Acts 11:19-30 – The Church of Antioch

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Acts 11:19

  1. The city of Antioch was founded in 301 BC by Selevko Nikator, who had a penchant for naming cities after his father, Antiochus, which he did 15 times. At the time of the New Testament, Antioch, also known as the “Queen of the East”, was the capital of the Roman province of Syria, and had about half a million inhabitants, making Antioch the third largest city in the entire Roman Empire, only smaller than Rome itself and the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Antioch was known in New Testament times as a commercial and cultural centre, but also for its prostitution and notorious immorality. Today Antioch is a small Turkish town of about 6000 inhabitants.
  2. Antioch had a large Jewish minority, and it was natural for believers fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem to seek out their fellow countrymen. It was also natural for these Messiah-believing Jews to tell the Jews who did not yet believe in Jesus about Jesus.
    1. Initially, it is natural to share your faith with those with whom you have contact and fellowship. But eventually it is important not to get stuck there, but also to try to reach out beyond your comfort zone and your natural communion with the message of Jesus.

Acts 11:20-21

  1. When these anonymous believing Jews go from spreading the gospel only among their Jewish compatriots to spreading the gospel among the Greeks as well, they go from merely “evangelizing” to now also “proselytizing”.
  2. Successful mission requires that Christians take the mission seriously and begin to witness to new people about Jesus, but it also requires the “hand of the Lord” to be present. Jesus has given the mission to all Christians, but he has also promised to be concretely involved (Matthew 28:18-20).
    1. So if we complain that we see too little of the “hand of the Lord”, perhaps we should start taking Jesus’ missionary command seriously.

Acts 11:22-25

  1. Word of the revival in Antioch reaches the church in Jerusalem and they send Barnabas to investigate.
    1. Barnabas was a trustworthy man known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37) and for taking on the newly saved Paul when no one else dared (Acts 9:26-28).
      1. The church in Jerusalem knew they could trust Barnabas because he had proven himself trustworthy and reliable in the past. Anyone who wants to serve the Lord in a big way also needs to learn to serve the Lord in a small way first.
    1. When a spiritual event or revival begins somewhere, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater or swallow everything whole. Instead, one should examine the revival, retain the good and correct the unhealthy.
  2. When Barnabas examines the revival in Antioch, he sees that it is good and judges that they should continue on the path they have embarked on, but that they need more Bible teaching. He therefore decides to bring Paul from Tarsus and then, together with Paul, teach the church for a year.
    1. The revival in Antioch led to the growth of the church both in quantity and quality. It is important not to focus only on one or the other, because then you run the risk of having either a large congregation with a superficial faith or a small, stagnant congregation that does not reach out. The church needs to reach outwards to always reach new people while deepening its faith through sound Bible teaching.
  3. A similar “investigation” took place in Skövde at the beginning of the 20th century when the Pentecostal revival came to Sweden. When Andrew Johnson returns to his hometown of Skövde after witnessing the start of the Pentecostal revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, he begins preaching about it in the town’s Baptist church. But since the leadership of the church was a bit skeptical about Andrew Johnson, they called John Ongman from Örebro to help them assess this with tongues, spirit baptism, etc. Ongman was the pastor of the Filadelfia congregation in Örebro and also founded the Örebro Mission School. When Ongman came to Skövde to investigate what was happening, he saw “the Holy Spirit of God falling and the speaking in tongues, singing and rejoicing” and realized that the church leadership need not be in doubt about what was happening in the church; it was a Pentecostal revival! Ongman then hastened to invite Andrew Johnson to his congregation in Örebro. Many in Örebro were also baptised and the Pentecostal revival, or “the new movement” as it came to be called, spread further in Sweden. Ongman continued to organize revival campaigns with baptisms and tongues, and the Pentecostal revival spread throughout Sweden.

Acts 11:26

  1. In Antioch, believers begin to be called “Christians” for the first time. Previously, in Acts, they have been called “brethren” (Acts 1:15), “believers” (Acts 2:44), “witnesses” (Acts 5:32), “disciples” (Acts 6:1), “the way” (Acts 9:2), “saints” (Acts 9:13) and “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
  2. To be called “Christian” is to be associated with Jesus’ Greek title “Christ” in much the same way that “Jesuit” is associated with the name “Jesus” or “Messianic” is associated with Jesus’ Hebrew title “Messiah”.
    1. One of the goals of the Christian life is to let Jesus shine through so that people who meet us see Jesus. In Antioch, believers seem undeniably to have become so associated with Christ that they were simply called “Christ-ians”.
      1. Many people are associated with one thing or another, such as a football team or a job or whatever. What do those around you associate you with? Are you known as someone who always talks about Arsenal or as someone who always talks about Jesus?
      1. When I was in the army, my fellow soldiers started calling me “Jesus” instead of my name “Christian” or surname “Mölk”, because they thought I had such a habit (according to them) of always talking about Jesus all the time.

Acts 11:27-30

  1. The Christians of Antioch invested in evangelism, missions and Bible teaching, but do not yet seem to have had many prophets among them. Now some with a prophetic gift are coming from Jerusalem to visit Antioch.
    1. It can sometimes be difficult for a congregation to be complete, but then it is important to be humble and open to Christians from other congregations visiting and helping with the gifts they have received.
  2. Although the Christians of Antioch did not have prophets themselves at this time, they were open to this gift and believed in the prophets from Jerusalem. The disciples in Antioch act on the prophetic word and collect as much money as they can.
  3. The Christians in Antioch gave “as much as they could”. This is a good principle for how generous one should be with one’s money. You don’t necessarily have to give exactly 10%, but you can make a considered judgement about how much money you can give.
  4. In Acts 13:1 we read that “in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers”. This means that either Agabus and the other prophets stayed in Antioch and were these “prophets”, or some of the members of the church received this gift after Agabus went home. Either way, it shows that the church in Antioch continued to grow and be completed.
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