“Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” Acts 11:1-3
Uh-oh, Peter’s in trouble. The other apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard what had happened in Caesarea. Those of the circumcision (Jews) “contended” with Peter about his going into the home of uncircumcised men (Gentiles) and eating with them.
Watch what happens next because it sets the stage for what God is going to do through Paul (Saul).
“But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me,‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?’ When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” Acts 11:4- 17
Many things to see here, but let’s look at two specifics that will relate later to Paul.
- Peter knew nothing about God’s plan to save Gentiles and would have opposed it if he had not experienced the vision of the sheet and heard the Holy Spirit tell him to go with the Gentile men to preach the Gospel of Christ to Cornelius and his family
- The other apostles and brethren in Jerusalem knew nothing about God’s plan to save Gentiles and would have opposed it if Peter had not confirmed that God told him to do it and the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles while he was still speaking
Think back to what Jesus told His disciple Ananias about Saul – “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16) Jesus chose Saul separately from Peter and the other apostles to be a “chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” Why? Why did Jesus choose Saul separately and much later than the Jewish apostles?
Jesus spent months training Peter, James, John and the other apostles for the work He had for them to do after He returned to Heaven and sent His Holy Spirit to empower them. The Lord spent 40 days after His resurrection “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) The Holy Spirit filled all of them on the Day of Pentecost and Peter preached boldly in the streets of Jerusalem to every Jew who would listen to him. The thousands of Jews who became followers of Christ “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42) Do you find it a little unusual that with the years of personal training with Jesus Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit and taught by Him what they would teach the disciples, that none of them had any idea Jesus planned to save Gentiles without them first converting to Judaism and that the Holy Spirit would fill them even as He did the Jewish disciples? Gentiles were unclean. How could this be?
We don’t have to go far to find out what God was doing. The very next verses in Acts 11 begin the unfolding of the Lord’s plan for Paul and the Gentiles, immediately following the salvation of Cornelius and his family and friends and Peter rehearsing what happened to the other Jewish apostles who were upset by what he had done. It was apparently vital to God’s plan that Peter be the apostle to preach to the Gentiles and for the other apostles to accept that it was the work of the Holy Spirit.
“Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” Acts 11:19-30
Remember Barnabas? He had a direct connection to the apostles in Jerusalem and Saul (Paul). God used Barnabas to introduce Saul to Peter and the other apostles years before and God used Barnabas again to introduce Saul to the church in Antioch Syria. More corroboration and confirmation of Saul having a direct connection to the apostles.
So far in the historical account in Acts we have seen Jesus speak with Saul, Jesus speak with Ananias, Ananias speak with Saul, Saul speak with Barnabas, Barnabas introduce Saul to Peter and other apostles, the apostles send Barnabas to Antioch of Syria to find out what was happening there, Barnabas saw what God was doing in Antioch and encouraged the new believers, Barnabas went to Tarsus to find Saul and bring him back to Antioch, Barnabas and Saul taught “a great many people” in Antioch and that’s where the disciples “were first called Christians,” and Barnabas and Saul took a relief donation from Antioch to the elders in Jerusalem. I must say, that’s a pretty impressive list of connections for Saul so far, but we’re not done.
“And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark. Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” Acts 12:25-13:4
The Holy Spirit told the prophets and teachers in Antioch (Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul) to “separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The Christians at Antioch fasted and prayed and laid hands on them and sent them away, but who really sent them? “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit.”
God the Spirit joined God the Son in choosing Saul for a special ministry to Gentiles. (It’s important to remember that Jesus did His Father’s Will, so we can easily see that God the Father is involved in the selection of Saul for this special ministry.) Jesus said that Saul was His “chosen vessel” to bear His name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. The Holy Spirit told the prophets at Antioch to separate Barnabas and Saul to Him for the work He had called them to do. The next verses are crucial to see the connection between what Jesus called Saul to do and what the Holy Spirit called Saul to do. Would it be the same or different?
“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
Jesus said Paul would bear His name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel and the Holy Spirit sent Paul to Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. That’s what I would expect to happen “if” Paul was really called by God to be an apostle. God is not divided. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not going to have different ideas about where to send Paul. Jesus called Paul to bear His name primarily to Gentiles and the Holy Spirit sent Paul to bear the name of Jesus primarily to Gentiles.
As we follow Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey we find them starting by preaching in Jewish synagogues about Jesus as Messiah, but it wasn’t long before Paul announced his special calling from God.
“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:44-47
Paul’s famous words, “behold, we turn to the Gentiles,” ring true because of his special calling by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. However, just because Jesus and the Holy Spirit called Paul to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles did not mean the apostles and other leaders in Jerusalem were in agreement with what he and Barnabas did. We’ll see what happened when the two sides meet next time as we continue to investigate whether Paul was an apostle or a fraud.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”