This is part of an ongoing study of the book of Acts. If you’d like to catch up, you can read the previous studies here. Before you begin today, be sure to read the entire chapter of Acts 11 here, and don’t forget to sound off in the comments below.
As we saw in chapter 10, the circumcised believers who were with Peter were amazed at what God did amongst the Gentiles. Cornelius and his family and friends were the first truly Gentile Christian converts. Up until this point, every single person who had believed in Jesus from a Gentile background had first converted to Judaism.
Peter, and nobody with him, were expecting to see what they saw. They were amazed that God poured out the Holy Spirit on uncircumcised Gentiles. News of what happened spread, and when he returned to the church in Jerusalem, Peter had to answer for what happened.
It was unthinkable to everyone at that moment that God would save anyone who did not follow the Jewish laws and customs. They had good reason to. Jesus Himself had said that He had not come to “abolish the law, but to fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17). So how was Jesus fulfilling the law by allowing Gentiles to be saved without upholding the law? That was the question that everyone wanted answers to in Acts 11.
It is interesting any time the Bible retells a story already written, especially in a previous chapter. We should always take note when the Bible repeats itself. Of all the infinite Words God could share with humankind, each word of scripture is precious. God has not wasted any space in the Bible, so there is a reason Luke retells this story we have already seen in chapter 10.
The only real difference in the stories is when Peter quotes Jesus. “‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 11:16). Peter used this as his justification as to why he baptized the group of Gentiles and it satisfied the entire church of Jerusalem.
Gentiles Become Christians For The First Time
With that simple phrase, everything for the history of humanity changed. No longer were Gentiles required to fulfill the Jewish law. Gentiles were free to come to God through faith in Jesus alone. We will see later that the apostles required a little more of the Gentiles, but not much. It is also important to note that this day in Jerusalem Peter and the others said nothing about the Jewish believers being free from observing the Jewish law and customs.
We also find that the church in Antioch, a Roman provincial capitol in what is now far southeastern Turkey, there was a growing and thriving church. Luke leads us to believe that about the same time as Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, the Jewish believers in Antioch started to experience the same sort of awakening amongst the Gentiles also. Because the Jewish converts in Antioch were mainly from Cyprus and Cyrene (northern Africa), they sent Barnabas to investigate what was going on since he himself was from Cyprus.
Saul (Paul) Returns
Barnabas was overjoyed that the same thing Peter had experienced with Cornelius was happening in Antioch. Barnabas then used the proximity of his travels to go and search out Saul, whom he and the others had sent to Tarsus, not far from Antioch. When he found him, Barnabas brought him back to Antioch with him.
Not long after they arrived back, a prophet named Agabus, whom we will hear from again in Acts, prophesied about a famine in Judea. The disciples there gladly gave money to supply for the believers there and sent the money by the hand of Barnabas, who needed to return and tell the apostles in Jerusalem what he had found in Antioch. Saul accompanied his greatest encourager back to Jerusalem to deliver the money and news about the great work God was doing in Antioch.
This will begin in earnest the transition of the narrative of Acts to Paul’s story