Online Bible Commentary
The Line is Crossed
Acts 11:27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. (NKJV)
The time is about A. D. 42 or 43. It is now about 12-13 years since Christ was crucified and His church started. Jerusalem was established from the beginning as the church for the Jews. However, when Stephen was stoned to death many of the new believers fled Jerusalem for other parts of Judea and lands beyond.
Several groups of believers came together to organize a second major center for the new believers, which have now been called “Christians” for the first time. This second major center would be in Antioch, Syria, located 480 miles north of Jerusalem on the Mediterranean coast. 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.
Now, in this passage, “prophets” from the church in Jerusalem are sent to the church in Antioch (v. 27). These are New Testament prophets and are not to be confused with the sixteen Old Testament prophets. New Testament prophets, in general, were more teachers of the gospel prior to the New Testament writings than predictors of events. Once the canon was completed there were no more prophets.
However, one of these New Testament prophets, Agabus, had been gifted with the spiritual gift of true predictive prophecy. He predicted a great famine “in the days of Claudius Caesar”, who reigned from A.D. 41-54 (v. 28).
Claudius was the fourth Roman Emperor. He reigned over Syria and the whole land of the Jews, including Judea. During his reign there were several famines because of poor harvests. He was considered to be a weak and foolish ruler. His reign ended when he was poisoned by his fourth wife, Agrippina, the mother of Nero, on October 13, A.D. 54. Claudius, the great uncle of Nero, had adopted Nero.
The famine predicted by Agabus affected the Jews in Judea. The disciples in Antioch, “each according to his ability”, decided to send relief food supplies to their fellow Christians in Judea, the district where Jerusalem was located (v. 29).
The Antioch Christians sent their relief food supplies to “the elders” at the church in Jerusalem via Barnabas and Saul (v. 30). This is the first time in the Bible where elders are mentioned.
Barnabas had, a year earlier, been sent from the church in Jerusalem to help the growth of the church in Antioch and he had drafted Saul, who was in Tarsus, located only 150 miles north of Antioch, to help him. Now they were both being sent back to the church in Jerusalem to help them. The Christian Jews had helped the Christian Gentiles and now the Christian Gentiles are returning the favor.
This kind of cooperation between Jews and Gentiles was unprecedented, prior to Christianity. Jews were taught to hate Gentiles and vice versa. But Christianity changed all that. The line of hatred and divisiveness had been crossed. There was no longer Jew or Gentile. They were all Christians.