Acts chapter 11        Next chapter            Back to Bible Studies       

This chapter opens with the believers in Jerusalem hearing the (shocking) news that the Gentiles had also received the Word of God. In the original Greek there is an indication that Peter actually had it on his heart to go up to Jerusalem, even though the NIV and some other versions simply have 'he went up to Jerusalem'. Once there, the Jewish (circumcised) believers criticised Peter for going into the house of uncircumcised men and eating with them. This indicates clearly to us that even though these Jews were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, they still had the idea that salvation (now through Jesus Christ) was only for the Jews. How far this is from God's intention that Israel was to be a means to bring all nations to God. It just goes to show how deep the Jewish prejudice towards the Gentiles, and the thought that they alone were chosen, runs. In the New Tesament of course, we read that the 'circumcision of the heart' is more important than the circumcision of the flesh - Romans 2:28 - 29, Colossians 2: 9 - 12 and we might be tempted to think that it is indeed a New Testament concept. This however is not true as can be seen from the following Scriptures in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 10:12-16, Deuteronomy 30:6 and Jeremiah 4:3-4. These passages make it abundantly clear that God had always had in mind that the circumcision of the heart was far more important than the circumcision of the flesh...

Peter then launches into a detailed account of the events starting with his experiences in Joppa, the vision of the animals being lowered in a sheet and what took place at Cornelius' house, culminating in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Gentile believers. In v 12 we see that Peter was very prudent indeed because he took 6 fellow believers with him as witnesses, all of whom he had now brought with him to Jerusalem. He probably knew beforehand that he was going to need witnesses to verify his story if he was going to convince the Jewish believers in Jerusalem! Fortunately, not only because of the witnesses but their respect for Peter and God working in their hearts, they were convinced and had no further objections (v18).

In v 14 there is confirmation for us to dilligently continue studying God's Word as we are doing - always referring to other parts of Scripture for illumination. It concerns the exact words spoken by the angel to Cornelius. We first read of Cornelius and what the Angel said to him in chapter 10:4-6 which gives us only a little bit of information. The next clue comes in 10:22 and the next in 10:33. However, as we add Acts chapter 11:14, we get the complete picture - the Angel had said to Cornelius that Peter will "...bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved".  

The next section deals with the establishment of what was to become a very strong church in Antioch. One of the most interesting things about v19 - 21 is the fact that we are not told the names of these believers who went to Antioch and whose ministry was mightily blessed by God. In fact v 21 in the original Greek reads "...the presence, the activity of God was with them" and we see that a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. It is so significant that these believers are anonymous and not some of the well-known names that we have been reading about. They were in other words just like you and me - ordinary believers in and through whom God was working powerfully. News of God's work in Antioch through these believers even reached Jerusalem and consequently Barnabas was sent to encourage them and rightly so because the name 'Barnabas' means 'Son of encouragement'.

There is another very important aspect to this chapter found in v 26. ' ...The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch'. This literally means 'followers of Christ'. So here in Antioch they first bore the name 'Christian' and it is extremely important for us to delve into what this entails. We will do this at the hand of Exodus 20:7 where we read: 'You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name". For the most part people have understood this to mean that one should not use God's name as a swear word or swear falsely by God's name. However, the meaning runs much, much deeper than that. The KJV reads as follows: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain".
This brings us a bit closer to the real meaning of the Hebrew word 'Nasa' which means 'to take up, to carry, to bear'.  (See also Exodus 28:29). The Hebrew word for 'vanity' is 'Shav' which means 'emptiness, nothingness'.

So, the verse literally reads: 'You may not take up or bear the name of the Lord with no effect, emptiness, nothingness'. This is further clarified by the following verses in Ezekiel 36: 22 “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. 24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. 32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!"

From the above passage it is clear that for the sake of His Name which will otherwise be profaned (made common, of no power), God: 1. cleanses, 2. removes the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, 3. puts His Spirit in them, 4. moves them to follow His decrees. These elements must first be present before we can take up/bear the Name of the Lord Jesus. If this has not happened in our lives, we dare not take up/bear his Name, or his Name will surely be profaned also in our lives. So many people just take up/bears (calls themselves) the name "Christian" without a second thought...The warning in Exodus 20:7 is clear - He will not hold anyone guiltless who does this.  Do your complete work in us Lord, that we may not profane your Name! Amen.

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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