Peter's Defense to Jews in Jerusalem (11:1-18)
This chapter is a recounting by Peter of the events of Acts 10 to the Jerusalem believers who questioned, not that Peter had preached to uncircumcised Gentiles, but that he had eaten with them. There were many believers who still held to the Law of Moses (15:5; 21:20; Galatians 2:12). Some Jewish believers wanted Gentiles to become like Jews (become circumcised, follow the Law) and some Gentiles wanted Jews to become like Gentiles. This "dividing wall" needed to break down if Jew and Gentile believers were to come together as "one body" (Ephesians 2:11-3:12).
I love Peter's bottom line response at the conclusion of his story:
"Who was I that I could stand in God's way?"
Peter simply obeyed God's vision, and revealed that their argument was with God and not with him. Peter's story silenced them and caused them to glorify God that the Gentiles were included in "repentance that leads to life" (11:18)!
Side Note: Most scholars believe that the book of James was written during the time period between verses 18 and 19. We will study that later in the year. Other scholars believe it was written in A.D. 62 after the prison epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) and the time of the events in Acts in A.D. 62.
Antioch Church (11:19-30)
Maps by Gordon Smith can be used without further permission. http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm
Here is a very significant turn in the book of Acts: the church began to preach the Lord Jesus to Gentiles (uncircumcised Greeks). Prior to that, there had been a few instances of Gentiles seeking them out (Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius) for salvation, but it was never the other way around.
As a result of the martyrdom of Stephen (7:60), a great persecution arose in the church in Jerusalem causing the believers to be scattered (8:1) to Phoenicia, Cyprus (#1 on the map) and Syrian Antioch (#3).
Antioch (present day Antakya, Southern Turkey) was the third largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, Egypt. It was a commercial center because it was at the junction of the trade routes between East and West. There was widespread immorality and ritual prostitution that was part of temple worship.
The believers from Cyprus and Cyrene preached the Lord Jesus to the Greeks and a large number "in believing, turned to the Lord" (11:21). This caused the church in Jerusalem to send Barnabas to check it out.
Barnabas was from Cyprus (4:36; 11:20). He was generous (4:37), an encourager (11:23, 4:36), good, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (11:24). He rejoiced in the new church in Antioch. He brought Saul there; and,together, they discipled the new believers. They were called "Christians" which means "belonging to the party of Christ." This term is used two other times in the New Testament (26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). The church was becoming more and more disconnected from Judaism.
Finally, the primarily Gentile church in Antioch sent relief, via Barnabas and Saul, to the primarily Jewish church in famine-stricken Judea. This is documented by the Jewish historian, Josephus. This fulfilled the principle found in Galatians 6:6, "The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him."
What is your "I will" statement for today? What is this passage leading you to do? Who will you tell what you learned? Who will hold you accountable to follow through on these two things? It is so good to have other believers who hold you accountable to obey what you have learned.
Lord, thank You that Your Word spread from Judea to Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). Teach us how we can be part of Your plan! Amen.