Acts Lesson Twenty-four

Acts Lesson Twenty-four: Acts 11:19-30 – The Church in Antioch

19 Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 Then the report about them was heard by the church that was at Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were added  to the Lord. 25 Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, 26 and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. 

27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the time of Claudius. 29 So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul. (HCSB)

I’ll split this lesson into two parts.

  • The church at Antioch – verses 19-26.
  • The Gentiles provide aid to the church at Jerusalem – verses 27-30.

The Church at Antioch

Before we dig into this passage, let’s take a look at the city of Antioch, the focus of the first part of the passage. Here are some facts, historical and cultural, that are pertinent to the understanding of the passage.

  • Founded in 300 b.c. by the first Seleucid ruler, Seleucus Nicator.
  • The population was approximately 500,000 people.
  • There was a sizable Jewish population, estimated between 25,000 and 50,000 people.
  • It was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria.
  • It was known as “Antioch the Golden, Queen of the East.”
  • It was a planned city, laid out in a grid pattern.
  • Its main street was over four miles long.
    • Paved with marble.
    • Lined on both sides by marble colonnades.
    • It was the only city in the ancient world at the time that had its streets lighted at night.
  • It had a busy port.
  • It was a center for luxury and culture.
  • It attracted a multitude of different people, including wealthy retired Roman officials.
  • It was a wicked city.
    • Possibly only Corinth was worse.
    • Greek, Roman, and Syrian deities were honored.
    • The local shrine was dedicated to Daphne, whose worship included immoral practices.
  • Despite all the challenges, it presented an exciting opportunity for evangelism.

The persecution that the early church faced, in this passage linked to Stephen, we see that instead of suppressing the advance of the Gospel, it actually enhanced its spread. The believers who were spread across the region weren’t shy or restrained in speaking about Jesus. This opportunity for evangelism led to “a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” 

The news of the large numbers of converts made its way back to the main church in Jerusalem and its leaders. They understood and accepted their responsibility to lead and shepherd the flock, wherever they might be scattered. In this case, it was the church at Antioch. The Jerusalem church commissioned Barnabas to go to Antioch and oversee the believers living there. If we remember back to the lesson that covered Acts 4:36, we’ll recall that Barnabas was nicknamed “son of encouragement,” the perfect choice to encourage and shepherd this new congregation.

How did Barnabas encourage this new church?

  • He was glad about what he saw. Whether or not they worshipped in the same way as the church in Jerusalem isn’t known, nor is it relevant. What Barnabas did see was a group of believers who were genuine in their love and worship of God.
  • He emphasized their “heart condition” as he taught them. To remain “true to the Lord” includes the following:
    • Loving God.
    • Walking as He walks.
    • Obeying what is contained in His Word.
    • Selflessly serving Him.

What were the results of Barnabas’ shepherding efforts?

  • The evangelism and witness of the believers made a significant impact in the city of Antioch.
    • Large numbers of people were added to the Lord.
    • When believers are firmly rooted in the Word, their witness will have an impact. Each church needs to have balance.
      • Between edification and evangelism.
      • Between worship and witness.
      • Between teaching and testifying.
  • The growth of the church meant that Barnabas needed help in shepherding the flock.
    • However, he needed someone to help with a Gentile congregation.
    • Barnabas immediately thought of Paul.
      • We recall that Barnabas had befriended Paul in Acts 9.
      • Barnabas knew about Paul’s commission to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15.
      • We can safely conclude that the two discussed Paul’s calling to the Gentiles on numerous occasions during their time together.
    • About ten years had passed from the point Paul had been converted to the time Barnabas brought him back to Antioch. Scripture doesn’t tell us precisely what he was doing, but we can infer some events.
      • He was likely evangelizing both Jews and Gentiles.
      • He may have founded the churches in Cilicia during this time; Acts 15:23, 41 and Galatians 1:21.
      • He may have experienced some of the sufferings listed in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.

What we see Barnabas do is something all churches should do. Leaders and mature believers placing newer/less mature believers in positions of serving. This enables them to grow in their maturity and take on more significant roles in the future. Instead of the pastor/elder or deacons doing the work in the church, it is the responsibility of each member to contribute to their local congregation.

The first section of this week’s passage includes the term “Christian.” This term is found in only three places in the New Testament.

  • Here in Acts 11:26.
  • Acts 26:28.
  • 1 Peter 4:16.

Some things to note about the term “Christian.”

  • The term was not originally used by Christians to describe themselves. They preferred other names.
    • Believer.
    • Disciple.
    • Brother/sister.
  • The first extensive use of the term by a Christian writer was by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, around the beginning of the second century.
  • It was actually made as a derisive label, combining two words.
    • The Latin suffix “ian” means “belonging to the party of.” 
    • Some of the pagan citizens of Antioch joined this with the Hebrew name “Christ” and came up with Christian.
  • The use of the new label would indicate a third group apart from Jews and Gentiles. 
  • This indicates that Christians were no longer viewed as a segment of Judaism. Instead, they had now become a distinct and separate group in the region.
  • This presented two problems.
    • Christians would lose the protection Rome gave to a religio licita or a legitimate and legally recognized religion. While under the umbrella of Judaism, they enjoyed this protection. Now, it had been removed.
    • How should Christians view the hope of Israel and the promises of Jewish Scripture?
    • These two problems would loom over them as the Christian mission moved increasingly onto Gentile soil.
  • The term itself has lost most of its meaning to those who allegedly are followers of Jesus.
    • It no longer means that a person has turned from sin and trusted in Jesus.
    • It no longer means that they’ve received salvation by grace.
    • Many call themselves Christians:
      • Even though they’ve never been born again.
      • Because they don’t view themselves as pagans.
      • Because they were born into a Christian family.
      • Because they attend church.
      • Because they volunteer at church.
      • Because they give to the church.
    • The only authentic way to become a Christian is to repent from sin and place your faith in Jesus.

Gentiles Provide Aid to the Church in Jerusalem

Let’s look at some things we can discern from this small section.

  • The prophets mentioned in verse 27 were Christians ministering to the local assemblies, teaching and revealing the Word of God. 
  • Because they made the trip from Jerusalem to Antioch, not a short journey at that time, we can infer that there was some type of close relationship between the two churches. 
  • We are introduced to Agabus.
    • He had the gift of foretelling, predicting the famine in this narrative.
    • He also manifested this gift again in Acts 21:10-11 when he prophesied that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem.
  • There was a widespread famine.
    • This occurred during the time of Claudius, who was the emperor from A.D. 41-54.
    • The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that many died because of a lack of food.
    • The impact of the famine on the church underscores a shift that has occurred in the Jerusalem church.
      • In Acts 2-7, the church at Jerusalem didn’t have any needs; they were blessed.
      • Now the Jerusalem church needed outside assistance.

When we look back at the pattern for giving in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:31-35, we see a spirit of giving that was descriptive for that time. In verse 29, we now see a pattern of giving that I believe is prescriptive for the New Testament church.

  • The believers didn’t have “all things in common.”
  • Each gave according to their ability.
    • In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul says that if anyone doesn’t provide support for their own, they are worse than a pagan.
    • In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says that we should give as our heart leads us, not out of compulsion.
    • Everyone contributed.

We also see a transition in leadership structure in verse 30. In previous sections of Acts, the gifts were laid at the feet of the Apostles. Now, we see the relief aid being given by Barnabas and Paul to the elders of the Jerusalem church. Let’s have a quick look at the term “elder.”

  • The Greek term is presbyteros
  • It is a person of responsibility and authority in socio-religious matters.
  • This is the first time the term is used in Acts.
  • They were mature believers who had spiritual oversight of the ministry.
    • 1 Peter 5:1.
    • 2 John 1.
  • Comparing Acts 20:17, 28 to Titus 1:5, 7, we see that an elder and bishop are equivalent.
    • They were the pastors of the flocks.
    • They were assisted by deacons.
    • The qualifications for both are found in 1 Timothy 3.

Applications

  • Although we may come from different denominational backgrounds and may worship differently or have different doctrinal beliefs, we should have grace and acceptance on the “minors” of the faith (method baptism for believers, style of worship, song choices, etc.) while having unwavering unity on the “majors” (salvation by faith, Jesus as the Son of God, lived a sinless life, born of a virgin, raised on the third day, etc.). 
  • Don’t try to do it all yourself; enlist the aid of qualified helpers. We see that in Barnabas’ actions. If he was selfish, he could’ve tried to oversee the church at Antioch himself. Instead, sensing a great work of God, he went to get Paul to help him. Whatever ministry we are involved in, we need to remember it’s not ours, it is God’s ministry.
  • We should be generous according to our ability to help our brothers and sisters in their time of need. This is an obligation clearly laid out in Scripture. We need to examine our heart and make sure we are giving freely and cheerfully, not out of some motivation of selfishness or attempt to gain attention by the size of our gift.

Acts Lesson Twenty-three

Acts Lesson Twenty-three: Acts 11:1-18 – The Jerusalem Church Accepts the Gentiles

The apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had welcomed God’s message also. When Peter went up to Jerusalem, those who stressed circumcision argued with him, saying, “You visited uncircumcised men and ate with them!” 

Peter began to explain to them in an orderly sequence, saying: “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a visionary state, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. Then I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat!’ 

“‘No, Lord!’ I said. ‘For nothing common or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth!’ But a voice answered from heaven a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call common.’ 

10 “Now this happened three times, and then everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 Then the Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you that you and all your household will be saved by.’ 

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore, if God gave them the same gift that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?” 

18 When they heard this they became silent. Then they glorified God, saying, “So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!” (HCSB)

After the conversion of Cornelius and his household, Peter travels back to Jerusalem to relay what had occurred in Caesarea among the Gentiles.

The majority of this passage is a repeat of the events that occurred in chapter ten. Instead of reviewing those portions, this lesson will concentrate on the few but important differences. If you’d like to review chapter ten, please look at Acts lessons twenty-one and twenty-two.

Peter heads back to Jerusalem after spending several days with Cornelius. By the time Peter makes it back to Jerusalem, the events that unfolded were already known. In verses two and three, it becomes clear that not all the believers were happy about what occurred in Caesarea. This will be our first discussion point.

The Circumcision Sect is Not Happy

The term “those who stressed circumcision” is pointing to a strong legalistic segment within the Judean church. Let’s discuss what is known about this group and the general resistance to the inclusion of Gentiles into salvation.

  • Just as many religious leaders in Judaism were entrenched in legalism, the same problem existed to an extent within the young church. We need to remember that those who comprised the early church were almost entirely made up of those who converted from Judaism.
    • They represented a conservative minority within the church.
    • They were dedicated to protecting the Jewish perspective on Christianity.
  • At this point, many Jewish Christians viewed it simply as a smaller movement within mainstream Judaism.
  • The issues of Jewish purity and their purity laws and customs would be prevalent in the practices and thought processes of these early Jewish Christians.
    • They followed Jewish dietary customs about what could and couldn’t be eaten.
    • Not associating with Gentiles, especially during mealtime, as their food would be considered unclean.
  • This group didn’t have any issue with:
    • Sharing the Gospel.
    • The outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
    • Baptism in the name of Jesus.
  • The new believers didn’t understand the relationship between the Law and grace, Jews and Gentiles, and Israel and the church.
  • There were many converted priests in the Christian church, and these men would likely be zealous for the Law.
  • They felt that any Gentile who became a Christian must also convert to Judaism and follow the procedures to become a full Jewish proselyte.
    • Follow Jewish dietary customs.
    • Become circumcised.
  • The group’s concern was not that the Gentile believers were baptized; it was that Peter shared a meal with them.
    • By sharing a meal with them, Peter demonstrated his acceptance of them being Christian brothers and sisters.
    • However, they were not circumcised, going against Jewish custom.
  • This group may be the same one mentioned in Acts 15:5.

The Issue of Cornelius

There is one additional nugget of information regarding what Cornelius told Peter when the latter arrived in Caesarea. In his vision, Cornelius related how the angel told him that Peter would speak a message that would result in his and his household’s salvation. This would explain their eager anticipation in hearing the message Peter brought. 

Another important to consider as Peter relates the events that occurred in Caesarea is that Peter never mentions the centurion’s name. Who he is isn’t important to the Judean Christians. However, the fact that he was a Gentile is the key sticking point. 

Gentile Pentecost

Peter relates how the Holy Spirit descended upon the household, the same as how the Spirit descended at the Jewish Pentecost in Acts chapter two.

  • Peter remembered what Jesus had told the disciples.
    • John baptized with water.
    • They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  • This is the third “Pentecost” event described in Acts.
    • Jewish Pentecost in Acts 2.
    • Samaritan Pentecost in Acts 8.
    • The Gentile Pentecost in Acts 11.
  • The fact that God would pour out the Spirit on the Gentiles was a crucial point as Peter explained the event in Caesarea.
    • It was a testimony that God had truly saved the Gentiles.
    • If God approved of the Gentiles, how could Peter feel any different?
    • The word “hinder” in verse 18 means “to oppose” in the original Greek.
      • Peter couldn’t oppose the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian family.
      • Anyone who would oppose their inclusion would be opposing God.
  • At this point, there wasn’t much the “circumcision group” could say as a rebuttal. 
  • However, this isn’t the last time that Gentile inclusion and not following Jewish customs and traditions would be an issue to the church.
  • There were three questions that persisted for years until they were brought before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
    • What lifestyle was appropriate for Gentiles coming to Christ directly from a pagan background?
    • How do the Gentile believers relate to Jewish Christians?
    • How should the Jerusalem church handle these individuals?
  • Although it may appear on the surface that the church successfully dealt with the issue of including Gentiles into the family of God, history shows that the transition wasn’t smooth. The main issue in the socio-political framework was the inclusion of members of the very group who were occupying and controlling Israel.
    • From the 40’s until the Jewish revolt in AD 70, the situation became increasingly tense.
    • During that time, the main issues weren’t food laws and circumcision.
    • To welcome Gentiles as equals could, and was, viewed as fraternizing with the enemy.
    • This would eventually bubble over in AD 70 with the Jewish revolt and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel.
  • In the rapidly changing world we live in today, it is important to keep that point in mind. The church must be faithful to God while navigating the changing socio-political landscape.

Applications

  • Legalism has no part in a biblical church or the lives of followers of Jesus. Yes, there are specific guidelines and doctrines we need to follow (the red letter passages in the New Testament are a good place to start), but just as Jesus pointed out the lack of understanding of the Pharisees, we need to make sure we don’t do the same things. 
  • When confronted by fellow believers, we need to maintain a calm demeanor and exhibit patience, and be directed by the Spirit. This is precisely what Peter did in this passage. The pre-Pentecost Peter would likely have had a confrontation with the circumcision sect. However, the Spirit-led Peter was able to calmly explain the events that transpired and point out that God’s hand was leading the Gentiles into the family of God.
  • Discussion and debate within the body of Christ are ok if…it doesn’t become divisive. We must all agree on the “majors” of the faith and not let the “minors” create disunity. This is especially true across denominational lines. As an example, whether we baptize someone by immersion or sprinkling will not change whether they are saved or not. Only faith in our resurrected Savior will restore our broken fellowship with God.

Acts Lesson Twenty-two

Acts Lesson Twenty-two: Acts 10:17-48 – Peter Brings the Gospel to the Gentiles

17 While Peter was deeply perplexed about what the vision he had seen might mean, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions to Simon’s house, stood at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon, who was also named Peter, was lodging there. 

19 While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him, “Three men are here looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and accompany them with no doubts at all, because I have sent them.” 

21 Then Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the one you’re looking for. What is the reason you’re here?” 

22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who has a good reputation with the whole Jewish nation, was divinely directed by a holy angel to call you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 23 Peter then invited them in and gave them lodging. 

The next day he got up and set out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went with him. 24 The following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. 

26 But Peter helped him up and said, “Stand up! I myself am also a man.” 27 While talking with him, he went on in and found that many had come together there. 28 Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner.  But God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean. 29 That’s why I came without any objection when I was sent for. So I ask: Why did you send for me?” 

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, at three in the afternoon, I was  praying in my house. Just then a man in a dazzling robe stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your acts of charity have been remembered in God’s sight. 32 Therefore send someone to Joppa and invite Simon here, who is also named Peter. He is lodging in Simon the tanner’s house by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I immediately sent for you, and you did the right thing in coming. So we are all present before God, to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord.” 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. 36 He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all. 37 You know the events  that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. 40 God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, witnesses appointed beforehand by God, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to solemnly testify that He is the One appointed by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify  about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.” 

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God. 

Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days. (HCSB)

Today’s lesson continues the narrative of the previous lesson; the visions of Cornelius and Peter and the subsequent obedience of Peter in traveling to Gentile territory. 

Up until this time, the Apostles had not shared the Gospel with the Gentiles. Even the Samaritans were considered “superior” to Gentiles as at least they were “half-breed” Jews with a reverence for the Mosaic law. Peter’s decision to go to the Gentiles was not based primarily on the Great Commission but rather because the Spirit had specifically commanded Peter to go. During this time, Peter struggled with the idea of the Gospel and salvation being made available to the Gentiles before their witness to the Jews was complete. It also becomes clear that during this transition period, the early followers of Jesus are introduced to the concept of the church. With the Jewish background of the Apostles and their reliance on the temple, this was a shift in thinking. Previously, believers in God needed to go to the temple, but now God would be in their presence wherever they met.

I’ll divide this passage into two sections.

  • Peter’s journey to Caesarea: verses 17-33.
  • Peter’s message to the Gentiles: verses 34-48.

Peter’s Journey to Caesarea

Verses 17-23

At this point, Peter is unsure about the meaning of the vision he experienced. The vision pertained to the removal of the Jewish restrictions on food and eating, but what could this mean? As Peter ponders this question, the messengers from Cornelius arrive, and Peter begins to discern at least a portion of what the vision means.

  • A group of Gentiles is looking for Peter by name.
  • God’s leading in the whole event is evident.
    • Peter’s vision included a voice from heaven.
    • Cornelius’s vision included a visit from an angel.
    • Now, Peter was receiving a message directly from the Spirit telling him the men were looking for him, that the Spirit sent the men to him, and that Peter was to go with them to Caesarea.

When we review this section of the passage, there are two points of emphasis.

  • The devoutness of Cornelius.
  • The leading of God.
    • Cornelius was to hear Peter’s message.
    • Peter began to understand the effect of his vision.
      • He was to witness to the centurion chosen by God.
      • He was to associate with those he previously viewed as “unclean.”

Verses 24-26

Peter and the three messengers sent by Cornelius start the next morning for the journey to Caesarea. Peter takes along six Jewish Christians from Joppa (Acts 11:12). Because the journey is approximately thirty miles, it takes two days for the group to arrive in Caesarea. This means that four days have elapsed since Cornelius had his vision.

Let’s consider some facts from these three verses.

  • Cornelius never doubted that Peter would come.
    • He was expecting him.
    • He had called for his relatives and close friends to come to his home.
    • This large gathering was a portent of the outpouring of the Spirit in this Gentile home.
  • Cornelius’s reverence for Peter was on full display as the group entered the home.
    • Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet and worshipped him.
    • This is similar to what Paul and Barnabas experienced with the Gentiles at Lystra, documented in Acts 14:14f. 
    • Peter quickly responds that he is only a man and should not be worshipped. 

Verses 27-29

Peter engages in conversation with Cornelius and enters his home to find a large group waiting for him. What is interesting to note is the direction of the conversation. Peter doesn’t tell them of his vision but rather the conclusions he drew from the vision.

  • Those in attendance needed to grasp the depth of the cultural barrier that was removed by Peter, as a Jew, coming into the home of a Gentile. This visit would have been viewed with horror by any ordinary Jew.
  • However, God revealed to Peter that he shouldn’t think of a non-Jew as someone who was unclean or common. 
  • Peter’s vision only contained symbols of unclean food, but he perceived that the symbolism was talking about people.
  • All people were God’s creation, and all were declared clean (not righteous or saved).
  • God led Peter to Cornelius, declaring that Cornelius was clean.
  • The pre-existing purity laws could no longer separate Jew and Gentile.
  • Since God no longer distinguished between Jew and Gentile, neither could Peter.
  • However, Peter still didn’t understand that God was going to make Cornelius a Christian brother of Peter. This is the reason Peter asked why they sent for him.

Verses 30-32

This section is the third time the vision event is presented, with a few variations.

  • It is now four days since the vision occurred.
  • A man in a dazzling robe appeared to Cornelius. This is another way of saying it was an angel.
  • The reason for the repetition is to focus the reader on the fact that it was divine action that led to this meeting happening.
  • Peter still wasn’t fully aware of why he was there.

Verse 33

Peter may not have been fully understanding yet of why he was there, but he did understand that God brought them together. Cornelius understood that God brought Peter to his house to share something of importance. That is why he invited family and friends, so that they could hear the message from Peter.

Verses 34-43

Peter now begins his address to Gentiles gathered in the home of Cornelius. Let’s list some facts and themes from Peter’s message.

  • God doesn’t discriminate based upon ethnicity.
  • God does discriminate between right and wrong behavior and attitude.
    • Those who revere and respect God are acceptable.
    • Those who reject Him are not acceptable.
  • Peter is focusing this statement primarily on Cornelius.
    • Cornelius was a man of prayer.
    • Cornelius was a generous man and practiced charity towards those in need.
  • We need to be careful so we don’t view this as works-based salvation. 
  • There is a similarity between Cornelius and Abraham.
    • Abraham was a man of faith and trusted in God.
    • Cornelius is also pictured as a man of faith and placing trust in God.
      • God was already extending grace to him.
      • This grace was manifested in his good deeds.
      • God would now reveal His greatest grace, the Gospel of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
      • As James writes in his epistle, faith and works are inseparable.
  • Just as in Peter’s other messages in Acts, the emphasis is placed on God’s work through Jesus.
    • God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power.
    • Jesus traveled around the region preaching repentance and healing people.
    • Many were witnesses, including Peter, of what Jesus accomplished.
    • Jesus was crucified. Just as in Peter’s other speeches, he attributes the crucifixion to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
    • God raised Jesus on the third day, allowing Him to be seen by many.
    • Jesus ate and drank with the Apostles after his resurrection. 
      • This idea is unique to this sermon.
      • However, it would have been important when preaching to Gentiles like Cornelius where the idea of a bodily resurrection would be a new idea.
    • Jesus commanded the Apostles, and all His followers, to preach the Gospel message.
    • The prophets testified beforehand about the coming of Jesus. However, this is the only one of Peter’s sermons where he doesn’t specifically draw connections between the Old Testament and Jesus. He may have been heading in that direction, but the outpouring of the Spirit cut short his message.

Verses 44-48

While Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit suddenly is poured out on the people gathered in Cornelius’s house. Some things to note about this event.

  • The Christian brothers that Peter brought were “astounded” because the Spirit was given to the Gentiles. 
    • In the two previous Pentecost events, Jew and Samaritan, there wasn’t the same level of surprise as both groups were Jewish.
    • However, here the Spirit is given to a group of people who have no tie to the Jewish people. God is quickly moving the believers into uncharted territory.
  • They spoke in other languages and declared God’s greatness.
    • There is much debate about the correct interpretation of “speaking in other languages” in this section.
    • The Greek word for tongues in verse 46 is the same used in Acts 2. If that is true, then the verse is talking about a human language.
    • However, since this was a group of Gentiles who were either family or close friends of Cornelius, the idea of various human languages being spoken may not pass the logic test. The situation here is different from Acts 2, where people were gathered from various parts of the Mediterranean region.
    • It is possible that they began to speak in a “heavenly language.”
    • It is not possible to draw a concrete conclusion on the meaning, but in any event, God received the glory.
    • The point of the verse is the divine certification of salvation to the Gentiles.
  • Peter now asks the question of whether or not baptism should be denied to the Gentiles.
    • The new believers were baptized in the name of Jesus.
    • Peter doesn’t perform the baptism himself. Instead, it appears that one or more of the six Christian brothers who accompanied him performed the baptism.
    • This would indicate that the early church leaders didn’t place emphasis on who performed the baptism, as long as it was a fellow believer.
  • Peter then spends several days in the house of Cornelius.
    • It is safe to say that this involved the sharing of meals between ethnic Jews and the Gentile hosts.
    • Peter fully embraces God’s direction that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile.
    • However, not all the Jewish Christians are ready for this transition.
    • In the next lesson, we’ll see that Peter faces some opposition from his brothers in Jerusalem.

Applications

  • We need to be discerning regarding visions. Not all visions are from God. However, when it is clear that it is from God, we must be obedient. We see this from both Cornelius and Peter in this and the preceding section. When it is clear that God is giving you a “vision,” do you act on it, or do you delay or even ignore it? If Peter had not been obedient, Cornelius might have never received the Gospel message.
  • We need to be ready to share the Gospel regardless of the circumstances or timing. Peter went on a two-day journey, shared the Gospel, and the Spirit convicted those hearing the message. In the end, the entire household was saved.
  • Don’t let your ethnic, cultural, society, or any other barrier prevent you from bringing the message of salvation to the lost. 

Acts Lesson Twenty-one

Acts Lesson Twenty-one: Acts 10:1-16 – Double Vision

There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God. About three in the afternoon he distinctly saw in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius!” Looking intently at him, he became afraid and said, “What is it, lord?” 

The angel told him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, he called two of his household slaves and a devout soldier, who was one of those who attended him. After explaining everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. 

The next day, as they were traveling and nearing the city, Peter went up to pray on the housetop about noon. 10 Then he became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he went into a visionary state. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” 

14 “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything common and ritually unclean!” 

15 Again, a second time, a voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into heaven. (HCSB)

Chapter ten is a turning point in Acts, as salvation now comes to the Gentiles. Jesus gave the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter, and he had used them twice previously with the Jews (Acts 2) and the Samaritans (Acts 8). Now, Peter will use them for the last time as the door is opened for the Gospel to come to the Gentiles.

The events that take place in this chapter occurred about ten years after Pentecost. We might wonder why the Apostles waited so long to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded that His message be brought to all nations. Our human minds would think this should be done sooner rather than later. However, our timing is not God’s timing, and His timing is always perfect. The transition of spreading the Gospel from Jew to Samaritan to Gentile was a gradual process.

When the Sanhedrin stoned Stephen and persecuted the church, that was the pinnacle of the Apostles’ witness to the Jews. After that, the Gospel moved to the Samaritans. Finally, when Jesus commissioned Paul, the special envoy to the Gentiles was chosen. 

This lesson is divided into two parts.

  • Cornelius’s vision – verses 1-8.
  • Peter’s vision – verses 9-16.

Cornelius’s Vision.

Before we dig into this passage, let’s look at some facts about Caesarea.

  • It was located about sixty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem and thirty miles north of Joppa.
  • It was the Roman capital of Judea.
  • The architecture was Hellenistic in design.
    • Rebuilt by Herod the Great.
    • It had a man-made harbor.
    • A theater.
    • An amphitheater.
    • A hippodrome.
    • A temple dedicated to Caesar.
  • The Jews hated Caesarea, often calling it “the daughter of Edom.”
    • According to Josephus, riots between Jew and Gentile created the spark for the Jewish war against Rome in 66 A.D.
    • Josephus also wrote that the entire Jewish population of 20,000 in Caesarea was massacred in the same year.

From the narrative, we can determine the following facts concerning Cornelius.

  • He was a Roman centurion in command of 100 soldiers
    • Centurions are generally depicted in a favorable light in the Gospels and Acts.
    • This may have led to some success in early Christian mission work among the military.
  • He left behind the Roman religion of worshipping little “g” gods, pagan myths, and empty religious rituals.
  • He had turned to Judaism in an effort to find salvation.
  • He was as close to Judaism as possible without being a proselyte.
    • He was sincere in his obedience to God’s Law.
    • He was charitable towards the Jews.
    • He always prayed to God.
    • He was not allowed to offer sacrifices in the temple, so his prayers were a type of sacrifice.
  • However, all this still didn’t mean he was saved.
    • He knew that his religious practices wouldn’t lead to salvation.
    • We’ll see that later in Acts 11:13-14, Cornelius asks God to show him the way to salvation. 

An angel visits Cornelius.

  • Cornelius is praying at three in the afternoon, a time that coincides with the Tamid sacrifice in the temple.
  • God sends an angel to visit Cornelius, acknowledging that Cornelius’ prayers and acts of charity were accepted by God. 
  • The angel tells Cornelius to send for Peter, giving explicit information on where to find him.
  • Cornelius, in exemplary military fashion, immediately obeys the instructions of the angel.
    • He chooses two slaves and a devout soldier.
      • These were probably the most trusted people he could pick.
      • The “devout” soldier was likely a worshipper of God.
      • The phrase “attended him” indicates those Cornelius feels are the most trustworthy of the people around him.

Peter’s Vision.

Let’s look at some cultural background context as we examine this part of the passage.

  • Peter had lived as an orthodox Jew all of his life, as shown by his statement in verse 14.
  • The Law of Moses created a barrier between the Jews and Gentiles.
  • Gentiles were viewed as aliens and strangers in regard to Jewish covenants and promises.
  • The barrier was broken at the cross – Ephesians 2:14-18.
  • Now, God would make it clear that there was no difference between Jew and Gentile.
    • No condemnation – Romans 3:22-23.
    • Salvation for all – Romans 10:12-13.

Facts regarding Peter’s vision.

  • Peter was hungry, and a vision with food as a focal point would resonate with him.
    • Noon was not a usual meal time.
    • The custom was to have a light midmorning meal, followed by a heavier meal in the late afternoon.
  • The issue of clean and unclean foods was a significant barrier between Jews and Gentiles.
    • To Jews, the dietary laws were not a matter of etiquette or specific eating habits.
    • The dietary laws were a matter of identity and survival.
      • Jews were not allowed to eat with Gentiles.
      • The people you sit down with to eat are family.
      • The Jewish “family” was called by God to be separate from the Gentiles.
  • The whole issue of appearance versus our heart condition that Jesus spoke about – Mark 7:1-23.
    • God wasn’t simply changing Peter’s eating habits.
    • God was changing Peter’s understanding of clean and unclean.
      • Jews weren’t clean, and Gentiles were unclean.
      • All were unclean before God – Romans 11:32.
      • A Gentile didn’t need to become a Jew in order to be a Christian.
  • Peter’s “Jewishness” comes out in his response to “kill and eat.”
    • Although Peter was polite in his refusal, it was still disobedience.
      • We can say “no.”
      • We can say “Lord.”
      • We can’t say “No, Lord.” 
      • Obedience is required in response to God’s commands.
  • There is also the interesting point of “threes” with Peter being revisited.
    • The sheet appeared three times.
    • This was the third time that Peter verbally refused God’s will.
    • Three times he denied Jesus.
    • Jesus asked him three times about his love.

Applications

  • The Gospel can spread regardless of the location. It just requires obedient messengers. If we remember back to the discussion about Caesarea, we recall that the Jews had an extremely poor opinion of the city. Yet, God’s message will spread where it is taken. What is your Caesarea, and how will you overcome that barrier to obedience?
  • Fervent prayer is heard. Cornelius “always” prayed to God. If we pray to God in accordance with His will, our prayers are answered. How is your prayer life? Are you like Cornelius, praying always? Or is your prayer life stagnant and unproductive?
  • Don’t let cultural or ethnic barriers stand in the way of being obedient to God. God’s commands should always be at the forefront. What barriers do you have that prevents you from sharing the Gospel or meeting certain groups of people? In Christ, we are all one people. Tear down the barriers in your life and share the Gospel.