Peter Defends His Actions to the Jerusalem Church, 1-18

11:1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. 11:2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers took issue with him, 11:3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and shared a meal with them.” 11:4 But Peter began and explained it to them point by point, saying, 11:5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came to me. 11:6 As I stared I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild animals, reptiles, and wild birds. 11:7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!’ 11:8 But I said, ‘Certainly not, Lord, for nothing defiled or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth!’ 11:9 But the voice replied a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!’ 11:10 This happened three times, and then everything was pulled up to heaven again. 11:11 At that very moment, three men sent to me from Caesarea approached the house where we were staying. 11:12 The Spirit told me to accompany them without hesitation. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 11:13 He informed us how he had seen an angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter, 11:14 who will speak a message to you by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 11:15 Then as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us at the beginning. 11:16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 11:17 Therefore if God gave them the same gift as he also gave us after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder God?” 11:18 When they heard this, they ceased their objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.”

These six brothers – Twice the number of witnesses required by Jewish law.

Centrality of the Family

The family is meant to function as a spiritual unit. The Old Testament Passover was a family occasion (Exod. 12:3). Joshua was setting an example when he said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15). Households became the units of Christian commitment in New Testament times (Acts 11:14; 16:15, 31-33; 1 Cor. 1:16). The fitness of candidates for church office was assessed by observing whether they had led their family well (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12; Titus 1:6). The building of strong family life must always be a priority in our service of God. (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology)

“As at the beginning” – Lloyd-Jones infers from these words that the Pentecostal outpouring was not once-for-all.  It was, he says, ‘the first of a series’.  In fact, there are fresh outpourings of the Spirit in Acts 4, Acts 15, and elsewhere.

Activity in the Church at Antioch, 19-26

11:19 Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one but Jews. 11:20 But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene among them who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus. 11:21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 11:22 A report about them came to the attention of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 11:23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts, 11:24 because he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and a significant number of people were brought to the Lord. 11:25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to look for Saul, 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 a significant number of people. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.

Barnabas, Paul and Mark

The peripheral figure of Joses/Barnabas from Cyprus has a considerable amount of coherent evidence confirming the stories involving him: Luke reports that he was a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36); he vouches for Paul’s sincerity as if knowing him, which is explained by Cyprus being annexed to Cilicia, in which Tarsus, a centre of education, was the main city. They might have both studied there, explaining Paul’s Greek education and since there was unlikely to be a major school in Cyprus. Since they both moved to Jerusalem, they might also have known each other there. They might also have common friends. Barnabas also took Paul from Tarsus to Antioch seemingly unnecessarily.

Barnabas’ being a Cypriot also explains why he was chosen in particular to go from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 11), since there were Cypriots in Antioch preaching the gospel. It also explains various journeys of Barnabas to Cyprus (Acts 13:4; 15:32). In this latter journey, Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus even after Paul refused to take Mark. This is explained by Barnabas and Mark being cousins (Col 4:10), hence Barnabas’ loyalty and arguing with Paul. It might also explain why Paul refused to take Mark in the first place. Paul refers to Mark deserting them in Pamphylia, which might be explained by the earlier report of the incident, where it turns out they sailed to Cyprus previously. It might be that Mark wanted to go to Cyprus for sentimental reasons without being very serious about preaching the gospel elsewhere afterwards.

(Calum Miller, based on Blunt)

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch – They were generally called something else: ‘all who believed’ (Acts 2:44); ‘the disciples’ (Acts 6:1); followers of ‘the way’ (Acts 9:2; 18:26; 19:9; 22:4).

The name ‘christiani‘ seems to be a Latin construction. The ending ‘iani‘ sometimes denotes the soldiers of a particular general: Tacitus, for example, refers to Galbiani, Galba’s men. References also occur to Augustiani, Caesariani and, in the gospels to Herodianoi, partisans of Herod.

The name ‘Christian’ is used three times in the NT (Acts 11:26; 26:26, and 1 Pet 4:16).  In each of these three cases it is used by outsiders.  That this usage is very early is attested by Tacitus, who uses the term in the same way of Christians in Rome at the time of the Neronic persecution (AD 64).  For a more recent parallel, consider the use of the term ‘Methodist’ – first used by outsiders, and then later adopted by themselves.  (See the relevant article in Cross & Livingstone’s Dictionary of the Christian Church)

Famine Relief for Judea, 27-30

11:27 At that time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 11:28 One of them, named Agabus, got up and predicted by the Spirit that a severe famine was about to come over the whole inhabited world. (This took place during the reign of Claudius.) 11:29 So the disciples, each in accordance with his financial ability, decided to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 11:30 They did so, sending their financial aid to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

v29 ‘There is more to this than meets the eye. For these Christians were the church of Antioch, and the congregation which had come into being at Antioch was the first church in the world which was not primarily Jewish. The mother church in Jerusalem had literally never seen anything like it, and there must have been Hebrew Christians who doubted whether such a phenomenon could be a true church at all. No wonder a deputation was sent to see what was going on. Barnabas was sufficiently convinced when he “saw the grace of God” at work in Antioch. But how is this new congregation to vindicate itself publicly as a true congregation of God’s people? The answer of the New Testament is, by rising to the challenge of the temple. “Who then will offer willingly?” cried David in the days of the first temple, and the Chronicler in the days of the second. The third temple, the New Testament one, is no longer a building but a people, yet in its thoroughly practical need to be supported by gifts in cash and in kind, it provides the same down-to-earth test of a true devotion to the Lord.’ (Wilcock, in The Message of Chronicles [BST], 114) See 1 Chron 29:1-9.

Keys to growth

Looking at this passage (vv19-30), the following principles of growth appear:

  1. Persecution helps the church to grow, v19
  2. The gospel breaks boundaries, v20.
  3. The Lord’s favour was with them, v21.
  4. The word does the work, enabling people to remain faithful in the face of heresy and persecution, v23.
  5. The Lord uses key individuals, including those whose names are unknown, v20.
  6. Faith is applied in practical expressions of love and unity, v28-30.

(See Crossway, Autumn 2018, art. ‘Flourishing Steadily’ by Lee Gatiss)