ACTS CHAPTER 11.
Peter’s Defense against the Judaizing Brethren. Acts 11, 1-18.
The attack: V.1. And the apostles and brethren that were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the Word of God. V.2. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, v.3. saying, Thou wentest into men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. From the entire account of Luke in the Acts it is evident that the inspiration of the apostles pertained to their office of teaching only, and that they had no unusual powers of penetration and enlightenment otherwise. Thus the apostles, together with the other members of the congregation in Jerusalem, knew nothing of Saul’s change of heart and therefore mistrusted him, chap. 9, 26. And here the apostles as well as the brethren in Judea labored under the handicap of a foolish and uncharitable prejudice. The report came to them that the Gentiles, by the ministry of Peter, had received the Word of the Lord. It was a matter, not of joyful astonishment, but of serious apprehension to them. When Peter, therefore, came up to Jerusalem, returning from the lowlands of Caesarea and the Plain of Sharon, those of the circumcision, not the Jews as distinguished from the Gentiles, but the strict Judaizing Christians of Jerusalem, probably such as had been priests or had belonged to the Pharisees, contended or disputed with him, they reproached him with the fact that he had entered, on terms of equal footing and intimacy, into the home of uncircumcised men, of heathen people, and had even eaten with them, the implication being that he might easily have partaken of food which was unclean to Jews and thus have defiled himself. That the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles also, that such as did not belong to the race of the Jews should be accepted in the kingdom of the Messiah, was against all usage and feeling of the Jewish Christians. The fact that the prophets, not once, but often, had prophesied of the entry of the Gentiles into the kingdom of Christ, Is. 60, 3; 49, 6, seems to have escaped their minds; they had not understood these passages properly, they had to learn gradually. Note: There are many verses, passages, and sections in Scriptures which even believing Christians cannot grasp and understand at once. Even after Christ has been accepted, the enlightenment proceeds very slowly. If the Christians, however, will but continue to search, God will, step by step, lead them more deeply into the knowledge of the truth. And thus even such passages as are offensive at first reading will gradually receive their proper setting in relation to the Bible as a whole. Only we must make all parts of the revelation of God serve that one great fact, the justification of all sinners through faith in Christ Jesus, then the arrangement and the relative importance of the various parts of Scripture will follow as a matter of course.
The rehearsal of Peter: V.4. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying, v.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; v.6. upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. V.7. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter, slay and eat. V.8. But I said, Not so, Lord; for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. V.9. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. V.10. And this was done three times; and all were drawn up again in to heaven. V.11. And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. V.12. And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover, these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered in to the man's house; v.13. and he showed 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, v.14. who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. V.15. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us at the beginning. Instead of launching forth in cleverly worded arguments to defend his action, Peter believes it best to let the facts speak for themselves, for which reason he gives them in the form of a simple recital, presenting them to the critics in order, just as they occurred, and as they have been narrated in chapter 10. Peter first told them about the peculiar vision which he had had in Joppa, when he had been in a state of ecstasy, when the container in the form of a large sheet, tied together at the four corners, was lowered out of heaven. He emphasizes that he looked very closely, and that there was no question of an illusion. He had surely seen in the container various quadrupeds and animals and reptiles of the earth and birds of heaven. He had plainly heard the voice telling him to arise, to slaughter, and to eat. He had objected very emphatically on the ground of his always having strictly observed the injunction governing unclean foods. But the voice had sounded the second time, bidding him not to regard as common what God Himself had cleansed. Three times the same thing had happened before the container had been drawn up into heaven again. And, behold, at that very moment three men had stood below, having been sent from Caesarea to fetch him, and the Holy Ghost had told him to accompany them without doubt or hesitation. They had then gone with him, and also brethren from Joppa, whose number Peter here states to have been six; these six, having returned with him to Jerusalem, could substantiate his words. They had entered into the house of the man who had sent the messengers, who had given them an account of his having seen an angel standing in his house and speaking to him. The command of this angel he had followed in sending to Joppa and fetching Simon with the surname Peter, who would speak words to him whereby he would be saved and his house. These last words, not found in the other accounts, anticipate a summary of Peter's discourse in showing to the assembly the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and of New Testament preaching in Christ, the Savior of all men. Peter finally tells of the effect which his words had had upon his hearers. Before he had finished his discourse and brought out all that he might have said on that topic, which is inexhaustible, the Holy Ghost had fallen on the Gentiles in the same manner as He had been imparted to themselves in the beginning. The argument of Peter therefore was, that after seeing the vision, hearing the voice, and receiving the order of the Spirit to go with the men, he could not have done otherwise than obey and enter into the house of the Gentile at Caesarea. And the fact that the Holy Ghost had been poured out on these Gentiles was a further proof for the Lord's acceptance of the Gentiles.
The conclusion of Peter: V.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. V.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? V.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. Peter himself, as he here reminds his critics, had had serious scruples about the entire matter; but the succession of events could not have been the result of chance happening. And his last doubts were removed as he, at the great climax, beheld the working of the Holy Ghost in just the same way as he himself had experienced it on the great Pentecost. He had remembered the word of the Lord, the saying in which He had given the promise: John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, chap. 1, 5. Peter does not selfishly limit this promise to the inner circle of the disciples, nor to the Jews alone, but wants it applied now wherever the evidence shows it as finding its application. Since God now gave the very same gift to them as He had given to the apostles, not on the basis of circumcision or uncircumcision, but on the basis of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was Peter and how could he have summoned power to hinder God? How would he have been able to withstand God, even if he had persisted in his scruples and doubts? It is the living God that directs and governs His Christian Church, showing the way in which His servants should walk. He Himself makes a pathway for His Word, that it may grow and bear fruit in abundance. And this fact the Christians at Jerusalem were now obliged to acknowledge. They held their peace, they were quiet and satisfied; they had no more objections to offer. They were rather constrained to give continuous glory and praise to God in confessing: So, then, also to the Gentiles God has granted repentance unto life. So the critics not only tacitly withdrew all that they had said in reproach of Peter, but also proclaimed the praises of God with enthusiasm. They were satisfied at once, and they continued their thanks and praises to God. Repentance, followed by faith in Christ, is the way to eternal life, God’s free gift. And all Christians will properly rejoice if God grants many sinners repentance unto life. It is unfortunate that this happy state of affairs did not continue, chap. 15, 5.
The Establishment of the Congregation at Antioch. Acts 11, 19-30.
The founding of the congregation: V.19. Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice and Cyprus and Antioch, preaching the Word to none but unto the Jews only. V.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. V.21. And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord. Luke here once more refers to the scattering of the disciples which followed the execution of Stephen, chap. 8, 1. They were dispersed on account of the tribulation of the persecution which happened about Stephen, and in which the members of the congregation in general were involved. Some of the disciples at that time journeyed through the country to Phenicia, the country north of Galilee, along the Mediterranean Sea, whose ancient capitals had been Tyre and Sidon. Others crossed over to the island of Cyprus, which is located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. And still others traveled up to Antioch, a city in Northern Syria, on the Orontes. It was a beautiful city and an important trade center through its harbor Seleucia, famous for its art and literature, but infamous for its luxury and the attendant vices. “The warmth of the climate disposed the natives to the most intemperate enjoyment of tranquility and opulence; and the lively licentiousness of the Greeks was blended with the hereditary softness of the Syrians. Fashion was the only law, pleasure the only pursuit, and the splendor of dress and furniture was the only distinction of the citizens of Antioch. The arts of luxury were honored; the serious and manly virtues were the subject of ridicule; and the contempt for female modesty and reverend age announced the universal corruption of the capital of the East.” 42) In visiting these various countries and their cities, the disciples at first confined their preaching to the Jews. They were all laboring under the handicap of the same prejudice as the believers at Jerusalem. But some of these men hailed from the island of Cyprus and from the province of Cyrenaica, in Northern Africa. As Hellenistic Jews they were, from the start, more liberal in their views and in their practice than the Jews of Judea. These men therefore made it a point and habit to speak the Word also to the Greeks, to the Gentiles of Antioch, preaching the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was acting according to the correct conception of the universality of the Christian religion. Peter’s work in Caesarea had opened the way, but the work in Antioch was the first vigorous invasion of the Gentile world by the forces of the Lord’s army. The Lord immediately gave evidence of His complete sanction and satisfaction, for His hand was with these men, His power accompanied their efforts, and a great number of the Greeks by faith turned to the Lord. Note: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the means of kindling faith in the hearts of men. Through the Gospel faith is engendered; every one that believes, by that token is converted. But it is the hand, the power of the Lord, which works repentance and faith by the preaching of the Word, even when this is done through the mouth of ordinary disciples, men and women that confess the conviction of their heart.
Barnabas in Antioch and Tarsus: V.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, v.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. V.24. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; and much people was added unto the Lord. V.25. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul; v.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. Jerusalem, being the headquarters of the apostles, was still considered the capital city of Christendom. But proclamation of the unity of faith, so far as the believers of Samaria were concerned, had already been made, chap. 8, 14-17. When therefore the news reached Jerusalem and was brought to the attention of the congregation, the brethren formally delegated Barnabas to go down to Antioch. If the report was based upon facts, he was to establish fraternal relations with the disciples in this great metropolis also. Barnabas made the trip, came to the end of his journey. and was more than repaid. He saw the grace of God; he was fully convinced by the many evidences of the working of God’s grace on every hand; he could not but acknowledge this fact with great joy and thanksgiving. And as a true son of comfort and exhortation he encouraged and admonished all the brethren to abide unwaveringly with the Lord, to cling to Him with full devotion of heart. The benefits and blessings of faith will come only to him that remains steadfast in his faith. And that is one of the purposes of the Gospel, to keep the believers in their faith. This preaching and admonishing of Barnabas made all the more impression, since he himself was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. His preaching and exhorting was not like saying a lesson by rote, but it flowed out of the depth of his conviction of faith and the power of the Holy Ghost, who lived in him. It is not absolutely essential for the proclamation of the Word, but it is not without influence upon the force and vividness of presentation, that the preacher have the full conviction of the truth of Scriptures and the great Gospel-facts. In Antioch the effect was immediate and wonderful: a great multitude was turned to the Lord. With the establishment of the congregation now assured and the work growing in scope every day, Barnabas thought of his friend Saul, who was only a short distance from Antioch, at Tarsus, and who, as Barnabas knew, was destined for work among the Gentiles. So Barnabas made the trip across the sea to Tarsus to look up Saul, and finding him, he led him to Antioch. For a whole year these two men now worked together in the church at Antioch, with its hundreds and thousands of souls in need of salvation. “The united labors of two such men for a whole year, in a community to which the Gospel had already been favorably introduced, could not fail of great results; and the ultimate results were far beyond any hope which they could then have entertained; for they were now erecting, as it were, the second capital of the Christian world, whence were sent forth, not long afterward, the most fruitful missions of the apostolic age.”43) Here in Antioch also a great honor came to the disciples, for here, for the first time, they were called Christians. The heathen applied this name to the believers because they professed faith in Christ. Ever since, it has been the name which the believers have deemed the greatest honor to bear. Compare chap. 26, 28; 1 Pet. 4, 16.
Barnabas and Saul sent on a charitable mission: V.27. And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. V.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. V.29. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea; v.30. which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. “In these days,” the days of the first love, when the fires of zeal for the Lord and of love for the brethren were still burning high, there were also extraordinary gifts of the Spirit to be found in the congregations. Fraternal relations with the congregation at Jerusalem having been established, there came down from that city to Antioch some prophets, men that had received the special gift of being able to foretell the future. One of these prophets, a man by the name of Agabus, by the power of the Spirit indicated that a great famine was destined to come over the whole world. This prediction, as Luke notes, was fulfilled in the reign of the Emperor Claudius. As all the secular historians of note, Suetonius, Dion Cassius, Tacitus, and also Eusebius, bear witness, a severe famine at that time struck the entire civilized world, notably the countries along the Mediterranean. But now the love of Christ which lived in the Christians by faith became manifest. Every one of the disciples, according to his individual ability, pledged himself to send, in proportion to his means, for the service of relief to those brethren in the faith that lived in Judea. Since Antioch was a prosperous city, the chances are that many of the Christians living there partook of this prosperity in one form or the other, and were therefore in a position to give material aid to the brethren that were less fortunately situated. When therefore the need arose, the congregation at Antioch sent aid, very likely in the form of money, to the elders at Jerusalem by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. The elders, or presbyters, included all the officers of the congregation, both those that labored in the Word and doctrine, and those that did the work of deacons. The apostles were teachers extraordinary, not only of the congregation at Jerusalem, but of the entire Church. The example of the Christians of Antioch may well serve for emulation at all times. Individual Christians and entire congregations should have not only their own needs in mind, but have regard also to those of others, and remember especially such as have served them with spiritual gifts and blessings, in the preaching of the Gospel.
Summary. Peter explains and defends his action at Caesarea over against the scruples of Judaizimg critics, the congregation at Antioch is founded by some of the dispersed disciples and established by Barnabas, later with the aid of Saul.