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.

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