Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord. When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord.Acts 11:19-23
What is curious is Luke’s comment. “Some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus”. At first when the message reached Antioch it was via Phoenicia (and Cyprus – that is a little curious but understandable) and after that on to Antioch. But the first time is for Jews only. Following that Luke tells us that some believers went to Antioch from Cyprus (yes) and Cyrene (now that is curious for sure). Why Cyprus and why Cyrene? And why is it this group who begin to preach the Good News about the Lord Jesus to Gentiles?
Craig Keener says Cyprus had a large Jewish community dating to the second century B.C. (1 Mac 15:23). Both Josephus (Antiq. 18.31) and Philo (Legat 282) describe a large and wealthy Jewish population. Herod the Great was given half the income of Cyprus copper mines by Augustus (Antiq. 16.127-129). The Talmud indicates that Cypriot Jews regularly donated wine used for the incense offering on the Day of Atonement. Luke’s comments in Acts 11 indicate there were early Jewish Christians from Cyprus who began to do ministry in Antioch. Barnabas himself was from Cyprus (Acts 4:36-37). All this implies a Jewish-Christian presence on Cyprus before Acts 11:19, and possibly as early as Pentecost. Barnabas and Saul went to an area already prepared for the Gospel.
Cyprus was also central to travel to the Mediterranean world. The island was a prosperous and many good harbors. Salamis was a major port city on Cyprus. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 15 B.C., and rebuilt by Augustus and renamed Sebaste Augusta. Paphos was about 93 miles (150 km) from Salamis and was the seat of the Roman government on the Island. Clearly it was worth visiting the island of Cyprus given its importance and the fact that there was a large Jewish population there. My point is that it was natural for the Gospel to move north through Phoenicia but it was worthwhile for it to jump across to Cyprus given to its importance to the major trade route. Now the question is why are there some believers who come from Cyrene along with the Cyprians to Antioch in order to preach to the Gentiles?
(I have clipped this for you from the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE in E-Sword)
- Location: Cyrene was a city of Libya in North Africa, lat. 32 degrees 40′ North, long. 22 degrees 15′ East. It lay West of ancient Egypt, from which it was separated by a portion of the Libyan desert, and occupied the territory now belonging to Barca and Tripoli. It was situated upon an elevated plateau about 2,000 ft. above the sea, from which it was distant some 10 miles. A high range of mountains lies to the South, about 90 miles inland. This shelters the coast land from the scorching heat of the Sahara. The range drops down toward the North in a series of terrace-like elevations, thus giving to the region a great variety of climate and vegetation. The soil is fertile.
- History: Cyrene was originally a Greek colony rounded by Battus in 630 BC. Because of the fertility of the soil, the great variety in climate and vegetation, together with its commercial advantages in location, the city soon rose to great wealth and importance. Greater fame, however, came to it through its distinguished citizens. It was the home of Callimachus the poet, Carneacles the founder of the New Academy at Athens, and Eratosthenes the mathematician. To these must be added, from later times, the elegant ancient Christian writer Synesius. By the middle of the 7th century, the conquering Saracens took possession of Cyrene, and from that time to this it has been the habitation of wandering tribes of Arabs.
- Biblical Importance: Cyrene comes into importance in Biblical history through the dispersion of the Jews. Ptolemy I, son of Lagus, transported Jews to this and other cities of Libya and from this time on Jews were very numerous there. By the return of the Jews of the Dispersion to the feasts at Jerusalem, Cyrenians came to have a conspicuous place in the New Testament history. “A man of Cyrene, Simon by name,” was caught by the Roman soldiers and compelled to bear the cross of Jesus (Matthew 27:32; compare Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Jews from Cyrene were among those present on the day of Pentecost. Their city appears as one of the important points in the wide circle of the Dispersion described by Peter in his sermon on that occasion (Acts 2:10). Cyrenian Jews were of sufficient importance in those days to have their name associated with a synagogue at Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). And when the persecution arose about Stephen, some of these Jews of Cyrene who had been converted at Jerusalem, were scattered abroad and came with others to Antioch and preached the word “unto the Jews only” (Acts 11:19,20 the King James Version), and one of them, Lucius, became a prophet in the early church there. In this case, as in so many others, the wise providence of God in the dispersion of the Jews in preparation for the spread of the gospel of the Messiah is seen.
What is interesting is those who come from Africa, Cyrenians and Ethiopians, take the Gospel back to their home towns. Their focus is less strictly Jewish indicating there was a tendency toward a wider view of the gospel being for Gentiles too. They were more willing to take the Gospel to Gentiles after all that was their own heritage. Note too the significance of the African continent in the early spread of Christianity. There were centres of Christian scholarship and religious practice established in Cyrene, Carthage, Nuba/Ethiopia. Clearly too these people were mobile. There was significant movement around the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. What is initially puzzling is why anyone would go from Cyrene to Antioch in order to take the Gospel to Gentiles when at that stage the early church was focused primarily on Jews. But when we know all the facts it is not so strange. Given the fact that there was a ten to thirteen year period between Acts 11:18 and 11:20 it was ample time for the church in and around Jerusalem to accept the idea that the Gospel was for Gentiles too. This was made more acceptable after Peter shared what the Holy Spirit did in reaching Cornelius’ household. However at the same time there was a growing Christian base in Africa in centres where people from various African centres of learning had taken the Gospel and spread it among people who were open to incorporating Gentiles. When the time was right back in Palestine given the dispersion following Stephen’s martyrdom then the two strands of expansion come together in Antioch.
This is already enough for you to take in for today. In the next Gems we will look specifically at Antioch as the hub for the spread of the Gospel North of Jerusalem. I trust it is now clear how it was that those from Cyprus and Cyrene ended up being involved in taking the Gospel to Gentiles in Antioch. You would have to admit at first it is puzzling why there were numbers of people from a place a significant distance along the North African coast (Libya) who would be involved in taking the Good News to Antioch.
Now I trust it is clear.
The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.David Livingstone
Son, we can’t shoot the Waodani. They’re not ready for heaven… we are.Nate Saint
Make it your goal to become someone who is known as being willing to fearlessly obey God.Anon
The successful warrior is the average man, with laser focus.Bruce Lee