Acts 11:26 tells us, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” What led to the people of this city taking a new name, a new identity?
A story to share with children:
After Jesus was crucified, rose to life again and ascended to heaven, his disciples* were persecuted. One man, Stephen, was even killed with stones. Many of Jesus’ disciples fled from Jerusalem. But everywhere they went, they told people the good news about the Lord Jesus.
In Antioch, lots of people, including non-Jews, believed what they were told about Jesus. The book of Acts says they turned to the Lord. God changed their hearts through his grace. The people of Antioch gave up their old religious practices and turned away from their previous religious beliefs. Instead, they believed the truth that had first been declared at Pentecost (Acts 2:3): “God has made this Jesus, whom [the Jews] crucified, both Lord and Christ.” They became new disciples of Jesus.
The apostles in Jerusalem heard about these new disciples in Antioch, and sent Barnabas the Encourager to the city. Barnabas was glad to go, and even more glad to meet these new disciples. He was very excited to see that God’s grace was helping the people of Antioch to believe in Jesus Christ.
Barnabas stayed in Antioch for a while to encourage the new believers to stick with their new faith. They had lots to learn. Who was Jesus? Why was he called “the Christ”? What had Jesus taught to his disciples while he was on earth? What should they do to obey Jesus? How could they follow Jesus, now that he had gone up to heaven to be with God the Father?
The Holy Spirit was in Barnabas’s heart. He was full of faith in Jesus Christ. So Barnabas had answers for all their questions. The believers at Antioch learnt about Jesus. With Barnabas’s help and encouragement, even more people in Antioch believed in Jesus. Together they became a church, a new gathering of God’s people. Barnabas taught them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
After a while, it seemed as if there were too many believers in Antioch for one man to teach them all. So Barnabas went to find Saul, to bring him to help. Barnabas found Saul in his hometown, Tarsus, and brought him to Antioch.
For a whole year, Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught big crowds of people. The disciples of Jesus at Antioch spent twelve months studying all about Jesus Christ, with Saul and Barnabas as their enthusiastic teachers. As the new disciples learned about Jesus Christ, they came to love Christ, to obey Christ and eventually, to be a bit like Christ.
Barnabas and Saul taught the people in Antioch that Jesus had commanded his disciples to love one another, in the same way Jesus had loved them (John 11:34). The new disciples obeyed Jesus’ command. They loved one another very well. They showed compassion and were kind, humble, gentle and patient with each other.
In time, other people noticed how well these Antioch disciples loved each other. They commented, “They are loving other people just like Jesus Christ did.”
Some said, “They must belong to Christ.”
Other people said, “They are just like little Christs!”
So they gave the Antioch disciples a nickname, calling them Christians, which means little Christs. Ever since, the disciples of Jesus have been known as Christians. This was just what Jesus had said would happen (John 11:35).
crux: Like the believers at Antioch, I am a Christian. I am a disciple – a student – of Christ. So I study Christ. I seek to know Christ so I may love Christ, obey Christ and be like Christ.
I hope you will enjoy studying Christ with me at crux.live.
* Disciples are students or followers. Jesus’ disciples were the people who followed him to learn from him all the wonderful things he had to teach them about knowing, loving and obeying God.
[This text is based upon Acts 11:19-26. The Holy Bible, New International Version 2011.]