Online Bible Commentary
The Journeys Begin
Acts 13:1 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. 2 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." 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. (NKJV)
The time is about A. D. 45. Two or three years earlier several groups of believers had come together to organize a second major center for the new believers which was located in Antioch, Syria, some 480 miles north of Jerusalem, the first major center, on the Mediterranean coast. With the birthing of the church in Antioch the followers of Christ are called “Christians” for the first time. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Present day, the ruins of Antioch lie near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.
The church in Antioch is considered to be the first Gentile church. It is the major church to the Gentiles, just as the church in Jerusalem is the major church to the Jews. Barnabas has travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch to help with this new church and has recruited Saul who had been in Tarsus.
Now Barnabas and Saul are major players in the new church. There are at least five “prophets and teachers” at the church, including Barnabas and Saul (v. 1). The other three were “Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch.” Prophets were differentiated from teachers in that they were especially gifted by the Holy Spirit to receive revelations from God, prior to the existence of the New Testament writings.
Simeon, also known as Niger (which means black), was likely a black Jewish man who came from Cyrene in North Africa along with Lucius to help start the church. Manaen, the same name as the Old Testament name of Menahem, previously had a close relationship with the wicked Herod Antipas and was one of the earliest Jews to convert to Christianity.
As these five men, and likely also the church, were deep in prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit convicted them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for a special ministry (v. 2). In obedience, Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen laid hands on Barnabas and Saul, blessing their future ministry (v. 3).
Under the direction of the Holy Spirit Barnabas and Saul travelled “to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (v. 4). This was the beginning of the first of Saul’s (later named Paul) three missionary journeys. Selucia was the seaport for Antioch, located about sixteen miles to the west on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus was the island, located about 60 miles southwest of Selucia, in the Mediterranean. From there they would sail to Asia Minor, present day Turkey.
Barnabas and Saul docked on Cyprus in the eastern port city of Salamis (v. 5a). There “they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews”, in keeping with taking the gospel first to the Jews as Jesus had commanded (v. 5b). John Mark, who some twenty years later would write the Gospel of Mark, followed along with them as their “assistant” (v. 5c).
Thus begins Paul’s First Missionary Journey. As usual, everything began with devoted and sustained prayer. These Christians at the church in Antioch sought out God’s guidance for spreading the gospel and the Holy Spirit gave them the guidance that they needed. They then were obedient to God’s calling as a congregation, and Barnabas and Paul were obedient individually.
When we are seeking God’s guidance we should follow the example set by the church in Antioch. We should be deep in sustained prayer. We should keep praying until God gives us direction. This can sometimes take years. It was how I followed the call to vocational ministry, along with many others. It is not an easy path but it is a very rewarding path. May God bless you in your journey.