Read the Passage:
Gentiles’ Conversion (11:1–26)
Word of Peter’s preaching of the gospel to Cornelius and his household reached the church leaders in Jerusalem. Upon visiting Jerusalem, Peter gave an account and defense of the Gentiles’ conversion (cf. Acts 11:1–18). Chronologically speaking, Acts 11:19 brings us back almost ten years to Acts 8:4 as it notes that after the martyrdom of Stephen “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word.” Specifically, Acts 11:19 notes these early refugees went in a northwesterly direction, preaching the gospel to Jews, which would have been natural since the early believers were converted Jews themselves. Yet, eventually others came from “Cyprus and Cyrene” (Acts 11:20), who were likely Greek-speaking converts, and preached the gospel to Gentiles, among whom “a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).
A figure who stands out in this passage is Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36–37; cf. 9:27). Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus whose real name was Joseph. He is a main character in Acts 13–15, as he accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey. In an earlier posting, when we studied the conversion and early ministry of Paul, we read in Acts 9:29–30 that after being persecuted in Jerusalem the brethren “brought Paul down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus,” which was his home city. Perhaps remembering God’s declaration that Paul would be a minister to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15), Barnabas “departed for Tarsus to seek Saul” (Acts 11:25). After finding him, Barnabas brought Paul back to Antioch to minister to the converted Gentiles. Acts 11:26 reports this ministry lasted for a year, and here “disciples were first called Christians.”
Church’s Benevolence (11:27–30)
Acts 11:27–30 contains what may seem to be a peripheral narrative, yet it records a very important event in the ministry of the early church. Here it is noted that the prophet Agabus, who later appears in Paul’s ministry while in Caesarea (cf. Acts 21:10–11), came to Antioch and warned the church of a great famine that was approaching, but would be especially severe in Palestine. Ancient writers confirm that this famine occurred in 45–46 AD. Note that Claudius Caesar, who is mentioned in Acts 11:28, was emperor from 41–54 AD. Upon hearing news of the impending famine, the Antioch church sent a voluntary offering, “each according to his ability” (Acts 11:29) to Judea (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:3, 12). Saul and Barnabas, who was known as an honest man in regard to his finances (cf. Acts 4:36–37), were chosen to carry the relief to Judea.
Peter’s Imprisonment (12:1–25)
Just as we saw in Acts 3–8, successful ministry is often followed by persecution. In Acts 12:1–4 we see that after the church ministry in the region of Palestine, “Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church” (Acts 12:1). This is Herod Agrippa I, one of six “Herods” in Scripture and grandson of Herod the Great. This Herod only appears in this chapter in Scripture, as the other Agrippa (cf. Acts 25:13; 26:28) is his son, Herod Agrippa II. The text reports that Herod had James killed, the first apostle to be martyred. James’ death via the sword is likely an indication that he was charged with heresy (cf. Deut. 13:12–15). This pleased the Jews, which led Herod to imprison the apostle Peter with the intent of killing him, too. Interestingly, Herod felt the need to have four squads of soldiers, which would have been at least 16 men, guard Peter (cf. Acts 12:4).
Acts 12:5–19 records the deliverance of Peter from his imprisonment. As the text reports in Acts 12:5–11, an angel miraculously appeared and freed Peter. Upon gaining his freedom, Peter went “to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:12). Since Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (cf. Col. 4:10), this would have been the home of Barnabas’ aunt. It was also likely where Barnabas and Paul were lodging, along with Luke. The details of Peter’s appearance at the home are recorded in Acts 12:12–17. After greeting the brethren, we are told that Peter “departed and went to another place” (Acts 12:17). This note is ironic, for after this point Peter largely disappears from the biblical narrative. After this point, apart from his two epistles, Peter is only mentioned again at Acts 15:7 and Gal. 2:7–8.
- What does it mean that in the gospel “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28)?
- Are you, like the early Christian refugees, predisposed to share the gospel with others who are like you? Have you ever shared the gospel cross-culturally?
- How important is encouragement in ministerial service? Do you know someone who is an encourager? What does the gift of encouragement entail (Rom. 12:8)?
- Why do you think God allowed James to be killed by the sword, yet He delivered Peter by supernatural means? How can we explain this difference?
- Why do you think the church did not believe the servant girl’s report that Peter was standing at the door, especially since this was request of their prayers?