Antioch was located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem in Syria. In the first-century, cosmopolitan, metropolitan, pagan Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman world, boasting a population of about a half-million. It was in Antioch, far from Jerusalem, the cradle of Christianity, that the model New Testament church was established.
“The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
The New Testament has several names for those individuals who congregate, who gather, who assemble, to form a local church. In the early days, the church in Jerusalem experienced great growth. “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). Believers.
When God commissioned Ananias to go to Saul after his Damascus Road experience, fearful Ananias responded, “Lord ... I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). Remember: There are only two classifications: saints and ain’ts. Either you’re a saint because you’ve been saved, or you ain’t.
Later “when (Saul/Paul) arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).
As time passed, “some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers...”(Acts 15:1) ... and the sisters.
Members of the Body of Christ were variously called believers, saints, disciples, brothers, and sisters. But “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
I seriously doubt that the followers of Jesus would have brazenly used the holy name of their King, the Savior, the Christ, to define and describe themselves. And certainly, the Jewish believers wouldn’t have used the Greek word “Christ.” They would have used the equivalent Hebrew word “Messiah,” and “Messiah-ians” doesn’t easily roll off the tongue.
In first-century Antioch, “Christian” wasn’t a self-description. Their Gentile neighbors and coworkers must have introduced the slang as a derogatory slur. They said, “those crazy folks are little Christs or imitation Christs.” The church at Antioch accepted the nickname as a badge of honor. Today, followers of Christ, disciples of Jesus, are proudly called Christians.
So, let’s make the point. The members of the local church at Antioch, the model church, did something to provoke the non-believers. They were different. They were odd. In obedience to Jesus’ challenge, they became “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The Christians at Antioch stood out like a candle in a dark room. The church at Antioch was growing, going, and glowing!
Wouldn’t it be something if those who live in darkness today looked at Christians and saw God’s grace and felt God’s love. Wouldn’t it be something if we were recognized as odd.
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.