19 “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 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, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11:19–26)
The Scriptures remain silent regarding the years following Saul’s journey from Jerusalem back to Tarsus three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18-24). Paul summarized his life at this time in Galatians 1:22-24: “22And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.”
The Book of Acts resumes the biblical narrative regarding Saul in Acts 11:19-26. Jewish Christians were preaching the Gospel in Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. They were in those regions because of the Hellenistic persecution following the death of Stephen (Acts 6-7). Ironically, it was a persecution the now converted Saul had precipitated.
Some of these refugee believers were from the Island of Cyprus and the northern coastal African city of Cyrene. Luke noted that the power of the Lord was with these believers resulting in a great number of the Hellenists being converted (Acts 11:20-21).
Upon hearing of these turn of events, the church leaders in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to validate these conversions. Barnabas trusted God’s work in people (9:27; 15:37–39). Acts 11:23-24 says, “23 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, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
It was also at this time that Barnabas traveled to Tarsus to find his friend Saul. This was approximately a 100 mile trip. When Barnabas located Saul, he brought him to Antioch. Perhaps Barnabas was overwhelmed and in need of assistance. For a whole year, these two godly men met with the believers in the city and taught them biblical truth.
Acts 11:26 says that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. This was a title of derision coined by the enemies of the church. The citizens of Antioch were known for making fun of people, but Christians in the second century decided to adopt the title with pride. The word “Christian” is used here and two other times in the New Testament (Acts 26:28; I Peter 4:16).
God had not forgotten Saul. Neither has God forgotten you. He not only had plans for the future apostle, but the Lord also has plans for you.
Soli deo Gloria!