Before Jesus came to Earth, God’s chosen people were selected by birthright. The idea that someone could be born into the family of God was thought of more literally than spiritually before the New Covenant was established. The term Israelite originated as a descriptor of the people that were descended from Abraham’s grandson Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after he won a divine wrestling match that lasted all night (Genesis 32:24). Genesis 32:28 states, “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The segment of the Israelite population referred to as Jews was typically associated with the small remnant that returned to the Promised Land after a 70 year exile in Babylon (Nehemiah 1:2). The Hebrew word translated Jew, yehudiy (yeh-hoo-dee) means a descendant of Jehudah (that {is} Judah)” (H3064).

Luke tells us in Acts 11:19 that “they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” In spite of what seemed to be an intentional effort to exclude the Gentiles from God’s free gift of salvation, it says in Acts 11:20-21, “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” The phrase “the hand of the Lord was with them” indicated divine approval and blessing on the activities that were going on in Antioch. The Grecians that were being saved were not Greek-speaking Jews, but Gentiles (note on Acts 11:20). Therefore, it could be concluded that God wanted the Gentiles to hear the gospel and was helping the men of Cyprus and Cyrene to do that.

When the church in Jerusalem heard about what was going on in Antioch, they decided to send Barnabas to check it out. Luke’s detailed description of this important turning point in church history can be found in Acts 11:22-26. It states:

Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: 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. Then departed Barnabas unto Tarsus, for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people, and the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

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