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Acts 11:19–21

“There were some [believers], men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (vv. 20–21).

In the aftermath of the death of Stephen, one of the church’s first deacons, persecution from the Jews who rejected Jesus arose against the church (Acts 8:1–3). For the past several chapters of Acts, Luke has said little about that persecution, focusing instead on the ministry of Philip, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and Peter’s preaching to Cornelius and his friends and family (8:4–11:18). In today’s passage, Luke mentions the persecution of the church again, and we see that the attempts to destroy the early church had the opposite effect of providing a means for the gospel to go to even more people.

Acts 11:19 reports that the Jewish Christians who scattered from Jerusalem traveled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. These locations had significant Jewish populations, so they were natural places for the Jewish Christians to go for relief from suffering and to find other Jews to whom they could preach the gospel. In fact, most of these Jewish Christians at first proclaimed Jesus only to Jews, to those who were of Jewish ancestry and practiced the full scope of the Jewish law. As we read in verse 20, however, some of the Jewish Christian believers from Cyprus and Cyrene preached also to the Hellenists in Antioch.

The city of Antioch, also known as Syrian Antioch, on the Orontes River in the southeastern part of modern-day Turkey, was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire. Only Rome in Italy and Alexandria in Egypt were larger. Antioch was a truly international city, with a population made up of Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Indians, and many others. It was also an important commercial hub where many different religions were practiced. The Hellenists who heard the gospel in Antioch were God-fearers like Cornelius, gentile monotheists who sought to worship the God of Israel and follow Jewish ethics without keeping circumcision and other ritual requirements of the Mosaic law. A great number of these Hellenists became Christians, as Acts 11:21 indicates, and note how Luke says that they believed and “turned to the Lord.” The author refers here to both faith and repentance, for one cannot turn to Jesus unless he also turns away from sin.

Because many of the Jewish Christians preached Jesus to the gentiles in Antioch, a church was born there. This church would become an important center for Paul and Barnabas’ ministry (e.g., 15:35), and it would continue to be vital for many centuries afterward, producing many theologians to guide God’s people.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

The Christians who first preached the gospel to the gentiles in Antioch were instrumental in birthing a church that would play a vital role for centuries afterward. Those faithful believers likely had little idea what their gospel proclamation would accomplish. We do not know what effects our faithful service to God in making disciples will have for the future. God might just use our ordinary Christian service to bless His people for generations to come.

For further study
  • Jeremiah 36:1–3
  • Acts 14:24–28
  • Galatians 2:11–14
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:2–10
The bible in a year
  • 2 Kings 15–17
  • John 6:1–21

Repentance unto Life

Barnabas Brings Saul to Antioch

Keep Reading Church Planting

From the May 2024 Issue
May 2024 Issue