BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
PETER EXPLAINS HIS ACTIONS
Acts chapter 11 begins with Peter arriving back at Jerusalem after spending several days with Cornelius, the Gentile believer and his family, in Caesarea. Cornelius and his house had just become the first Gentile family accepted into the Christian Faith and the HOLY SPIRIT had fallen fresh on them, just as HE had fell on the Jews at the last Pentecost celebration (Acts 2).
News of the Gentile conversion had already reached Jerusalem and the Jewish believers were waiting anxiously to rebuke and criticize Peter for his associating with Gentiles, and eating and drinking with them in their home. Such an action was a direct violation of their own Jewish laws that they had set up, apart from GOD, because Jewish men felt they were superior to Gentiles, Samaritans, and all women (Vs.1-3).
Luke wants us to realize the importance of the visions that GOD showed to Peter, and, to Cornelius, in the shaping of Christianity into an all-inclusive world religion. The Jews were already set to make this new ideology from the mind of GOD, just another sect of Judaism that would only include Jews into the club.
However, Luke is led by GOD to see these incidents as milestones along the way to building the only religion that can ever be indorsed by GOD HIMSELF. He wanted all mankind to see and realize that JESUS came, not only to save the Jews, but rather, HE came to save all humanity by giving them an opportunity to embrace the free gift of salvation through HIS vicarious sacrifice on the cross at Golgotha.
After Peter explained his vision from GOD that he received while still in Joppa, and how the HOLY SPIRIT had instructed him to go to Caesarea and witness to Cornelius’ family, it seemed to satisfy the Jewish assembly’s objections, and they began to praise GOD wholeheartedly moving forward.
Through the divine intervention of GOD, by way of Peter’s and Cornelius’ visions, the people were able to see how GOD had given the Gentiles the same privilege and opportunity to turn from sin, and to receive eternal life, as HE had afforded the Jews, beginning at Pentecost.
The Jewish people and their leaders were exceedingly glad about GOD’s plan for the new Church of CHRIST, and they began to look forward to sharing the Gospel with all the nations of the world in the future (Vs.4-18). And they trusted in the HOLY SPIRIT of GOD to lead, guide, and counsel them as they moved forward.
THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH OF SYRIA
Antioch, which means “speedy as a chariot”, is a Syrian city located on the south side of the Orontes River in Phrygia, a province of Asia Minor near the border of Pisidia. In biblical times, Antioch had a worldwide reputation for being a fast-living, morally loose city, and most of the people there worshiped the idol god “Daphne”, the Greek god of “fresh water”.
Ironically, it is also the place where the followers of CHRIST, or, “Adherents of the Way” were first called “Christians” after Paul and Barnabas stayed there and taught and preached for a year, just prior to their first and only missionary journey together (chronicled in Acts 13).
Here in Acts chapter 11, taking up at verse 19, we see, quite literally, the birth of the Christian Church in the pagan city of Antioch of Syria. After this predominately Gentile branch of the Christian Church is established, and word gets back to Jerusalem, the apostles sent Barnabas there to encourage the new believers to stay true to the LORD in their early struggles, and sure enough, large numbers of people were converted at that time.
This all occurred about nine years after Paul (Saul) had to flee Jerusalem, after he had made the mistake of debating the Word (Gospel) with a group of hostile Greek-speaking Jews who later tried to murder him. Paul was rescued, however, by a group of believers who received word about the murder plot ahead of time. They took Paul, first to Caesarea, and then, on to his hometown of Tarsus to safety (Acts 9:28-30).
When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he began to see the tremendous opportunity for Christian growth, and being overwhelmed by the workload there himself, he decided to go to Tarsus to find Paul and convince him to come back to Antioch to help out. They both stayed in Antioch with the Church for a full year teaching large numbers of people.
During this time a few of GOD’s prophets traveled to Antioch from Jerusalem, one of which, was a man named Agabus. Being full of the HOLY SPIRIT, Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted that a great famine would come upon the whole Roman Empire in the near future. This prediction was later fulfilled during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
The believers, acting upon Agabus’ prophecy, decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters of Judea. Everyone gave as much as they could, and entrusted the proceeds into the hands of Barnabas and Paul to take back to the elders of the Church in Jerusalem. This act of love by the Church at Antioch towards the Church at Judea undoubtedly helped to unite the two of them together into a relationship of friendship with each other, just as Christian churches are meant by CHRIST to do.
JESUS expects us, as Christians, to respond to each other in ways that are pleasing to GOD. In fact, HE tells us in Matthew 25, verses 31-46, concerning HIS final judgment, that, HE will judge according to how we have reacted to human need in our lifetimes here on earth.
In this chapter of the book of Acts, verses 27-30 holds great significance in the fact that the early Church realized the importance of unity within the new “Christian Network” of believers. When there was famine in Palestine, the first notion of the Church at Antioch was to send financial and spiritual help to Jerusalem and beyond.
Here we see, perhaps for the first time, the Christian Church being thought of as “a body of believers” being held together, and accountable, only by the ideology of GOD HIMSELF. It was and is, an ideology that is meant by GOD to transcend all the racial, structural, organizational, and worshiping style differences of man, and bring them all together in fellowship and love.
“Christian Unity” is what JESUS prayed about in John 17, and it is also what the Apostle Paul wrote about to the Christian Churches in all of his doctrinal letters. It is a unity not born of bricks and mortar, but rather, it is a unity of personal relationships, not unlike the one that we’ve already seen between the FATHER and the SON, that will stand as an example to us for all time.
We as Christians can truly reach the world together, but first, we must prove to the world, through our behavior that, “Christianity really does produce the best men and women”. And until we can do that, no person in and of the world is going to ever take us serious.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website