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
So now we have clear in our minds that following the death of Stephen the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were scattered abroad and carried the message of Christ to other places. We have a clear idea of the directions in which the Good News of the events which took place in Jerusalem went and how far in the initial phases. Not only that but we can see clearly that people in locations which were relatively unconnected with Jerusalem heard the news and embraced it as well. Primarily people in Cyprus and Cyrene were hugely instrumental in the spread of the Gospel in the early years. There still some further points to take note of before we move on from this section.
Just who were these people from Cyprus and Cyrene they spoke to and what did they say? There is a textual problem in this passage in verse 20. The NLT records that the believers began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. Earlier in verse 19 we are told they preached the word of God, but only to the Jews. In some manuscripts the word used for the recipients of the message is [Hellenas] and in other manuscripts the word is [Hellenistas]. Hellenas means Greeks or Gentiles. Hellenistas means Greek speaking people from any race, what is in focus is the language they were speaking. So it could mean Greek speaking Jews, or it could mean Gentiles who have embraced the Jewish religion or it could refer to Gentiles plainly and simply, any race which was not Jewish, i.e. non-Jews or Gentiles. The stronger manuscript evidence is for Hellenistas whereas the context demands we opt for [Hellenas]. The strength of the statement in verse 19 – “but only to the Jews” needs to foil or the contrast of “Gentiles”. Clearly that is the thrust of what is being said here by Luke. What is in focus is the contrast between the Jews and the Gentiles. That is the direction in which the text up until now has been leading us.
Now for the matter as to what they were saying or preaching. Notice that in verse 19 it was “the word of God”. In verse 20 it was “about the Lord Jesus”. The word (of God) referred to is “the Logos”. The same One which John personifies. The Logos became a technical term for some of the Christian message – the word of God, or the Word of God. It is simply to stand for the Gospel or the Good News about Jesus, or the Good News which came through Jesus. There would have been no confusion among the early Christians over this term. It was what was being talked about increasingly across the Roman Empire.
Notice in verse 20 we have the term preaching “about the Lord Jesus”. This is an interesting term. Is what was meant by Luke just simply all of the news or stories concerning Jesus the Messiah or is it more specific than that. Namely the message of the “good news” of Jesus as Lord. That it was the Lordship of Christ which was in focus and being spread around. There is a world of difference between gossiping the stories about Jesus coming out of Jerusalem as opposed to a very intentional teaching or preaching the Kingdom of God and importance of the Lordship of Christ. This could be very strongly connected to the fact that it was in Antioch and at this point in time that the Followers of the Way were first called Christians. But we will move on to that point after a few more Gems. The point here is, does the “Lord” in verse 20 take on stronger significance?
It is important to see the connection between the power of the Lord being with them and the resultant large number of people believing and turning to the Lord. It is noteworthy that sudden change in the text and number of occurrences in the use of “Lord” here. It is almost like it is being used in a churchy way. In other words it is becoming a defined term rather than just a word to describe Him, or perhaps the beginnings of the official Title – “The Lord”. Whatever the case, it is also clear that there was another manifestation of the power of God among them, not referred to as the power of the Lord which added significance to the ever growing witness concerning Him.
Finally for today, take particular note of the last two verses where Luke tells us,
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 11:22-23
With each succeeding wave of witness it is like the church in Jerusalem has to send out an apostle to check out the nature of what is happening out in the provinces.
It’s almost as though Luke concludes here “are they staying true to the Lord and the message”? When Barnabas arrives and sees what is happening he is reassured. Why? No doubt because he recognises the same signs and indications that this too is a further move of the Holy Spirit testifying to the Word, the Good News about Jesus, the Christian message of the Lordship of Christ. In short this has the same characteristics as what happened in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Caesarea and other places. Yes this is a bone fide move of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, this too can be recorded in the annuls of the record of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It has the same stamp.
Next Gem we will turn our attention to Barnabas just as Luke does.
Our problem is not that we don’t know what to do, but that we don’t do what we know!Rick Godwin
The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It needs no furlough and is never considered a foreigner.William Cameron Townsend
I have but one passion – it is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ.Count Zinzindorf
Every man dies. Not every man really lives.William Wallace