The Lord’s Church at Antioch in the Roman province of Syria began with a handful of refugees who fled to the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire. The church in Antioch was established in two phases: First by those which were scattered abroad. (Acts 8:4; 11:19). This group was likely composed of Hebrew Christians from Jerusalem. These came and preached to the Jews only. (Acts 11:19). The second phase included preaching to the Gentiles. (Acts 11:20-21). This second group was composed of Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene (Libya) preaching to the Grecians. This term Grecian is often applied to the Jews of the dispersion, who had adopted the Greek culture, but in this context it seems to indicate that these were non-Jewish Greeks, i.e. Gentiles. Therefore, this would likely have been sometime after conversion of Cornelius. It is interesting that at this time, there were no “big name” preachers among them. The Apostles were still residing in Jerusalem. These were simply a group of fully-committed every day, anonymous Christians, who had a desire to go forth and conquer the world for Christ.
To be able to do so, they first devoted themselves to the study of God’s word and as a result they grew into one of the great bastions of faith – teachers and preachers of the Glorious Gospel! They were of a great diversity of cultures and nationalities with ONE important thing in common: The Love for God and His Son Jesus Christ: (Eph 4:4) they demonstrated this great love by zealousness in evangelism! They evangelized a great city, crossing every cultural and religious boundary to turn men from darkness to light. With this church at Antioch we see in action the ideal that all men, regardless of race, nationality or cultural heritage are truly ONE in Christ Jesus! (John 17:20-21; Acts 17:26; Rom 1:16; Eph 2:14)
It was here at Antioch that the appellation “Christian” is first applied to the disciples of Jesus Christ. This came about in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isa 62:1-2. “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth…” This points to the establishment of the church and its spread throughout the Jews. (Acts 2:1-8:4) “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory…” This points to the Gentiles coming into the church. (Acts 10:1-11:18) “And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name…” Perhaps this name change came about because it was at this location that the cultural, racial, social and religious divide between Jews and Gentiles was most firmly set aside, thus shattering all labels so that the only commonality that could be affixed to them was that of the name Jesus Christ! They were simply Christians! Not Jewish Christians; not Grecian Christians; not Roman Christians – the name of Christ was sufficient for them, as it should be for us today!
From their actions (beginning in Acts 13), we can see that these people were not content just to simply remain comfortable in their homes and in their own city, but they looked to spread the gospel into all the world! They supported missionaries of diverse cultures and customs. E.g. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Titus, John Mark, Luke, Timothy, etc. Each of Paul’s three major missionary journeys, recorded in Acts, began from Antioch. Syrian Antioch became the major hub of most the evangelistic activity with the gentile world. It was, in large part, because of their efforts that many missionaries were sent forth and were able preach the Gospel to, “to every creature which is under heaven…” (Col 1:23)
Truly these were Christians who went on a Glorious Journey with God and may their example inspire us to boldly go forth and bring light into a world of darkness!