May 6, 2014

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

                             

Lesson: III.D.7: Peter Defends Himself Before the Jerusalem Church (11:1-18)     

                                                  

                           

Scripture (Acts 11:1-18; KJV)

 

1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,

3 Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.

4 But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,

5 I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:

6 Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.

8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.

9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.

11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.

12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:

13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.

16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Acts 11 describes how the church in Jerusalem reacted to the Gentiles in Caesarea and Antioch who had trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Having fellowship with Gentiles was a new experience for these Jewish Christians, who all their life had looked on the Gentiles as pagans and outsiders. Tradition said that a Gentile had to “become a Jew” in order to be accepted; but now Jews and Gentiles were united in the church through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:26-28{1]).

 

It is surprising that in a short book Luke would devote so much space to the second recital of the conversion of Cornelius. This indicates that Luke considered this event one of the most important in the life of the early church.

 

Outline of Chapter 11

Lesson III:D:7: Peter Defends Himself Before the Jerusalem Church (11:1-18)

Lesson III:E:1:The Church established (11:19-21)

Lesson III:E:2: The Church Sanctioned by Jerusalem (11:22-24)

Lesson III:E:3: Barnabas Brings Paul Back to Antioch (11:25, 26)

Lesson III:E:4: The Unity in the Church: Antioch to Help Jerusalem (11:27-30)

 

 

 

Commentary

 

 

1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

 

It appears that when the church leaders in Jerusalem had heard of Peter’s experience in Joppa at the home of Cornelius, they challenged his action and recalled him to Jerusalem for the purpose of justifying it. Although there was joy in heaven over the conversion of Cornelius, there was little joy in Jerusalem, for Peter had fellowshipped with uncircumcised Gentiles.

 

Peter no sooner returned to Jerusalem when he was met by members of the strong legalistic party in the church of Judea (they that were “of the circumcision,” Jewish Christians who still held to the Law of Moses, v. 2) who rebuked him not for preaching Christ to them, but for fellowshipping with Gentiles and eating with them. Keep in mind that these Jewish believers did not yet understand the relationship between Law and grace, Jews and Gentiles, and Israel and the church. Most Christians today understand these truths; but after all, we have Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Hebrews! There were many converted priests in the church who would be zealous for the Law (6:7{2]), and even the ordinary Jewish believer would have had trouble making the transition—“After hearing this, they praised God. But then they said, "You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all take the Law of Moses very seriously” (Acts 21:20)” It was not only a matter of religion, but also of culture; and cultural habits are hard to break.

 

 

2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,

 

Those who protested Peter’s familiarity with the Gentiles in Caesarea, particularly His eating with them, were not from the whole Christian group, but from the “circumcision party.” Apparently, this was a small, ultraconservative group within the larger group. They were the “Tea Party” of early Christianity, the meticulously orthodox, the right-wing of the movement{10]. Their platform rested upon the assumption that Christianity was a movement within Judaism, and therefore must conform to the life and practice of Judaism as they knew it. A man could not be a Christian unless he was a Jew first; he could not be baptized until he had been circumcised. Needless to say, if this line had been adopted, there never would have been a successful Gentile mission. Most Gentiles had real problems with some of the more “external” aspects of the Jewish Law, such as circumcision and the food laws. Such factors doubtless had kept many Gentiles like Cornelius, who believed in the God of the Jews from becoming full Proselytes.

 

The phrase “contended with him” comes from the same word translated “doubting nothing” in Acts 10:20 and 11:12. It means “to make a difference.” These legalists were making a difference between the Gentiles and the Jews after Peter had demonstrated that “there is no difference!” God had declared the Gentiles “clean,” that is, accepted before God on the same basis as the Jews—through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

 

3 Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.

 

It is quite evident that these men in Jerusalem were passing through the same mental experience through which Peter had passed. It is quite natural that he should waver, that he should discriminate between Gentiles and Hebrews; but the Spirit had charged him to make no such distinction, to go without wavering or contention. These men were doing what the Spirit had charged Peter not to do.

 

The accusation lodged against Peter was that he “went into the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.” The primary problem was not his preaching to Gentiles but his eating with them. Jesus did the same thing and received the same criticism—“But when some of the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with people like that, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with such scum?” (Mk. 2:16). This gives even greater significance to Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9-16). Eating with someone is a mark of acceptance and fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11{6]). This problem could have caused a serious break in the church.

 

It is important to bear in mind that Peter did not want to go to Caesarea and witness to Cornelius; God had arraigned for it to happen and He ordered Peter to go.

 

 

4 But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,

 

It appears that his authority as leader of the apostles was, before this, unchallenged. What he said was usually the final word. But now he had to be on the defensive. Luke shows him in the same role at the Jerusalem council. Paul, likewise, gives us the same impression of Peter in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 2:11-12{12]). When Peter came to Antioch, he ate with the Gentiles, but after the delegation sent by James arrived, he withdrew because he was afraid of what they might say about him.

 

Peter should have had nothing to fear. After all, he had only followed orders from the Lord; and the Spirit had clearly confirmed the salvation of the Gentiles. Peter related the entire experience from beginning to end; and, when he was finished, the Jewish legalists dropped their charges and glorified God for the salvation of the Gentiles (v. 18). However, this did not end the matter completely, for this same legalistic party later debated with Paul about the salvation of the Gentiles (Acts 14:26-15:2). Even after the Jerusalem Conference, legalistic teachers continued to attack Paul, and invade the churches he founded. They wanted to woo the believers into a life of obedience to the Law (Gal. 1:6{3]; Phil. 3:1-3, 17-21). It is possible that many of these legalists were genuine believers, but they did not understand their freedom in Jesus Christ—“So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law” (Gal. 5:1). Later these conservative Jewish Christians became known as Judaizers; they would appear again in 15:1. In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul describes how they created problems in the church and how they questioned his credentials as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In his personal defense here in Acts 11, Peter presented three pieces of evidence: the vision from God (vs. 5-11), the witness of the Spirit (vs. 12-15, 17), and the witness of the Word (v. 16). Of course, none of these men had seen the vision, but they trusted Peter’s report, for they knew he had been as orthodox as they in his personal life (10:14{4]). He was not likely to go to the Gentiles on his own and then invent a story to back it up.

 

 

5 I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:

 

Naturally, Peter began his report with his own vision (vs. 5-10), which is a detailed retelling of 10:9-16. In fact, that is the most extensive repetition in Peter’s report to Jerusalem. For Peter it was the heart of the matter. There are no unclean people. God accepts the Gentiles.

 

The new information given here which was not included in 10:11 is that the sheet from heaven came right down to where he was; “it came even to me.”

 

 

6 Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

 

The most significant difference between 11:5-10 and 10:9-16 is found here in the mention of a fourfold division of the animal world, which follows Psalms 148:10, rather than the threefold division in 10:12. He also says that he gazed intently at it: “Upon . . . which . . . I had fastened mine eyes.”

 

 

7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.

 

The witness of the Spirit was critical, for this was God’s own testimony that He had indeed saved the Gentiles

 

 

8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.

9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.

11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.

 

  Verses 11-12 summarize the narrative of 10:17-25, relating the arrival of the three messengers from Cornelius and Peter accompanying them to Caesarea. The most significant difference from the earlier account is the additional detail that there were six Christians from Joppa who accompanied Peter to Caesarea (v. 12). More than that—it was those six that Peter brought to Jerusalem as witnesses to what transpired in Cornelius’ home (10:45). Peter must have had a premonition of the sort of opposition expressed by the circumcision party because he came to Jerusalem well prepared.

 

 

12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:

 

The words “bade” and “doubting” are insufficient words. The Spirit of God commanded Peter to go with these men, without wavering, without discrimination, without making distinction. Throughout his defense Peter stressed the leadership of the Holy Spirit in all that he did. What happened at Caesarea had divine approval. He adds the new information “six brethren accompanied me” from Joppa to Caesarea.

 

 

13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

 

Verses 13-14 summarize the vision of Cornelius, how the angel instructed him to send to Joppa for Peter. Verse 14 is more specific than any of the accounts of Cornelius’s vision in chapter 10. Peter was to bring a message to Cornelius through which he and all his household would be saved. This additional information clarifies the reference to Peter’s words in verse 10:22 and above all explains Cornelius’s eager anticipation of Peter’s message in 10:33. There was no reason for Peter to summarize his sermon before the Jerusalem Christians, so he quickly moved to the coming of the Spirit on the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house (v.15). These verses are the principle evidences that Cornelius was not a saved man before Peter arrived.

 

 

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.

 

Peter noted how his sermon was interrupted by the Spirit falling on those present in Cornelius’s house. He added that “the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” The comparison is to Pentecost. The words, “as I began to speak” indicate that Peter was interrupted before he had gone very far into his speech.

 

16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

 

Peter continues to draw the comparison in verse 16 which harks back to Acts 1:5 and Jesus prediction of a baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus prediction was fulfilled for the apostles at Pentecost; for Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles it was fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit at Cornelius’s house. Certainly for Peter it was a Gentile Pentecost. He could hardly make more explicit comparisons!

 

This was the third gift of the Holy Spirit. The first was to the Jewish church in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Ch. 2); the second was to Samaritan believers (8:17); and now the third was to Gentiles.

 

 

17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

 

It is interesting that Peter had to go all the way back to Pentecost to find an example of what happened in the home of Cornelius! This suggests that a dramatic “baptism of the Spirit” (v. 16), accompanied by speaking in tongues, was not an everyday occurrence in the early church. The purpose of the tongues, however, was to give evidence to Simon Peter that the Holy Spirit had actually “fallen on them.” How else would he have known they had been baptized by the Holy Spirit which placed them into the body of believers? Peter could not use the experience of the Samaritans as his example, because the Samaritans received the Spirit through the laying on of the apostles hands (8:14-17). Cornelius and his household received the Spirit the moment they trusted Christ. This is the pattern for today.

 

Peter’s defense did not rest on what he himself had done, but on what God did.  God had made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. “What was I, that I could withstand God?” asked Peter; and to this question, the legalists had no answer. From beginning to end, the conversion of the Gentiles was God’s gracious work. He gave them the gift of repentance and the gift of salvation when they believed. In later years, God would use the letters of Paul to explain the “one body,” how believing Jews and believing Gentiles are united in Christ (Eph. 2:11-3:12). But at that time, this “mystery” was still hidden; so we must not be too hard on those saints, who were uneasy about the place of the Gentiles in the church.

 

 

18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

 

The wisdom and graciousness of the Jerusalem brethren were revealed in the fact that when Peter had finished speaking, they held their peace: their opposition to Peter was over. They could not deny the imminent activity of God Himself, by which the Spirit had been poured upon these Gentiles; and therefore, they could no longer argue for difference or distinction or discrimination. “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” is one of the most shocking admissions in Jewish history, but an event that the Old Testament had prophesied (Isa. 49:1, 6{11]). This response had two subsequent and significant results. First, it preserved the unity of the body of Christ, the church. Second, it drove a huge wedge between church-age believers and temple-worshippers in Jerusalem. Before this the common Jewish people looked on Christians with favor (2:47{7]; 5:13, 26), but soon thereafter the Jews opposed the church. This antagonism is attested by Israel’s response to the execution of James (12:2-3, 11{8]). Perhaps this meeting with Gentiles was a starting point of the Jewish opposition.

 

Christians are to receive one another and not argue over cultural differences or minor matters of personal conviction (Rom. 14-15). Some of the Jewish Christians in the early church wanted the Gentiles to become Jews, and some of the Gentile believers wanted the Jews to stop being Jews and become Gentiles! This attitude can create serious divisions in the church even today, so it is important that we follow the example of Acts 11:18 and the admonition of Romans 14:1{5], and receive these whom God has already received.

 

Peter did a good job of describing his experience in Caesarea, and this little group that had protested Peter’s contact with Gentiles, were willing now to receive Gentilesinto the Christian church. They “glorified God (praising God for His great works; 21:20{9]), saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” At this point, their opposition to the baptism of the Gentiles would amount to opposition to God, for God’s leading of Peter and of Cornelius proved beyond doubt His intention to include them in his people. There was not much the circumcision group could say now. God was clearly in it. Who could object? Silence soon gave way to praise of God in His triumphant advance of the gospel. God had granted “repentance unto life” to the Gentiles

 

Not all the problems were solved, however. Not all the Jewish Christians were satisfied with taking in Gentiles without them being circumcised. In all probability they viewed the incident as an isolated case and not as a basis for yielding their contention that Gentiles must accept circumcision in order to get into the church. It certainly was not a test case which settled future relations with the Gentiles who believed. This issue and others would surface once more for a final showdown in the Jerusalem conference of chapter 15.

 

This was a great day—the door had been opened to the Gentiles! We see now that the stage is being set for the gospel to move out to the ends of the earth.

 

 

Isn’t God good!

 

scripture reference and special notes.

 

{1] (Gal 3:26-28)So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians—you are one in Christ Jesus.

 

{2] (Acts 6:7) God's message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

 

{3] (Gal. 1:6) I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way.

 

{4] (Acts 10:14)"Never, Lord," Peter declared. "I have never in all my life eaten anything forbidden by our Jewish laws.”

 

{5] (Romans 14:1) Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.

 

{6] (1 Cor. 5:11)What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people…

 

{7] (Acts 2:47) all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.

 

{8] (12:2-3, 11)He had the apostle James (John's brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish leaders, he arrested Peter during the Passover celebration. Peter finally realized what had happened. "It's really true!" he said to himself. "The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jews were hoping to do to me!"

 

{9] (Acts 21:20) After hearing this, they praised God. But then they said, "You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all take the law of Moses very seriously.

 

{10] This may well have been the same group mentioned in 15:5: “But then some of the men who had been Pharisees before their conversion stood up and declared that all Gentile converts must be circumcised and be required to follow the law of Moses.” They were Pharisees who required Gentiles to be circumcised and to live by the Mosaic Law. Their perspective was understandable given that at this point Christianity was still seen as a movement within Judaism. It followed that if Gentiles became Christians they also became Jews, and should thus undergo the normal procedure for converts to Judaism.

 

{11] (Isa. 49:1, 6) Listen to me, all of you in far-off lands! The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. He says, "You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

 

{12] (Gal. 2:11-12) But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don't bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn't eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make a Free Website with Yola.