Summary: Acts 11:19-30 gives an account of how the Church reached as far away as Antioch, nearly 300 miles from Jerusalem. A group of unknown missionaries went to Antioch, then Barnabas came, and then so did Saul.
Introduction: The second part of Acts 11 covers two different scenarios, probably a few years apart. First, Luke describes the growth of the Church and how the Gospel reached as far away as Antioch. Then he adds a brief note, where one of the New Testament prophets—Agabus—made a prediction about a famine and what happened afterwards.
Text: Acts 11:19-21, KJV: 19 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. 20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
--Identity: These are the unknown, unsung heroes who fled Jerusalem after Stephen was martyred (Acts 7 has that story). We know nothing about them except they were from various parts of the world, they were believers in Jesus, and they left Jerusalem (uncertain how long they’d been there).
--Destinations: Phenice would be modern-day Lebanon, Phoenicia of the Bible. Tyre and Sidon had been two of the largest cities. Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea about 60 miles or so from Israel’s coast. Antioch was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire at the time and was located nearly 300 miles north of Jerusalem (Smith’s Bible Dictionary and other sources).
--Activities: Simply put, they preached wherever they went! Note how the Holy Spirit used people of different backgrounds: Cyprus, as mentioned, is an island in the Mediterranean and Cyrene is North Africa. It was west of Egypt, and some think it was near modern-day Libya.
--Results: they preached and people turned to the Lord! Some of these preachers had already chosen to share the Gospel with either Greek-speaking Jews or even Gentiles (commentators vary). The point is that these folks had good news and were not afraid to tell others of Jesus!
Text, Acts 11:22-24, KJV: 22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. 23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
--The news: Antioch, so far away, was now the home of many believers in Jesus.
--The need: to encourage these new believers in their new spiritual condition. To believe in Jesus, especially in those days where there were no church buildings, little organized structure, not much in the way of study literature or materials (excepting the Old Testament itself), took a lot of pure faith on the part of each convert.
How many new believers have fallen away because they weren’t encouraged in their new faith?
--The natural: “Barnabas” was actually the nickname for Joseph, a Levite of Cyprus, who began his own ministry of encouragement when he sold some land and gave the proceeds to the church (Acts 4). He then stood up for and encouraged Saul of Tarsus after Saul’s Damascus Road experience (Acts 9) even when none of the other apostles wanted anything to do with Saul.
He came to Antioch, was glad (there are other translations of the word, such as “rejoice”) and exhorted (encouraged) them.
“Cleave” in the KJV has a double meaning: first, to separate; then, to combine. The concept, if not the actual words, come in view when the Scriptures say a man shall “cleave” to his wife and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5, both paraphrased).
Someone expressed “cleave” as “when I got married, I found the best and left the rest!” In the same way, these new believers had to make a complete change in religion (no more idols), and who knows what else. This had been the culture for a long, long time and these adjustments would not be easy, humanly speaking, but Barnabas was a natural encourager. He helped so many people while there in Antioch!
Text: Acts 11:25-26, KJV: 25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
--Saul had become a marked man once he accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. He had gone from being an associate to Stephen’s execution/martyrdom (Acts 7) to being a persecutor himself. He spoke of this, briefly, in Acts 26. He had been marked for death twice before, once at Damascus and at Jerusalem (Acts 9). For any number of reasons, including his own safety, he was sent to Tarsus—his own home town (compare Acts 9:11 with Acts 9:30 and 22:3)!