Summary: As we examine this passage it is easy to see three outstanding things about these who were first called Christians. They had made a CHOICE for Christ. They had been CHANGED by Christ. They were accepting a CHALLENGE for Christ.
The First Christians
Acts 11:19-26 "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. 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. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. 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. 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. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 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."
As we examine this passage it is easy to see three outstanding things about these who were first called Christians. They had made a CHOICE for Christ. They had been CHANGED by Christ. They were accepting a CHALLENGE for Christ.
One dictionary definition of a Christian reads: "One who has accepted Christ and His way of life..." "Belonging to or a follower of Christ." In Antioch, a great trading city of the Roman Empire their sophisticated critics weren’t inventing a definitive or complimentary description of these simple followers of the man of Galilee. One might easily envision them as they passed by, stopping and pointing, and whispering in derision and scorn, "See the little Christs!" In every generation since this generation of the first Christians, true believers have always had their critics. In most generations their more severe critics eventually become their persecutors and even their murderers.
In this harsh and pagan city, cruelty was the norm. Prostitution, slavery, sensuality, sexual perversion, paganism and idolatry of every description were rampant. The simple, unpretentious behavior of these followers of the Galilean must have been a breath of fresh air in a sewer of wickedness. Their kind, compassionate and benevolent life style was, to say the least, radically different. Their cultural contemporaries could not understand their peculiar conduct.
Early historians tell of rampant infanticide in this era. Unwanted babies would be discarded upon rubbish heaps and left to die. It is said Christian pastors and church leaders would make their rounds and pick them up. In order to save them, they take them to the homes of members of the congregation. Later, rumors of cannibalism were based upon this practice. Such a culture could not understand such real Christian kindness and care.
Yes, they were different people. They were peculiar people. As is often the case, man’s defensive mechanism prompt’s him to condemn those who were by example and deed showing the exceeding sinfulness of man. They were salting the world around them and the salt smarted. They were shining their lights into the corners and crevices of sinful darkness and that light made their contemporaries squirm. As our Savior predicted, men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. They resent the light that faithful and genuine Christians shine upon their sinful deeds.
Obviously, their brand of Christianity must have been somewhat different from the general brand we see today. Witnessing was the norm. It was assumed that a follower would really follow the basic instructions of the handbook of their Founder and Guide. They were people of the Book. There were no denominations or divisions. They were all members of a simple assembly of Bible-believing and practicing baptized believers. They had been scripturally immersed and were trying to follow the precepts and teachings of their Founder. They wished to truly observe the "all things" Christ had commanded in His Great Commission. This was God’s way then. This is God’s way now, if we are also to call ourselves Christians.
When asked about their peculiar way of life they surely followed the admonition of David: "Let the redeemed of the LORD say [so], whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy." (Psalm 107:2) When asked about the obvious hope that was in them it can be assumed that responded as Peter would later instruct: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:" (I Peter 3:15) This in itself is a descriptive analysis of the real Christian life. It defines why they were different.