by Diane Caston
Acts 11:1-3 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went into uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
Before Peter had even returned to Jerusalem, the apostles and brethren in Judea had heard what was going on in Caesarea, that the Gentiles had received the word of God. Peter gets objections from his association with the Gentiles. This news was so sensational that it couldn’t be hidden and just like recent news from the Asbury College revival, there were questioners! These Jewish leaders who were believers didn’t recall their scriptures, or they would have seen all through the OT there were prophecies about the Gentiles. Also, Jesus had commanded them to “preach the gospel to every creature”. Matt. 16: 15, but unfortunately, they were confused and offended. They charged Peter, he, a Jew associated with Gentiles, even ate with them! It was shocking, so they confronted Peter.
One commentator says, “But these often are the prejudices of pride and bigotry held fast against the clearest discoveries of divine truth”
(This is familiar to the Hippies of the 1970’s. The hippies are getting saved!?! Many jealous pastors were appalled by this. They had a holier than thou attitude about dirty hippies entering the church.)
What happened in Acts 10 at Cornelius’ house was significant. The Jews thought that the Gentiles would have to become Jews and be circumcised first to receive salvation, but the Holy Spirit confounded this idea by falling on the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house! The Gentiles didn’t have to put themselves under the laws of God, like circumcision. They were given the free gift of salvation by just repenting and believing. This was revolutionary, and the Jews had to come to grips with the fact that they had to receive their Gentile brothers. This was, what they considered, a short-cut, and not the way to receive the Lord. They actually were more concerned with Peter eating with these unclean Gentiles than they were with amazing work that God was doing!
Acts 11:4-15 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover, these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.
Peter didn’t argue or apologize, but humbly and gently explained a somewhat shortened version of all that happened in Acts Chapter 10. He didn’t take blame or responsibility. “The Spirit bade me go. I was being directed by the Spirit of God”. We see it is always better to get the story firsthand. Peter had lived the story, but they hadn’t heard it. They had only heard the rumors. He explained everything in order and expounded his understanding of the events at Cornelius’ house. He realized from the vision that God was preparing him to not call his brothers, who the Lord has received, unclean or common. The vision was given to him for instruction to prepare him for what he was going to experience. He admits he was reluctant do anything against the law of God. He argues with the Lord, “not so Lord” when the voice from heaven told him to eat. Peter even confesses this to Cornelius in Acts 10:28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
Here with the leaders in Jerusalem Peter admitted to entering the house of a Gentile, which was forbidden, because of the vision that the angel had shown him. And he explains the minute he began to speak (although in Acts 10 it sounds like he got most of the gospel message out) the Holy Spirit fell on them! Peter remembered Jesus’ words that they would preach the word in Jerusalem, Judea, and uttermost parts of the earth, and that in the last days He would pour out His Spirit on all men. The Jews at Jerusalem should have known this also, but they contended with him. We must always beware of having a self-righteous attitude.
“When we see others do what looks suspicious, instead of contending with them, we should enquire what they were doing. to see what they were doing by see their intentions.” Matthew Henry
Peter had brought six witnesses with him probably because he was unsure how this visit was going to turn out, but when he arrived at Cornelius’ house he heard that he had also had a vision, and Peter was even more fortified that this was the work of God.
Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things, they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
Peter states, who was I to withstand God? Good question! God does what He wants to do. He doesn’t need our permission or approval. And we don’t dare interfere with what He is doing! The matter was put to rest when the Holy Spirit also fell on the house of Cornelius! The Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles! They heard them speaking in tongues and praising God Acts 10:46. Then they baptized them in water. Who was Peter to withstand God when he saw this marvelous miracle? This was a sign of God’s approval on the Gentile believers. Who were the Christian Jews to speak against it?
We are always to follow God’s direction, not encourage Him to go our way. If honest, these in authority would see this was all in accordance with scripture. They had the prophetic word of the Lord in Mark 1:8 and promises in the Old Testament such as, the Gentiles would come to the Lord through the Messiah, Isaiah 49:6 “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”.
Looking at a work of God today, activity alone is not enough to validate a movement of God, it must line up with the word of God. So, we see in vs 18, they held their peace. It was probably more like stunned silence. They needed to digest just what had happened. This was no longer an idle rumor, here was an eyewitness, and Peter no less! After digesting they realized this was truly a work of God, and they glorified God!
They were stunned, they considered it, then praised the Lord! I can just imagine their astonished wonder at what God was doing! They glorified God because He was working in the Gentiles now also. Good thing too! This showed the powerful heads of the church in Jerusalem had soft hearts. They overcame by the Spirit their prejudices and customs when they saw the work the Lord was doing. “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken” was a adage that Chuck Smith used. They were willing to be moved and corrected by God.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of the controversy over these issues. Old habits and ideas are hard to change or break and need the Spirit and reinforcement to see clearly and institute. We saw in Galatians 2 that when Paul had come to Antioch, he had to challenge Peter’s hypocrisy in separating himself from the Gentiles when the Jews from the circumcision came there. Paul called him out publicly. We see more of this hypocrisy in Acts 15:1-2 “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question” .
Paul spent much of his time dealing with these troublemakers!
Acts 11:19-21 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
After Stephen was martyred people left Jerusalem to places like Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch, not too far away, and they brought the gospel with them. This was approximately three years after the conversions of the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. During that time, they preached only to the Hebrew speaking Jews. Some men though branched out and spoke to the Hellenists in Antioch, the ethnic Jews and Jewish proselytes who spoke Greek and whose culture was more worldly. Antioch, the chief city of Syria, was the third largest city in the empire at that time. Only Rome and Alexandria were before it. Known for its licentious practices in the worship of the goddess Daphne, this pagan city became a strong foothold for the gospel. Over time it became the center for the mission to the Gentiles among the known world. Missionaries went out from and returned to report their progress to Antioch.
These first missionaries are dispersed from Jerusalem approximately 5-6 years earlier around the time of Stephen’s death. What seemed to be severe suffering had turned into a blessing. These people were so persecuted that they had to leave their homes, but they were sown as seed to God to bring forth much fruit. So instead of griping and complaining, we see the Jewish believers reaching out to those who were different from them to share the good news, and the result was a great number of them believed! The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed! Ministries and ministers can’t turn the heart of people to God unless His hand is in it. This is why we always pray for revival and God’s Spirit over our efforts. If He is in it, we won’t fail. If He isn’t, we won’t accomplish anything!
Acts 11:22-24 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
The church in Jerusalem heard what was going on in Antioch, and they sent out Barnabas, a man of good reputation. We heard about Him in in Acts 3:36, he was called the son of consolation. He was from Cyprus himself. He was known for His generosity and warm acceptance. In Acts 9:26-28,when the church in Jerusalem would have nothing to do with Paul after his conversion, because they were afraid of him, Barnabas brought him to them and said, “Look he is a brother, receive him now as a brother.” So, Barnabas was sent to strengthen their hands in Antioch and add some reputation to the work being done there. He was sent out as an envoy, a representative of those in Jerusalem. Barnabas was the ideal man to send. His ministry was that of reconciling within the body. He was wonderfully pleased when he got there to see to see the grace of God moving among the converts, that the gospel of Christ was becoming rooted in some of his own countrymen. Barnabas did what good leaders do. He encouraged them in the work, encouraged them to continue, to cleave to the Lord with heart, soul, and mind. He knew these new believers would be facing persecution as they reached out to pagan world that was antagonistic to gospel of Jesus Christ. He saw the work was blessed and from God, so He encouraged them to persevere and continue! And as they did, again a great many people were added. Barnabas used the gifts of God given to him to equip the saints. Ephesians 4:11-12 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
Leaders go out and do the work with the hand of God and new members are added that hopefully will also be trained up. The result is continued growth to the body of Christ.
Acts 11: 25-26 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.
The work was on going in Antioch. The workers were probably exhausted and needed reinforcements. Barnabas thought of Paul and went and told him of this opportunity in Antioch and his desire to have him join the work. (Sometimes people need encouragement from a friend to enter into the ministry that God has for them). Barnabas went and got Paul to come and help with the work. The last we heard of Paul was when his life was sought in Jerusalem. They sent him away to the city of Tarsus, his birthplace. Saul had been eight years in Tarsus making tents, studying, sharing, waiting for what God had next for him. New converts should not jump too quickly into ministry after they are saved. They need to be rooted and grounded in the word and become one in the Spirit with other believers before taking on large tasks. This time when Paul came to Antioch was 11 years after his conversion.
Paul came back with Barnabas, and they worked together for a year. Barnabas brought him even knowing that Paul would probably eclipse his own work there. Barnabas didn’t mind. As Christians we shouldn’t mind that someone may overshadow us with their gifts or talents. All we are called to do is be obedient to the gifts God has given us. Anything else is pride or jealousy. So, together, they taught a great many people! Paul had spent many years away waiting on the Lord and being instructed by Him. He was trained and prepared for the work. Now was his time to teach what he had learned. Antioch ended up having some of the greatest teachers, Peter, Paul and Barnabas, but were also blessed by the informal witnessing and teaching from those escaping persecution in Judea. This made Antioch a special world impacting place. And honor was bestowed on them. The believers were first called Christians in Antioch. They had been called many things before, disciples, saints, believers, brothers, witnesses, Nazarenes, the Way. Now they could forget the former dividing names of Jews and Gentiles and truly become one in Christ. Now they were named by the name of Christ Himself. Christians, or the party of Christ, Jesus-ites, Jesus people!
Acts 11:27-30 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Agabus was a prophet of God. We see this prophet just two times, here and again in Acts 21:10-11 when he prophesies Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem. He didn’t get his prophesy from conjecture or the stars, but by the Spirit of God just like Joseph and Daniel or Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Prophets were roving men in the early church, sort of like nomads. They went from church to church, and each church had to discern if these men were truly from God.
A side note on the gift of prophecy, it is the speaking forth of the word of God. It could be as simple as using the right scripture to the body or to someone personally. Some prophecy though is speaking forth of future events. This is not a common gift, but it does happen. Here we see that it is revealed to a prophet named Agabus that there was going to be a famine throughout all the world. These disciples believed the word and prepared to send aid to those living in Judea. Possibly these believers were more well off than those in Judea. We see Paul encourage many of the churches in Asia Minor to send aid at various times to the saints there.
FF Bruce states, “We know from others sources that Claudius’ principate was marked by a succession of bad harvests and consequent scarcity in various parts of the empire – in Rome, Greece, and Egypt as well as Judea.”
We see the believers in Antioch and other regions were true Christians, because they gave generously to meet the need. They made good use of this prediction when they were told a famine was at hand. They did not do as the Egyptians had done in the past, to hoard corn for themselves, but as Christians laid by for charity to relieve others, which is the best preparative for our own suffering and wants.” Matthew Henry
Psalms 41:1-2 Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, And he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
Psalms 37: 18-19 The Lord knows the days of the upright, And their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, And in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
They gave according to their ability. This means some who had more gave more, and some who didn’t have much gave little. It could also mean they gave according to the faith they had, such as the widow’s mite, trusting that a gift to God’s work was worth the investment. The fact that they determined suggests that they didn’t take this need lightly. They made the effort to make their offering, sent the offering with Barnabas and Saul, showing how much they trusted them to bring this special gift. Many of us may have stored up for lean times, or for what my lie ahead, but we should always be willing to share. Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. There were many poor in Jerusalem, maybe because of persecution and having been put out of the synagogues. Maybe from the inability to get jobs because of their beliefs. They needed charity. Boice, “As far as I know this is the first charitable act of this nature mentioned in all recorded history – one race of people collecting money to help another people. No wonder they were first called Christians at Antioch!”