Bible Study – Sold Out for God

Key Verse

“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorifi ed God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
— (Acts 11:18)

Sold Out for God

Acts 11 & 12


Chapter 11 can be divided into two main sections: Peter’s explanation of his association with Gentiles to the church elders at Jerusalem (vs. 1-18), and the spreading of the Gospel message to the Gentile world through evangelism (vs. 19-30). The traditional rites of the Jewish faith, particularly circumcision, were of great importance to Jewish believers. The most stringent disapproval of Peter’s actions related to the fact that he had eaten with the uncircumcised, which no strictly observant Jew would do. The church leaders in Jerusalem could make no rebuttal to Peter’s straightforward account, especially since his actions were validated by the Spirit’s descent upon the Gentiles. Additionally, Peter was accompanied by six brethren, who also witnessed this event. God had made evident that Gentiles could become believers, and that understanding began opening the door for the evangelizing of non-Jews. While early evangelistic efforts were being directed to Jews only, brave men of Cyprus and Cyrene (a city in the province of Libya in Africa) ventured to preach to the Grecians at Antioch. God blessed those efforts and “a great number believed” (vs. 21). Thus, it was at Antioch where evangelism first became a worldwide outreach, because the Samaritans to whom Philip had preached were part Jewish, and Cornelius and his household to whom Peter had preached were Gentiles who were already worshiping the Jews’ God. Having been informed regarding what was occurring in Antioch, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, a Spirit-filled Cyprian Jew (Acts 4:36), to investigate. Rather than denouncing what he found at Antioch, Barnabas encouraged the new believers. Soon, evaluating that the job was too great for one man (Antioch at the time had a population of five hundred thousand or more), he travelled about 125 miles to Tarsus to find Saul, the educated young Jewish rabbi who had been converted some years before, and solicited his assistance.
Chapter 12 continues the theme of persecution, mentioning the death of James and describing the arrest, imprisonment, and miraculous release of Peter. Verse 1 records that King Herod vexed (ill-treated, afflicted, or distressed) the followers of Christ. One of Herod’s first actions was to execute James, the brother of John. James was the first of the original twelve disciples to suffer martyrdom, and the only one whose death is mentioned in Scripture. The Greek historian Eusebius related that the soldier who guarded James was so impacted by his witness that he declared himself a Christian before the court, and was willingly executed alongside of James. When Herod saw that his action pleased the Jewish populace, he had Peter apprehended.

The Apostle was placed under the supervision of four quaternions of soldiers — sixteen men, with groups of four taking three-hour watch periods each. Peter’s imprisonment stirred the believers to prayer on his behalf. An angel awoke the sleeping Apostle and led him out of the prison. After Peter explained to the assembled group what had happened, he instructed them to “go show” (or report) his escape to James and the brethren. At this time, his relationship with the people of the self-governing, but economically dependent cities of Tyre and Sidon, had been one of antagonism, and he had cut off their food supply. However, the people petitioned Herod for peace after gaining an audience through Blastus, his chief of staff. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, the “set day” (vs. 21) at which Herod was to make an oration to the people of Tyre and Sidon was a festival during which vows would be made regarding the safety of the Roman emperor. While Luke related only that Herod was “arrayed in royal apparel” as he came into this event, Josephus noted that Herod’s garment was made entirely of silver and was very resplendent, causing him to appear to be illuminated. In response to his vivid appearance, and perhaps to gain his favour, the people cried out “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” Divine retribution was poured out, and Herod was smitten with worms. Josephus recorded that he endured great pain for five days before he finally died.



In the centuries that have gone by since Luke penned the Book of Acts, followers of Christ have endured persecution. James and Peter, whose sufferings for the faith are recorded in today’s text, were just two of thousands upon thousands of believers who have experienced intimidation, opposition, assaults, imprisonment, and even martyrdom. Nik Ripken wrote about his travels to some of the spiritually darkest locations on earth to meet with those who have triumphed despite intense persecution. One of the believers Ripken met was Dmitri, a pastor in Eastern Europe who had been jailed for seventeen years. Imprisoned with fifteen hundred hardened criminals and subjected to terrible physical torture, Dmitri began two routines that he continued throughout his confinement: he would write Scriptures on any scrap of paper he could find, and every morning he would stand, raise his arms in praise to God, and sing a hymn. This went on for years, even though the prison officials did everything in their power to stop him. Finally, Dmitri was told he would be executed. As he was dragged down the prison corridor toward the courtyard, an amazing thing happened. Fifteen hundred hardened criminals rose to their feet, faced the east, and began to sing the song they had heard Dmitri sing every morning. The jailors were so shocked that they took the pastor back to his cell. What an impact that simple act of honouring God had made on those imprisoned with this faithful pastor! Sometime later, Dmitri was released and allowed to return to his family. Dmitri’s story, and those of other Christians whose faithful witness endured in the most difficult of circumstances, led Nik Ripken to an amazing conclusion: the Gospel message does not only survive under persecution, but many times it thrives! When stalwart believers do not allow their tormentors to silence their testimony, their courageous behaviour often inspires others to faith in Christ. In the face of intense persecution, the Early Church stood fast and “the word of God grew and multiplied.” Those of us who live in regions of the world that are safe from overt persecution (at least for now) have a challenge of our own: we must withstand the trend toward the secularization of the Gospel, and survive in an environment where our spiritual values seem increasingly strange in our culture. We should not only pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters; we should also learn from them how to live with courage and undaunted commitment to our Lord in spite of opposition. As we follow their examples, we can trust God that our lives will impact others, and that the Gospel will continue to grow and multiply in all areas of the world.



Question 1
The Apostles and believers in Jerusalem heard that Peter had visited Cornelius’ house. Acts 11:2-3 describes their reaction — they “contended” with him and condemned his actions, saying in effect, “You are supposed to be a faithful Jew, so why did you associate with and even eat with Gentiles?” How did Peter respond to their criticism? Why was the eventual understanding they reached so critical to the spreading of the Gospel? Acts 11:4,18
Question 2
According to Acts 11:20-21, what did the men of Cyprus and Cyrene preach to the Grecians, and what was the result? What are some ways you and your peers might be able to reach out to groups of people you have never approached before with the Gospel message?
Question 3
According to Acts 12:1-2, the Apostle James was beheaded by King Herod, making him the first of the twelve Apostles to be martyred. Subsequent verses in the same chapter relate how the Apostle Peter was spared — in fact, he experienced a dramatic deliverance from prison through the intervention of an angel! (See Acts 12:5-10.) Why do you think God delivered in one instance but not the other?
Question 4
Peter’s imprisonment inspired the believers to pray “without ceasing” on his behalf. However, when Peter miraculously appeared at their door, the saints found it hard to believe (see Acts 12:13-16). Why do you think they were so disbelieving of Rhoda’s report? What conclusion can we reach from this event about how God answers prayer?
Question 5
While we may not experience direct persecution for our faith, followers of Christ will face opposition from Satan. What are lessons we can learn from persecuted believers that will help prepare us to stand?



The Gospel is for all people everywhere. Let’s take care to include people of all backgrounds, cultures, and religions in our evangelism! The world will be blessed as we accept God’s divine plan and look beyond diversities, working together to proclaim the Gospel to all. Hostility and hatred do not thwart the advance of God’s kingdom. We can learn from persecuted believers to hold fast to our confidence in God through whatever trials He allows to come our way.