ACTS OF THE APOSTLES CHAPTER 11
The official arrival of the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles on a larger scale had finally made entrance into this historical book concerning the acts of the apostles of Christ. Gospel activities would be fast changing and the center of attention would be shifting from the Jews and Jerusalem to the Gentiles unto the regions beyond. Believers of the Lord Jesus Christ being called Christians also first appeared in this chapter. The converted Saul of Tarsus who went off to his own hometown for further preparation for the gospel work would soon be reintroduced into this great mission work to reach the lost among the Gentiles.
Acts 11:1: And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
Acts 11:2: And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
Acts 11:3: Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
Having given the gospel to Cornelius and his household in Caesarea, Peter and the brethren returned to Jerusalem. The other apostles and brethren had also heard about the Gentiles receiving the word of God. However, Peter was taken to task for going to the Gentile by the circumcision. These Jews, supposed to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah of Israel, were still having attitude problem with the Gentiles. It was like the Lord during His earthly ministry healing the sick and casting out devils were unacceptable because they were performed on a Sabbath day. So as far as these Jews were concerned, the Gentiles receiving the word of God were unacceptable because Peter went to them and ate with them. Faultfindings were the forte of the Jews, who were easily provoked and envious of the success of others because God did not use them. So it was prudent that Peter did not go to Cornelius house alone. He had witnesses with him to testify what actually happened to the Gentiles to these troublesome and exacting people.
Acts 11:4: But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,
Acts 11:5: I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:
Acts 11:6: Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
Acts 11:7: And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.
Acts 11:8: But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
Acts 11:9: But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
Acts 11:10: And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
Acts 11:11: And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.
Acts 11:12: And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house:
So Peter rehearsed the education he received from the vision of unclean food to prepare him to reach out to the Gentiles. Without that vision and the Lord’s dealing, Peter would not on his own venture to the Gentiles. Such strict upbringing of the Jews versus the Gentiles as outsiders, outside of the commonwealth of Israel, was also part of Peter’s mindset. Though the Lord had already commanded the apostles to be witnesses of the Lord in Jerusalem and Judaea to Samaria and to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8), they were still not moving outward. Even when they went further out of Jerusalem, they were only reaching the Jews in synagogues.
Thus, the conversion of these Gentiles became an issue immediately when Peter returned to them. The six brethren were also mentioned in Peter’s defence concerning his visit to Cornelius’ house. This was a serious matter to them and it was not funny at all if Peter could not give a proper account of why he went to the Gentiles. The damage done could not only split the church at Jerusalem, it could also result in those Jews going back to their old ways with the priests, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, backsliding to the dead work of the Jews that could save and renouncing their faith in the Messiah Jesus Christ.
While Peter found himself in this tricky situation trying to extricate himself from the demands of compliance from those Jews concerning their customs and traditions of their fathers, he quickly brought God into the picture to deal with this issue at hand. Though Peter succeeded in pacifying the Jews and sought their understanding and acceptance of God’s dealing with the Gentiles incorporating them into the Church, years later he still got himself into trouble falling prey to peer pressure from the Jews and earned a stinging rebuke from the apostle Paul.
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14)
Indeed peer pressure is a formidable obstacle and a great challenge for any saints to live consistently for Christ with regards to pride and prejudices on racial issues even among Christians in the Body of Christ. Christians could easily become stumbled by the actions of those who exhibit such high-minded attitudes forgetting that there is now no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles in the Body of Christ.
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. (Romans 10:12)
The same principle abolishing differences between the Jews and the Gentiles where no one is now an outsider in the Body of Christ could be applied across the board for any race concerning those who are already born again in Christ. So now Peter had to explain to those fault finding and contentious Jews how the Lord dealt with the Gentiles in which he had no control over their conversion.
Acts 11:13: And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;
Acts 11:14: Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
Acts 11:15: And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
Acts 11:16: Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
Acts 11:17: Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
Acts 11:18: When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
Thus Peter continued to relate on his work with Cornelius and his household. He told them how the Lord overrode him while he preached by pouring the Holy Ghost upon those Gentile hearers. This outpouring of the Holy Ghost was the same event they experienced on the day of Pentecost. Salvation and acceptance of the Gentiles into the Church of God was unmistakable with such signs that the Jews always looked for. Peter also recalled the baptism of John the Baptist in contrast with the Lord baptizing them with the Holy Ghost. As the Lord had already granted the Gentiles with the gift of the Holy Ghost, what else could Peter and the Jewish brethren with him do but to accept God’s will for the Gentiles to become part of the family of God. Though salvation is of the Jews, this by no means implies that salvation is by the Jews. The Lord overriding Peter in granting salvation to the Gentiles shows that salvation is from above and Peter was just a messenger, a point man to direct the Gentiles upward to look at the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and get to know the name of this Saviour as the Lord Jesus Christ.
Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:22)
With Peter testifying of what transpired concerning the work with the Gentiles, the Jewish believers in Jerusalem held their peace and found fault no more. Moreover, they glorified God that even the Gentiles did God grant repentance unto life through the gospel of Christ. While the Jews accepted that the Lord had included the Gentiles into the Church, the Jewish believers however, did not abandon their Jewish practices and upbringing. They still adhered to their strict customs and traditions of their fathers even though they had already obtained liberty in the Lord. Their own adherence to their traditions in the practice of their newfound faith in the Messiah of Israel became a problem for the Gentile believers in Christ when some of them insisted that the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. This contentious issue would be brought up in a later chapter where the apostles in Jerusalem had to deal with this matter and inform the Gentile believers on their thoughts and decisions on the practice of circumcision for the Gentiles.
Acts 11:19: Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
Acts 11:20: And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Acts 11:21: And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
The persecution of the Jewish believers had scattered them abroad. They brought with them the gospel and armed with faith in the Messiah of Israel continued to reach the Jews outside of Israel. They were labouring to reach only the Jews so far and the gospel had reached up the far north along the coastal area of Israel and even crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Cyprus. Interestingly it was those Jews outside of Israel who contended with Stephen which resulted in his martyrdom, but the Lord raised up these men from outside of Israel to reach the Grecians in Antioch. These men were not apostles of Christ but the hand of the Lord was with them to establish a great work in Antioch.
With Peter officiating the official opening of the Gentiles coming into the Body of Christ, these persecuted believers in the Lord were now reaching the Gentiles in far away land from Israel. This was the turning point in the history of the gospel of Christ where many in Antioch believed and turned unto the Lord. There was no record to indicate that any of the apostles had to travel to Antioch to lay hands on these Gentile believers to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. No apostle from Jerusalem was now required to baptize these believers in the Lord. The one time outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the Gentile household of Cornelius like the one that took place on the Jewish believers on Pentecost was never repeated on these Gentile believers in Antioch.
The official opening of Church to the Jews and Gentiles with the Lord baptizing believers with the Holy Ghost was a thing of the past. There was no need to baptize believers with the Holy Ghost anymore as the Jews and Gentiles believers were now officially commissioned to carry the gospel work to the uttermost parts of the earth. The event concerning John the Baptist baptizing with water and the prophecy of the Lord baptizing believers with the Holy Ghost were now history. The baptism with the Holy Ghost was now part of the history of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and never to be repeated. The Gentile believers from hence received the gift of the Holy Ghost the moment they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel was fast moving outward and the transitional arrangements of water baptism and laying on of hands to receive the Holy Ghost for the Jewish believers and the Samaritans were now superceded with simple believing faith in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 11:22: Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
Acts 11:23: Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
Acts 11:24: For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
With Peter’s involvement with the Gentile believers and the contention that arose settled, the church in Jerusalem no longer had any more misgivings concerning the Gentiles becoming part of the Church of the living God. So when tidings of the Gentiles prospering in faith in the Lord arriving the church at Jerusalem, the leaders sent Barnabas to go as far as Antioch for a fact finding mission and to be of a help to those believers in the Gentile lands. Barnabas was a choice candidate for this mission as he was from Cyprus who knew the way along this journey up north of Israel. He was also a good man who was involved in getting the apostles and believers in Jerusalem to accept Saul, their former persecutor, who had fled Damascus to Jerusalem for Saul to be able to abide with the church at Jerusalem.
So Barnabas arrived at the church in Antioch and was glad to see what the Lord was doing with His people there. Thus Barnabas was with the brethren in Antioch exhorting them to cleave to the Lord. Being full of the Holy Ghost and faith Barnabas laboured with the believers and many more were added to the Lord. The arrival of Barnabas and his acceptance among the believers in Antioch laid the groundwork for future missionary endeavours that turned the world upside down for Christ. For Barnabas was instrumental in getting Saul of Tarsus who was meanwhile being prepared for the work ahead to be reintroduced and inducted into the gospel work of Christ.
Acts 11:25: Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
Acts 11:26: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Barnabas was indeed a good man who can recognize another good man in the Lord. Barnabas had helped Saul in the past and he was now going to get Saul to be involved in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saul was no doubt indebted to this man when he wrote to Titus concerning the qualifications of an elder of the church that an elder had to be a lover of good men as one of the criteria for this high office of the church.
But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; (Titus 1:8)
So Saul having had his own private preparation in Tarsus came to Antioch with Barnabas. They assembled with the church in Antioch for a year and taught many people there. Saul with his miraculous conversion and his heinous past of persecuting the saints must have had some impact to the believers in the Lord. With Barnabas actively seeking out for Saul, this laid the foundation of their partnership for future missionary work in the region accomplishing much for the Lord.
As the Jewish believers scattered because of the persecution testifying of their Messiah in synagogues reaching the Jews on Sabbath days, the Gentile church very likely modeled after the Jewish assemblies. However, as Gentiles, these believers could not assemble in Jewish synagogues. They would have to assemble in private gatherings in houses but being assembled together need not be on a Sabbath day or even on a Sunday. Those believers in Jerusalem after Pentecost assembled from house to house on a daily basis. These Gentiles believers had the liberty to assemble on any days of the week as far as circumstances allowed. There were no structured days where these Gentiles believers had to meet in order to worship God. There was also no mention of the believers gathered for the purpose of worshipping this true and living God. Worshipping God was no longer a Jewish monopoly.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23&24)
Worshipping God became a private privilege of all believers in Christ where God ought to be worshipped in spirit and in truth anywhere whether at home or in assemblies among believers in the Lord. Worshipping God only on Sundays in a church building would expose the lack of gratitude of such believers having been delivered from darkness into Christ marvelous light. When Barnabas and Saul assembled with the church in Antioch, the believers gathered together to be taught. Any churches worth its salt must have teaching ministries so that believers may grow thereby. Worshipping God without teaching in church assemblies would be incomplete and thus betraying the sacred trust of the great commission of the gospel to build up the believers in Christ.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
So these believers in Antioch did not gather for the sake of gathering. They gathered with singleness of heart as exhorted by Barnabas to cleave to the Lord where they were taught by men full of the Holy Ghost.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24&25)
When these believers assemble in the church at Antioch, they were first called Christians. No Jewish believers in Israel were called Christians. They were called names as followers of Jesus of Nazareth and of the sect of the Nazarenes, pestilent and seditious people. The Jewish believers in the Lord were never called Christians. It was the believers in Antioch who were first called Christians. Their faith in Christ and the manner of lives of these believers observed by outsiders earned them this name as Christians. So the believers came together in assembly to consider one another and to provoke unto love and good work as they were taught by their leaders. Coming together was a learning experience for believers in Christ and not for the purpose of hearing one man called the pastor shouting at the congregation, threatening and manipulating the people in such a setup called worshipping God. This beginning of the history of the Gentile church at Antioch offered great insight into what assembling together as believers in Christ entailed.
Acts 11:27: And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
Acts 11:28: And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
Acts 11:29: Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
Acts 11:30: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
The church at Antioch was prospering. Barnabas and Saul were not elders of the church though they were teaching the believers at Antioch. The church was already organized when Barnabas went there from Jerusalem and found them established in the Lord and the grace of God was upon the believers there. The prophets from Jerusalem began coming and there was good fellowship between the church at Jerusalem and Antioch. No one worried about losing sheep from one church to another and there was no jealousy and competition among churches. Agabus, a prophet from Jerusalem, declared that trouble was coming throughout the world during that time. The unhelpful NIV mentioned that the prophet predicted that a severe famine would be coming. Obviously any prophet worthy of his salt would not predict but declare what would happen in the future. The prophets of the NIV and their translators are false prophets like the modern day financial prophets armed with CFAs could not predict the collapse of the financial markets.
So the disciples in the church at Antioch determined to send relief to the brethren in Israel. They gave according to their ability and no one was compelled to give. The arrangement where the believers selling their properties and laying them at the apostles feet in Jerusalem to be distributed to the poor was not the practice of this Gentile church. They gave only when there was a need to do so as they were led by the Lord. They had perfect liberty to practice their faith in Christ and concerning giving it was still voluntary according to each one’s ability. Indeed giving was part of the Christian practice to help the poorer brethren and those brethren in dire need, especially so for the Jewish believers.
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. (Romans 15:25- 27)
Hence, Barnabas and Saul were given the mission to bring this relief to the elders of the church in Israel. The distribution of the relief was to be given to the elders of the church in Israel and not for Barnabas and Saul to carry out such relief effort. There was cooperation between churches during that time. Barnabas was mentioned before Saul where Barnabas was the leader who roped Saul into the work. Barnabas had been traveling up and down the coastal region between churches and had been greatly used by the Lord to establish many in the faith. The arrival of Barnabas and Saul back to Jerusalem surely would have been a welcome and joyous event to the brethren there.
So this chapter detailed Peter’s explanation of his venture to the Gentiles and the introduction of work of the Lord in a Gentile church at Antioch. The establishment of this first Gentile church at Antioch carried with it great significance as these believers there became recipients of the word of God as well as the transmission of the words of the living God as the Holy Bible came from the text from this Antioch families instead of the text from Alexandra Egypt. Going forward, the gospel would soon spread even much further with this church at Antioch sending out missionaries as led by the Holy Ghost.
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