The persecution that broke out in Jerusalem after Stephen’s death caused a number of Jewish believers to flee three hundred miles north to Antioch. As capital of the Roman province of Syria, Antioch was second only to Rome and Alexandria in significance. Its population, estimated at five hundred thousand, was extremely cosmopolitan, making it an ideal location not only for a Gentile church but as the starting base for the worldwide mission of the early church.
What occurred in Antioch that resulted in Barnabas’ visit to the city and his subsequent decision to invite Paul to join him in Antioch? What kind of picture is presented of the church there? (Acts 11:20–26).
Constructing a chronology of Paul’s life is difficult, but it appears that some five years passed between his post-conversion visit to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26–30) and the invitation by Barnabas to join him in Antioch. What was Paul doing all those years? It is hard to say for sure. But based on his comments in Galatians 1:21, he may have been preaching the gospel in the regions of Syria and Cilicia. Some have suggested that, perhaps, it was during this time that he was disinherited by his family (Phil. 3:8) and suffered a number of the hardships he describes in 2 Corinthians 11:23–28.The church in Antioch blossomed under the guidance of the Spirit. The description in Acts 13:1 indicates that the cosmopolitan nature of the city was soon reflected in the ethnic and cultural diversity of the church itself. (Barnabas was from Cyprus, Lucius from Cyrene, Paul from Cilicia, Simon presumably from Africa, and consider all the Gentile converts, too.) The Spirit now sought to take the gospel to even more Gentiles by using Antioch as the base for more far-reaching missionary activities, beyond Syria and Judea.
Read again Acts 11:19–26. What can we learn from the church at Antioch, a very culturally and ethnically diverse church, that could help churches today emulate the good that existed there?