We must allude to its edifices and ornaments only so far as they are due to the Greek kings of Syria and the first five Caesars of Rome. If we were to allow our description to wander to the times of Justinian or the Crusaders, though these are the times of Antioch’s greatest glory, we should be trespassing on a period of history which does not belong to us. Strabo, in the time of Augustus, describes the city as a Tetrapolis, or union of four cities. The two first were erected by Seleucus Nicator himself, in the situation already described, between Mount Silpius and the river, on that wide space of level ground where a few poor habitations still remain by the banks of the Orontes. The river has gradually changed its course and appearance, as the city has decayed. Once it flowed round an island which, like the island in the Seine, by its thoroughfares and bridges, and its own noble buildings, became part of a magnificent whole. But, in Paris, the Old City is on the island; in Antioch, it was the New City, built by the second Seleucus and the third Antiochus. Its chief features were a palace, and an arch like that of Napoleon.
The fourth and last part of the Tetrapolis was built by Antiochus Epiphanes, where Mount Silpius rises abruptly on the south. On one of its craggy summits he placed, in the fervor of his Romanizing mania, a temple dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus; and on another, a strong citadel, which dwindled to the Saracen Castle of the first Crusade. At the rugged bases of the mountain, the ground was leveled for a glorious street, which extended for four miles across the length of the city, and where sheltered crowds could walk through continuous colonnades from the eastern to the western suburb. The whole was surrounded by a wall, which, ascending to the heights and returning to the river, does not deviate very widely in its course from the wall of the Middle Ages, which can still be traced by the fragments of ruined towers. This wall is assigned by a Byzantine writer to Tiberius, but it seems more probable that the Emperor only repaired what Antiochus Epiphanes had built. Turning now to the period of the Empire, we find that Antioch had memorials of all the great Romans whose names have been mentioned as yet in this biography. When Pompey was defeated by Caesar, the conqueror’s name was perpetuated in this Eastern city by an aqueduct and by baths, and by a basilica called Caesarium. In the reign of Augustus, Agrippa built in all cities of the Empire, and Herod of Judea followed the example to the utmost of his power. Both found employment for their munificence at Antioch. A gay suburb rose under the patronage of the one, and the other contributed a road and a portico. The reign of Tiberius was less remarkable for great architectural works; but the Syrians by the Orontes had to thank him for many improvements and restorations in their city. Even the four years of his successor left behind them the aqueduct and the baths of Caligula.
Thus, if any city, in the first century, was worthy to be called the Heathen Queen and Metropolis of the East, that city was Antioch. She was represented, in a famous allegorical statue, as a female figure, sented on a rock and crowned, with the river Orontes at her feet. With this image, which art has made perpetual, we conclude our description. There is no excuse for continuing it to the age of Vespasian and Titus, when Judea was taken, and the Western Gate, decorated with the spoils, was called the "Gate of the Cherubim," - or to the Saracen age, when, after many years of Christian history and Christian mythology, we find the "Gate of Apostle Paul" placed opposite the "Gate of George," and when Duke Godfrey pitched his camp between the river and the city-wall. And there is reason to believe that earthquakes, the constant enemy of the people of Antioch, have so altered the very appearance of its site, that such description would be of little use. As the Vesuvius of Virgil or Pliny would hardly be recognized in the angry neighbor of modern Naples, so it is more than probable that the dislocated crags, which still rise above the Orontes, are greatly altered in form from the fort-crowned heights of Seleucus or Tiberius, Justinian or Tancred.
Earthquakes occurred in each of the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. And it is likely that, when Saul and Barnabas were engaged in their apostolic work, parts of the city had something of that appearance which still makes Lisbon dreary, new and handsome buildings being raised in close proximity to the ruins left by the late calamity. It is remarkable how often great physical calamities are permitted by God to follow in close succession to each other. That age, which, as we have seen, had been visited by earthquakes, was presently visited by famine. The reign of Claudius, from bad harvests or other causes, was a period of general distress and scarcity "over the whole world." In the fourth year of his reign, we are told by Josephus that the famine was so severe, that the price of food became enormous, and great numbers perished. At this time it happened that Helena, the mother of Izates, king of Adiabene, and a recent convert to Judaism, came to worship at Jerusalem. Moved with compassion for the misery she saw around her, she sent to purchase corn from Alexandria and figs from Cyprus, for distribution among the poor. Izates himself (who had also been converted by one who bore the same name with him who baptized Apostle Paul) shared the charitable feelings of his mother, and sent large sums of money to Jerusalem.
While this relief came from Assyria, from Cyprus, and from Africa to the Jewish sufferers in Judea, God did not suffer His own Christian people, probably the poorest and certainly the most disregarded in that country, to perish in the general distress. And their relief also came from nearly the same quarters. While Barnabas and Saul were evangelizing the Syrian capital, and gathering in the harvest, the first seeds of which had been sown by "men of Cyprus and Cyrene," certain prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, and one of them named Agabus announced that a time of famine was at hand. (Acts 11:28) The Gentile disciples felt that they were bound by the closest link to those Jewish brethren whom though they had never seen they loved. "For if the Gentiles had been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty was also to minister unto them in carnal things." (Romans 15:27) No time was lost in preparing for the coming distress. All the members of the Christian community, according to their means, "determined to send relief," Saul and Barnabas being chosen to take the contribution to the elders at Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29, 30)
About the time when these messengers came to the Holy City on their errand of love, a worse calamity than that of famine had fallen upon the Church. One Apostle had been murdered, and another was in prison. There is something touching in the contrast between the two brothers, James and John. One died before the middle of the first Christian century; the other lived on to its close. One was removed just when his Master’s kingdom, concerning which he had so eagerly inquired, (See Mark 10:35-45; Acts 1:6) was beginning to show its real character; he probably never heard the word "Christian" pronounced. Zebedee’s other son remained till the anti-Christian (1John 2:18, 4:3; 2Jo. 1:7) enemies of the faith were "already come," and was laboring against them when his brother had been fifty years at rest in the Lord. He who had foretold the long service of John revealed to Peter that he should die by a violent death. (John 21:18-22. See 2Peter 1:14) But the time was not yet come. Herod had bound him with two chains. Besides the soldiers who watched his sleep, guards were placed before the door of the prison. And "after the passover" the king intended to bring him out and gratify the people with his death. But Herod’s death was nearer than Peter’s. For a moment we see the Apostle in captivity and the king in the plenitude of his power. But before the autumn a dreadful change had taken place. On the 1st of August (we follow a probable calculation, and borrow some circumstances from the Jewish historian) there was a great commemoration in Caesarea. Some say it was in honor of the Emperor’s safe return from the island of Britain. However this might be, the city was crowded, and Herod was there. On the second day of the festival he came into the theater. That theater had been erected by his grandfather, who had murdered the Innocents; and now the grandson was there, who had murdered an Apostle. The stone seats, rising in a great semicircle, tier above tier, were covered with an excited multitude. The king came in, clothed in magnificent robes, of which silver was the costly and brilliant material. It was early in the day, and the sun’s rays fell upon the king, so that the eyes of the beholders were dazzled with the brightness which surrounded him. Voices from the crowd, here and there, exclaimed that it was the apparition of something divine. And when he spoke and made an oration to the people, they gave a shout, saying, "It is the voice of a God and not of a man." But in the midst of this idolatrous ostentation the angel of God suddenly smote him. He was carried out of the theater a dying man, and on the 6th of August he was dead.
The country was placed again under Roman governors, and hard times were at hand for the Jews. Herod Agrippa had courted their favor. That part of the city, which this boundary was intended to enclose, was a suburb when Apostle Paul was converted. The work was not completed till the Jews were preparing for their final struggle with the Romans: and the Apostle, when he came from Antioch to Jerusalem, must have noticed the unfinished wall to the north and west of the old Damascus gate. It is not probable that he was in Jerusalem at the passover, when Peter was in prison, or that he was praying with those anxious disciples at the "house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark." (Acts 12:12) But there is this link of interesting connection between that house and Apostle Paul, that it was the familiar home of one who was afterwards (not always (See Acts 13:13, 15:37-39) without cause for anxiety or reproof) a companion of his journeys. When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, they were attended by "John, whose surname was Mark." With the affection of Abraham towards Lot, his kinsman Barnabas withdrew him from the scene of persecution. We need not doubt that higher motives were added, - that at the first, as at the last, (2Timothy 4:11. See below) Apostle Paul regarded him as "profitable to him for the ministry."
Thus attended, the Apostle willingly retraced his steps towards Antioch. A field of noble enterprise was before him. He could not doubt that God, who had so prepared him, would work by his means great conversions among the Heathen. At this point of his life, we cannot avoid noticing those circumstances of inward and outward preparation, which fitted him for his peculiar position of standing between the Jews and Gentiles. He was not a Sadducee, he had never Hellenized, - he had been educated at Jerusalem, - every thing conspired to give him authority, when he addressed his countrymen as a "Hebrew of the Hebrews." At the same time, in his apostolical relation to Christ, he was quite disconnected with the other Apostles; he had come in silence to a conviction of the truth at a distance from the Judaizing Christians, and had early overcome those prejudices which impeded so many in their approaches to the Heathen. He had just been long enough at Jerusalem to be recognized and welcomed by the apostolic college, (Acts 9:27) but not long enough even to be known by face "unto the churches in Judea." (Galatians 1:22) He had been withdrawn into Cilicia till the baptism of Gentiles was a notorious and familiar fact to those very churches. He could hardly be blamed for continuing what Peter had already begun.
And if the Spirit of God had prepared him for building up the United Church of Jews and Gentiles, and the Providence of God had directed all the steps of his life to this one result, we are called on to notice the singular fitness of this last employment, on which we have seen him engaged, for assuaging the suspicious feeling which separated the two great branches of the Church. In quitting for a time his Gentile converts at Antioch, and carrying a contribution of money to the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, he was by no means leaving the higher work for the lower. He was building for aftertimes. The interchange of mutual benevolence was a safe foundation for future confidence. Temporal comfort was given in gratitude for spiritual good received. The Church’s first days were christened with charity. No sooner was its new name received, in token of the union of Jews and Gentiles, than the sympathy of its members was asserted by the work of practical benevolence. We need not hesitate to apply to that work the words which Apostle Paul used, after many years, of another collection for the poor Christians in Judea:—
"For the administration of this service is not only filling to overflowing the deficiencies of the saints, but is also abounding by the giving of many thanks to God. Through the performance of this service, they are glorifying God for your professed subjection to the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of the distribution toward them and toward all the saints; And in their supplications for you, there is a longing on your behalf, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you." (2Corinthians 9:12-14, HBFV)
Paul becomes central character of New Testament
The second part of the Acts of the Apostles is generally reckoned to begin with the thirteenth chapter. At this point Apostle Paul begins to appear as the principal character; and the narrative, gradually widening and expanding with his travels, seems intended to describe to us, in minute detail, the communication of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The thirteenth and fourteenth chapters embrace a definite and separate subject: and this subject is the first journey of the first Christian missionaries to the Heathen. These two chapters of the inspired record are the authorities for the present and the succeeding chapters of this work, in which we intend to follow the steps of Paul and Barnabas, in their circuit through Cyprus and the southern part of Lesser Asia.
The history opens suddenly and abruptly. We are told that there were, in the Church at Antioch, (Acts 13:1) "prophets and teachers," and among the rest "Barnabas," with whom we are already familiar. The others were "Simeon, who was surnamed Niger," and "Lucius of Cyrene" and "Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch," - and "Saul’ who still appears under his Hebrew name. We observe, moreover, not only that he is mentioned after Barnabas, but that he occupies the lowest place in this enumeration of "prophets and teachers." The distinction between these two offices in the Apostolic Church will be discussed hereafter. At present it is sufficient to remark that the "prophecy" of the New Testament does not necessarily imply a knowledge of things to come, but rather a gift of exhorting with a peculiar force of inspiration. In the Church’s early miraculous days the "prophet" appears to have been ranked higher than the "teacher." (Compare Acts 13:1 with 1Corinthians 12:28, 29; Ephesians 4:11) And we may perhaps infer that, up to this point of the history, Barnabas had belonged to the rank of "prophets," and Saul to that of "teachers:" which would be in strict conformity with the inferiority of the latter to the former, which, as we have seen, has been hitherto observed.
Of the other three, who are grouped with these two chosen missionaries, we do not know enough to justify any long disquisition. But we may remark in passing that there is a certain interest attaching to each one of them. Simeon is one of those Jews who bore a Latin surname in addition to their Hebrew name, like "John whose surname was Mark," mentioned in the last verse of the preceding chapter, and like Saul himself, whose change of appellation will presently be brought under notice. (See Acts 13:9. Compare Colossians 4:11) Lucius, probably the same who is referred to in the Epistle to the Romans, is a native of Cyrene, that African city which has already been noticed as abounding in Jews, and which sent to Jerusalem our Savior’s cross-bearer. Manaen is spoken of as the foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch: this was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee; and since we learn from Josephus that this Herod and his brother Archelaus were children of the same mother, and afterwards educated together at Rome, it is probable that this Christian prophet or teacher had spent his early childhood with those two princes, who were now both banished from Palestine to the banks of the Rhone.
These were the most conspicuous persons in the Church of Antioch, when a revelation was received of the utmost importance. The occasion on which the revelation was made seems to have been a fit preparation for it. The Christians were engaged in religious services of peculiar solemnity. The Holy Spirit spoke to them "as they ministered unto the Lord and fasted." The word here translated "ministered," has been taken by opposite controversialists to denote the celebration of the "sacrifice of the mass" on the one hand, or the exercise of the office of "preaching" on the other. It will be safer if we say simply that the Christian community at Antioch was engaged in one united act of prayer and humiliation. These religious services might have had a special reference to the means which were to be adopted for the spread of the Gospel now evidently intended for all; and the words "separate me now Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them," may have been an answer to specific prayers. How this revelation was made, whether by the mouth of some of the prophets who were present, or by the impulse of a simultaneous and general inspiration, - whether the route to be taken by Barnabas and Saul was at this time precisely indicated, - and whether they had previously received a conscious personal call, of which this was the public ratification, - it is useless to inquire. A definite work was pointed out, as now about to be begun under the counsel of God; two definite agents in this work were publicly singled out: and we soon see them sent forth to their arduous undertaking, with the sanction of the Church at Antioch.
Their final consecration and departure was the occasion of another religious solemnity. A fast was appointed, and prayers were offered up; and, with that simple ceremony of ordination which we trace through the earlier periods of Jewish history, and which we here see adopted under the highest authority in the Christian Church, "they laid their hands on them, and sent them away." The words are wonderfully simple; but those who devoutly reflect on this great occasion, and on the position of the first Christians at Antioch, will not find it difficult to imagine the thoughts which occupied the hearts of the Disciples during these first "Ember Days of the Church - their deep sense of the importance of the work which was now beginning, - their faith in God, on whom they could rely in the midst of such difficulties, - their suspense during the absence of those by whom their own faith had been fortified, - their anxiety for the intelligence they might bring on their return.