‘‘And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.’’ Acts 11:26
Additional reading: Act.26:28; 1Pet.4:16
Following the persecution that the church faced after Stephen had been killed many believers travelled to different parts of the then world preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and converting many. While some preached only to the Jews, others from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and preached the Gospel to Gentiles and as many that believed were saved.
The news about the growth of the Church and the manifest presence of God in Antioch got to the disciples in Jerusalem who immediately detailed Barnabas to visit the brethren in Antioch. Indeed he confirmed all that was heard in Jerusalem. Thereafter, Barnabas went in search of Apostle Paul in Tarsus. Having found him, both men returned to Antioch and remained there for another year preaching and teaching the people about the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then something remarkable happened within the period of spiritual revival in Antioch. The people of Antioch noticed that the disciples behaved in a peculiar way quite different from others. The people of this town saw a clear and distinct lifestyle about the disciples. They soon realised that they behaved and acted out Jesus Christ in their daily lives. For this reason, they were described as Christians: ‘‘…And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.’’
Let us see this statement carefully: ‘‘…And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians [Christianos…a Christian, i.e. follower of Christ] first in Antioch.’’
Why were believers described as Christians by non-believers? Permit me to first of all point out that this title was in the first instance derogatory — expressing criticism or low opinion about someone. In other words, the society then had a very low opinion about believers in Christ — they were simply seen as misfits — those who had no place in the society. They believed that only the poor and the least in all things should have anything to do with Jesus who called Himself the Christ and the Son of God. As it was some years back in Nigeria, those who accepted Jesus as Lord were considered as those at the low ebb of the society. Children from rich homes were either disowned by their parents or threatened in one form or the other for their faith in Christ. At that time, only a handful of the elite openly declared their faith in Christ.
But in later times and as it is presently, Christ — ‘ianos’ simply gives identity to adherents or devotees of Christ. The Greek suffix ‘ianos’ was a description for slaves showing their devotion to their masters. This, therefore, showed adherence of someone to another or to a group. Christianos then means that a believer is a slave or adherent to Christ. Any person that believes in Christ is simply somebody that is committed to Jesus Christ or a follower of Jesus Christ. Christianos actually conveys the sense of intimate relationship between Jesus Christ and His devotees (followers). Against this backdrop, to say that one is a Christian is to say or accept that Jesus Christ and His word have become his supreme authority just as a slave would totally subject himself under the supreme authority of his master.
If the character of a slave identified who his master is, the character of the believers gave identity to whom they believed in. In this regard, the believers in Antioch were first identified as Christians — devotees, adherents or followers of Jesus Christ because of their conduct, speech, etc. I wish to state here that after Paul had made his speech before Agrippa, Agrippa quickly responded saying: ‘‘And Agrippa said to Paul, A little more and you will be making me a Christian.’’ (Acts 26:28 BBE.), Agrippa was actually saying if Paul thought or intended to make him a devotee, adherent or follower of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the conduct of the believers in Antioch in speech, behaviour and in their general daily lives made those in Antioch see them as people who lived their lives just as their Master and Saviour did. They were not in any way different from Jesus Christ. The believers in Antioch I must say were Jesus Christ personified and to this end they were described or given the title Christians.
Meditation: Does my daily life reflect that of Jesus Christ? Would the people I meet daily and others I may encounter once describe me as a true Christian?
Prayer: Help me change my ways that are not pleasing to You through the power of the Holy Spirit that in every way my daily life may reflect You and You might be glorified through me.
Question: (1) Who is a Christian? (2) What does it mean to be a Christian?