“Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:24-25; NKJV)
CHRISTIAN: The proper meaning of this name is, a follower of Christ; it denotes one who, from serious thought, embraces the religion of Christ, believes his promises, and makes it his chief care to shape his life by Christ’s precepts and example.
Hence it is plain that multitudes take the name of Christian to whom it does not rightly belong. But the name without the reality will only add to our guilt. While the bare profession will bestow neither profit nor delight, the possession of it will give both the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (Matthew Henry)
What does it mean to be a Christian? The word Christian is pregnant with meaning, as we have seen with Matthew Henry’s definition. It was probably a nick-name given to Gentile believers in Antioch at first, then adopted by the whole church, later. It is doubtful that it would have been the Jews that would have called them Christians, because they would not have wanted to associate them with their Messiah. (Christ, means Anointed One in Greek, the same as the Hebrew, Messiah.) The Greek word Χριστιανος is a contraction between the word Christ and the suffix, ianos, which would be added to the name of a slave in a large home.
Let’s say I was a slave in the home of a man named Winston. My name would become, Steve Winstonianos. It was a way to show to whom you belonged. In the same way, the Believers, because they spoke so much of being servants of Christ, were called, by the people around them, ianos of Christ or Christians.
The Roman historian, Tacitus, one wrote of what it meant to be a Christian. Nero had accused them of burning down Rome, but it wouldn’t stick. Then, he accused them of “hatred against mankind.” For this, they were put in prison, set on fire in Nero’s garden as torches and sent to the arena to be ripped apart by wild animals. This is what it meant to be a Christian. One willing to pay the ultimate price to follow Jesus, wherever He would go.