Acts 11 Bible Study

Bible study of Acts chapter 11

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Peter God

Acts 11 Bible Study

ACTS 11:1-3  1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

Did Peter head back to Jerusalem right after meeting Cornelius (Acts 10)?
If he had done that, the news wouldn't have beaten him to Jerusalem. Peter stayed with Cornelius in Caesarea "a few days" (Acts 10:48) as they asked him to.

Who were "those of the circumcision" (Acts 11:3)?
The Jewish Christians - "brethren" (Acts 11:1) - and may have even included one or more of the other "apostles" (Acts 11:1) in Jerusalem.

How happy were they to hear "that the Gentiles had also received the word of God" (Acts 11:1)?
They weren't: their statement, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (Acts 11:3) wasn't a questions but an accusation to Peter, with whom they "contended" (Acts 11:2).

What did Acts 8:1 & 4 say about persecution and the spread of the Gospel?
"... At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles... Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word."

Then why was hearing "that the Gentiles had also received the word of God" even news to them?
"Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4) but they had gone "preaching the word to no one but the Jews only" (Acts 11:19 below); until now, they had skipped over all of the Gentiles.

Why would they do that and why weren't they happy to hear that the Gentiles had also received the word of God?
As discussed, Jewish Christians still held to the long-held Jewish belief that Gentiles were unclean.

ACTS 11:4-18  4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 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?” 18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

(Given the content - Peter is recounting what happened in Acts chapter 10 - please see that chapter for the detailed discussion of the above passage.)

Had God taken Peter to Cornelius to teach Cornelius?
Surely Peter taught Cornelius, but if teaching been the main objective, the Lord probably would have waited until Peter had finished teaching to fall upon them. Moreover, instead of bringing Peter all the way from Jerusalem, He probably would have used Philip (see Acts chapter 8) who was already living in "Caesarea" (Acts 8:40 & 21:8) and therefore could teach him for more than just “a few days” (Acts 10:48).

Then, had God taken Peter to Cornelius because Peter had a role to play in affecting the Holy Spirit falling upon Cornelius' household?
Again, had that been the case, the Holy Spirit would have fallen upon then on Peter's cue. As it happened, "the Holy Spirit fell upon them" (Acts 11:15) as Peter was only beginning to speak.

Then to do what had God taken Peter to Cornelius?
God took Peter to Cornelius not because He needed Peter to do something to help him, but for Peter to watch God in action, and for what he witnessed to overcome the prejudice in Peter's heart, as well as the hearts of the other Jewish Christians.

What lent credibility to Peter's testimony?
It was backed by the "six brethren" (Acts 11:12) - Jewish Christians - who had accompanied Peter "from Joppa" (Acts 10:23) to Cornelius' house.

Did God's plan work?
As always, yes. What is remarkable is that God spent days preparing with Peter, having him lodge with someone who works with unclean, dead animals, showing him visions, and talking to him. God let the six Jewish Christians at least witness the Holy Spirit falling upon Cornelius' household. But God turned the hearts of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem so fast that they went from "contending" with Peter for dealing with Gentiles one moment to glorifying God for it the next. Prejudices deeply-ingrained over many centuries had been neutralized during a single conversation about the love of God being poured out on the lost.

What prejudices toward Christians of other social, racial and national groups remain in your heart?

ACTS 11:19-21  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. 20 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.

Where is "Phoenicia" (Acts 11:19)?
Phoenicia was the coastal province located north of Galilee. It is roughly the modern nation of Lebanon, to the north of Israel.

Where is "Cyprus" (Acts 11:19)?
Cyprus is an island, still called, "Cyprus," off the coast of Lebanon in the Mediterranean Sea.

Where is "Antioch" (Acts 11:19)?
Antioch was a fairly common name for a city in the ancient world, which had over a dozen cities named Antioch, not unlike many cities with nice views (or even without nice views) being named "Fairview" today. The Antioch referred to above was founded in the 4th century BC by Seleucus, one of Alexander the Great's five officers who divided his kingdom after his death. It was named after Seleucus' father and located north of Phoenicia on the Orontes River about 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea.

Why had this Antioch drawn those "preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20)?
There were at least a couple of reasons. For one, it had a large Jewish population where the Jewish Christians, including those born in "Cyprus and Cyrene" (Acts 11:20), a city in North Africa, who had left Jerusalem could both resettle among and target fellow Jews, albeit those who grew up in the Greek world - "Hellenist" (Acts 11:20) - to evangelize. For another, this particular Antioch had by this time grown to be a particularly wicked city. Third largest in the Roman world after only Rome itself and Alexandria in North Africa, this port had a population of half-million, including the Syrian (Roman) legion, and was mired in temple prostitution and other pagan abominations related to various Roman, Greek and other idols. Christians were invading Satan's stronghold as Jesus had commanded, and as Christians should continue to do today.

Did the Lord's invasion work?
"And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord." (Acts 11:21)

ACTS 11:22-24  22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he 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.

How "far" (Acts 11:22) was Antioch from Jerusalem?
About 300 miles directly north.

Why did the church in Jerusalem this time send Barnabas instead of Peter to check up on things?
There are at least four reasons. Firstly, the cultural wall between Jews and gentiles had already been breached, so Barnabas wasn't being sent on a controversial mission that required apostolic leadership credibility. Secondly, Barnabas was a Greek Jew from "Cyprus" (Acts 4:36) and therefore would interact easily with fellow Greek Jews, including the "men from Cyprus" (Acts 11:20) who were "preaching" (Acts 11:19). Thirdly, Barnabas, the "Son of Encouragement" (Acts 4:36) will have put his gifts to good use in having "encouraged them" (Acts 11:23). Fourthly and most importantly, the leaders in Jerusalem knew Barnabas "was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." (Acts 11:24)

What did Barnabas see in Antioch that made him "glad" (Acts 11:23)?
Barnabas undoubtedly saw much Christian activity - Christians praying, giving, evangelizing, holding meetings and activities, etc. - but he saw them not as the enabler but the manifestation of the enabling "grace of God" (Acts 11:23), which is what made him "glad".

Did Barnabas advise them to keep up their good work - their events, activities and evangelistic outreach programs?
No, he simply told them to "continue with the Lord" (Acts 11:23). God was at work, and they were to remain true to the Lord, who was manifesting Himself through them and their activities, as He continues to do today through Christians and the activities of Christians who remain true to Him and His Word.

To whom were the new Christians added?
"A great many people were added to the Lord." (Acts 11:24) The enabler was "the grace of God," the one they were to continue with was "the Lord," and the one to whom the people were being added was "the Lord." True Christian work is always of, by, for and to the Lord, who can do everything without us, but takes pleasure in choosing, cleaning, and then using us as His instruments.

ACTS 11:25-26  25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Where is "Tarsus" (Acts 11:25)?
Tarsus was another port city that served as the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, located in modern Turkey's southern Mediterranean shores. Tarsus was about 80 miles northwest of Antioch.

Why did Barnabas surmise that Saul would be in Tarsus?
Saul/Paul was "born in Tarsus" (Acts 22:3) and had been sent "out to Tarsus" (Acts 9:30) by the church in Jerusalem after "Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles" (Acts 9:27) and they "found out" (Acts 9:30) about a plot to "kill him" (Acts 9:29).

What was Saul like when he first left Tarsus?
He was a model Jewish boy and such a promising student that he was chosen to study in Jerusalem under "Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3), the greatest teacher of Judaism at the time: "... If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Philippians 3:4-6):

How might his family and friends have felt about Saul when he persecuted the church?
They most likely took great pride in him. After all, he had grown up to hobnob with the high priest, who liked his work so much that he even wrote personal "letters" (Acts 9:2) on his behalf.

As what did Saul return to Tarsus, and how did his family and friends receive him?
Saul returned to Tarsus as a hunted man and an enemy of Judaism. While he never talks directly about his family's reception, if "all things" in the following quote includes his family and friends, they most likely disowned him: "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:8) Note that he calls "all things" "rubbish" not in the absolute sense, but relative to "the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus."

Is such a reception the exception or the norm?
When a member of a non-Christian family or group of friends turns to Christ, rejection and even persecution by the family and friends is more the norm than the rejection. Even Jesus Himself was rejected by His family during his earthly ministry, and declared, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house." (Mark 6:4) Non-Christian friends of a new Christian almost always drift away. The only way to keep them is to tell them about Jesus and turn them into siblings in Christ.

What had Saul been doing in Tarsus since his return?
While he doesn't state it, given the fact that he risked his life to "boldly" (see below) preach the Gospel in both Damascus and Jerusalem, it is hard to imagine him not dedicating at least part and probably a significant amount of his time in Tarsus to evangelism.

Why did "Barnabas depart for Tarsus to seek Saul" (Acts 11:25)?
When Saul told the apostles and Barnabas in Jerusalem "how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9:27), he most likely included the Lord's declaration to Ananias, who baptized Saul that he was, "a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles" (Acts 9:15). It was time for the chosen vessel of the Lord to be put to full use, starting with a "whole year" (Acts 11:26) of teaching "a great many" (Acts 11:26) new Gentile believers in Antioch.

Why weren't the disciples called "Christians" before Antioch?
Until the gentiles began to believe in the Lord in large numbers in Antioch, the disciples were almost exclusively Jews and therefore could be identified as a segment of the Jews - simply as Jews "who were of the Way" (Acts 9:2). When the church began to include significant numbers of gentiles, the uniform trait shifted from Jewish heritage to belief in Christ. The original Greek word, Christianos, literally meant someone who belongs to Christ, and was intended as a derision. Being called someone who belongs to Christ is a tremendously honorable label. The fact that some are now shying away from this label and claiming that it has lost its significance is a sad testament of the failure of those who wear this label to live up to it.

ACTS 11:27-30  27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Why would the "brethren dwelling in Judea" (Acts 11:29) need more help during a famine than the brethren in Antioch?
At this time, the persecution of the church was primarily by the Jewish authorities against those within their reach in Judea, who most likely lost their fields, property and homes before being imprisoned. The Roman persecution of Christians didn't start until 66 AD, so the church in Antioch at this time had more resources to share with their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ in Judea.

Where are the churches of Judea and Antioch today?
More Christians in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have been martyred in the last 100 years than during the previous 1900 years combined and continue to suffer persecution and poverty. 80% of the world's Protestant wealth is in North America and most of it is spent on church buildings and social activities in Antioch instead of flowing to the starving and homeless brethren in Judea. The right hand of the body of Christ continues to apply pedicure to the right foot while the left hand and foot remain bludgeoned and bleeding.

What will the Lord say to the right hand and foot?
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will put the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say, to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

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