Acts 11:19-30 (web)
The First Gentile Church
that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch,
speaking the word to no one except to Jews only.
11:20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who,
when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus.
11:21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
11:22 The report concerning them came to the ears of the assembly which was in Jerusalem.
They sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch,
11:23 who, when he had come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad.
He exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they should remain near to the Lord.
11:24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,
and many people were added to the Lord.
11:25 Barnabas went out to Tarsus to look for Saul.
11:27 Now in these days, prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
vs 20 Those from Cyprus and Cyrene, being Jews from a Hellenistic background, were culturally closer to the Greeks and therefore not surprisingly they made the first contacts there. Cyrene was in North Africa, but had been conquered by Alexander the Great and Hellenized.
vs 22 The church of Jerusalem probably didn't consider this development significant enough to send Peter. Robertson notes, "'It was a departure of startling boldness' (Furneaux) by laymen outside of the circle of official leaders." But then again maybe that's what Jesus intended - that there by no clergy/laity division, but that all be involved in the work of the ministry. (At least that's my opinion as an ordinary layman)
Barnabus was glad and encouraged them to continue. But this is not always the case when Christians view someone else's successful ministry. For often there is jealously and envy. Thank God for the Barnabuses among us.
vs 25 The Apostle Paul was of course most appropriate from this ministry.
Barnabus had quite amazing and rare leadership qualities. For he always takes the initiative. Even in his later journey with Paul the idolatrous Greeks in Lystra would hail him as Zeus, the king of their gods, and Paul as Hermes, a messenger of the gods. Yet it seems he purposely and willingly takes a backseat to Paul. Such humility in leadership is rare. Usually leaders want to make a big deal of themselves and get paranoid of losing their position to someone else. But Barnabus had the attitude of John the Baptist, "He must become greater; I must become less."Joh 3:30 Making disciplemakers is a ministry in which you help others develop their ministry. It requires a selfless attitude.
vs 26 Paul usually spends one to three years ministering in an area. The believers were first labeled "Christians" by the unbelievers around them. It was what the society called them. Therefore when the term is used, it is not referring to a person's salvation status - whether they have been born of God - but rather whether they are outwardly a follower of Jesus in a general sense. Today the Christian community tends to use the term to refer only to the "elect" or saved. But that is not the way the Bible uses the term.
vs 27-30 Prophets primarily proclaim the Word of God. But at times they will also predict the future. Here we see such a prediction benefitting the Christian community. However these days Christians often presume they can prophecy when they can't, and in doing so lead others astay. The Y2K fiasco is an example of such. Trusting in the ministers who made predictions of doom and gloom many Christians made fools of themselves taking unneccesary and even drastic measures to prepare and boasting to others of what would happen. Then nothing happened. And so throughout history ministers have often presumed to be prophets and again and again have been wrong, much to the damage of the Christian community and to their testimony in the society.
I don't think that when it says, "came prophets from Jerusalem" that it means simply men who claimed to be prophets. I think rather that these had gained a reputation for prophecying accurately. The famine that did finally come in about 46 a.d. was not in all the world, but restricted to Israel, according to Josephus. "All the world" in this case means "all the land", referring to the land of Israel. And this was how they interpreted it. For if both Antioch and Jerusalem were to experience famine, who should send money to whom? Clearly it was Jerusalem that was reckoned the one in trouble, not Antioch. The NIV is incorrect in it's interpretation that this referred to the entire Roman Empire.
The prophecy was not unusual. Israel didn't have large sources of fresh water other than the Sea of Galilee, and depended highly on rain water. Thus throughout its history famines occurred due to lack of rain. At one time God had Elijah shut up the skies to bring on a famine because of Israel's sins. And even prior to that Jacob entered Egypt because of a famine. In fact this is somewhat a parallel to that event in that God have given Joseph a vision while in Egypt to prepare for the famine, and in doing so saved his father and brothers.
But may there also have been a purpose for the famine being localized
in Israel at this time? Interpreting such events as a sign can be rather
ambiguous. Was it judgment on the unbelieving Jews for their rejection
of the Messiah? The unbelievers could argue that it was a judgment brought
upon by the heresy of these Jesus followers. And so trying to interpret
such events you run into a "Job" situation, in which events can be easily
misinterpreted. So we can't say for sure. However it is interesting to
consider the effect among the churches. Perhaps the church of Jerusalem
may have more appreciation of the spread of the gospel now. For if it hadn't
spread outside of Israel, they wouldn't have had such famine relief. And
by giving aid, the church at Antioch would feel less like second class
Christians. The famine produced greater love between these Christian who
may have otherwise been drifting apart because of prejudices and location.