In the persecution that arose after Stephen’s murder, witnesses for Jesus traveled to places such as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and the Syrian city of Antioch (259). But they were preaching the good news about Jesus only to people who were Jews by birth.
Later, however, others came from Cyprus & Cyrene to Antioch, and they preached Jesus to Gentiles who had become Jews. God blessed their efforts and many of these former Gentiles believed in Jesus & surrendered their lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
When news of this was heard by the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to check out the situation. Barnabas – who was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit & of faith — was glad when he saw the grace of God among the body of believers in Antioch.
Barnabas encouraged them to continue following Jesus with all their heart. And the body of Christ continued to grow in Antioch.
Then Barnabas went to the nearby city of Tarsus to find Saul. When he had found him, Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch.
For an entire year, Saul & Barnabas served the church in Antioch. It was in that city that believers were first called “Christians” – to indicate that they were living as Jesus intended, showing their love for God by loving other people.
Prophets came periodically from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, Agabus, was inspired by the Spirit to show the church in Antioch that there was going to be a great famine throughout that part of the world.
In response, the Christians in Antioch decided to send relief to the believers dwelling in Judea, each according to his ability. When they had prepared their relief offering, they sent it with Barnabas & Saul to the elders of the Jerusalem church – which would bring Saul to Jerusalem as a Christian for only the second time.
(259) Acts 11:19-30
The witnesses and other believers in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles at Caesarea had received the spirit of God (258).
When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some Jews — who insisted on circumcision according to the law of Moses – accused Peter of unlawfully sharing fellowship with Gentiles: “You went in to uncircumcised Gentiles & ate with them!”
So Peter explained everything to them in careful detail, exactly as it happened from the time of his vision in Joppa through the time of his message to the house of Cornelius – including the messengers from Cornelius, the vision of Cornelius, and how the Gentile people gathered in the house of Cornelius to hear from God. He concluded in this way:
“After I began to speak, the Holy Spirit suddenly invaded & took over the Gentiles’ lives, just as he did with us at Pentecost!
“Then I remembered that Jesus said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
“So if God was blessing them with the same gift that He gave us when we believed in Jesus, how could I withstand God?”
At first, there was stunned silence when Peter finished speaking. Then all the church leaders glorified God, saying, “Praise the Lord for also leading the Gentiles into repentance & new life!”
(258) Acts 11:1-18
Then Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak (257). “Now I understand that God truly will be friends, not only with Jews who honor him by living righteously. God truly will be friends, also with non-Jews who honor him by living righteously.
“You all know that God sent his son Jesus to make peace between the Jews & God. This was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John the Baptizer preached. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit & with power; he went about doing good & healing all who were oppressed by evil spirits.
“We are witnesses of all the things which Jesus did. We saw him executed in Jerusalem by hanging on a cross. We also saw Jesus after God raised him from death; we even ate & drank with him at that time.
“Jesus has commanded us to proclaim that he has been ordained by God to judge all people – both the living & the dead. And the prophets have testified that whoever believes in Jesus will receive forgiveness of their sins.”
The Gentiles (non-Jews) in the house of Cornelius were trying to apply Peter’s message to themselves, even as Peter was speaking.
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit invaded their hearts & lives! As with the Jews on the day of Pentecost, these Gentiles now began to testify of Jesus & praise God in many languages!
The Jewish Christians who had come with Peter were astonished that God would give his Holy Spirit to Gentiles! The same Spirit then prompted Peter to encourage his companions: “Surely we must baptize these Gentiles, who have received God’s Holy Spirit exactly as we did.”
Then Peter baptized them all in the name of Jesus. Afterwards, Peter remained with Cornelius & his family & friends for a few days.
(257) Acts 10:34-48