The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26
“The Gathering” in northern Thailand is an interdenominational, international church. On a recent Sunday, believers in Jesus from Korea, Ghana, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, the US, the Philippines, and other countries came together in a humble, thread-worn hotel conference room. They sang “In Christ Alone” and “I Am a Child of God,” lyrics that were especially poignant in that setting.
No one brings people together like Jesus does. He’s been doing it from the start. In the first century, Antioch contained eighteen different ethnic groups, each living in its own part of the city. When believers first came to Antioch, they spread the word about Jesus “only among Jews” (Acts 11:19). That wasn’t God’s plan for the church, however. Others soon came who “began to speak to Greeks [gentiles] also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (vv. 20–21). People in the city noticed that Jesus was healing centuries of animosity between Jews and Greeks, and they declared this multi-ethnic church should be called “Christians,” or “little Christs” (v. 26).
It can be challenging for us to reach across ethnic, social, and economic boundaries to embrace those different from us. But this difficulty is our opportunity. If it wasn’t hard, we wouldn’t need Jesus to do it. And few would notice we’re following Him.
Why is it challenging to reach out to those who are different from you? What has Jesus provided to help you do so?
Jesus, may they know I’m a Christian by Your love.
The disciples mentioned in Acts 11 weren’t Jewish. And it was these believers in Jesus whom the secular Greeks chose to label “Christians.” It’s possible that the term was used flippantly, to dismiss their faith as just another political party like the Augustinians (patriots of Nero) or Pompeians (loyalists to the Roman general Pompey). But the new believers embraced their title anyway.
The new name, however, also came with risks. Early believers had enjoyed religious protection under Roman law because the rulers believed they were just another sect of Judaism. But now as non-Jews joined, the secular world saw believers in Jesus as unique, which jeopardized the believers’ “safe” status. Jews were protected, Christians were not—as Paul and the apostles would later find out. The term “Christian” brought people together, but it also put a target on their collective back.