Acts 11:19-30


A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

May 28, 2009

ACTS STUDY – SESSION 17

Acts 11:19-30

 

Acts 1:8 (“…but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth”) is the thesis sentence of Acts and provides us a broad outline of the book.  Acts tells of the expansion of the Christian witness from Jerusalem, into Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  In a general sense:

  • Acts 1-7 tells of the witness in Jerusalem
  • Acts 8-10 tells of the witness in Judea and Samaria
  • Acts 11-28 tells of the witness to the remotest parts of the earth

After the conference in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18) in which the young church opened its doors to Gentiles, the stage was set for the expansion of the witness of the church.  In the last part of chapter 11, Luke begins to introduce us to that expanding witness.

 

Acts 11:19-30 introduces us to events that did not occur in either Judea or Samaria.  Luke tells us of these events to show how the church was being prepared for the expansion of its mission to the Gentile world.  This paragraph tells of the expansion of the gospel to Antioch of Syria

 

The key person in this section of Acts is Barnabas.  This is the third time we have come across Barnabas in Acts.  We saw him in:

  • Acts 4:36-37 selling a field and laying the money at the apostles’ feet for distribution to the poor.
  • Acts 9:27 befriending Saul when everyone else in Jerusalem was afraid to associate with him.

Acts 4:36 tells his given name was Joseph but the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas which means Son of Encouragement.  Each time we meet him in Scripture he is living up to that name.

 

There are three basic movements in this paragraph:

  • The founding of the church at Antioch (Acts 11:19-21)
  • The mission of Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22-26)
  • The benevolence of the church at Antioch (Acts 11:27-30)

 

The Founding of the Church at Antioch (Acts 11:19-21)

Verse 19 – This verse takes us back to the events recorded in the first part of Acts 8.  Acts 11:19 uses the same language as Acts 8:4.  When the persecution instigated by Saul of the church in Jerusalem began, Christians scattered preaching the gospel.  Philip (see Acts 8) went to Samaria.  But others who were unnamed went to more distant lands.  Three specific places are listed in verse 19:

  • Phoenicia – This referred to the coastal region along the Mediterranean just to the west and north of Galilee.  This area would be roughly equivalent to modern day Lebanon.  The major cities in this area in the 1st century included Tyre, Sidon, Berytus, and Tripolis.  Acts 21:4 and 27:3 makes reference to early Christian communities in this area.
  • Cyprus – This is the eastern most of the larger islands of the Mediterranean.  It was the home of Barnabas and it is mentioned several times in the book of Acts. 
  • Antioch - .  Antioch of Syria was:
    • The third largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria.  The population in the 1st century is estimated to have been about 800,000.  The population was primarily Syrian but in culture and language it was Greek.  A large Jewish community lived in Antioch.
    • Known as “the Queen of the East” or Antioch the Beautiful” or Antioch the Great.”
    • A free city, having its own municipal government.  It was also the seat of the provincial administration of Syria.
    • Know for its moral corruption.
    • Eventually, Antioch surpassed Jerusalem as the center of Christianity.  It became famous as the location of a school of theology.  The early church fathers Ignatius and John Chrysostom were associated with the church in Antioch.

 

Verse 20  introduces a new chapter in Christian history.  Here we see:

  • The gospel being preached to “Greeks” not “Grecians” which would have meant Greek speaking Jews.  It is not clear whether this event occurred before or after Peter preaching in the home of Cornelius.
  • The preaching occurring in the largest pagan city to which the gospel had gone at that point in time.
  • The preaching being done by Hellenistic (Greek speaking) Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene.”
  • The substance of the preaching being “the Lord Jesus.”  Notice the absence of the word “Christ.”  The Greeks did not have a concept of a coming Messiah (Christ), so these early evangelists began with them where they were.

 

Verse 21 reports the great success of the preaching in Antioch.  The phrase “the hand of the Lord” was a common expression meaning the power or the presence of the Lord.

 

The Mission of Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 19:22-26)

The mission of Barnabas to Antioch is similar to the mission of Peter and John when they were sent to Samaria in Acts 8 to check out the work of Philip among the Samaritans.  Each event represents a new direction for the church, and the apostles in Jerusalem correctly thought that the new direction should be carefully evaluated.

 

Verse 22 describes the sending of Barnabas.

“…news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem…” – The calm reaction of the church in Jerusalem to the news that Gentiles were being converted in Antioch is an indication that by the time word got back to Jerusalem, they had already dealt with the issue concerning the conversion of Cornelius and the other Gentiles at Caesarea.

“…they sent Barnabas…” – Barnabas was ideally suited by both temperament and background for this mission.  He was a non-judgmental, compassionate individual who was a native of Cyprus, from which some of the first preachers at Antioch had come.

“…to Antioch – Literally the text says “as far as Antioch indicating he was to check out the work all the way from Jerusalem to Antioch.

Notice that Barnabas was not required to return to Jerusalem and give a report or get approval for what was happening in Antioch.  In effect the apostles told him to use his best judgment and respond appropriately.  That was an expression of great confidence in Barnabas.

 

Verses 23 and 24 tell us the response of Barnabas.  Essentially, he lived up to his name.

“…began to encourage them…” – The verb tense indicates he repeatedly, continuously encouraged them.  He did not stop encouraging them.

“…good man…” – His disposition was pleasant, his heart was kind, he genuinely loved people, and he naturally served others.  Barnabas modeled the person described in the first part of Philippians 2.

 

Verses 25 and 26 describe how Barnabas recruited Paul to help him with the work at Antioch.  One writer says that Barnabas, ever the encourager, saw an opportunity to help a church and to help a man.

“…left for Tarsus to look for Saul…” – The phrase indicates a thorough search for Saul was made.  Barnabas did not know precisely where Saul was, so he began looking in his ancestral home.  F.F. Bruce writes that Paul had been “…disinherited for his Christian confession and could no longer be found in his ancestral home.”

 

“…the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch…” – The word means “the Christ people.”

 

The Benevolence of the Church at Antioch (Acts 11:27-30)

The events in these verses demonstrate the genuineness of the commitment to Jesus of the new believers in Antioch.  One of the distinguishing characteristics of those who follow Jesus is compassion for those in need.  In the biblical sense, compassion that does not act is not really compassion.  As John put it in I John 3:16-18, “We know love by this, that He [Jesus] laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”  The Christians in Antioch demonstrated their love for others through their deeds.

“…some prophets…” (v.27) – The function of prophets in the New Testament church was to instruct the people and guide the people in the things of God.

 

“…took place in the reign of Claudius…” (v.28) – Claudius reigned from 44-54 A.D.  Sources outside the Scripture confirm that a severe famine occurred during his reign.

 

“…in proportion that any of the disciples had means…” (v.29) – This is always the standard of Christian giving.  God is not concerned with how much we give; He is concerned with how much we give in proportion to what we have to give.

 

“…in charge of Barnabas and Saul...” (v.30) – The Scripture records several visits of Barnabas and Paul to Jerusalem.  For examples, see Acts 15 and Galatians 2.  Perhaps this was one of those visits or perhaps it was a separate visit altogether.

 

“…to the elders...” (v.30) – This is the first time the office of elders is mentioned in the Scripture.  The word was used interchangeably with the word “overseers or bishops” (see Acts 20:17,28 and Titus 1:5,7).

 

Practical Application of Acts 11:19-30

  1. God is constantly doing a new thing in this world.  Three new things emerge from the events reported in Acts 11:19-30:

·        A new center for missionary work – Antioch

·        A new name for those who followed Christ – Christians 

·        A new team for spreading the gospel – Paul and Barnabas

  1. Everyone needs a “Barnabas” in his or her life – someone who is kind-hearted, dependable, and trustworthy.  Also, everyone needs to be a “Barnabas” to some other person.
  2. Investing in people, building people up is an important part of the Christian calling.  Who knows what would have become of Saul had it not been for the effort of Barnabas to seek him out and bring him to Antioch.
  3. God does not call every believer to the same task.  In the case of the church at Antioch, one group planted the church, Barnabas encouraged the church, and Paul helped instruct the church.
Stewardship of abilities and possessions is an important expression of the Christian life.  Christians, who have been given so much by God, are by nature to be givers.