It can’t be overstated how hostile Paul was to the church. He was a hardcore Pharisee who persecuted Christians. The persecution was so strong in Jerusalem that many fled north to hide out in Antioch of Syria. In fact, the first church that met there met in a cave. The cave where they assembled is still very much in tact today.
God works in powerful ways, and after Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he went to Tarsus. Barnabas visited the church in Antioch and, “when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:23 ESV). Luke records that a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas went looking for Paul in Tarsus to bring him back to Antioch.
Luke records, “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were fist called Christians” (Acts 11:26). It amazing that God sent Paul to teach people at a church that was started because of his persecution! These very people Paul was teaching were the same people who left everything to flee from Paul’s persecution.
The disciples were fist called Christians “Christ-followers” at Antioch. Antioch would quickly become the most important church for spreading the gospel across the Roman Empire, because it was the hub church that sent Paul and his companions out on all the missionary journeys.
Photo courtesy of Volkan Hatem at Wikki Commons.