What does Acts chapter 11 mean?Acts 11 continues the story of how the good news about Jesus came to the Gentiles and how the work of the apostle Paul begins. It's a difficult transition. Hundreds of years before, the Jewish exiles in Babylon had managed to return with their religion and cultural identity mostly intact. Since that time, their land had seen several foreign rulers, including Antiochus Epiphanes who tried to destroy Judaism and all Jewish culture. He banned observance of their religion and sacrificed unclean animals on their altar. This led to the Maccabean revolt and renewed passion for keeping the Jewish law—especially the parts that included separation from Gentiles.
In Acts 11:1–18, Peter recounts to the church leaders in Jerusalem the events of Acts 10. God led Peter to a Gentile in Caesarea Maritima, a devout God-follower, who was ready to hear the news about salvation through Jesus. Peter had barely gotten started explaining to the man and his houseful of guests about Jesus when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles. Seeing no other option, Peter had them baptized into the church. The church leaders accept Peter's account and the witnesses of the six men with him. In the next few years (Acts 15:1–35), the church leaders will have to figure out exactly what it means to worship with Gentiles.
Acts 11:19–26 gives the account of even more Gentiles coming to faith. When Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem, the Jesus-followers fled (Acts 8:1–4). Many of them took the story of Jesus with them. Some Jews from Cyprus, an island south of modern-day Turkey, and Cyrene, in Libya, shared the way of salvation with Gentiles in Syrian Antioch, a major city near the Mediterranean coast where Syria meets Turkey. When the leaders of the church in Jerusalem hear, they send Barnabas to find out more. He realizes that many Gentiles do have faith in Christ—so many he needs help to teach them. Tarsus, where the disciples sent Saul after he'd come to faith and others were seeking to kill him (Acts 9:26–30), is just west of Antioch. Barnabas sends for Saul, and Saul's work among the Gentiles begins.
Acts 11:27–30 seems like an unrelated addition, at first. Agabus, a prophet, travels from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch and tells the young church there will be a major famine. The church in Antioch determines to support the church in Jerusalem. The story is more relevant than it appears. The chapter largely gives the origin story of Paul's ministry. In many of the churches he traveled to, he exhorted the people to raise funds for the originating church in Jerusalem. Not only did the Jesus-followers in Jerusalem face this famine, the members had already sold what they had (Acts 4:32–37), and the church leaders no longer worked their trades as they once had. This little story tells us why even though Paul worked to support himself if doing so helped spread the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:7–9), he often exhorted the churches to raise money for the church in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25–28; 2 Corinthians 8:1–6).
Acts 11 is the beginning of the transition of attention from the disciples, particularly Peter, to Paul. In Acts 12, James the brother of John is killed: the first of the twelve disciples to be martyred and the only one to have his death recorded in Scripture (Acts 12:1–2). Peter is arrested and an angel frees him (Acts 12:3–19) and Herod Agrippa I dies because he accepts worship appropriate only for God (Acts 12:20–25). From Acts 13 on, Peter is mentioned only once more, reiterating the story of the conversion of the Gentiles in Caesarea Maritima at a hearing requested by Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:7–11). The rest of the book of Acts records Paul's evangelism to the Gentiles.