Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Church in Antioch

"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 11:26b)

Right after Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, Luke tells us about the Jewish and Gentile believers in Antioch. Acts 11:19 says that when the disciples were scattered after the death of Stephen, some went to Antioch but told the Good News only to the Jews. The next verse tells us that later on some of them began to speak to the Greeks as well, “telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.”

When Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided. The Ptolemies took Egypt and made Alexandria their capital, while the Seleucids took the area around Syria and made Antioch one of their central cities. The Romans conquered all this, but Antioch continued to be the capital of the province of Syria. Thus, it was important for the church to establish a stronghold in Antioch. Later on Antioch became one of the great theological centers of the early church.

When news of the Antiochene revival reached Jerusalem, the disciples sent Barnabas to Antioch to help. Barnabas recalled that God had set aside Saul of Tarsus to be an evangelist to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Now that Peter had officially opened the door to the Gentiles, and now that Gentile mission had begun in earnest, it was time to enlist Saul; so Barnabas went to Tarsus for him (Acts 11:22–26).

We read in Acts 11:26 that Saul and Barnabas taught in Antioch for a year. The New Testament distinguishes between preaching and teaching. Preaching is heralding the Gospel. The outline of New Testament preaching (in Greek, kerygma) is seen in the sermons in Acts: Jesus came into the world in fulfillment of the Scriptures, died on the cross for the sins of the world, has ascended to be Lord, and calls all men to repent and enter the kingdom.

Teaching (in Greek, didache) involves explaining the contents of the Scripture. Those who have been reached by preaching must be instructed in the Scriptures. Thus, the normal work of the church is teaching rather than preaching. Preaching reminds us of the basics, and we need it regularly, but the routine work is teaching. Paul and Barnabas spent a year involved in intensive adult education.

The church at Antioch was built up by means of Bible teaching. To what degree each day are you engaging with the word of God? How are you studying it? What Bible classes are you committed to each week? These are important questions to consider today.