Jesus Defends Himself Before the Jerusalen Church Part 2 of 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

4 But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,

It appears that his authority as leader of the apostles was, before this, unchallenged. What he said was usually the final word. But now he had to be on the defensive. Luke shows him in the same role at the Jerusalem council. Paul, likewise, gives us the same impression of Peter in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 2:11-12{12]). When Peter came to Antioch, he ate with the Gentiles, but after the delegation sent by James arrived, he withdrew because he was afraid of what they might say about him.

Peter should have had nothing to fear. After all, he had only followed orders from the Lord; and the Spirit had clearly confirmed the salvation of the Gentiles. Peter related the entire experience from beginning to end; and, when he was finished, the Jewish legalists dropped their charges and glorified God for the salvation of the Gentiles (v. 18). However, this did not end the matter completely, for this same legalistic party later debated with Paul about the salvation of the Gentiles (Acts 14:26-15:2). Even after the Jerusalem Conference, legalistic teachers continued to attack Paul, and invade the churches he founded. They wanted to woo the believers into a life of obedience to the Law (Gal. 1:6{3]; Phil. 3:1-3, 17-21). It is possible that many of these legalists were genuine believers, but they did not understand their freedom in Jesus Christ—“So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law” (Gal. 5:1). Later these conservative Jewish Christians became known as Judaizers; they would appear again in 15:1. In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul describes how they created problems in the church and how they questioned his credentials as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his personal defense here in Acts 11, Peter presented three pieces of evidence: the vision from God (vs. 5-11), the witness of the Spirit (vs. 12-15, 17), and the witness of the Word (v. 16). Of course, none of these men had seen the vision, but they trusted Peter’s report, for they knew he had been as orthodox as they in his personal life (10:14{4]). He was not likely to go to the Gentiles on his own and then invent a story to back it up.

5 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:

Naturally, Peter began his report with his own vision (vs. 5-10), which is a detailed retelling of 10:9-16. In fact, that is the most extensive repetition in Peter’s report to Jerusalem. For Peter, it was the heart of the matter. There are no unclean people. God accepts the Gentiles.

The new information given here, which was not included in 10:11, is that the sheet from heaven came right down to where he was; “it came even to me.”

6 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 fowls of the air.

The most significant difference between 11:5-10 and 10:9-16 is found here in the mention of a fourfold division of the animal world, which follows Psalms 148:10, rather than the threefold division in 10:12. He also says that he gazed intently at it: “Upon . . . which . . . I had fastened mine eyes.”

7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.

The witness of the Spirit was critical, for this was God’s own testimony that He had indeed saved the Gentiles

8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.

Verses 11-12 summarize the narrative of 10:17-25, relating the arrival of the three messengers from Cornelius and Peter accompanying them to Caesarea. The most significant difference from the earlier account is the additional detail that there were six Christians from Joppa who accompanied Peter to Caesarea (v. 12). More than that—it was those six that Peter brought to Jerusalem as witnesses to what transpired in Cornelius’ home (10:45). Peter must have had a premonition of the sort of opposition expressed by the circumcision party because he came to Jerusalem well prepared.

12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:

The words “bade” and “doubting” are insufficient words. The Spirit of God commanded Peter to go with these men, without wavering, without discrimination, without making distinction. Throughout his defense, Peter stressed the leadership of the Holy Spirit in all that he did. What happened at Caesarea had divine approval. He adds the new information “six brethren accompanied me” from Joppa to Caesarea.

13 And he shewed 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;
14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

Verses 13-14 summarize the vision of Cornelius, how the angel instructed him to send to Joppa for Peter. Verse 14 is more specific than any of the accounts of Cornelius’s vision in chapter 10. Peter was to bring a message to Cornelius through which he and all his household would be saved. This additional information clarifies the reference to Peter’s words in verse 10:22 and above all explains Cornelius’s eager anticipation of Peter’s message in 10:33. There was no reason for Peter to summarize his sermon before the Jerusalem Christians, so he quickly moved to the coming of the Spirit on the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house (v.15). These verses are the principal evidences that Cornelius was not a saved man before Peter arrived.

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.

Peter noted how his sermon was interrupted by the Spirit falling on those present in Cornelius’s house. He added that “the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” The comparison is to Pentecost. The words, “as I began to speak” indicate that Peter was interrupted before he had gone very far into his speech.

16 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.

Peter continues to draw the comparison in verse 16 which harks back to Acts 1:5 and Jesus prediction of a baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus prediction was fulfilled for the apostles at Pentecost; for Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles, it was fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit at Cornelius’s house. Certainly, for Peter, it was a Gentile Pentecost. He could hardly make more explicit comparisons!

This was the third gift of the Holy Spirit. The first was to the Jewish church in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Ch. 2); the second was to Samaritan believers (8:17); and now the third was to Gentiles.

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