The answer lies hidden in the story of a city. An ancient city called Antioch.
Millennia ago, Alexander the Great had just ended the battle in which he defeated the Persian king , Darius III. He immediately continued on his way to lay siege against Tyre.
On his way he passed a spring from which he quenched his thirst. The water was so refreshing he stayed long enough to order a temple built for the god Zeus and claim the site on which to build a city!
When Alexander the Great lay on his deathbed shortly after in 325 BC , before his 33 birthday, he was asked to name his successor . His answer ? “The strongest.”
One of Alexander’s noted generals Seluecus proved himself the ‘strongest’ and took the reins to rule the Roman kingdom.
In 300 BC Seluecus planned and built a city on the site chosen by Alexander the Great, naming the well planned city, Antioch, after his father.
The city was laid out in such a way that it took advantage of the shade in summer and the sun in winter. The main roads were positioned to catch the breezes that blew up the valley from the sea.
Lying along the banks of the Orontes river, made Antioch ideally located to maximize commerce opportunities with the rest of the world.
Antioch was also very beautiful. Its cypress trees, mountains and waterfalls as well as the Temple of Apollo made it a popular resort for the rich and famous.
An Olympic stadium was built and its games rivalled that of Greece.
Rome added colonnades, fountains, public buildings and a basilica built by Julius Caesar which he named Kaisarion – after himself. Roman statues of emperors and gods lined the streets and an amphitheatre housed the gladiator fights.
A theatre, private baths, ‘houses of pleasure’ , worship of false gods all contributed to the gradual slide into degradation, turning Antioch into a city known for its immorality and vile reputation.
Antioch was shaken by a strong earthquake in AD 37. The Roman Emperor at the time was Caligula , son of Julius Caesar, who immediately ordered the repair of the buildings that were damaged and spared no funds, not only for necessary repair but also many new buildings.
At this same time Jesus Christ was crucified some 300 miles to the south. Antioch had no idea that they would most be remembered because of this man hanging on the cross , crucified as a common criminal. I'm sure they gave Him no thought!
From this time on… Antioch is woven through the pages of our New Testament scripture.
When the seven deacons were chosen in Jerusalem , one of them was Nicolas who was from Antioch.
It was to Antioch that some of the believers fled when Stephen was stoned. Luke tells of the great number of people who turned to faith in Jesus there... one of them a close friend of Herod the Tetrach.
Barnabas called to teach the new and thriving church in Antioch, went first to Tarsus to find Paul and take him along.
It was also in Antioch that Paul openly rebuked Peter for not eating with the Gentile Christians.
And it was in Antioch that Paul was called to be a missionary !
But Antioch is not remembered for her early church. She is not remembered for the great emperors of Rome who made her famous in her day. They have long faded into historical memory.
The lasting mark Antioch left on the world is the word "CHRISTIAN".
It was in Antioch that believers were first called Christians.
It is not the Jews who coined the name .. they used the name Nazarene to refer to Jesus … and the followers of Jesus called themselves brethren or believers.
The only ones who could have first applied the name would have been the Greeks or Romans who were called to settle the conflicts when Orthodox Jews attacked the new sect.
Romans were familiar with calling followers after the name of him they followed - followers of Caesar were called Caesarini, followers of Pompey, Pompeiani.
And so it entirely possible that a Roman police called out yet again to break up a mob may have exclaimed in annoyance. .. “It is those Christians again!”
And the name stuck…. Thousands of years later we are still called Christians – followers of Jesus Christ. But sadly the name has lost its rich meaning. How many people who take on the name are really hardly aware of what it means to be a follower of the man/God who walked this earth and died and rose again !!
“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26)
(credits - historical facts taken from Charles Ludwig's Handbook of New Testament Rulers and Cities. )