« PreviousContinue »
at Antioch even before the baptism of Cornelius and his household by Peter.
The news of the Gentiles having received the word at Antioch, came to the ears of the apostles at Jerusalem, after the solemn events which had occurred in the case of Cornelius. They were now prepared to understand that a door was thus opened to them, whereby to approach the Gentiles, and to gather them into the Church.“ And they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch ; who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord : for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.”
Barnabas had already shown great kindness to Saul, during his first visit at Jerusalem, and upon his arrival at Antioch, he at once went to Tarsus and brought Saul thence, thinking him the fittest person to confirm and instruct a church composed partly of Jewish, but more of Gentile converts. This mixture of the two was quite new; it needed all the wisdom of such a man as Saul, assisted by the Holy Spirit, to settle the church of Antioch. For a whole year Barnabas and Saul assembled themselves with the Church, and taught much people." And the disciples
. “ were called Christians first in Antioch.”
The Jews had been taught by their prophets to expect an anointed Lord. Messiah is the Hebrew word, and Christ the Greek word, for anointed. The believing Jews 'had therefore to be taught that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ or the Messiah, of whom the prophets wrote. They believed that He
fulfilled the prophecies and the law. But now that the ceremonial part of the law was done away, and Jews and Gentiles were known to be alike partakers of the promises of the Gospel, there arose a new name, equally belonging to all who believed. The name adopted was Christians, followers of Christ. This name has continued ever since that day ; and we now apply it to all who acknowledge Jesus to be their Lord, and are admitted into His Church by baptism.
While Barnabas and Saul were at Antioch, prophets came to that city from Jerusalem. These prophets were public teachers, who had authority from the apostles, to preach to the disciples.
Their chief office was to teach publicly, but they were sometimes enabled by the Holy Spirit to foretell what was about to happen. One of these, named Agabus, now stood up, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a dearth throughout all the world. The disciples at Antioch, being much more wealthy than those of Judæa, immediately bethought themselves of their poor brethren in that country, and determined to collect money for their relief. These contributions were sent to the elders at Jerusalem, by the hands of Barnabas and Saul, who, having performed their task, returned again to Antioch.
Acts xi. 19-30.
LESSON 3. THE PERSECUTION BY HEROD AGRIPPA.
The rest of the Church at Jerusalem, after the death of Stephen, continued about five years. At the end
of this period the Christians were again called upon to suffer, under a new ruler of Judæa.
Pontius Pilate, as is well known, was Roman governor of Judæa when our Lord was crucified. He held the government six years after our Lord's Ascension, and was then summoned to Rome to answer charges of misgovernment. Judæa remained under a Roman governor six years more; but when Claudius became Emperor, he made Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod the Great, King of Judæa.
This Herod was a very wicked and cruel man. Like his grandfather he professed to be a Jew, and to observe strictly all the Jewish customs. This made him more disposed to attack the Christians than a Roman who cared little either for Jew or Christian, and oppressed both alike. No sooner, therefore, was Herod settled on his throne than "he stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. Then were the days of unleavened bread.”
The Feast of the Passover was called also the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because unleavened bread was eaten for seven days at this time. The Feast lasted for seven days from the day on which the Paschal Lamb was slain, and all this time was sometimes called, The Passover.
It was contrary to the Jewish customs to bring any one to trial during these seven days. So when Herod had apprehended Peter, he “delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him, intending after Easter to bring him forth before the
people.” A quaternion was a company of four soldiers.
Each of the four companies took it in turn to watch Peter. The manner in which a prisoner was secured was both strict and cruel. He was chained by the legs to two of the soldiers, while the remaining two of the company kept watch, one at the door of the chamber, the other at the outer door of the prison.
Peter therefore was kept in prison : but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains : and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison : and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, “ Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, 'Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals.' And so he did. And he saith unto him, “ Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.' And he went out, and followed him ; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel ; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city ; which opened to them of his own accord : and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, • Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.' And when he had considered the thing,
he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, 'Thou art mad.' But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, 'It is his angel.' But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished. But he beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord bad brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren.' And he departed, and went into another place. Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death.”
Not long after this Herod gave audience to ambassadors from Tyre and Sidon, who came to sue for peace. “And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. ... And the people gave a shout, saying, 'It is the voice of a god and not of a man.' ... And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.. ... But the word of God grew and multiplied.”