Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26 NIV)
In our culture, we know pretty well what the term “Christian” means. Most people on the streets these days will say that a Christian is a person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The person who says this might or might not be a Christian. However, they would say they know someone who is a Christian who believes in Jesus.
We are reading through Acts 1-6 for Lent. If you read the rest of Acts, you will find in the Bible where the term “Christian” is used for the first time.
In Acts 11, a church gets started in Antioch, which is 300 miles north of Jerusalem (2 day’s journey). If you read Acts 11, you will find that it is a miracle that this church gets started at Antioch. To start with, Stephen gets stoned by the Jerusalem crowd in Acts 7. As a result of this martyrdom, those who believe in Jesus fear for their lives and are scattered away from Jerusalem (Acts 11:19). Some of these Jewish believers in Jesus go as far as Antioch. At this point of the story, it is only Peter the apostle who is responsible for sharing Jesus with Cornelius and his family and servants. Cornelius and his family all embrace Jesus Christ in their lives and are baptised (Acts 10). However, the Jewish believers who are scattered to Antioch are ordinary grassroots Christians. They are not the elders and leaders of the Jerusalem gathering. These grassroots Jewish believers share Jesus with grassroots ordinary Gentiles. These Gentiles become believers in Jesus. The church in Antioch starts because of grassroots Jews and Gentiles believing in Jesus and coming together. God brings Jew and Gentile together at Antioch.
Barnabas, one of the leaders in Jerusalem is sent to Antioch to encourage the gathering in Antioch. There is much encouragement to be done. Barnabas gets Saul (who will later be renamed “Paul the Apostle”) to help him with the work of encouragement at Antioch. It is at this point that the author of Acts, Luke the doctor, who accompanies Paul on his missionary journeys, records this statement: The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:26 NIV) The church of Jews and Gentiles in Antioch are the first people to be known as “Christians”.
Strictly speaking, in Greek, the term “Christians” does not mean those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The term “Christians” mean “those who belong to Christ” or “Christ’s ones”. The truth behind this means that Christ claims us for his own before we can trust in him. Jesus the good shepherd calls us his sheep by name and we respond to his calling in our lives (John 10:27-28).
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 NIV)