Acts: Chapter 11
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 11:1-18).
(Verses 1-3) “And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. (2) And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, (3) Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.”
We don’t know “exactly” how long it took, but it appears that news of what happened with Cornelius and the Gentiles in Caesarea in Chapter 10 reached the church at Jerusalem fairly quickly. Whether summoned or not, we do not know, but Peter headed to Jerusalem to explain what had happened.
While there may have been some “greetings” upon his arrival, the first thing we are told that “the circumcision” (fellow Jews) said to him was: “You went into uncircumcised men, and ate with them!” How’s that for a welcome back?
As we mentioned in the previous chapter, it was not forbidden by God to “eat with Gentiles.” God had given rules that His chosen people should not enter into alliances and contracts with the nations (Gentiles) that surrounded them (Lev 18:24-30)(Deut 7:3-12)(Ezra 9:11-12). However, the Jews had gone completely beyond these commandments from God, to teach that ANY contact with Gentiles was forbidden. Can you think of examples of how this kind of thing happens today?
***Note: It should be noted though that Gentiles did not have the same food restrictions regarding “clean and unclean” foods that the Jews had (Lev Ch. 11)(Lev 20:25)(Deut 14:3-20). Therefore, eating with Gentiles could at times be problematic.
***Note: This quote is taken from the Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible: “In some rabbinical writings, the Gentiles were considered to have been created by God to kindle the fires of hell.”
In (Verses 4-15), Peter recounts what happened in the previous chapter.
(Verses 11:4-10) = (Acts 10:9-16)
(Verses 11:11-14) = (Acts 10:17-33)
(Verse 15) = (Acts 10:34-48)
Since we covered this in the previous chapter, we will not go into detail on what Peter is saying in (verses 4-14).
Summarizing (Acts 10:9-33), in the vision God (Jesus?) had given Peter, a “great sheet” was lowered from heaven containing animals that were unclean to the Jews. As mentioned above, in the Old Testament, God had made restrictions which forbade the Jews to eat (or even touch) “unclean animals.” The Jews had obeyed this restriction for hundreds of years. Now, God is telling Peter to break this law, and “eat” what has been forbidden.
Peter, believing that the vision was “totally” about eating unclean foods, told God he would not do that. However, while the vision may have been in part about how God had lifted dietary restrictions against eating “unclean animals” (reasons given in Ch. 10), there was a more important, deeper “secondary” meaning.
In (Acts 10:17), we see that after the vision, Peter is “wondering what the vision meant.” To me, this indicates that while Peter originally thought that the vision was solely about eating “unclean foods,” the fact that he is pondering it afterwards indicates that he may have thought there was more to it than that.
At the moment he is pondering the vision, three men sent from Cornelius arrive. We are told in (Acts 10:1-8) that these men were sent by Cornelius after he too had been given a “vision,” and “an angel of God” told him in the vision to send men to Joppa and ask for Peter, who would “tell Cornelius what he must do.” Two of the men were “household servants,” and one was “a devout soldier.”
While Peter was still on the roof of the house where he had received the vision, the Holy Spirit told him the 3 men had arrived. The Spirit also told him to “Arise… and go with them, doubting nothing” (Acts 10:20). Peter went down, saw the 3 men were Gentiles, heard that they had been sent by a Roman centurion named Cornelius (also a Gentile), and learned that they were sent because Cornelius has received a “vision” just as he had. When Peter put that together with what the Spirit had told him, I believe this was the moment when he understood the “deeper secondary meaning” of the vision he had received. How do we know this? Because in (Acts 10:23), we are told that Peter invited them in, and gave them lodging. Traditionally, no Jew would “ever” invite an “unclean” Gentile into his house (especially a Roman soldier)!
As we see from this point going forward, Peter displays an understanding of the “vision” he received.
Looking at Peter’s recounting here of what happened in Acts 10, we are given 3 additional pieces of information that we weren’t previously told. These are:
1. Here, in (verse 11:6), we are told that when the “great sheet was let down from heaven,” Peter “observed it intently and considered.”
2. In (Acts 10:23), we are told that “some brethren from Joppa accompanied (Peter)” as he went to Caesarea. Here, in (verse 11:12), we are told that the number of brethren was “six.”
3. In (Acts 10:7), we are told that the “Angel of God” said to Cornelius: “He (Peter) will tell you what you must do.” Here, in (verse 11:14), we are told by Peter that in the vision given to Cornelius by the “Angel,” Cornelius was told that Peter would “tell you the words by which you and all of your household will be saved.”
***Note: In (Acts 10:23), we discussed the question, “Why would Peter take (six) brethren with him to Caesarea to see Cornelius? Here, in (verse 11:12), we see that the six brethren are now with him in Jerusalem, almost certainly to act as witnesses supporting what Peter is saying.
(Verse 15) “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.”
Just as the Jewish believers had been “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and had spoken in tongues at Pentecost in (Acts Ch. 2) (“at the beginning”), this same thing is now happening with the Gentiles here. ***Note: These Gentiles included not only the “household” of Cornelius, but also “his relatives and close friends” (10:24) (“The Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word:” 10:44)
***Note: In (Acts 10:34-44), we are shown that Peter had begun to share the Gospel with Cornelius and the Gentile audience for a short time before the Holy Spirit came and “fell on them.”
***Note: It is interesting to note that Peter never once mentions the name “Cornelius” in his recounting of what happened in Chapter 10. I wonder why? Any thoughts?
(Verses 16-17)(NKJV) “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.’ (17) 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?”
These “words of the Lord (Jesus)” are found in (Acts 1:4-5). John the Baptist also said Jesus would “baptize with the Holy Spirit” in (Mt 3:11)(Mk 1:4-8)(Lk 3:16)(Jn 1:33).
The “Liberty Bible Commentary” says this about (verse 17), “Peter informs the circumcision that these Gentiles have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, even as the Jews had done. Peter’s terminal statement is phrased in the form of a question, to which there is no obvious answer, and from which there is no retreat: What was I, that I could withstand God? If Jewish believers of the church at Jerusalem are to question Peter’s action, they must first question the direct leading of God the Father, provision of salvation by God the Son, and verifying signs of God the Spirit. Absolutely no one was ready to do that.”
***Note: The Greek word for “withstand” in (verse 17) is “kolou,” and it is the same Greek word Peter used in (Acts 10:47) when he said, “Can anyone forbid (“kolou“) water, that these should not be baptized?”
(Verse 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.”
That Peter’s “Jewish” audience, who had for so many years utterly despised Gentiles, was now “glorifying God” that salvation had come to them is absolutely astounding!
“Repentance unto life” – This is one of “many” verses in the New Testament showing the importance that “repentance” plays in our salvation i.e. (Acts 3:19)(2 Cor 7:10)(Lk 13:3,5)(Mt 4:17)(2 Pet 3:9)(Mk 1:15)(Mk 6:12). How would you define repentance?
Finally, let’s read (Acts 11:19-30).
(Verse 19) “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.”
Luke now abruptly jumps backwards to events which began with (Acts Ch. 7).
“those who were scattered” – After Stephen was martyred in (Acts Ch. 7), we are told at the beginning of the next chapter (Acts 8:1), “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
(Acts 8:4) also adds that, “they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” In other words, combining these verses in (Acts 8) with (verse 19) here, those who “scattered” after the persecution of Stephen “traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the Gospel (the “word”) wherever they went.”
As we discussed in (Acts Ch. 8), in (Acts 1:8), we are told that Jesus told His disciples to spread the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.” However, it appears that this may not have been happening much in the events leading up to (Acts 8). God likely used the “persecution” of Christians to get them to “scatter” from Jerusalem, and more fully carry out His will to “spread the Gospel.”
Since those who “scattered” were from the “church at Jerusalem,” and this was before salvation was brought to the Gentiles in (Acts Ch. 10), the “scattered” Jews preached “to no one but the Jews only.”
“Phoenicia” – Phoenicia is rarely mentioned in the New Testament. It is mentioned only here, and in (Acts 15:3)(Acts 21:2)(Acts 27:12). It was a coastal country, located on the northeast Mediterranean, north of Judea, and was about 15 miles wide, and 120 miles long. Two major ports were located there: Tyre and Sidon. Today, this area is known as Lebanon.
“Cyprus” – Cyprus is mentioned by name in the New Testament only in the book of Acts (8 times). It was a large island, located in the northeast Mediterranean Sea. It was the home of Barnabas (Acts 4:36).
“Antioch” – Originally founded by Seleucus I in 300 B.C. (who named it after his father: Antiochus), Antioch was the 3rd largest city in the Roman empire (after Rome and Alexandria), with a population of around 500,000. Located on the river Orontes, north of Palestine, it was the capital of Syria, and the place from which Paul launched each of his 3 missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-4)(Acts 15:30-41)(Acts 18:22-23). Today, Antioch is known as Antakya, in Turkey.
(Verses 20-21)(NKJV) “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. (21) And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.”
“Cyrene” – Mentioned 4 times in the New Testament, Cyrene was a city on the north coast of Africa, located about midway between Carthage and Alexandria, in what is now Libya. Due to several invasions, and a major earthquake, this city is now a wasteland, which no longer exists today. Simon, who was forced to carry the cross of Jesus when He could no longer carry it, was from Cyrene (Mt 27:32). Cyrenians were among those at Pentecost (Acts 2:10).
“Hellenists” – As we first mentioned in (Acts Ch. 6), when Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.) was attempting to “conquer the world,” he expected the places he conquered to adopt and love the Greek culture. Many Jews were a part of the lands he conquered, and many did indeed choose to adopt the language, customs, and culture of the Greeks. Those Jews (or anyone) who did so were called “Hellenists,” which simply means “to adopt the Greek way of life.” Even though they weren’t “born” Greek, they chose to live as Greeks.
On the other hand, there were also Jews who refused to become Hellenists. They chose to keep the Hebrew customs and culture, as their forefathers did. They continued to speak Hebrew / Aramaic, and strictly follow the Torah. Hellenistic Jews did not feel the need to follow the Hebrew way so strictly. They were not as concerned with “keeping the law,” and following the ways of their forefathers. They were more tolerant and open towards Gentiles as well.
“Hand of the Lord” – This term is used in a number of places in the Bible. It is used in reference to “judgment” (Ex 9:3)(Deut 2:15)(Josh 4:24)(Judg 2:15)(1 Sam 5:6,9)(1 Sam 7:13)(Acts 13:11), and in reference to “blessing” (1 Kin 18:46)(2 Kin 3:15)(Ezra 7:6,9,28)(Ezra 8:18)(Neh 2:8,18)(Lk 1:66). Here, it is obviously used to speak of “blessing.”
(Verse 22) “Then tidings (news) 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.”
News of the large number of Hellenistic (Jews) believers made it to Jerusalem. As they often did (i.e. Acts 8:14), the Church at Jerusalem sent someone personally to investigate what was going on. In this case, they sent Barnabas, perhaps because he was from the same place (Cyprus) as some of the men who were leading the Hellenists to the Lord.
(Verses 23-24) “When he (Barnabas) 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. (24) For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
As we first mentioned in (Acts 4:36), Barnabas’ actual name was “Joseph” (“Joses”). However, he was given the name Barnabas by the apostles because it means “son of encouragement” (“consolation”). Here, we see one example of his name fitting who he was.
We are also told here that he was “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (“Stephen” is given the same description in Acts 6:5). Later, in (Acts 13:1), we see him numbered with some other men as a “prophet and teacher.” He is called an “apostle” in (Acts 14:14). (Acts 15:35) says he was “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord.”
“Purpose of heart” – From the Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible: “Describes a resolve of the will to make up one’s mind about one thing. The resolve here was to remain with the Lord.”
(Verses 25-26) “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: (26) And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.”
Going back to (Acts Ch. 9), we read that after Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion, and an unspecified number of years, he went “to Jerusalem to try and join the disciples.” They were afraid of him, but after Barnabas vouched for him, they accepted him. Afterwards, we are told the following in (Acts 9:29-30)(NKJV):
“And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. (30) When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.”
In other words, after Paul’s acceptance by the disciples, he witnessed to the “Hellenists.” However, they got angry, and sought to kill him. When “the brethren” found out, they sent him away to Tarsus for safety.
Now, several years later, in these verses we see that Barnabas suddenly makes the decision to go Tarsus, seek out Saul, and bring him back to Antioch. Why did Barnabas do this? I believe there are two main reasons:
1. Barnabas wanted apostolic help to teach and evangelize this “large” group of people (as mentioned above, around 500,000).
2. The last time Barnabas had seen Saul was when he left Jerusalem because his life was threatened by the “Hellenists,” to whom he had been witnessing effectively. Now, as we just saw in (verses 20-21), in Antioch “a great number of Hellenists believed and turned to the Lord.” Given Saul’s previous experience in teaching and evangelizing the “Hellenists,” Barnabas likely wanted to call upon Saul’s experience to help him.
The “Liberty Bible Commentary” adds the following: “Now Barnabas travels to Tarsus in order to seek out Saul, who probably had been disinherited for his commitment to Christ (Phil 3:8) and was undoubtedly buried in the mass of humanity at Tarsus, engaged in tentmaking…. Apparently Barnabas did not immediately locate Saul, for the verb “to seek” (Gr anazeteo) implies searching with great difficulty.
(Verse 26) “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 and Saul (Paul) witnessed to those in Antioch for “a whole year” together.
It is believed by most scholars that the term “Christians” was originally meant to be a derogatory term, coined by those who hated believers in Christ. Whether true or not, Christians came to love and adopt this term. “Christians” comes from the Greek word “Christianos,” meaning “follower of Christ.” The word “Christian” is only used in two other places in the Bible: (Acts 26:28)(1 Pet 4:16).
(Verses 27-28) “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. (28) And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth (famine) throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.”
“Agabus” (desire) – We know absolutely nothing about Agabus personally. All we know is that he was a “prophet” of God, who made two prophecies, both of which came true. The first prophecy is found here, and the second is found in (Acts Ch. 21). In (Acts Ch. 21), while Paul was staying at Philip’s house in Caesarea, Agabus appeared again from Judea, and prophesied the following thing in (Acts 21:11)(NASB), “And he came to us and took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ” “
“A great famine throughout the world” – From the MacArthur Study Bible: “Several ancient writers (Tacitus [Annals XI. 43], Josephus [Antiquities XX ii.5], and Suetonius [Claudius 18]) affirm the occurrence of great famines in Israel ca. A.D. 45-46.”
“all the world” – The famine was not “literally” upon the whole world, but in that whole region
“Claudius Caesar” – The name “Caesar” (or Caesar’s) is used 30 times in the New Testament. There are 4 men named Caesar in the New Testament. All but Nero are mentioned by name.
Augustus Caesar (27 B.C. – A.D. 14)
Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14-37)
Claudius Caesar (A.D. 41-54)
Nero Caesar (A.D. 54-68)
***Note: There was a Caesar named “Caligula” who ruled after Tiberius from (A.D. 37-41). He is not mentioned in the Bible.
Therefore, this “great famine” prophesied by Agabus, which happened in (A.D. 45-46), was during the 4th year of the reign of Claudius Caesar.
(Verses 29-30) “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: (30) Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”
“each man according to his ability” – Each person in the Antioch church gave whatever they were able to give. The “new” church at Antioch was sending “relief” to the “older, established” church in Judea. Churches giving to help others in need is a pattern found over and over in the New Testament: i.e. see: (Acts 24:17)(Rom 15:25-27)(1 Cor 16:1-4)(2 Cor 8:1-7)(2 Cor 9:1-15).
“Elders” – Notice that Paul and Barnabas are not shown to have taken the “relief” funds to the “disciples” who were in Judea, but rather to the “elders” of the church there. This “may” imply that the “disciples” were away doing missions work. This use of “elders” is one of many places in the New Testament which mention “elders” in relation to the “church.” Elders are leaders in the “church,” and qualifications to be an elder are found in (1 Tim 3:2-7)(Titus 1:5-9)(1 Pet 5:1-4). For more on “elders,” you can go here: https://jesusalive.cc/bishop-elder-qualifications-responsibilities.
***Note: This was the 2nd visit by Saul to Jerusalem since his conversion.