What do you think of when you hear the word “prophet”? Moses? Elijah? Isaiah? Ezekiel? Jeremiah? Micah? Obadiah? Daniel? Malachi? John the Baptist? All of these men prophesied concerning Israel and we can learn much about God from reading their prophecies, but what about the Church prophets? Did you know the Church has prophets?
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” Acts 13:1
The Church at Antioch in Syria was the first primarily Gentile church, but it also had many Jews in its membership. The city was located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem on the Orontes River in Syria, about 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Many Jews of the Diaspora (Dispersion of Jews from Israel to other parts of the world that began after the Assyrians captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC) settled in Antioch of Assyria. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time and Jews enjoyed many rights of citizenship there.
One of the first deacons was from Antioch. His name was Nicolas. Acts 6:5 describes him as “a proselyte from Antioch.” The stoning of another deacon, Stephen, led to a time of great persecution against followers of Christ in Jerusalem. Many believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and some eventually made their way to Antioch.
“Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:19-21
God prepared the Jewish followers of Christ in Jerusalem for what was going to happen in Antioch by giving the Apostle Peter a vision about Gentiles coming to faith in Christ (Acts 10). When questioned about preaching Christ to Gentiles, Peter told the Jewish leaders about the vision God had given him and how the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles even as He had on the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 11:15) When the Jewish leaders heard what Peter said, they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18)
When the news about people believing in Christ in Antioch reached the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch. You might remember that Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus who was one of the early followers of Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36-37). He was also the man who introduced Paul (Saul) to the apostles and vouched for him soon after Paul was saved (Acts 9:26-28) The Jewish leaders trusted Barnabas and sent him to Antioch to learn more about what God was doing there. When Barnabas arrived in Antioch and saw the work of God’s Grace in the lives of Jews and Gentiles, he encouraged them to continue with the Lord. Acts 11:24 says that “a great many people were added to the Lord” during that time.
Barnabas had a unique understanding of Paul’s ministry and traveled to Tarsus to find Paul. Barnabas told Paul what God was doing in Antioch and they both left Tarsus and went to Antioch. Barnabas and Paul taught in Antioch for a full year and it was there that believers were first called “Christians.” (Acts 11:26)
Barnabas and Paul were both prophets. So were other men who joined them from Jerusalem to minister to the people in Antioch (Acts 11:27). One of those Jewish prophets, a man named Agabus, prophesied in the Antioch church that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which did happen in about 45 AD during the time of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28). The disciples in Antioch determined to send relief to their brethren living in Judea, so they sent the gift to the elders in Jerusalem “by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:30).
Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch after they fulfilled their ministry in Jerusalem and brought with them Barnabas’ cousin John Mark (Acts 12:25). We learn in the next sentence (Acts 13:1) that there were several prophets and teachers in Antioch – “Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” We know that Barnabas and Saul were Jews. Simeon who was called Niger and Lucius of Cyrene were both from Africa. Cyrene had a large Jewish community in the 1st century AD, so Lucius may have been Jewish. Simeon is also a Hebrew name, so it is possible Simeon was Jewish. Manaen is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Menahem. He is described as the suntrophos of Herod the tetrarch, which may mean he was a childhood friend who was welcome at Herod’s court.
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” Acts 13:2-3
With those words we have the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s massive outreach to the Gentile world that continues to this day. Though Paul usually began his ministry in new cities by preaching the Gospel to Jews (e.g. Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1-4, 10; 18:1-5; 19:1-8), his primary emphasis ended with Gentiles. That would eventually cause Paul many problems. Even though God had demonstrated clearly through Peter’s ministry that He had “granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18) and the Holy Spirit had told the prophets in Antioch, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2), many Jews had a problem with Paul preaching the Gospel of Grace to Gentiles.
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:1-5
This was a huge issue for the ministry of Church prophets. Would they preach Grace and Law? Would Gentile followers of Christ have to become Jews through circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses? Was that God’s Plan for Gentiles around the world? Is that what you and I should do today? After much discussion, a powerful presentation by Church prophets Paul and Barnabas, and Peter speaking boldly to his fellow Jewish apostles, James, the half-brother of Christ and head of Jewish believers in Jerusalem, decided that Gentile believers would not have to be circumcised or obey the Law of Moses (Acts 15:19-20).
Paul, Apostle and Prophet to the Church, shared more specifics of what happened at the Jerusalem Council in his letter to the churches in Galatia.
“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:1-10
The apostles and elders, along with all the believers in Jerusalem, sent two men from their assembly to go to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Their names were Judas (also named Barsabas), and Silas. We learn in Acts 15:32 that both Judas and Silas were Jewish prophets. They exhorted and strengthened the brethren in Antioch with many words, then were sent back to Jerusalem to share greetings from the Gentiles to the Apostles (Acts 15:32-33). However, Silas decided to stay on in Antioch and minister with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:34).
Paul had a strong desire to return to the cities where he and Barnabas had preached the Gospel to see how they were doing. Barnabas was determined to take John Mark with them, but Paul resisted that because Mark had left them in Pamphylia. The contention became so sharp between Paul and Barnabas about Mark that they parted from each other. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39). Paul chose Silas and began his second missionary journey from Antioch. They went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches (Acts 15:40-41)
The voices of the prophets were powerful in Jerusalem and in Antioch in those early days of the Gospel. Are they powerful in the Church today? Should they be?
In the next part of our study, we will look at the Prophet’s Voice. What should we expect to hear from a true prophet of God? Is it what we’re hearing in our churches today?
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”