosen for this task. It was said that he was a good man, and full of the holy spirit and of faith. His life produced the Fruit of the Spirit. Under his influence, many were brought to the Lord.
Barnabas Brings Paul Into the Work at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26)
Verse 25 says that Barnabas left the work in Antioch to go to Tarsus to look for Saul. We last read of Saul of Tarsus in the 9th chapter of Acts. What had happened in Saul’s life since the Jerusalem brethren has sent him away to Tarsus in recorded in Acts 9:30. Garreth Reese relates this to us.
“Paul will next be seen at Antioch where he is brought by Barnabas to help in the evangelistic work there. If our chronology is correct, Paul was converted about 34 A.D. The next time we see him in in 37 A.D. as he returns from Arabia to Damascus, only to have to flee for his life, whereupon he goes to Jerusalem, from which he also has to flee. The next time we see him, it is about 40 or 42 A.D. when he turns up in Antioch of Syria.”
The phrase “to look for Saul” implies that Barnabas found him with difficulty. In verse 26 Barnabas has found Saul and has persuaded him to come to Antioch and labor for the Lord of Glory. It is revealed that Paul and Barnabas labored with the Body of Christ in Antioch for an entire year and that they taught many the way of the Lord. It was in this verse that we have these words, “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”
The Antioch Church Aids in the Relief for the Judean Famine (Acts 11:27-30)
During the time when Barnabas and Paul were laboring in Antioch some prophets came down from Jerusalem. In verse 28 we’re told that one of them was named Agabus. The same prophet will reappear in the narrative in Acts 21:10-11. In the passage in the 11th chapter, he prophecies that there will be a great famine all over the world, i.e., the Roman Empire. Luke tells us that this famine took place in the reign of Claudius. This would put the events somewhere between A.D. 41-54.
In verse 29 the disciples at Antioch decided to help financially the less privileged and hungry in Judea. The text tells us that each of the disciples purposed to give of their means. In verse 30 we have the first mention of elders in the New Testament. The brethren entrusted Saul and Barnabas to take the money to Jerusalem.
We have read in this chapter of the work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch and how the Gentiles were hearing the good news and responding in numbers to the cause. In our next lesson we will deal with the 12th chapter of Acts concerning the persecution of the Church by civil authorities. Please study the 12th chapter of Acts in preparation for our lesson. Until next time, Maranatha!