Fire in Antioch-Ablaze for the Nations (Part I)

The fire of revival in Antioch (Acts 11 and onward) produced flames of passion, which set the multitudes ablaze for Christ. It produced flames of fellowship, which burned a deep love for each other into their midst. But it also created flames of evangelism, as Antioch’s first church gave itself to the advance of the gospel. They experienced what German theologian Emil Brunner said: “The church exists by mission like fire exists by burning.”

The purpose of fire is to set something else on fire. The conflagration in Antioch set off many other fires throughout the land, which spread worldwide over the next 20 centuries. The Antioch revival ignited missionary zeal in three ways.

1. Antioch became a hotbed of daily evangelism.

This is a key test of any revival: Are people coming to Christ? Acts 11:21 says that “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” In fact, the response was so extraordinary that the Jerusalem elders sent Barnabas down to check it out. No doubt about it, Antioch appeared to be a fulfillment of the Joel 2 promise quoted in Peter’s Pentecost sermon: new believers had become “prophets” who were telling the good news of Christ. In fact, as we learned in an earlier column, they were called “Christians” by Antioch’s citizens, who saw them as people who made Christ the issue every moment, everywhere they went. “Are you with Christ or against Him?” they asked. Multitudes replied, “We are His!” It was a continuous series of combustions!

During the First Great Awakening, the Puritans called anyone who preached Christ a “Chariot of the Spirit.” In Antioch, they might have been called “Chariots of Fire.” Through the faithful daily witness of disciples who were ablaze for the lost, the Holy Spirit rode into the enemy camp and captured fresh fuel for His fire.

2. Antioch became a company of world Christians.

Essentially, world Christians wrap their daily walk with Christ around His global cause. They integrate missionary vision and action into every other dimension of discipleship. They go deeper to go further and vice versa. They assemble to send and gather to scatter.

For Antioch Christians, the horizons were nothing less than the ends of the earth. This was evident in their response to world famine (Acts 11), in sending out their own missionaries (Acts 13), and in the churchwide consultation they convened in Jerusalem (Acts 15), which resulted in more effective outreach to the Gentiles.

Where did this global perspective come from? It certainly helped that Antioch was a virtual microcosm of peoples from throughout the known world. But even more influential must have been the “Christology” brought to them by Paul during his year of teaching there. Paul poured into them what I call “superspective.” It’s the vision of Christ he paints in passages like Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, Philippians 2, and Romans 5. Paul spent every waking moment galvanizing Antioch around a Christ who, by His very nature and position in the universe, demanded that passion for Him be translated into a heart for all peoples.

3. Antioch became a “dreamworks” for outreach.

” Dreamworks” is a word I chose carefully It’s the name of the $3 billion film company founded by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg wanted a studio that would allow him to create films that others might never dare to dream. That was the perspective of the Antioch church leaders in Acts 13 as they fasted and focused on God: expecting the impossible. Out of their united prayer, God unleashed dreams for the nations that eventually made Antioch a base of operations for Paul’s (and others’) missionary journeys. Those who were sent out from Antioch were perceived by the body of Christ as extensions of its life together, as fulfillments of its missionary dreams. Even when the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas occurred (Acts 15), revival fire kept everyone looking outwardly at the nations, not inwardly at the strife.

The Hope for Missionary Zeal

Lack of missionary zeal is one of the surest signs that a life, a congregation, or a generation is in need of a reawakening to Christ. That’s why the hope for missionary zeal should occupy a central place in our prayers for revival. As John Wesley used to ask his circuit preachers, “Who of you is really alive to Christ, so as to carry fire with him wherever he goes?”

What if we just started with, say, “Antioch Assemblies,” held once a month in our churches for two hours. During the first hour, participants could be invited to testify where evangelism had taken them during the month or how they were developing as world Christians or what dreams they were getting for local or global outreach. The second hour could be spent praying that God would intensify the work of the Spirit to enflame the church in these areas.

How much closer might this bring us to the Antioch experience? How much more might it make us ablaze for the nations?