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Summary: The genuine mission to the Gentiles begins, and Antioch in Syria becomes the center for the developing church, leaving Jerusalem behind with a narrow view of evangelism. For the first time the church actively proselytized Gentiles.

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May 13, 2014

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

Lesson: III.E.1: The Church established (11:19-21)

Scripture (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.

Introduction

The genuine mission to the Gentiles begins, and Antioch in Syria becomes the center for the developing church, leaving Jerusalem behind with a narrow view of evangelism. For the first time the church actively proselytized Gentiles. The Samaritans of chapter 8 were partly Jewish. The Ethiopian eunuch on his own was reading Isaiah 53 on his return from Jerusalem, and even Cornelius took the initiative in seeking the gospel from Peter’s lips. But here the church took the first step to take the gospel to the uncircumcised Greeks.

Commentary

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.

The narrative now goes back to the time of the persecution following the martyrdom of Stephen. In other words, the events described in this passage took place before the conversion of Cornelius, therefore, we know that many Gentiles were added to the church prior to Cornelius.

Some of the refugee Christians, probably made up largely of Hellenistic{1] Jews (Jews who spoke the Greek language), left Jerusalem during the persecution that followed the death of Stephen. Note the similarity between 8:4 and 11:19: “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

To escape the persecution, Saul of Tarsus being the chief oppressor, they fled to cities as far away as “Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch.” Stephen’s death had incited Saul to persecute the church more vigorously (8:3{6]) and he consequently was converted (9:1-30). At first these disciples witnessed Christ only to the Jews in those areas. Now a third result from Stephen’s martyrdom was the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles in those lands (Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch). One of those who was scattered was Philip (8:4{7]), and he witnessed to the Samaritans, an Ethiopian, and to the seacoast communities as far as Caesarea (8:5-40). Another group of Hellenistic refugees is described as evangelizing the seacoast towns further to the north, in the Phoenician plain, which extended some seventy-five miles along the coast of middle Syria from Mt. Carmel north to the river Eleutheros. Its principle cities were Ptolemais, Tyre, Sidon, and Zarephath. Others began work on the Island of Cyprus, the easternmost island of the Mediterranean and some 100 miles off the Syrian coast. Paul and Barnabas would later continue the witness on Cyprus (13:4-12).


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