Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Jesus of Nazareth began His ministry of spreading the gospel of salvation to all men. John the Baptist preceded the work of Jesus in preparing the way for the Savior. When John opposed the marriage of Herod to his half-brother’s wife he was imprisoned and beheaded. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great who had killed all of the infants in Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus. The household of Herod would rule throughout the life of Jesus and the early church. Herod the Great was a powerful ruler who bathed the land in blood. His son Antipas was a superstitious immoral despot. Jesus referred to him as a fox. Luke records the acts of Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great) in beheading James the brother of John and subsequent arrest of Peter. The Lord delivered Peter and afterwards Herod Agrippa was struck by an angel of the Lord for receiving God-like praise from the people. The political bastion of the Herod’s left an indelible mark upon the landscape of the people of Judea, Samaria and the Roman Empire.
In the church of Antioch (Syria) there were certain prophets and teachers and Luke names a few of them of note. Barnabas and Saul are familiar names. Nothing is known of Simeon who was called Niger (Black). Lucius of Cyrene is mentioned in Paul’s closing of his letter to Rome but nothing is known about him. One final character in this list of church leaders is the man called Manaen. What makes his name stand out is where he was raised as a young boy. Luke writes that he had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch or Herod Antipas. The Greek language suggests “one who is educated or nourished at the same time with another.” Adam Clarke says, “Manaen was the son of the woman who nursed Herod Antipas; and the son, also, whose milk the young Herod shared.” It is clear by Luke’s reference that Manaen had the advantages of Herod in schooling and was probably a companion of young Herod. There was a familiarity between Herod Antipas and this man who is a devout Christian serving the church at Antioch.
The gospel of Christ is an amazing message. It is readily received by the common people as often seen throughout the ministry of Jesus. The early church also changed the hearts of the simple man and those who were outcast. What is exciting about the New Testament disciples is to realize the gospel of Jesus Christ also reached the ears of the higher classes of people and those of nobility – even close friends of Herod. There is a curious anticipation to know how Manaen came to know the gospel. How did he obey the gospel and who was the one who saw a glimpse of hope in talking to a man of such distinction? What impact did this have on the relationship with Herod? These are exciting questions that will never be answered but the lessons are many. The gospel of Christ is for all men. Paul would later share in his letter to Philippi there were Christians in the household of Caesar. It is amazing to think those reared in the household of Herod and Caesar would be children of God one day. But the gospel can change hearts regardless of the world they grow up in. Honest hearts obey the truth of God’s love whether rich or poor.
Manaen is a beacon of hope to know of the opportunities that lay before us to tell others about the love of God. It is easy to make prejudgments about people thinking they would not be interested in truth. Who would have thought a man brought up with Herod Antipas would be a vital part of the early church? Thank God someone took the time to show Manaen the grace of God and nurture him to be such a great leader in the church at Antioch. There is no distinction in the body of Christ. All men share the same grace in Christ whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate and powerful or common. God’s message of hope stirs honest hearts. It does not rely on what kinds of clothes are worn or pedigree of station. The gospel of Christ saves men – all men. Never lose an opportunity to talk to the one who needs the saving blood of Jesus Christ. Look for the heart and ignore all else. Manaen – brought up with Herod the tetrarch – is the pattern to follow.