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Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26)
God was moving in the city of Antioch, and the church there flourished. Barnabas was probably exhausted and overwhelmed by all the work and opportunities for God’s kingdom, and then he remembered Saul of Tarsus. He searched Paul out and brought him to Antioch to help.
Together, Barnabas and Saul taught a great many people, making the church in Antioch strong and a center for great teaching and preaching. The Holy Spirit was at work among the disciples of Jesus, and this made the church community in Antioch something special and world-impacting.
So, we read with interest that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. It wasn’t until these years at the Church in Syrian Antioch that the name Christian became associated with the followers of Jesus.
– They had been called disciples (Acts 1:15).
– They had been called saints (Acts 9:13).
– They had been called believers (Acts 5:14).
– They had been called brothers (Acts 6:3).
– They had been called witnesses (Acts 5:32).
– They had been called followers of the Way (Acts 9:2).
– They would be called Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).
– Now they would be called Christians.
In Latin, the ending ian meant “the party of.” A Christ-ian was “of the party of Jesus.” Christians was like saying “Jesus-ites,” or “Jesus People,” describing the people associated with Jesus Christ.
Also, soldiers under generals in the Roman army identified themselves by their general’s name by adding ianto the end. A soldier under Caesar would call himself a Caesarian. Soldiers under Jesus Christ could be called Christians.
In Antioch, they probably first used the term Christians to mock the followers of Jesus. But as the people of Antioch called the followers of Jesus the “Jesus People,” the believers appreciated the title so much that it stuck.
Eusebius, the famous early church historian, described a believer named Sanctus from Lyons, France, who was tortured for Jesus. As they tortured him cruelly, they hoped to make him say something evil or blasphemous. They asked his name, and he only replied, “I am a Christian.” “What nation do you belong to?” He answered, “I am a Christian.” “What city do you live in?” “I am a Christian.” His questioners began to get angry: “Are you a slave or a free man?” “I am a Christian” was his only reply. No matter what they asked about him, he only answered, “I am a Christian.” This made his torturers even more determined to break him, but they could not, and he died with the words “I am a Christian” on his lips.
Understood rightly, it’s a glorious title. Can you say it? “I am a Christian. I belong to Jesus.”