“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
1) Barnabas (Tom Edwards)
His name is actually Joseph when first mentioned in the Bible, but he was given the name “Barnabas” by the apostles because names often had descriptive meanings that matched the one so named. And for Joseph, they selected a name that well described him. For the name “Barnabas” means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36, NASB), “Son of exhortation” (ASV), and “Son of Comfort” (YLT).
It is also in that context that we are made aware of his generous nature. For he “owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37). The previous verses show why he did this: “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (vv. 32-35).
Many Jews, “from every nation under heaven,” had been in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5). For during the Mosaical Period, which lasted about 1,500 years, God’s word had instructed all Jewish males to observe Pentecost in the place where He would make His name to dwell – and for most of that period, it was in Jerusalem (Exod. 23:14-19). It had only been less than two months prior when Jesus had “nailed” that Old Law “to the cross” (Col. 2:14); but Pentecost was still being observed.
Little, however, did many of these visiting Jews know, prior to that day, that they would end up staying longer in Jerusalem than they had originally planned. For on that day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the apostles (Acts 2:1-4); and they began declaring, in languages they did not know, “of the mighty deeds of God” (v. 11) and preached of Jesus Christ (vv. 21-39). As a result, 3,000 souls responded to the gospel message and became Christians (vv. 36-41). Soon thereafter, others were converted so that “the number of men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4) – and it did not stop there. For “all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (Acts 5:14); “…and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Due to all these conversions, there were probably many recent converts that prolonged their stay in Jerusalem in order to learn more of the gospel message before making their long journeys home. As a result, the funds of some would become depleted from this long extended stay that they had not initially planned for.
Nowhere, however, does the Bible say that the brethren were to sell their property and houses to help the needy; but this was what some were choosing to do. As Peter had said to Ananias in Acts 5:4, concerning his property and what he sold it for, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” In other words, God had not commanded that His people were to live in a communal society in which all things were common and mutually shared without anyone having any private ownership of anything. The apostle Peter shows that Ananias’ property had been his own and of which he had the right to do with as he pleased. So in most cases, one who would sell property or houses to help another was showing a great act of love, such as Barnabas who truly was a “Son of Comfort” to others.
In thinking of Barnabas as being that “Son of Encouragement,” perhaps you are reminded of the time when he put that good word in for the apostle Paul. For when Paul had come to Jerusalem for the first time as a Christian, “…he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). And why would they have such trouble in receiving Paul? Why were they afraid of him? Apparently, they knew how he had been an intense persecutor toward Christians – and they had doubts about his conversion. For he was one who had been “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women” whom “he would put…in prison” (Acts 8:3). After having been “in hearty agreement with putting him [Stephen] to death” (Acts 8:1), Paul continued “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). He had acknowledged after his conversion that, prior, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons” (Acts 22:4). He also testified elsewhere, saying, “…not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them to even foreign cities” (Acts 26:10-11). Is there any wonder why those Christians initially had trouble in receiving Paul? Were they thinking it might be just a scheme he had going to entrap them? Was he waiting for more of their number to show up?
We, of course, know that Paul was genuinely converted and became a great servant of the Lord. We have the benefit of looking back over wonderful portions of his life to see of his dedication to God and willingness to continue in serving Him regardless of the persecutions and other difficulties that it had led to. But the Christians in Jerusalem, in their first meeting of Paul, could only think of how he had been – and “they were all afraid of him.”
But who was it who helped allay their fears? Who was it who put a good word in for the apostle Paul to verify that he had been genuinely converted? Who had those encouraging words for the brethren that led to their acceptance of Paul as one of their own? It was that “Son of Encouragement” — Barnabas. As Acts 9:27 goes on to say, “But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that he had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.” After they heard this, Paul was then able to be “with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem” (v. 28). And while he was there, he was “speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord” (v. 28). But when the brethren learned that some Hellenistic Jews “were attempting to put him to death” (v. 29), “the brethren…brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus” (v. 30). So now they were truly concerned for Paul, as one of their own; and it was Barnabas who helped toward their doing so, which also exemplifies another meaning of his name — and that is, “conciliatory” (Thayer on the word “Encouragement” in Acts 4:36).
In regard to Barnabas’ name also meaning “Son of exhortation,” consider what he and Paul were doing in their preaching in various cities. They were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). Or as the KJV translates that one part: they were “exhorting them to continue in the faith” (emphasis mine). So, again, Barnabas was living up to his name!
Barnabas was “a Levite of Cyprian birth” (Acts 4:36). So he was from the island of Cyprus, which is the third largest in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea. It is approximately 150 miles long and 50 to 60 miles wide at its farthest points, with its two main cities of Salamis on the east side and Paphos on the western edge.
Salamis was Paul’s first stop on his first missionary journey after boarding a vessel in Seleucia, and Barnabas was the one who had accompanied him (Acts 13:4-5). In the Old Testament, Cyprus is sometimes referred as “Kittim” or Chittim.” Notice, too, whose idea it was for them to go together on this: “…the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (v. 2).
John Mark had also started out with Paul and Barnabas on that first missionary journey, but “had deserted them in Pamphylia” (Acts 15:38), which would have been after they had left the island of Cyprus, having set sail at Paphos (Acts 13:13).
Some time after completing that first missionary journey, Paul wanted Barnabas to return with him to all the cities they had proclaimed God’s word to on that first trip. But since Barnabas wanted to take along with him his cousin John Mark (Col. 4:10), it led to a “sharp disagreement” and the splitting up of Paul and Barnabas. So Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and headed overland through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:36-41).
Even prior to that first missionary journey, there had been some Christians on the island of Cyprus. For some had gone there during the persecution in connection with Stephen and preached to the Jews alone. But some of them who were of Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and preached Jesus to the Greeks also; and a large number became Christians (Acts 11:19-21). When the church in Jerusalem heard about that, they sent Barnabas to Antioch (v. 22). And what did he do there? When “he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (v. 23). The KJV uses the term “exhorted” instead of “encourage,” so here again we see that matching up with the meaning of his name. And notice, too, what else we learn about Barnabas in this passage: “for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (v. 24). What a great worker Barnabas must have been for Jesus!
Barnabas then went in search of Paul at Tarsus (v. 25); and after finding him, brought him to Antioch where they met with the church for an entire year “and taught considerable numbers” (v. 26). It was also from Antioch that Barnabas went with Paul in taking the contribution to the needy saints in Jerusalem, which they gave to the elders there (v. 30); and where they also returned again sometime later when dealing with the matter of those who were wrongfully teaching the need for circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5,36). Some from Judea had first come to Antioch of Syria about this matter; “And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue” (vv. 1-2). So they did so. There also had been “much debate” there in Jerusalem (v. 7). But the account then goes on to say, “All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (v. 12). We can also see in this another meaning of the name “Barnabas” that he was living up to — and that is, “persuasive discourse” (Thayer). For after hearing him and the others, the Jerusalem brethren were in total agreement and determined to carry out the right course of action.
Barnabas is listed among the gifted prophets and teachers of Acts 13:1. He was a great worker in declaring God’s message.
When going on that first missionary journey with Paul, Barnabas and he went to these following places that are mentioned in connection with their preaching: Salamis and Paphos (on the island of Cyprus); Antioch of Pisidia; Iconium; Lystra and Derbe (the cities of Lycaonia), and the surrounding area (cf. Acts 13:4-14:20). On their return, they again went to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia, “strengthening the souls of the disciples” (Acts 14:21-22). They also preached the word in Perga on their way back to Antioch of Syria (v. 25).
It was in Lystra, where after healing a man who had been lame from birth, the crowds cried out, “…’The gods have become like men and have come down to us.’ And they began calling Barnabas Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:11-12). The priest of Zeus had also come with sacrifices to offer with the crowds (v. 13), but this all led to Barnabas and Paul tearing their robes and saying to the crowds, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM” (vv. 14-15).
Though a good follower of Jesus Christ, Barnabas, like all of us, was not perfect. Though it did not typify his life, we do find him falling into the same temporary hypocrisy that Peter had been leading others into. For Paul says when Peter came to Antioch, “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:11-13).
Mentioning in the Bible the faults of some of its great followers of God has been cited as another indication of its inspiration. For the Bible doesn’t whitewash these individuals to make them look perfect: Noah got drunk (Gen. 9:21), Moses’ treated God as unholy by striking the rock and was not allowed to enter the Promised Land as a result (Num. 20:7-12), David committed adultery and deceitfully schemed the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah (2 Kings 11:2-15), Peter had also denied the Lord 3 times (Matt. 26:69-75). But these wrongful acts are not what exemplified or summed up the lives of these men. And how soon Barnabas probably also turned from his momentary hypocrisy after hearing the rebuke of the apostle Paul to Peter, which was made before all who were present (cf. Gal. 2:14).
We can be thankful for God’s conditions of pardon that when met can bring His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. And from what we read of Barnabas, he surely must have been one who would have immediately turned to the Lord, after having fallen — that he might arise and continue in his service to God.
We are not told in the Bible of where and when Barnabas passed away; but according to tradition, he was martyred in A.D. 61 at Salamis on the island of Cyprus of which he was from. Though it cannot be said with the assurance of the Bible, the Acts of Barnabas (which is an apocryphal writing that claims John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, as its author) speaks of Barnabas being put to death at Salamis by a mob of Jews who had been roused by a person called Barjesus.
(All verses are from the NASB unless otherwise indicated.)
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917
http://thomastedwards.com/go (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermons)