ACTS 11 reiterates a very significant turning point in the Christian church that occurred in ACTS 10. This turning point cannot be underestimated. It’s what changed everything. ◊
The first 10 chapters of the Book of Acts read like an adventure book. Each chapter is loaded with an intriguing and exciting story that keeps you reading to find out what happens next.
Recall the storyline by chapter:
- Acts 1 – The Implications – Jesus has just died and has been resurrected and seen by hundreds of people. The implications of what has happened are profound.
- Acts 2 – The Spirit – As promised, the Holy Spirit comes upon on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost celebration in Jerusalem in front of thousands of visiting Jews.
- Acts 3 – The Healing – Peter heals a well-known lame man in a public setting and then delivers another powerful explanation about Jesus and the power of God.
- Acts 4 – The Opposition – The early Christian church is booming but the first signs of opposition by the Jewish establishment begin with some disciple arrests.
- Acts 5 – The Discipline – As the church grows in the Jewish community, a deceitful couple is shockingly and swiftly killed by the Spirit of God, sending a clear message to the early Christian community. God is serious.
- Acts 6 – The Deacons – Servant-hearted leaders are hand-selected to support the teaching disciples in administering the growing church. Stephen is a model deacon.
- Acts 7 – The Martyr – The bold and courageous Stephen is framed by the Jewish leaders and confronts them with a most eloquent Jewish history lesson. They stone him to death in their outrage. Saul (Paul) watches in approval.
- Acts 8 – The Scattering – After this horrific event, widespread persecution of Christians by Jews breaks out in Jerusalem. This has the opposite effect of causing the spread of Christianity throughout the middle east.
- Acts 9 – The Conversion – Saul (Paul), the zealous Jewish persecutor, is literally confronted by Jesus on the way to Damascus and is converted to Christianity. He quickly convinces the disciples that his conversion is legit.
- Acts 10 – The Visions – A God-fearing soldier and Peter the fisherman/disciple each have Spirit-led dreams that direct them to meet and converge on an unthinkable notion: Christianity is for Gentiles too, not just Jews.
The Gentile Bombshell
A Gentile is defined as a person who is not Jewish. To fully understand the bombshell that fell on Peter and the others in ACTS 10, one has to appreciate the Jewish mindset over the previous 2000 years.
The very idea that the God of Abraham (~2000 BC), Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses (~1500 BC), David and Solomon (~1000 BC), the same Almighty God of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem who sent the promised Messiah, Jesus, who lived, taught, died, and rose in fulfillment of centuries-old prophetic Hebrew Scriptures carefully preserved by the Jewish scribes and leaders; that that God who further revealed His presence now on earth through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within individual people, would now abolish Jewish law and open up the Good News of God’s reconciliation and the arrival of the Kingdom of God for all mankind, even unholy gentiles, was an absurd and unpredictable thought for the Jews of that day.
It shouldn’t have been.
Afterall, the promise to the first Jewish person, Abraham, way back in Genesis 12:2-3, was that his offspring would be a blessing to all the peoples on earth.
Now in Acts 11, Peter has to reinforce this idea to his fellow skeptical Jewish Jesus-followers, the first Christians. He details again his own vision and that of Cornelius, the Roman commander based in the eastern seaboard city of Joppa.
He describes that:
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them [the Gentiles], just as on us at the beginning. I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
“If then God gave them [the Gentiles] the same gift that He also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?”
When they heard this, they [the Jews] became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.” (Acts 11:15-18)
After the stoning of Stephen, many Jewish Christians were scattered to the north as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. But they spoke the Good News gospel of Christ only to fellow Jews.
Soon the new instructions about Gentiles spread in the northern region and men were preaching the Lord Jesus to the Greeks and other gentiles in surrounding areas. This alarmed the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem so they sent the respected Barnabus to Antioch to investigate.
When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were added to the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24)
Then Barnabas connected with Saul (Paul) and brought him to Antioch where they ministered and taught new Christ-following believers for a whole year. Thus began the teaching and spreading of Christianity to all the peoples and nations of the world.
It was in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians. (Acts 11:26)
Do you have longstanding religious prejudices?
The apostles and the brothers and sisters who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter began to explain to them step by step. – Acts 11:1-4