And as we follow the progress of events, and find that all movements in the Church begin to have more and more reference to the Heathen, we observe that these movements begin to circulate more and more round a new center of activity. Not Jerusalem, but Antioch, - not the Holy City of God’s ancient people, but the profane city of the Greeks and Romans, - is the place to which the student of sacred history is now directed. During the remainder of the Acts of the Apostles our attention is at least divided between Jerusalem and Antioch, until at last, after following Apostle Paul's many journeys, we come with him to Rome. For some time Constantinople must remain a city of the future; but we are more than once reminded of the greatness of Alexandria:(See Acts 6:9 (with Acts 2:10), Acts 27:6, 28:11; and compare Acts 18:24, 19:1, with 1Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-6, and Titus 3:13) and thus even in the life of the Apostle we find prophetic intimations of four of the five great centers of the early Catholic Church.
At present we are occupied with Antioch, and the point before us is that particular moment in the Church’s history, when it was first called "Christian." Both the place and the event are remarkable: and the time, if we are able to determine it, is worthy of our attention. Though we are following the course of an individual biography, it is necessary to pause, on critical occasions, to look around on what is passing in the Empire at large. And, happily, we are now arrived at a point where we are able distinctly to see the path of the Apostle’s life intersecting the general history of the period. This, therefore, is the right place for a few chronological remarks. A few such remarks, made once for all, may justify what has gone before, and prepare the way for subsequent chapters.
With the accession of Claudius the Holy Land had a king once more. Judea was added to the tetrarchies of Philip and Antipas, and Herod Agrippa I. ruled over the wide territory which had been governed by his grandfather. With the alleviation of the distress of the Jews, proportionate suffering came upon the Christians. The "rest" which, in the distractions of Caligula’s reign, the Churches had enjoyed "throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria," was now at an end. "About this time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church." He slew one Apostle, and "because he saw it pleased the Jews," he proceeded to imprison another. But he was not long spared to seek popularity among the Jews, or to murder and oppress the Christians. It is evident that we have only to ascertain the successive intervals of his life, in order to see him at every point, in his connection with the transactions of the Empire. "We shall observe this often as we proceed. At present it is more important to remark that the same date throws some light on that earlier part of the Apostle’s path which is confessedly obscure. Reckoning backwards, we remember that "three years" intervened between his conversion and return to Jerusalem. (Galatians 1:18)
The date thus important for all students of Bible chronology is worthy of special regard by the Christians of Britain. For in that year the Emperor Claudius returned from the shores of this island to the metropolis of his empire. He came here in command of a military expedition, to complete the work which the landing of Caesar, a century before, had begun, or at least predicted. When Claudius was in Britain, its inhabitants were not Christian. They could hardly in any sense be said to have been civilized. He came, as he thought, to add a barbarous province to his already gigantic empire; but he really came to prepare the way for the silent progress of the Christian Church. His troops were the instruments of bringing among our barbarous ancestors those charities which were just then beginning to display themselves (See Acts 11:22- 24, and 27-30) in Antioch and Jerusalem. A "new name" was faintly rising on the Syrian shore, which was destined to spread like the cloud seen by the Prophet’s servant from the brow of Mount Carmel. A better civilization, a better citizenship, than that of the Roman Empire, was preparing for us and for many. One Apostle at Tarsus was waiting for his call to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles. Another Apostle at Joppa was receiving a divine intimation that "God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." (Acts 10:34, 35)
But to return to our proper narrative. When intelligence came to Jerusalem that Peter had broken through the restraints of the Jewish Law, and had even "eaten" at the table of the Gentiles, there was general surprise and displeasure among "those of the circumcision." But when he explained to them all the transaction, they approved his conduct, and praised God for His mercy to the Heathen. (Acts 11:18) And soon news came from a greater distance, which showed that the same unexpected change was operating more widely. "We have seen that the persecution, in which Stephen was killed, resulted in a general dispersion of the Christians. Wherever they went, they spoke to their Jewish brethren of their faith that the promises had been fulfilled in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This dispersion and preaching of the Gospel extended even to the island of Cyprus, and along the Phoenician coast as far as Antioch. For some time the glad tidings were made known only to the scattered children of Israel. But at length some of the Hellenistic Jews, natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, spoke to the Greeks themselves at Antioch, and the Divine Spirit gave such power to the Word, that a vast number "believed and turned to the Lord." The news was not long in traveling to Jerusalem. Perhaps some message was sent in haste to the Apostles of the Church. The Jewish Christians in Antioch might be perplexed how to deal with their new Gentile converts: and it is not unnatural to suppose that the presence of Barnabas might be anxiously desired by the fellow-missionaries of his native island.
We ought to observe the honorable place which the island of Cyprus was permitted to occupy in the first work of Christianity. We shall soon trace the footsteps of the Apostle of the Heathen in the beginning of his travels over the length of this island; and see here the first earthly potentate converted, and linking his name forever with that of Apostle Paul. (Acts 13:6-9) Now, while Saul is yet at Tarsus, men of Cyprus are made the instruments of awakening the Gentiles; one of them might be that "Mnason of Cyprus," who afterwards (then "a disciple of old standing ") was his host at Jerusalem; (Acts 21:16) and Joses the Levite of Cyprus, whom the Apostles had long ago called "the Son of Consolation," and who had removed all the prejudice which looked suspiciously on Saul’s conversion, (Acts 9:27) is the first teacher sent by the Mother-Church to the new disciples at Antioch. "He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." He rejoiced when he saw what God’s grace was doing; he exhorted all to cling fast to the Savior whom they had found; and he labored himself with abundant success. But feeling the greatness of the work, and remembering the zeal and strong character of his friend, whose vocation to this particular task of instructing the Heathen was doubtless well known to him, "he departed to Tarsus to seek Saul."
Whatever length of time had elapsed since Saul came from Jerusalem to Tarsus, and however that time had been employed by him, - whether he had already founded any of those churches in his native Cilicia, which we read of soon after (Acts 15:41), - whether (as is highly probable) he had there undergone any of those manifold labors and sufferings recorded by himself (2 Corinthians 11) but omitted by Luke, - whether by active intercourse with the Gentiles, by study of their literature, by traveling, by discoursing with the philosophers, he had been making himself acquainted with their opinions and their prejudices, and so preparing his mind for the work that was before him, - or whether he had been waiting in silence for the call of God’s providence, praying for guidance from above, reflecting on the condition of the Gentiles, and gazing more and more closely on the plan of the world’s redemption, - however this may be, it must have been an eventful day when Barnabas, having come across the sea from Seleucia, or round by the defiles of Mount Amanus, suddenly appeared in the streets of Tarsus. The last time the two friends had met was in Jerusalem. All that they then hoped, and probably more than they then thought possible, had occurred. "God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life" (2Corinthians 11:18). Barnabas had "seen the grace of God" (2Corinthians 11:23) with his own eyes at Antioch; and under his own teaching "a great multitude" (2Corinthians 11:24) had been "added to the Lord." But he needed assistance. He needed the presence of one whose wisdom was higher than his own, whose zeal was an example to all, and whose peculiar mission had been miraculously declared. Saul recognized the voice of God in the words of Barnabas: and the two friends traveled in all haste to the Syrian metropolis.
There they continued "a whole year," actively prosecuting the sacred work, teaching and confirming those who joined themselves to the assemblies (See Acts 11:26) of the ever-increasing Church. As new converts, in vast numbers, came in from the ranks of the Gentiles, the Church began to lose its ancient appearance of a Jewish sect, and to stand out in relief, as a great self-existent community, in the face both of Jews and Gentiles. Hitherto it had been possible, and even natural, that the Christians should be considered, by the Jews themselves, and by the Heathen whose notice they attracted, as only one among the many theological parties, which prevailed in Jerusalem and in the Dispersion. But when Gentiles began to listen to what was preached concerning Christ, - when they were united as brethren on equal terms, and admitted to baptism without the necessity of previous circumcision, - when the Mosaic features of this society were lost in the wider character of the New Covenant, - then it became evident that these men were something more than the Pharisees or Sadducees, the Essenes or Herodians, or any sect or party among the Jews. Thus a new term in the vocabulary of the human race came into existence at Antioch about the year 44. Thus Jews and Gentiles, who, under the teaching of Apostle Paul, believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Savior of the world, "were first called Christians."
It is not likely that they received this name from the Jews. The "Children of Abraham" (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; John 8:39) employed a term much more expressive of hatred and contempt. They called them "the sect of the Nazarenes." (Acts 24:5) These disciples of Jesus traced their origin to Nazareth in Galilee: and it was a proverb, that nothing good could come from Nazareth. (John 1:46. See John 7:41, 52; Luke 13:2, &c) Besides this, there was a further reason why the Jews would not have called the disciples of Jesus by the name of "Christians." The word "Christ" has the same meaning with "Messiah;" and the Jews, however blinded and prejudiced on this subject, would never have used so sacred a word to point an expression of mockery and derision; and they could not have used it in grave and serious earnest to designate those whom they held to be the followers of a false Messiah, a fictitious Christ. Nor is it likely that the "Christians" gave this name to themselves. In the Acts of the Apostles, and in their own letters, we find them designating themselves as "brethren," "disciples," "believers," "saints." (Acts 15:23, 9:26, 5:14, 9:32; Romans 15:25; Colossians 1:2, &c) Only in two places (Acts 26:28, and 1Peter 4:16) do we find the term "Christians;" and in both instances it is implied to be a term used by those who are without. There is little doubt that the name originated with the Gentiles, who began now to see that this new sect was so far distinct from the Jews, that they might naturally receive a new designation. And the form of the word implies that it came from the Romans, not from the Greeks.
The word "Christ" was often in the conversation of the believers, as we know it to have been constantly in their letters. "Christ" was the title of Him, whom they avowed as their leader and their chief. They confessed that this Christ had been crucified; but they asserted that He was risen from the dead, and that He guided them by His invisible power. Thus "Christian" was the name which naturally found its place in the reproachful language of their enemies. In the first instance, we have every reason to believe that it was a term of ridicule and derision. And it is remarkable that the people of Antioch were notorious for inventing names of derision, and for turning their wit into the channels of ridicule. In every way there is something very significant in the place where we first received the name we bear. Not in Jerusalem, the city of the Old Covenant, the city of the people who were chosen to the exclusion of all others, but in a Heathen city, the Eastern center of Greek fashion and Roman luxury; and not till it was shown that the New Covenant was inclusive of all others; then and there we were first called Christians, and the Church received from the world its true and honorable name.