“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
How would we define a “Christian?” Many of us would probably say, “A Christian is a follower of Christ or a Christ-follower.” In the four Gospels, when Jesus called His twelve disciples, we have a record of Him saying to six of them—Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew and Philip—these two words, “Follow Me,” and they followed Him. However, the terms “follower of Christ” or “Christ-follower” were never used after Pentecost, although the Apostle Paul did say in one occasion, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). For the context of that verse, Paul was speaking about seeking not our own good but the good of others.
To say one is a follower of Jesus is like, “Jesus is up there and we are back here. We are trying to keep up, trying to keep in step and trying to do what He tells us.” However, when Jesus’s disciples were followers, they
were also failures. At the end of the four Gospels, when Jesus was crucified, all the disciples scattered and hid. Judas committed suicide from guilt and Peter denied Jesus three times due to fear.
Yet, on the Day of Pentecost, something happened. The disciples ceased to be followers and they became the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. This fulfilled what Jesus promised the disciples in the Upper Room on the night that He was betrayed: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16, HCSB). The word “another” in the Greek is allos, which means “another of identical nature.” In other words, Jesus would give the disciples an identical Counselor to be with them forever. This is the difference that Pentecost made: the same Lord Jesus Christ who
had been with them up until then is going to be in them by His Holy Spirit.
When Paul was converted, Ananias told him, “…the Lord…has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). Barnabas was described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith…” (Acts 11:24). Did we notice that Paul and Barnabas were both said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit?”
After the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were no longer called “followers of Christ.” Instead, in Antioch, they were first called Christian, which means “Christ in people.” Christians are people who are united with Christ, in union with Christ. Not that Jesus is out there and we are back here, but as we abide in Him, He abides in us. The relationship is totally different.
Dear Jesus, what a profound understanding of what it means to be a Christian—that You are with me by Your Spirit in me. Thank You, Lord.