“And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them” (Acts 11:2-3).
These verses prove to us that even though God had begun to fulfill the words of the prophets by taking out from among both Jew and Gentile “a people for His name,” the circumcised believers of Jerusalem were opposed to it. When they first heard that the “Gentiles also had received the word of God,” they were ready to fight against fellowship with them.
Peter answered their argument by giving the following detailed account of his call to and ministry in the house of Cornelius—”But Peter rehearsed the matter from the begining, and expounded it by order unto them, saying, 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: 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 fouls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven. And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting, moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house: and he skewed 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; who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 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. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was 1, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:4-18).
After Peter had finished his rehearsal of God’s work through him in the house of Cornelius, the critics from among the circumcision “held their peace, and glorified God, saying, then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
Barnabas and Saul in Antioch
The “persecution that arose about Stephen” (Acts 11:19) is described in Acts 8:1-4. This scattering of the Jerusalem church sent preachers “as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” Some of these preachers were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. It was these who were used to reach many of the Grecian Jews of Antioch (Acts 11:20-21).
When the “church which was in Jerusalem” heard of the interest in Antioch, they sent Barnabas there to labour in the gospel and he sought Saul as a co-worker with him in this new field. The following verses give us a picture of the beginning of the work in Antioch? “Then tidings of these things came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:22-26).
We notice from these verses that in Antioch “much people was added unto the Lord.” These new disciples soon became known as “the church that was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1). This church became the center from which Paul and his co-workers laboured. Peter and the eleven maintained headquarters in Jerusalem, but Paul and those associated with him in the preaching of the “gospel of the uncircumcision” worked out from Antioch (Acts 13:1-2).
Fellowship between the church at Antioch and the church in Jerusalem is evidenced by the relief sent by the brethren in Antioch to those in Judaea during the “great dearth” referred to in Acts 11:27-30.