Chapter 11 explains what Peter went through. We start to see the timing of Paul’s conversion and Peter’s experience. It was in preparation for Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles. In verse 19, this plan begins to be revealed. Because of the persecution of Stephen, which Paul encouraged, Paul is now coming to Antioch.
Antioch is in now south-central Turkey. It was a major thoroughfare at that time and many people came there. The followers of Jesus were preaching to the Jewish community there when a couple of Gentiles were listening in. They started to bring the good news to their Gentile friends and the faith exploded among them. They asked for Paul’s help. This is how Paul got started preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-26).
Verse 26 mentions that this is where the name “Christian” was first used. This is one of the first clues that Christianity would become a new religion. At this time, Christianity was understood to be a sect of the Jewish faith. It was not till later in 70 AD that Christianity was officially a separate religion. Chapter 11 presents to us a big shift in our Christian faith. It is also not by chance that the name Christian came about. It is precisely because Gentiles are coming into the faith that the issues of circumcision and the old law come into play. These are things that Jesus could never have taught until these issues came about. But these issues could not have come about until He died and rose from the dead. So, it would have to take the guidance of the Holy Spirit, guiding the Apostles in these issues, as well as the vision of Peter and Paul, to help them understand what God wants of His New Church. We will see how these issues play out as we read along in Acts and the letters written to the people.
At the very end of Chapter 11, we start to see how the New Church reacts to those in need (v 27-30). A severe famine was predicted and actually came about in Judea. The faithful in Antioch decided to send “relief” to their brothers affected by the famine. It shows for us the importance the faithful put on helping others. They took to heart the Gospel message of Matthew 25 to do what you can for the least of your brothers or sisters. Each gave “according to their ability”. Verse 30 says that they were sent to the “presbyters”, probably to distribute help according to the needs of the people. Presbyter means priest. So, they sent the items to the priests. By the time the Gentiles were being converted, the Church officially had priests to help take care of the flock of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 12 starts with the martyrdom of the Apostle James. This is the James who is the brother of John the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. Jesus nick-named James and John the “Sons of Thunder”. Herod has James killed and finds that many Jewish leaders are happy about this. This was an irony reflected in Jesus own death. The Jewish leaders really did not get along with Herod. Herod was set up by the romans to keep the Jewish people in line. Herod was part of the problem in the Holy Land. He did not get much support, so he takes advantage of the situation to try to please the Jewish leaders more. It may make his leadership easier. He has Peter arrested; but, how does Peter escape this tyrant? You could wait till next time, or you could read Chapter twelve.