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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.