During these years, those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. In A.D. 46, men from Cyrus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).
ANTIOCH OF SYRIA. The Gospel has moved three hundred miles north of Jerusalem into new Gentile territory. Antioch was the capital of the province of Syria, not to be confused with Antioch in Pisidia (modern Turkey).
In the first century, the minimum time to travel from Jerusalem to Antioch was fifteen days, the normal time was four weeks. Antioch, the third greatest city of the Empire, was destined to take center stage as the center of Christianity.
The city was about fifteen miles from the Mediterranean on the Orontes River. It was earthquake prone, subject to sudden flooding and exposed to attack across the crest of Mt. Silpius, below which it was built. Antioch’s nine-hundred year history as one of the greatest cities of the Greco-Roman era was shaped by its larger setting. It was the main base for the whole Euphrates frontier and it had become an important center of commerce.
Jews formed part of its population from its foundation onward. Around 50 B.C., the inhabitants were mainly Greeks and Macedonians, discharged soldiers of Seleucus’ army or settlers from Antigoneia. Now the social and racial variety of the city reflected the crossroads of the East. Antioch prided itself on the Athenian element in its makeup. It had built a reputation for its cultural achievements.
Serious trouble occurred in the city between Jews and Gentiles in A.D. 40. An apocryphal account records an outbreak against Jews resulted in the high priest at Jerusalem, Phineas, leading a punitive expedition of thirty thousand men against Antioch, resulting in the recall and punishment of the representatives of the Roman government. At the same time, Caligula wanted a statute of himself set up in the Temple at Jerusalem. Into the midst of this turmoil, men came from Cyprus and Cyrene to Antioch preaching the Gospel of Christ with great success.