Acts 11

11:1 The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

11:2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him

11:3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

11:4 Peter began and explained everything to them [“the circumcised believers” (v. 2); a group of conservative Jewish believers who expected Gentile converts to be circumcised and follow other Jewish proselyte procedure] precisely as it had happened [a step by step account]:

Several years after Peter preached his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:14-40), he was privileged to preach in the home of Cornelius at what became the Pentecost of the Gentile world. Peter honored Cornelius’ invitation (Acts 10:33) to share the message of salvation (Acts 10:34-43) with those assembled in his home. As a result, all those who heard Peter’s sermon placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized (Acts 10:44-48).

When Peter returned to Jerusalem he was confronted and criticized by a group of Jewish believers who expected Gentile converts to follow Jewish proselyte procedure, including circumcision. Peter explained to them what had happened by giving a precise step by step account.

11:5 “I was in the city of Joppa [approximately thirty miles south of Caesarea and sixty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem; the Roman capital of Judea] praying [on the roof of a house belonging to Simon, a leatherworker (Acts 10:6,9)], and in a trance [Peter fell into a trance while a meal was being prepared for him (Acts 10:10)] I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet [perhaps like a ship’s sail or like the awning that covered some rooftops] being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.

While staying as a guest in the home of a leatherworker named Simon (Acts 10:6), Peter went up to the roof of the house to pray. As he prayed he became hungry and wanted something to eat. While a meal was being prepared, Peter fell into a trance and saw a vision. In his vision he saw something that resembled a large sheet, perhaps like a ship’s sail or like the cloth awnings that covered some rooftop porches. This sheet was being lowered from heaven by its four corners. Some interpreters suggest that the four corners represent the ends of the earth and signal that the gospel is intended for every person on the planet.

11:6 [cf. Acts 10:12] I looked into it and saw four-footed animals [included clean and unclean animals; cf. Lev. 11; generally speaking, animals which chewed the cud or which had cloven hoofs were considered clean] of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles [considered unclean], and birds of the air [considered unclean].

When Peter looked closely at the sheet, he saw that it contained a picnic spread of the four-footed animals of the earth—including clean and unclean animals (see Lev. 11). Generally speaking, animals which chewed the cud or which had cloven hoofs were considered clean. Reptiles and birds were among the unclean animals. These Jewish food laws made it difficult for Jewish Christians to reach out to Gentiles or to share a meal with them.

11:7 [cf. Acts 10:13] Then I heard a voice [from heaven; the “Lord” as per verse 8] telling me [this command must have perplexed Peter], ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat [from among the animals in the sheet].’

Peter heard a voice from heaven telling him to kill and eat from among the animals in order to satisfy his hunger. This request undoubtedly perplexed Peter. Like other Jews, he was familiar with what the law taught about clean and unclean foods. These food laws set Israel apart from the rest of the nations (see Lev. 20:24-26). They were woven into an entire fabric of laws designed to set apart as holy and to accentuate the distinctiveness of God’s people.

11:8 [cf. Acts 10:14] “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth [Peter had adhered strictly to the dietary laws outlined in the Scriptures; these food laws set Israel apart from the rest of the nations (see Lev. 20:24-26)].’

Shocked, Peter protested and said, No, Lord! He bolstered his protest by appealing to his own personal history. Like other devout Jews, Peter had never allowed anything common or unclean to enter his mouth. He had adhered strictly to the dietary laws outlined in the Scriptures. He was not about to break rank with his consistent observance of those laws by consuming anything unclean or not prepared in a kosher fashion.

11:9 [cf. Acts 10:15] “The voice [God did not accept Peter’s answer] spoke from heaven a second time [God reissued the command to kill and eat], ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’

The same voice that had issued the initial command answered Peter from heaven a second time. Reprimanding him, the Lord reissued the command to kill and eat from among the animals in the sheet. Although Peter did not realize it at the time, God was reeducating him to understand that there was no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Both were unclean before God and in equal need of redemption.

11:10 [cf. Acts 10:16] This happened three times [cf. Peter denied Jesus three times (Jn. 18:17, 25-27) and Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times (Jn. 21:15-17)], and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

The Lord repeated the command to kill and eat three times and each time Peter protested. Teachers throughout the centuries have used repetition to help their students grasp a new concept or to help them retain important information. The repetition of the command to Peter emphasizes the seriousness of what the Lord was trying to teach him about accepting an “unclean” people group. After the third time the sheet was drawn up again into heaven, leaving Peter to contemplate the meaning of the vision (Acts 10:17).

Perhaps Peter reflected on what he had heard Jesus say—“Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can defile him…” (Mark 7:14)”—and was beginning to understand that “Jesus made all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).

If we are open to learning new truths about the gospel and will listen to God, He will lead us to them. Bible study is one obvious way to listen for God’s message today and Sunday School is a readily available opportunity for Bible study.

11:11 [cf. Acts 10:17] “Right then three men [sent by Cornelius (Acts 10:5-8); sent by God (Acts 10:20)] who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying.

An angel had instructed Cornelius in a vision to send men to a specific house in Joppa to find Peter. Cornelius recruited three members of his household staff (Acts 10:7) to journey from Caesarea to Joppa. These men approached Simon the tanner’s house about the time Peter was praying on the housetop. Their arrival coincided with the end of Peter’s vision.

11:12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them [cf. Acts 10:20]. These six [these six men would serve as witnesses (Jewish law required two witnesses)] brothers [circumcised believers as per Acts 10:45] also went [to Caesarea] with me [cf. Acts 10:23], and we entered the man’s house [cf. Acts 10:24-25].

The men from Caesarea explained to Peter why they had come and who had sent them (Acts 10:22). After listening to their story, Peter invited the three men to spend the night (Acts 10:23). As Peter considered their invitation, the Spirit told him to have no hesitation about returning to Caesarea with them. The following day Peter set out for Cornelius’ home. He invited six circumcised believers (Acts 10:45) to accompany him. These men would serve as witnesses of what they would see and experience in Caesarea.

11:13 [cf. Acts 10:1-7; 30-32] He told us how he had seen an angel [this fact was important to Peter’s Jewish audience] appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.

When Peter arrived at the home of Cornelius, he found a large audience already gathered there. Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends because he wanted them to hear the message of salvation. Peter asked Cornelius why he had sent for him. Cornelius then told Peter the details of his vision. God had paved the way for the gospel to reach many through the obedience and invitation of Cornelius.

While on a short-term mission trip to Bangladesh, a friend and I went in search of a man of peace (Luke 10:5-6). A man of peace is an individual who is receptive to the gospel and who opens the door for others to hear the message. Such a man invited us to his home. Like Cornelius, he had gathered family and friends to hear what we had to say. Eight of the men present placed their faith in Christ for salvation. We rejoiced at this wonderful harvest. However, when we returned the following year we learned of more than four hundred believers in that village. Those eight men had faithfully shared the gospel with others.

11:14 [this detail is not included in Acts 10] He [Peter] will bring you a message [cf. 2 Cor. 5:19 re: the message of reconciliation] through which you and all your household will be saved.’

The angel that had instructed Cornelius to send for Peter also told him that Peter would bring an important message. This would be no ordinary message, but one that would lead Cornelius and his household to salvation. As ambassadors for Christ, God “has committed the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor. 5:19).

Like Peter, we are responsible for speaking the words that can help others understand how to be reconciled to God. Several years ago while on a short-term mission trip to Ukraine, an elderly woman asked one of our team members how long she had known the story of Jesus. “Most of us have known about Jesus since childhood,” my friend replied. “Then why did it take you so long to bring this message to me?” the woman asked.

11:15 [cf. Acts 10:44-46] “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them [Gentile believers] as he had come on us [Jewish believers] at the beginning [refers to Pentecost (Acts 2)].

Peter spoke to those assembled in Cornelius’ house about Jesus and the forgiveness that is available to everyone who believes in Him (Acts 10:34-43). While he was speaking the Holy Spirit interrupted his sermon and “came down on all those who heard the message” (Acts 10:44). The Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentile believers just as He had come upon the Jewish believers at the beginning—or at Pentecost (Acts 2). This was an indication that the gospel is for all peoples and that God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11).

11:16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said [just prior to His ascension; Acts 1:5]: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit [Mark 1:4-8; Luke 3:15-17].’

The coming of the Spirit upon the Gentile believers prompted Peter to remember the word of the Lord. Incidentally, it is always good for believers to remember what the Lord has said. Just prior to His ascension, Jesus told His followers that John had baptized with water, but, in a few days they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:5). The apostles experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ words at Pentecost. However, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not reserved exclusively for Jewish believers. God intended this baptism for all who place their faith in Christ for salvation.

11:17 So if God gave them [Gentile believers] the same gift [the Holy Spirit] as he gave us [Jewish believers], who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

Peter and the six circumcised brothers from Joppa witnessed something new in Cornelius’ home. God had bestowed the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentile believers just as He had on them when they believed on the Lord Jesus. God had chosen to deal with the Gentiles the same way He dealt with the Jews. Peter realized that opposition to the Gentiles’ baptism with the Holy Spirit would be tantamount to opposition to God. Rather than stand in God’s way, Peter chose to accept what God was doing among the Gentiles.

11:18 When they [those who stressed circumcision (Acts 11:4)] heard this, they had no further objections and praised God [a mature and appropriate response], saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life [this issue would surface again and be addressed in he Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15)].”

When “those who stressed circumcision” (Acts 11:4) heard Peter’s explanation they became silent and offered no further objections. The evidence was compelling. Peter and the six brothers who accompanied him stood as seven witnesses to the fact that God had granted repentance resulting in life to even the Gentiles! The church in Jerusalem accepted that Gentiles became Christians by believing in the Lord Jesus—period! Although the issue of Gentile conversion would be challenged again (Acts 15), for the time being all those present glorified God.

11:19 [cf. Acts 8:4] Now those [Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jewish Christians] who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen [as a result of his martyrdom] traveled as far as Phoenicia [a seacoast area that included the cities of Ptolemais, Tyre, Sidon, Zarephath], Cyprus [island located about 100 miles off Syrian coast; Barnabas’ birthplace (Acts 4:36)] and Antioch [located 300 miles north of Jerusalem; third largest city in Roman Empire (pop. 500k to 800k) after Rome and Alexandria; capital of province of Syria; much pagan worship that promoted sexual immorality; also called Antioch of Syria to distinguish it Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14) and other cities with the same name], telling the message only to Jews [followed same pattern as Paul (Acts 9:20)].

This verse continues the narrative that began in Acts 8:4. The Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Jerusalem left their homes and possessions to escape the persecution that followed Stephen’s violent death.

Escaping with only their faith, these believers blazed new trails for the gospel in predominantly Gentile areas. Some made their way north along the Phoenician coastline and settled in cities like Tyre and Sidon. Others boarded ships and sailed to the island of Cyprus, the birthplace of Barnabas. Still others made their way three hundred miles to the north of Jerusalem and settled in Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire.

Unaware of Peter’s experience with Cornelius and that the gospel was also meant for Gentiles, these scattered believers followed Paul’s pattern (Acts 9:20) and preached the message to no one except Jews.

11:20 Some of them, however, men [who had come to Jerusalem and were there at the time of Stephen’s death] from Cyprus [island located about 100 miles off Syrian coast; cf. Acts 4:36; 21:16] and Cyrene [city in northern Africa; Simon, who carried Jesus’ cross, was from Cyrene (Lk. 23:26); Cyrenians were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:10)], went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks [perhaps proselytes to Judaism or unconverted Gentiles] also [these men had a passion to do more than speak to their fellow Jews in Antioch], telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus [the content and substance of their preaching].

Some of those present in Jerusalem at the time of Stephen’s death were men from Cyprus and Cyrene. Cyprus is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea and Cyrene was a city in northern Africa in what is Libya today. The man named Simon who carried Jesus’ cross was from Cyrene (Luke 23:26).

Cyrenians were also present at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). These men expressed a concern that extended beyond the synagogues and their fellow Jews. Because they had been raised in a Gentile environment, these men had a more global perspective than their Palestinian brothers. They boldly began speaking to the Hellenists, or Greeks, about the Lord Jesus.

11:21 The Lord’s hand [His power and Spirit] was with them [the Cypriot and Cyrenian men who shared with the Hellenists], and [as a result] a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

God honored the initiative of these unnamed individuals who dared to proclaim the good news to Gentiles in Antioch. And, because the Lord’s hand was with them, many of the Gentiles who heard the gospel turned to the Lord.

Cornelius had previously taken the initiative to send for Peter. At times believers are approached by those who are seeking the way of salvation. And, like Peter, we should be ready to respond. This verse shows us that the Cypriot and Cyrenian believers did not wait for the lost to come to them. Instead they took the initiative to seek the lost. Like these believers, we too should take the initiative to share the gospel with others—from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

11:22 News of this [Gentiles being added to the church in Antioch] reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas [a Levite and native of the island of Cyprus; being from Cyprus made Barnabas a good choice because some of the men who had started the movement in Antioch were from Cyprus (cf. 11:20); name means Son of Encouragement; cf. Acts 4:36] to Antioch [major commercial center; third largest city in Roman Empire; the church in Antioch was growing (cf. 11:19-21)].

The exciting news about what God was doing among the Gentiles could not be contained in Antioch. Reports about the large numbers of Gentile conversions traveled south all the way to the ears of the church in Jerusalem. At this time, the church in Jerusalem was the “mother church” of the Christian movement. The church therefore had an interest in all that God was doing through the many believers dispersed after Stephen’s death.

The church sent Barnabas, a man with a big heart, to travel to Antioch to help these new Christians. Barnabas was the right choice because of his reputation as an encourager. New believers need encouragers to come alongside to help them take their first steps.

11:23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged [from Gr. parekalei which carries idea of encouragement, comfort, help, strong urging, counsel] them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

When Barnabas finally arrived in Antioch, he saw evidence that God was at work there. As he spent time with these new believers and listened to their personal stories of how they came to faith in Christ, Barnabas was glad and affirmed them and the work of God in their lives. And, living up to his name, he encouraged them all—the new Christians and those who had started the church.

Barnabas likely encouraged them in practical ways by offering comfort, help, counsel, and advice on living as followers of Christ. He strongly urged these new believers to remain true to the Lord in the midst of a culture whose strong currents could easily sweep them into godless and immoral behavior. Like Barnabas, we can encourage other Christians by affirming them and the work of God in their lives.

11:24 [great summary of Barnabas’ character…] He was [1] a good [he had a benevolent disposition] man, [2] full of the Holy Spirit [thus making him effective in ministry] and [3] faith, and [note that the spread of the gospel was thriving in Antioch…] a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Barnabas was effective in his ministry to the new believers in Antioch for several reasons. First, he was a good man. This is the only time in Acts that Luke uses the word good to describe an individual. Churches today need people with kind and benevolent dispositions like Barnabas. Second, Barnabas depended on the Holy Spirit to live as a Christian and serve others. Third, Barnabas was a man full of faith and thus willing to go beyond his fears in order to encourage others. It is not surprising that his arrival in Antioch stimulated the work and many more people were added to the Lord.

11:25 Then [realizing he needed help with the work at Antioch] Barnabas went to Tarsus [Saul had returned to Tarsus when some in Jerusalem were trying to kill him (Acts 9:26-30)] to look [Gr. anazēteō = to seek out; implies Barnabas put forth effort in order to locate Saul] for Saul [had been commissioned to reach out to Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17)],

Barnabas did not return to Jerusalem but instead stayed in Antioch to assist the church. Because of the rapid growth of the church, Barnabas realized he could not handle the work alone. He therefore went to Tarsus to search for Saul. Saul had returned to Tarsus when the Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem plotted to kill him (Acts 9:26-30). He was the perfect choice of someone to help with the work in Antioch because God had commissioned him to minister to Gentiles (see Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17).

By enlisting Saul, Barnabas helped strengthen the church at Antioch while affirming Saul and his particular calling to reach out to Gentiles. We can encourage Christians by helping them recognize they have spiritual gifts and helping them find how they can use their gifts to serve God.

11:26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught [they nurtured and taught the great number of people who came to the Lord (Acts 11:24)] great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians [Gr. word Christos plus Latin ending ianus which means “belonging to” or “identified by”; Christ’s ones; those belonging to Christ; term appears only three times in NT (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16)] first at Antioch.

Barnabas found Saul and brought him to Antioch to assist him with the work of ministry there. Their top priority was to nurture the large numbers (see Acts 11:24) of people who had been brought to the Lord. Barnabas and Saul devoted a whole year to teaching these new believers how to live distinctive and holy lives in the midst of a culture characterized by widespread immorality.

It was against this dark backdrop that the non-Christian culture of Antioch first called believers Christians—a term that means “Christ followers” or “people of Christ’s party.” This new designation reminds us that the world is watching how we, as believers, live our lives and that we are “letters recognized and read by everyone” (2 Cor. 3:3). We should ask ourselves the question, “If I were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?”

11:27 During this time some prophets [persons who spoke for God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; fore-tellers and forth-tellers] came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.

During the time Barnabas and Saul were in Antioch, some prophets arrived from Jerusalem. Like their Old Testament counterparts, these itinerant prophets were both fore-tellers and forth-tellers. Quoting Joel 2:28-32 in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter said that God would pour out His Spirit in the last days and that people would prophesy (see Acts 2:17-18).

Paul ranked prophets after apostles in his list of those gifted by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:28). Speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 11:28; 21:10-11), these prophets sometimes foretold the future but more often offered practical instruction, guidance, and encouragement to God’s people (1 Cor. 14:31).

11:28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)

Among the prophets who arrived from Jerusalem was a man named Agabus. We have no evidence that he or any of the other prophets had been sent by the Jerusalem church. Prophets at this time were itinerant and were not generally associated with any single church.

Speaking under the direction of the Spirit, Agabus predicted the coming of a severe famine throughout the Roman world. Luke noted that this famine indeed took place during the reign of Claudius, the Roman Emperor from AD 41–54. His reign was marked by crop failures in various parts of the empire, including Judea. Years later, Agabus would predict that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem (see Acts 21:10-11).

11:29 The disciples, each according to his ability [cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:7], decided to provide help [cf. Acts 2:45; 4:32-34 re: giving in the early church] for the brothers [possibly some of these had been impoverished because of persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 8:1)] living in Judea [this help was sent to the church at Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12:25)].

One mark of spiritual growth is concern for the welfare of others. Agabus’ message of a coming famine throughout the Roman world moved the disciples in Antioch to take action. Although the Jerusalem church did not ask for help, the believers in Antioch took the initiative to collect an offering for the brothers who lived in Judea. Most likely many of the believers in Judea had been impoverished because of the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom. A famine would make life even more difficult for these already struggling believers. Each of the believers in Antioch participated in the offering and sacrificially gave according to his ability. The significance of this initiative is accentuated by the fact that these believers were only a few years old in the Lord.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, believers, like those in Antioch, from all over America sent assistance to the churches of Louisiana and Mississippi. In addition, many churches around the country served as shelters for evacuees. Our church served as a shelter for several weeks and helped evacuees find new housing, provided transportation, and offered legal assistance to those who had lost all of their possessions and documents. We can be a source of encouragement to Christians and non-Christians alike by showing we are concerned about them and will help them in their difficulties.

11:30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders [first mention of elders in NT; these individuals and not the apostles received the gift] by Barnabas [had ties to the Jerusalem church] and Saul [Barnabas and Saul had good reputations and were men of integrity].

The church at Antioch selected Barnabas and Saul to personally deliver their gift to the church at Jerusalem (see Acts 12:25). These men were regarded as having the highest integrity and later would be commissioned to go out as the first missionary team from Antioch (Acts 13:1-3).

Barnabas and Saul traveled south to Jerusalem and delivered the financial gift to the elders of the Jerusalem church. This is the first mention of elders in the New Testament whose responsibilities apparently included managing the church’s financial affairs. This special offering sent from the Gentile-Christian church at Antioch to the Jewish-Christian church at Jerusalem highlights the positive impact the gospel had in the lives of the Gentile believers in Antioch.

Note: Here are a few things to keep in mind that can help you to become an encourager like Barnabas.
B = Be a good finder.
A = Affirm the best in others.
R = Rejoice with those who rejoice.
N = Notice the little things.
A = Assist others in need.
B = Build others up.
A = Acknowledge the contributions of others.
S = Show love in practical ways.

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