Acts 11:19–12:25comment (0)
July 10, 2008
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Acts 11:19–12:25
Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
Previous references to Barnabas say he sold a field and brought the money to the apostles for the needy (Acts 4:36–37). He also befriended Saul (later Paul) when no one else believed he had been converted (Acts 9:27). Here again Barnabas lives up to his name, “Son of encouragement.”
In the Antioch Church (11:19–30)
So far, the story shows movement toward a gospel without Jewish limitations.
Some that fled the persecution after Stephen’s death came to Antioch and offered Greeks the Lord Jesus. The new work met with such success the mother church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to investigate. He recognized the work was of God, rejoiced and “was encouraging” converts to stay loyal to the Lord. So powerful was Barnabas’ encouragement that a great number came to the Savior. The work grew so big Barnabas went to Tarsus to find Saul and brought him back as an assistant. For a year, the two worshiped and worked among the disciples in Antioch.
Almost as an afterthought, Luke, the author, added, “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Latin suffix “-ian” means “belonging to.” Christian means “belonging to Christ,” just as Herodian means “belonging to Herod.” Gentiles gave the name because Jews would not have given a name tied to the messiahship of Jesus. Christians continued to call themselves disciples, believers, brothers, saints, followers of the Way and so on.
A Christian prophet (a man speaking for God under direct inspiration) predicted a great famine (that actually struck in the days of Claudius Caesar, A.D. 44–54). Believers at Antioch took the message seriously, collected an offering and sent it to relieve needy Jerusalem believers. Barnabas and Saul took the gift to the “elders” in Jerusalem. Mentioned here for the first time as church officers, “elders” were Christian ministers apparently doing benevolence work like the seven before them (Acts 6:1–7). Once more, Barnabas encouraged people in dire conditions.
In Herod’s Persecution (12:1–25)
Six members of the Herod family appear in the biblical records as rulers. The “Herod” of the current passage is Agrippa I, who took control of the whole of Palestine in A.D. 41 and governed until his death in A.D. 44 (referred to in the passage). By deferring to Jewish scruples and observing Jewish regulations, he won favor with the people.
Agrippa I persecuted a number of believers and martyred James. Death by sword suggests beheading. Little attention is paid to James’ death. Apparently persecution and martyrdom were the norm and not at all unusual.
Seeing that this move pleased the Jews, Agrippa I also arrested Peter and put him in jail to hold him for trial after the Passover. But an angel came and let Peter out. The surprise of the church and its reluctance to believe it was really him when he showed up at the meeting place suggests that its prayers were not offered in strong faith. However, God often gives more than those that pray expect and always more than they deserve.
Two apostles: James dies; Peter lives. Can anyone say why? Should anyone try? The ways of God are beyond men.
The people of Tyre and Sidon, cities in modern Lebanon, depended on Herod’s realm for their food supply. When they became aware that Herod was offended with them, they sent deputies to mend fences. On an appointed day, the king, arrayed in royal apparel, took his seat on the dais and made a public speech. Eager to flatter him, the audience shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man.” At that moment, the angel of the Lord smote him with worms because he accepted the praise of him as God. In the reference above, Josephus said he died after five agonizing days. The biblical record omits all such details.
Tyrants came and tyrants went, but Christ and His message kept spreading far and wide. Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, taking with them John Mark (Barnabas’ cousin; Col. 4:10). All was now ready to launch a great missionary thrust into the Gentile world.