The church in Jerusalem occupies a prominent but not preeminent place in the Acts record. There was never an earthly headquarters of the church, and such would never be. Most of the apostles had remained in Jerusalem for a time, and the apostles were Jesus’ chosen men of authority for the beginning of the church. Questions of great import came to Jerusalem because the apostles were commissioned by Jesus and guided by the Spirit. Others associated with the apostles are included in the discussion about the Gentiles here, and at the Jerusalem conference in chapter 15.
The first invitation to obey the gospel, issued by Peter in Acts 2:38-40, surely included Gentiles. Peter did not realize this at Pentecost, but the vision in Joppa and the coming of the Spirit on Cornelius’ household convinced him. Gentiles were on equal standing with Jews in God’s sight, and men must adjust their vision accordingly.
No surprise that the apostles and believers in Judea had questions for Peter. He answered these concerns upon his arrival in Jerusalem. Luke states, “Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened” (Acts 11:4). Peter’s told of his vision, his visit to Cornelius’ house, and the outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles. Why did Peter baptize the household of Cornelius, and thus usher Gentiles into the church? “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (Acts 11:17). The response of those at Jerusalem is notable: “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
As I write this on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am saddened that some still struggle to view all of humanity as equals. A son of the South, I witnessed the resistance to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. I am grateful that God has been patient with me and given me the chance to grow and to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Those saved by grace must be the first to understand that God looks upon all his creation as equals. May we live to see the day when none in the church of our Lord look down on others.
News of the happenings in Caesarea spurred others on to include Gentiles as they preached the gospel. Many in Syrian Antioch “believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, was sent to Antioch and he “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23). Knowing Saul to be a great evangelist, Barnabas sent for him and they worked together for a year in Antioch. Great numbers were saved. Luke writes, “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The term “Christian” occurs only here and in two other New Testament verses (Acts 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). The term means “belonging to Christ.” While some consider this a name given in spite by unbelievers, such is not the case. The verb “called” is used in the New Testament only of divine action.
The prophecy of famine stirred compassion among Gentile Christians, who sent funds to supply the needs of the church in Judea. Compassion knows no racial or ethnic bounds.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.