The Book of Acts (Part 21)

The Book of Acts (Chapter 11:1-30) (Part 21)

In John’s gospel the Lord Jesus called forth Lazarus from the tomb after he had been dead for three days. We read; “When He (Jesus) had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44). Only the Lord Jesus by the power of His word can bring to life one that is spiritually dead in trespassers and sin. Lazarus was encased in grave wrappings from head to foot. The Lord Jesus had called him from death to life. This is the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. After Lazarus had been raised to life he stood there still in his grave wrappings. The Lord Jesus then told those gathered around Him to take off the grave wrappings.

Removing the grave wrappings

In the local Body of Messiah the Lord Jesus commands us to take off the grave wrappings from our fellow brothers and sisters. When we are first saved we still have some things attached to us from the old life of sin and spiritual death. Even though the Lord Jesus has called us out of the kingdom of darkness and into His marvellous light He has also commanded that we minister to each other within His Body, the faithful Church. With the help of the Holy Spirit we are to help our brothers and sisters to put off the old nature with its grave wrappings of passions and desires and to walk after the Spirit. Through the gifts of the Spirit each member can be used to build up the Body of Christ spiritually. In the life and ministry of the local Body of Christ there is no room for prejudice and a party spirit and the Apostle Paul had to reprimand the Corinthian believers for having factions.

An ingained prejudice

Now at Jerusalem the circumcised believers were critical of what they had heard had happened to the Gentiles. It was also well known to the apostles and to the other Jewish believers in Judea what had happened. The Jewish believers including the other apostles were still thinking that the gospel of the Kingdom was primarily for their Jewish brothers and sisters. Prejudice was a very real issue with the Jewish believers and the same is true today of some in the Jewish Messianic circles. Somehow they feel that they are better than Gentile believers because they are Jewish and keep the feast days and other Mosaic ceremonial requirements in Torah. Peter had been like this but had been changed when he saw the Lord Jesus save and baptize the Gentiles with the Holy Spirit as he and the others had been baptised with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. He came back to Jerusalem to report what had happened. One of the things we discover in the New Testament was accountability for ministry. Peter was not a lone maverick but was accountable to the other apostles and the fellowship in Jerusalem. In the New Testament leadership was always plural.

(Vs.11)   “Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.”

The phrase; “received the word of God” was a common term used to describe those who had been born again by the Spirit using the word of God as His instrument in saving them. Peter later wrote; “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). James also wrote; “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and every expression of evil, and humbly receive the word planted in you, which can save your souls. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21-22). The Word of God then is the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to bring about the new birth in the human spirit of a person. As the Lord Jesus also said; “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).

(Vs.2-3)   “And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

There was a lot of prejudice left in the lives of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem concerning the Gentiles and Peter understood this as he also had harboured prejudice even when he had gone down to the household of Cornelius.  The Lord Jesus had confronted him over this and he was now a changed man regarding this matter. Sometime later it would become an issue with him again and Paul would publically rebuke him for this. Right now though, Peter clearly understood that God loved Gentiles as much as He did Jews and wanted all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Peter 3:9) (1Timothy 2:4) Peter quickly responded to their racial bias which is what it was. They still had the grave wrappings of their old attitude to Gentiles and Peter was about to remove those grave wrappings covering the eyes of their heart and distorting their understanding concerning the grace and mercy of God for all men of every race and colour.

(Vs.4-17)  “But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Peter now gave the Jewish believers an accurate account of what had happened to the Gentiles at Caesarea. Peter was very clear that what had happened to him and the others on the Day of Pentecost happened again only this time the people involved were not Jewish but Gentiles. What was it about what had happened that convinced Peter and the other Jewish brothers with him that the Gentiles had received salvation and been baptized with the Holy Spirit? Well he explained. “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.” In other words the Gentiles who had been saved were also baptized with the Holy Spirit as the 120 had been.

Peter also clearly connected their experience to what The Lord Jesus had said; “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Peter recognised that the gift of the new birth and the baptism with the Holy Spirit was for everyone one who believed whether Jew of Gentile. Furthermore, he added; “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

The like gift Peter refers to is the Baptism with the Holy Spirit that had made the Gentile believers one in Christ with the Jewish believers. The outward sign that convinced Peter and the others was that; “they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” In other words the overflow of the Spirit in their lives was released in the supernatural language given to them by the Holy Spirit. This mighty baptism with the Holy Spirit is the experience that unifies the individual believers within the wider Body of Messiah. All are one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28)

The Gentiles had been born again and baptised with the Holy Spirit simultaneously and the outward sign was that they spoke in the languages of the Holy Spirit that they did not speak naturally. This was the outward sign to Peter and to the other Jewish believers that God was treating believing Gentiles with the same equality and acceptance as the Jewish believers had with Him. Peter recognised that this experience was from the Lord Jesus and would not oppose it. Once again we see that when a believer or believers corporately are baptised with the Holy Spirit the immediate result will be that they have a new boldness in testimony and in most cases, in the overflow of the Spirit in their lives, will speak in the language or languages supernaturally imparted by the blessed Holy Spirit. This is what the text tells us!

Later on we see this again when Paul laid his hands on the disciples from Ephesus. In their case they prophesied; “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying” (Acts 19:6). When a believer is baptised with the Holy Spirit they will have the overflow of the Spirit from within their spirit and the tap that releases that flow is the tongue. The Lord Jesus Himself said this would be so; “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7: 37-39). The overflow is released through the tongue. Once again it needs to be said that there is a difference between the Spirit indwelling and the Spirit outpoured.

(Vs.18)   “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

The Jewish believers settled down after Peter’s testimony. They could no longer deny that the Lord Jesus had given the Gentiles a spiritual package deal! They had been regenerated and baptised with the Holy Spirit simultaneously and empowered for God’s service.

(Vs.19-21)  “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”

The effects of the persecution spearheaded by Saul before he was saved were still evident in that there were believers who had fled the persecution and had taken the gospel of the kingdom with them. This was part of God’s plan to save Gentiles. If the persecution had not happened when it did the gospel would have remained mong the Jews for a lot longer. However, God’s heart is to save as many as can be saved whether they are Jew or Gentile. This is one of the reasons the LORD allows persecution. Also persecution purifies the Church. The LORD was breaking down the racial barriers and the prejudice of Jewish believers as the gospel started to spread to the Gentiles.

In the last days just before the Lord Jesus comes back the faithful church will be preaching the gospel of the kingdom with power and souls being saved and baptised with the Holy Spirit but it will be in the face of severe opposition and widespread persecution. Persecution will not only be coming from secular governments but also from an apostate Church. Ultimately, in ‘the night’ of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble also called Great Tribulation it will be very difficult to preach the gospel of the kingdom as we can do at present. The Lord Jesus spoke about this prophetically when he said; “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). In saying this He was not only speaking about his impending death but also figuratively about what conditions would be like at the ends of this age.

(Vs.22-23)  “The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.”

Barnabas was a great encourager and his name means “son of encouragement.” He was an apostle who accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys. He was the one who brought Saul to the apostles at Jerusalem when no one wanted to have anything to do with Saul because of his past reputation as a violent persecutor of the Church. Barnabas was an apostle and like Philip was very sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit and there was no doubt that what he saw happening among the Gentiles was the same grace of God that Peter had witnessed at Caesarea. He undoubtedly rejoiced in the Holy Spirit as he saw many Gentiles coming to faith in the Lord Jesus.

Furthermore, true to his name and his character, he encouraged the new Gentile converts to stay faithful and true to the Lord Jesus. It would seem that Barnabas did not have the same kind of prejudice that the other Jewish believers had. There are three things that we see in him. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. Most probably being an apostle he had the spiritual gift of faith. However, having said this we also need to see that when a man or a woman is really being continuously filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) that they will also have the faith that God requires for effective ministry and service for Him.

(Vs.25-26)  “And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

It would seem at this time that Saul was still “learning the ropes” as it were about his apostolic calling and mission and it would be at Antioch that the Holy Spirit would call him to his life’s work for the Lord Jesus. There was no doubt that Saul was a gifted teacher along with Barnabas and together they ministered the word of God faithfully and consistently to the saints at Antioch and many people came to faith in the Lord Jesus. Here at Antioch the followers of the way were first called “Christians.” The name “Christian” was first given to the followers of Jesus there in Antioch. The City of Antioch was notorious for its ability to produce nicknames. They had one even for the emperor whom they once called “the Goat.” Thus the name “Christian” was given to the followers of Jesus neither by themselves nor by the Jews, but by the Greek speaking pagans in Antioch. It was a nickname, a by-word, given in derision and contempt. The Christians took this name given in mockery and turned it into one of the most revered names in history. The name tells us something very important about the Christian: that there is a resemblance between Christ and the Christian. The Christian is first and foremost a CHRIST person.

(Vs.27) “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.”

Prophets were not only found in Old Testament times but also in New Testament times as well. Of course they did not write scripture as the prophets did in the Old Testament but never the less they spoke directly by the Spirit of God. They were not so much foretellers of the future although they did do that but more so they were “forth tellers” in other words they would often have a word directly related to a situation in the local assembly. There is a difference between the manifestation of a gift of prophecy in a meeting and the office of a prophet in the Church. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians he said; “And He (Jesus) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

These men were specifically gifted men to equip the members of the local assembly of believers. The pastor and teacher were permanent and local ministries while the apostles, prophets and evangelists were mobile ministries that operated within the wider Body of Messiah. Also there were teachers who were not pastors and they were both local and mobile ministries within the Body of Messiah. This was the leadership pattern for the Body of Messiah. This will be the pattern in the Church in the future. Denominational structures will merge and become spiritually bankrupt. This is why the Holy Spirit has inspired the Book of Acts.

Acts was not only a record of the first century Body of Messiah but a record of the future Body of Messiah in the very last days leading up to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit will raise up the leaders and most of them will not be theological graduates or those with degrees. They will men of the word and full of faith and the Holy Spirit whose ministry will be confirmed within the local as well as the wider Body of Messiah. Past History is future history!

(Vs.28)  “One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.”

The blessed Holy Spirit knows the future as well as the past and will always prepare the faithful Body of Messiah for what lies ahead. Once again we see the Holy Spirit giving specific guidance through a prophet and this was in relation to the future on this occasion. Luke who wrote the book of Acts was an accurate historian and recorded that this famine of global proportions would take place during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius and history records it happened just as Luke said it would. In the Bible when we see famine in relation to prophecy it indicates a famine for the hearing of God’s word. Grain in the Bible symbolizes the spiritually nutritious grain of God’s word, the Bible.

In the Last Days there will be a famine for the hearing of God’s word. As Amos prophesied; “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD. “People will stagger from sea to sea And from the north even to the east; They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, But they will not find it” (Amos 8:11-12).

This famine will not only concern Israel but across the globe. The world will be so advanced in spiritual depravity and the professing Christian Church given over to apostasy that people will be spiritually hungry and will not be able to find the spiritual sustenance they need to survive the onslaught of the Antichrist’s beast empire. Only those who have the oil of the Spirit in the lamp of their spirit will have light to see in the gross darkness covering the earth. In that day the five-fold ministry will be operating globally and for the most part they will not be theological graduates or denominationally ordained ministers of religion. Most of those who remain in their denominational system will go to Babylon.

(Vs.29-30)  “And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”

The Holy Spirit is very practical and He is the one that provides for the faithful remnant as He did for the remnant in the days of Elijah the prophet. In that day of Great Tribulation when things are really dark and getting darker in the world the LORD’S people will be nourished and provided for. Tragically, many will perish and others incarcerated but it will not be for long because for the sake of His elect God will cut those days short! (Matthew 24:21-22). God is a very practical God who looks after His children and when His children look after each other He provides all they will need for life and Godliness. As it is written; “The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)

Paul was to later write; “I have all I need and more, now that I have received your gifts from Epaphroditus. They are a sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:18-20). He also wrote; “Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not out of regret or compulsion. For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). This is God’s method for giving.

The secret is to seek the things of God’s kingdom first and He will provide what is lacking materially speaking. As the Lord Jesus said; “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34). At one time the believers were not sure about Saul because he had been a violent persecutor of Christians but now they entrusted him and Barnabas with money.

Today it is a different story. How many Church leaders can God really trust with money? When you see the multitude of so called ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ and false teachers fleecing the sheep for filthy lucre’s sake no wonder the Body of Messiah is in the mess that it is in the western democracies. In the last Days Body of Messiah false apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers will be rooted out by the discerning gift of the Spirit operating in those who have the real oil in their lamps!

Go to Part 22