[Antioch: The Second Apostolic Center]
The early Church experienced a level of harvest of new believers none of us could even imagine.
Pentecost, and the initial harvest of 3,000 on the first day of the Church, initiated three centuries of sustained multi-generational growth and the continual expansion of the Kingdom.
How did they do it?
Part of the answer is that they had an administrative structure that allowed the fivefold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) of the Church to function in each and every local church no matter how large or small they might be.
The apostles first established Jerusalem as a teaching, training, and equipping center.
They began to equip the saints to do the works of Jesus (John 14:12).
By Acts, chapter 8, ordinary Christians were going all over the Roman Empire healing the sick, casting out demons, performing miracles…
Proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and planting the seeds of the Gospel in places covered in spiritual darkness so that disciples were raised up and Jesus could build His Church.
But Jerusalem was just the beginning. The Church in Jerusalem was not the ultimate pattern for the Church .
In fact, there is no model or set pattern for the Church set out for us in the New Testament.
However, there was a second example within the expansion of the early church in the city of Antioch.
Antioch was a large city located 300 miles north of Jerusalem.
What happened there forever changed the Church’s identity.
What was birthed in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) grew and developed and took on a different form in each and every city and town where a Church was established.
Antioch being one of the most important and influential early locations.
It is interesting to trace the expansion of the church from Jerusalem to Antioch.
The Church was born in Jerusalem, and from Acts 2 through 7, pretty much stayed there.
It was a time of much teaching and training. They were building the foundation of the Church and coming to understand what the Church was and the call upon it to spread the message around the known world.
In Acts chapter 8, rising persecution drove most of the early believers out of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria (see: Acts 1:8 for how Jesus predicted this).
Those who were scattered did the works of Jesus wherever they went.
By Acts 9, strong healthy churches were thriving throughout Judea, Samaria, and Galilee with help from the first apostolic center and the fivefold ministry team entered there in Jerusalem
In Acts chapter 11, however, something new happened.
The Church made a major shift, and that shift took place at Antioch
What was so special about Antioch?
In New Testament times, Antioch was called the “Queen of the East.”
With more than 500,000 inhabitants, it was the third largest city in the world
Only Rome (Italy) and Alexandria (Egypt) were bigger
Antioch was a great cosmopolitan, multicultural city
It was located in Syria, but had been built by the Greeks and enlarged by the Romans
It also had a very large Jewish population
Antioch was a crossroads city
People converged on Antioch from all over the known world
Roman roads led west from Antioch to the Roman province of Asia
To the east, the Silk Road (a famous trade route now being reestablished) led to China
To the south roads led down to Jerusalem and on to Egypt
Antioch was connected to the sea by the Orontes River making the city a great maritime trade center of the eastern Mediterranean
Antioch was a beautiful and prosperous city with temples and aqueducts, ornate baths and basilicas
When the first disciples entered the city of Antioch, something incredible happened
Acts 11 tells us that those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Antioch telling the message only to Jews.
That had been the norm and the understanding under which the early Church worked
Everyone in the church at that time was a Messianic Jew
But then we read, “Some of them, however, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. And the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
That was earth shaking!
In Antioch, for the first time in history, Messianic Jews from Jerusalem openly told Gentiles about their Messiah, and the Gentiles got saved.
As a matter of fact, lots of Gentiles got saved. “Great numbers” of Gentiles were saved.
This had, of course, been God’s goal all along.
Even in the Old Testament we are told that God’s ultimate intention was for Gentiles to be saved and come to know the God of Israel.
Psalm 22 says, “All the ends of the earth will turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship.”
God’s goal has always been to draw together men and women from every tribe, and tongue, and language. He wants every expression of humanity to join in a great symphony of praise to God.
None of this could happen in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was important as the birthplace of the Church
But it lacked a key ingredient of God’s plan
Jerusalem had very few Gentiles
So, God brought the Church to the great cosmopolitan city of Antioch
The melting pot of every race, tongue, and ethnic group
There He established a new (second) apostolic center
Here is how it happened…
Acts 11 tells us that when Jerusalem heard that the Gentiles were being saved in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to check it out
Barnabas was more than “an encourager” – He was an apostle
Acts 14:14 tells us that both Paul and Barnabas were apostles
He was not one of the original twelve, but he was, like Paul, part of a second generation of apostles
Barnabas went up to Antioch
As an apostle, he began to set the Church in order, laying a proper foundation (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11-16; and 1 Corinthians 12:28)
In Acts 2 we saw the first apostles establish the first apostolic center in Jerusalem
In Acts 11, we see a new generation of apostles establish the next apostolic center in Antioch
The first thing the apostles did in Jerusalem was to teach and train the people
Acts 2:42 says, “The people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”
The Church in Jerusalem was a training center where the saints were equipped
The same thing happened in Antioch
Acts 11:25 say, “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul” (also known as Paul).
Barnabas knew that Paul was an apostle and teacher, and that the young converts at Antioch needed teaching and training
When he found Paul he brought him to Antioch, and for a whole year they taught a great number of new disciples in this second apostolic center
So Antioch became a training center also
When Paul and Barnabas were teaching the people for that year, what were they teaching them?
They were not teaching them how to figure out what year the rapture would happen
They were not teaching them the five points of Calvinism
They were teaching the saints the basics of the Christian faith so that they would grow and become mature believers and leaders, reproducing themselves by leading others to the Lord
They were teaching them how to live as believers and minister to non-believers
They were training and equipping them to do the works of Jesus
An interesting thing to note:
At that time believers were called “followers of The Way”
The Christian faith was not a religion but a way of life embraced by those who believed in Jesus who came to show His people how to live
At that time “Christian” was not the name of a religion
However, in time those who followed Christ became know as ‘Christians’
The word “Christian” was made by taking the word ‘Christ’ and adding the suffix “ian” which means “little”
So “Christian” literally means “Little Christ.”
As you read the book of Acts, you find that the apostles presented Christ to the Gentiles as one who “went about doing good and healing all who oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38)
So when Gentiles heard the name Christ and were saved, this is what came to mind and this is what they wanted the apostles to teach them and equip them to do
When Paul and Barnabas equipped the saints in Antioch to do the works of Jesus, they began to heal the sick, drive out demons, and win the lost.
So the Gentiles said, “You are all doing the same things Christ did. You are ‘little Christmas!’”
And the name stuck
This is God’s goal for every Christian
God wants you to lay hands on the sick and see them recover
He wants you to find people who are in bondage to the enemy and set them free
He wants you to become a “little Christ”
The apostolic center in Antioch was a training center where believers were equipped to be “little Christs” wherever they went
But there was more going on in Antioch than teaching
Acts 11 says, “During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch”
Why is this significant?
The Church at Antioch, up until this point, had only apostles ministering to the people. These apostles were teachers who imparted truth and laid a foundation for the new church – soon to be an apostolic center
They were not yet strong in the prophetic, so the apostles in Jerusalem sent prophets to minister in Antioch
This fits with Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 12:28 where he writes, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”
Prophets are the second to come when a new work in being established – and so prophets came down to the new church in Antioch to join with the apostles in the training and equipping of the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Apostolic centers are not independent – they are inter-dependent
What one lacks – another provides
This is how fivefold ministry teams are designed and called to function
God wants His Church to share their resources
A Church with a fivefold teacher is suppose to be a resource center for a church that does not have a fivefold teacher resident there
A Church with a fivefold prophet is suppose to be a resource center for churches with no resident fivefold prophets
Thus, God establishes larger regional churches where all five of the fivefold ministers reside and minister
And from these regional apostolic centers they move out to help other churches in the region who do not have resident fivefold ministers
Thus the church will cross-pollinate and will experience all five of the ministries Jesus fulfilled while ministering before His death and resurrection
The result of the prophets from Jerusalem coming to Antioch is shown in Acts 13:1
We read, “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers…”
We see that fivefold ministry is developing in the new apostolic center
Antioch began with apostles bringing the message of the Gospel
Then there was a full year of teaching – as apostles main function is to teach
Then Jerusalem (the first apostolic center) sent prophets as this is always the second ministry to be added
This causes the prophetic to begin to stir in the hearts of the people and in the assembly of the saints
So, in Acts 13:1 there are apostles, prophets and teachers in the Antioch church (regional church)
Acts 13:2-3 tells us, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
So, Paul was released by the Church to move apostolically and plant the Gospel of the Kingdom where it had yet to be heard
The Church today calls this the first missionary journey when really it is the first apostolic journey
Antioch became a regional church that was sending out “labourers into the harvest field”
A regional apostolic center – a home base from which to reach the nations
In years to come, apostolic teams would go in and out from Antioch all over the Roman Empire
This is how the great apostolic center at Antioch was established
We are seeing God doing the same things today in many places
God is doing a new thing
Apostolic centers are being restored to the Church world-wide