The Antioch Church

2_Antioch ChurchScripture Reference: Acts 11:19-30 and Acts 12:25-13:3

Story Overview: Barnabas was already known as a great encourager so when the church in Jerusalem heard about all of the new Gentile believers in the city of Antioch they sent Barnabas to help.  He encouraged the Antioch Christians and even more people began to follow Christ.  Then he travelled to Tarsus and found Paul so that Paul could come and help too. This was a great church and followers of Jesus were first called Christians there.

Suggested Emphasis: Encourage one another, just like Barnabas.

Memory Verse: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Background Study Way to Introduce the Story The Story
Review Questions Craft and Activity Ideas Other Online Resources

Background Study:

Click here for an overview of the Book of Acts

After the Stoning of Stephen many followers of Christ began to leave Jerusalem to escape the persecution that was led by Saul (Acts 8:1-4).  Wherever they went they taught others about Jesus and established churches.  Since the first followers of Christ were Jewish they travelled to places where others Jews lived and told them about Christ.  But some (men from Cyprus and Cyrene) went to places where Gentiles (people who are not born into a Jewish family) lived and established churches in these places.  One such church was in the city of Antioch.  Many Gentiles became followers of Christ in that city.

The church in Jerusalem wanted to learn more about what was happening so they sent a man named Barnabas to Antioch.  This was no easy trip as Antioch is 758 kilometres or 471 miles north of Jerusalem.  Barnabas had gained a reputation as a generous man who sold his own property to help support the church in Jerusalem.  He was a Levite and his name actually means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).

On arrival at Antioch Barnabas found a thriving church and went on to encourage them in their faith.  To encourage means to do or say something that gives someone courage or confidence.  During his stay many more people were brought to the Lord.  This was the result of four truths found in Acts 11:23-24:

  1. God was already at work in Antioch and there was evidence of his grace.
  2. Barnabas recognised God’s work rejoiced in it.  This was no contest with Jerusalem.
  3. Barnabas encouraged them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
  4. Barnabas’ life bore witness to his message.
    1. He was a good man.
    2. He was led by the Spirit.
    3. He had strong faith.

Barnabas also travelled further north-west to Tarsus to find Saul (later known by his Roman name, Paul) and bring him back to work with the Antioch church.  Saul would have fit in with this congregation because, since his conversion, he had also been teaching Gentiles about Jesus (Saul Becomes a Christian).  Barnabas and Saul worked together in Antioch for a year and many people began to follow Christ.  It was here in Antioch that followers of Jesus began to be known by the description “Christians” (Acts 11:26).  This might have been a name first said in jest by outsiders but it is a name that stuck.

One of the Christians from Jerusalem, Agabus, had the gift of prophecy.  This is the first time this gift is mentioned in the book of Acts.  In the New Testament prophecy usually involves the proclaiming of God’s message but Agabus prophesied by telling about something that would happen in the future.  In this case he prophesied about a famine that would strike the entire Roman world.  The Christians in the Antioch church wanted to help their fellow-Christians who were going to suffer because of the famine.  They commissioned Barnabas and Saul to collect the funds in Antioch and take them to Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem church seems to have acted as a collection point for funds to help Christians in the Judea region.  Acts 11:30 is the first mention of “elders”, or church leaders, in the book of Acts.

On a side note, years later Saul (by then known as Paul) and Agabus will meet again in Caesarea at the home of Philip the Evangelist when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem.  At that time Agabus will prophesy about what will happen to Paul.

Now meanwhile, at the direction of the Antioch church, Barnabas and Saul delivered the funds in Jerusalem and returned to Antioch bringing John Mark with them (Acts 12:25-13:1).  Peter would experienced his Miraculous Escape from Prison while Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem.  Perhaps Barnabas and Saul were at John Mark’s mother’s house when Peter came knocking at the door (Acts 12:12-13).  John Mark was also Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10) so perhaps this is why he accompanied Barnabas and Saul back to Antioch.

The Jerusalem church was the central focus in the first part of Acts but the attention now shifts to Antioch and the missionary work that springs from there.  The Antioch church was a thriving and active church and will eventually become the launching point for each of Paul’s missionary journeys.  Even after Paul was long gone the church continued to be central in early church history.  The ancient city of Antioch is now known as Antakya in southern Turkey near the Syrian border.

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Way to Introduce the Story:

Explain and discuss “encouragement”– to do or say something that gives someone courage or confidence. Older children might look this up in the dictionary. Give each child a piece of paper and pencil. Explain that you will give them three minutes to list as many encouraging words or phrases as they can. Encourage them while they are writing! That will give them answers too. At the end of three minutes see how many all the children came up with. Younger children can just call out phrases and you can write them on the board. If you give a prize to the one who has the most phrases be sure to encourage them and also give a prize and encourage the other students! “There is someone in the book of Acts who was so good at encouraging people that his name actually meant ‘son of encouragement’. The church in Jerusalem asked him to go to a new church in the city of Antioch and encourage them there. Let’s listen to the story…”
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The Story:

When you hear good news what do you want to do?  In the Book of Acts many people heard the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Once they heard the Good News they wanted to tell others about it.

There were many followers of Jesus in the city of Jerusalem.  They were Jews (God’s chosen people that we read about in the Old Testament).  Before they followed Jesus, they only knew about the Old Testament Laws.  But now they understood that God had sent His son, Jesus to them.  Some people did not like it that the Jews were starting to follow Jesus so they began to hurt them (persecute them) because of their belief.

Because of the persecution many followers of Jesus left Jerusalem and moved to other places.  Wherever they went they told other people the Good News about Jesus.  Many of them only told other Jews about Jesus but some of them went to other cities like the city of Antioch and even told Gentiles about Jesus.  Gentiles are people who are not born to Jewish families.  These people realised that the Good News of Jesus is for everyone!

Barnabas lived in the city of Jerusalem and he followed Jesus.  He was a good and generous man who was full of the Holy Spirit.  Barnabas was very good at encouraging people.  To encourage someone is to do or say something that gives them courage or confidence.  The name “Barnabas” even means “son of encouragement”.

The church in Jerusalem asked Barnabas to travel to the city of Antioch.  Since so many Gentiles there were learning to follow Jesus they thought Barnabas could encourage and help them.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch he was happy to find that many people were sharing the Good News of Jesus with Gentiles.  Barnabas encouraged all of them to “remain true to the Lord with all of their hearts.”  While Barnabas was there a great number of people became followers of Jesus.

While Barnabas was in Antioch he decided to travel to the city of Tarsus to look for a man named Saul.  Saul used to be an enemy of Jesus and would hurt anyone who followed him.  But Saul was now a follower of Jesus.  Barnabas brought Saul back to Antioch and both of them taught great numbers of people.  Saul later became known as Paul.

There were many exciting events happening in Antioch with so many people learning to follow Jesus Christ.  It was in Antioch that people who followed Jesus Christ began being known as “Christians”.

After Barnabas and Saul had been teaching in Antioch for about a year the church was visited by a prophet named “Agabus”.  Through the power of the Spirit of God Agabus was able to tell people something that was going to happen in the future.  He told everyone that a very bad famine was about to happen.  A famine is a period of time when few crops grow and many people go hungry.

The Christians in the Antioch church were concerned about the Christians in other places who did not have enough food.  They collected money and asked Barnabas and Saul to take it to the church leaders in Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem church would make sure the hungry people were provided with food.

So Barnabas and Saul took the money to Jerusalem and gave it to the church there.  When they returned to Antioch they brought Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark, with them.  He would be a helper at the Antioch church along with Barnabas and Saul.

Remember how I asked what you want to do when you hear good news?  When you hear good news you want to share the good news with others.  Encouragement is like good news.  When Barnabas encouraged the church in Jerusalem they wanted him to encourage the church in Antioch too.  Then, when the Antioch church was encouraged, the Antioch church wanted to help other Christians who were suffering from the famine.

Who can you encourage today?

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Ways to Tell the Story:

This story can be told using a variety of methods.  Always remain true to the facts found in the Bible but help children connect to its meaning by using drama, visual aids, voice inflection, student interaction and/or emotion.
Click here for visual aids and story-telling methods.

Review Questions:

  1. What does the name Barnabas mean? son of encouragement
  2. Who did Barnabas go and get to help him with the Church work in Antioch? Paul
  3. Where were followers of Jesus first called Christians? Antioch
  4. Who chose Barnabas and Paul to be missionaries? The Holy Spirit

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Craft and Activity Ideas:

(How to choose the best learning activities for my teaching situation)

  • This is not a long passage of Scripture so the teacher could read it directly from the Bible or allow older children to take turns reading.
  • Either the teacher or good readers could read a few verses from the story and then the children could draw what they have just heard.  If you are able to print the verses on papers beforehand then the children could draw directly on the papers.  One of these passages would work well:
  • Be sure and genuinely encourage your students today (and every day)
  • Sing “Love is Something if You Give it Away
  • Write notes of encouragement to people in the congregation.
  • Continue to add words to the “Paul” poster.
  • Use an atlas or online maps to find the modern cities of Jerusalem and Antakya and Tarsus.
  • Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that suit any lesson.
  • Acts_Church Beginnings Try the resources on the Pinterest Board: Acts-Church Beginnings
  • Acts_PaulFind other ideas on the Pinterest Board “Acts:Life of Paul”

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Other Online Resources:

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3 Responses to The Antioch Church

  1. Debbie Ferguson says:

    Here’s the story I used:
    Do you remember how the church started after Jesus went back to heaven? The flames of fire landed on Jesus’ followers and they were able to talk to people who spoke different languages about …?? (Jesus) There were many people visiting Jerusalem, the town where the apostles were. Those people had come for a short visit, but then they wanted to stay and hear more about Jesus. When you travel, what do you take with you? (clothes, food to eat on the trip, etc.) The people who were visiting stayed in Jerusalem sooo long they started to run out of things they needed. The early church shared what they had so everyone would have enough to eat and live on. One of the people who shared was named Barnabas. He sold some land he owned and shared the money with the apostles so other believers could have food and clothing. Wasn’t that nice of him to do? He was such an encouragement! Joseph was his real name, but he was so encouraging, everyone called him Barnabas which means son of encouragement!

    In the years after that special day the Church started, the people who were visiting Jerusalem went back home. Many other believers traveled to different places to live. As they went through new towns and villages, they always told the people about Jesus. They were so happy and they wanted others to know how much God loved them.

    Because of this, many people in many places believed in Jesus. One of the places that had a group of believers was the town of Antioch. When the church in Jerusalem heard there was a church in Antioch, they decided to send someone to encourage the believers in Antioch. Guess who they sent? (Barnabas!) When Barnabas came to Antioch, the Bible says he was glad that he went! He encouraged the believers to stay strong in Christ. An amazing thing happened – the Bible says “a great many people were added to the Lord”. Because Barnabas was so encouraging, even MORE people believed in Jesus.

    But Barnabas was not done being an encouragement. He heard about a man who had been mean to believers, but now was himself a believer in Jesus after seeing Jesus in a bright light on a road. Do you remember that man’s name? (Saul/Paul) Barnabas went to the city where Paul was and brought him to Antioch. Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch a whole year teaching people! The Bible tells us followers of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. When the Christians learned that the people of Jerusalem would soon go through hard times, they collected money and sent it to them. Barnabas had encouraged the people of Antioch. Now those people were encouraging others! Later Paul and Barnabas would travel to many new places, telling more and more people about Jesus and encouraging them to be Christians.

  2. Debbie Ferguson says:

    Have the children color and cut out figures to represent Paul and Barnabas (clip art or stick figures) and glue onto craft sticks. I would suggest having Paul one basic color (say purple) and Barnabas another color (blue) to help younger students remember which is which. Review events from the story and have the children hold up which figure from the story the sentence applies to. For example, you could say, “He was sent to Antioch.” (Barnabas). “He used to be mean to Jesus’ followers.” (Paul).
    Later in the lesson, take two of the figures and play Where’s Paul?? Choose a child to leave the classroom (or hide their eyes). Hide the Paul figure in the room. Tell the class they’re going to help the child find Paul by to using encouraging words to guide the child to the figure. Have the child come back in the room (or remove blindfold) and hold the Barnabas figure. As the seeking child gets closer to the hidden figure, the class can encourage the child with statements like “Good job! Way to go! You’re almost there!”. If he/she goes the wrong way, say things like, “Try again. Don’t give up.”
    I’m in the U.S. but hopefully this lesson could be adapted to other areas. God Bless!!

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