Actually, Acts 13:1 might be called a turning-point, although the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 is itself a landmark in early church history. The Gospel had begun to be slowly diffused through the nations, but there was still a lot of ground to be covered in the disciples themselves. They still had much to learn. The conversion of Cornelius was one such lesson.
1. An Elect Gentile, 10:1-11:18.
Conversion of, 10:1-48. This chapter shows us the opening to Gentiles of the door granting direct access to God. The early church, made up of Jewish believers, had a very difficult time working through the idea that Gentiles could have such access. After all, for centuries the Jews had been God’s chosen people and in order to come to God, one had to go through them, as it were. Over and over, Israel had gotten into trouble for mixing with other nations, and now, here was the Gospel message for them equally with Israel. It was a tough nut to crack and took a direct message/vision from God to get it done.
In the conversion of Cornelius, we see God working both in Peter and Cornelius, vs. 1-33, and His witness in Peter’s message to Cornelius, vs. 34-43, and, finally, in the manifestation of the Spirit, vs. 44-48.
This incident forever refutes the idea that baptism is essential to salvation – unless one believes that unbelievers can receive the Holy Spirit.
Controversy concerning, 11:1-18.
1. Confrontation, vs. 1-3. It seems terrible that believers would be upset over others receiving the Word of God, but we must remember the cultural and religious background of these people. God Himself had forbidden religious and/or social admixture with other peoples and Jerusalem and the Temple had for centuries been the focal point of God’s worship. As we noted above, the early church had great difficulty understanding this change in God’s dealing with mankind “one-on-one,” as it were, instead of through the mediation and channel of Jerusalem. They failed to understand that a Person is the Way into God’s presence, not a place, John 14:6.
2. Recitation, vs. 4-17. Peter gives a simple and straight-forward account of what happened, and then finished with the reasonable conclusion in v. 17 that since God was pleased to give “them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
3. Glorification, v. 18. These early believers recognized the hand and will of God and submitted to it, even if they didn’t completely understand all that was going on.
2. Expanding Grace, 11:19-30.
The Gospel goes to Antioch in Syria and a second influential church is established. With this church prospering, the church at Jerusalem recedes into the background as far as the divine record is concerned.
Growth of the church, vs. 19-21. Here we pick up the record begun in 8:4 of the scattered believers. Saul wanted to exterminate the church at Jerusalem, but all he succeeded in doing was extending the reach of the Gospel. Note well v. 21. See also Saul’s later testimony as Paul in Philippians 1:12, But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.
Grace of the church, vs. 22-24. These verses record the last “investigation” we read of by a delegation from Jerusalem. The church at Antioch was recognized as a true and independent assembly of believers. There is no Scriptural support for the denominational and hierarchical structure we see in Christianity today. There is no “holy city” or “headquarters” in spite of what men might think. Though they may choose to work together, no church has any authority over another church. Each is to be autonomous and responsible only to her Lord.
V. 23 mentions a theme often recurring in Scripture: the perseverance of the saints. Cf. 13:43 and 14:22. While certainly also teaching the preservation of the saints, Scripture also teaches the responsibility of the saints to act like it.
Gathering of the church, vs. 25, 26. Barnabas became a key man at Antioch. We saw him first in Acts 4:36, which tells us that he did what he could. Here he was enabled to do much more, even to playing an important role in the early missionary efforts of Saul/Paul.
Gift from the church, vs. 27-30. Nothing is said of this church having a “community of goods” as did the church at Jerusalem. They did, however, have the same compassion and sent aid to relieve the poor saints at Jerusalem.
3. Escape From Death, 12:1-24.
Herod’s Murderous Design, vs. 1-4. Perhaps this whole incident was politically motivated. Herod was hated by the Jews. V. 3 indicates at least that the arrest of Peter was done with the idea of getting on the Jews’ good side. See in this the sovereign purpose of God. He permits the death of one of His servants, v. 1, but then delivers another from death. Why didn’t He deliver them both? Only He knows. Only He needs know. Cf. Job 33:13.
Peter’s Miraculous Deliverance, vs. 5-19. This is an unbelievable section. Here is Peter, expecting to die. Was he worried? He was sound asleep! He had witnessed the death of his Lord, had been reconciled to his risen Lord. Death held no terror for him.
Herod’s Miserable Death, vs. 20-23. One would think Herod might learn something from all this, but no. How dense, how stupid we are, apart from the grace of God!