Acts 10


“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly”. Acts 10:1-2

In the previous chapter, we saw how a young Jewish Rabbi named Saul changed his life around from being a persecutor of the Lord’s church to becoming a preacher for the Lord’s church and he became more welcoming toward people.

The city of Caesarea was an important seaport and it was the centre of the Roman government and armed forces for the area. The city people were made up of both Greeks and Jews but they sometimes never saw eye to eye with each other. And it’s in Caesarea that Luke introduces us to a man named Cornelius.

Luke says that he was of the Italian regiment, which would have numbered between 600 and 1,000 and Cornelius was a centurion, which basically meant he was the commander of a hundred men.

But Luke also tells us about his religious life too, he says that Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing man who prayed and gave generous gifts to those who might have been in need. He recognised God in Heaven and he knew that the Jews were God’s people.

But not only was he a God-fearing man, his whole household were God-fearing people too. Cornelius is going to become the first Gentile convert.

I read a couple of commentaries on this passage and it seems that when Luke records that ‘Cornelius’ whole family were God-fearing people’, this was used to describe a person who believed in the God of Abraham but had refused to be circumcised.

How accurate that statement is, I’m not sure but I thought I would bring it to our attention because if we remember we saw Stephen accusing the Sanhedrin of having circumcision in the flesh but uncircumcised hearts. And here is a man who wasn’t circumcised in the flesh but seems to be circumcised where it matters most, in his heart.

Cornelius Calls For Peter

“One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.” Acts 10:3-8

This is interesting because Cornelius prayed at three in the afternoon, which we know was the ninth hour and a Jewish hour of prayer. And it’s then that an angel appeared to Cornelius in a vision.

Let make me make an important point here about angels. We’re living in a society that is obsessed with angels and I have spoken with some people that claim to have had a visit from one.

There are cards and wrapping paper, signs and symbols and ornaments of these cute little things with halos, wings and nice little faces that are as sweet as they could be.

I don’t think you should be thinking that in your mind when you read the word ‘angel’ in the Bible. 2 Kings 19:35 tells us that just one of God’s angels killed 185,000 of God’s enemies, in one moment. These are mighty creatures and in scripture they had three basic functions, to worship, to witness and warfare.

Whatever they look like, they put you down on the ground in terror and that’s what happened to Cornelius because he was afraid. But the angel reassures the frightened centurion by telling him God positively received his sacrifices.

And so to prove that God accepted his sacrifices, God told Cornelius to send men to Joppa to call for Simon Peter at the house of a tanner named Simon.

And so he obeyed God like all people should obey God and dispatched two servants and a religious soldier to the city of Joppa. Not only did God want Cornelius to know that what he was doing was acceptable to God but God wanted to let someone else know that something else was acceptable to Him, the Gentiles, that is, Peter.

Peter’s Vision

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven”. Acts 10:9-16

Peter is going to have to do something very unpopular, he is now going to open the door for the Gentiles. It was during another time of prayer while Cornelius’ servants were on their way to Peter, that we find him praying to God at the top of Simon’s house.

And Luke tells us he became very hungry while preparations for the noon meal were being made and he fell into a trance.

And notice that Peter is finding it difficult to explain what he saw. He says he saw ‘something like’ a sheet being let down out of heaven. As mentioned back in Acts 2:2-3, It wasn’t literally a violent wind they heard, it wasn’t literally tongues of fire. And here, Peter didn’t literally see a sheet being let down out of heaven, he says it was ‘something like a sheet’.

But this sheet which Peter saw being let down from heaven was full of all types of unclean animals and it’s then that Peter hears a voice telling him to kill and eat. And Peter being a devout Jew refused the instructions because he didn’t want to defile himself.

If Peter had remembered the Lord’s word as He spoke in Mark’s Gospel, he wouldn’t have had any problems with the instructions, Mark 7:14-19.

The voice which Peter heard was in full agreement with the Lord’s teachings in Mark 7. The voice told Peter that nothing God had made should be described by man as common or unclean.

It’s also interesting that the same vision was repeated three times before the sheet was taken out of the apostle’s sight. Do you remember in Matthew 26:34-35, just before Jesus was arrested?

Peter was basically saying to Jesus, ‘I will never leave you, Lord, I will never betray you, Lord, I will never deny you, Lord.’ But he did, didn’t he? Three times, in fact, Matthew 26:69-70 / Matthew 26:71-74 / Luke 22:59-62.

I don’t believe that Peter ever forgot that day in his heart as the cock crowd and I don’t believe that Jesus was going to let him forget that day either, hence why He asked Peter if he loved Him three times, John 21:15-17. I don’t know if there is any connection between the three denials of Peter and Jesus asking him three times if he loves Him.

But, interestingly, this vision he received here was given three times too. But not only that, as we will see in a minute Peter is about to get three visitors.

The vision which Peter received was important for him to understand because God had it in His mind to save other people from going to hell.

But as we are about to read, Peter doesn’t understand the vision just yet.

“While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” Acts 10:17-19

Luke tells us as Peter was thinking about the vision, the men from Cornelius arrived at the house and began to inquire about him. And then the Holy Spirit told him to go with the three men because they were sent by the Spirit. These three men turning up wasn’t a coincidence, they were sent by God for a specific reason.

Peter didn’t even know they were coming, he didn’t even know they were at Simon’s house until the Spirit told him they were there. Our God knows our needs because He is always aware of our needs. He knows when our heart needs encouragement, He knows when our heart is beginning to doubt, 1 John 3:20.

Peter didn’t know why these men came looking for him, but when God’s Spirit told him to go downstairs, he went and found out why they had come.

“Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along”. Acts 10:20-23

Luke tells us that Peter went down and told the men he was the man they were looking and they, in turn, told Peter that Cornelius had been told by God, through the agency of an angel, to send for Peter so that he could hear him preach. And so Peter realised that this message wasn’t a coincidence, it was indeed from God Himself.

Peter then invited them in to spend the night, to eat the very meal with them which was being prepared while he saw the vision, Romans 12:13 / Hebrews 13:1-2. And the next morning, Peter and some other brethren set out for Caesarea.

Some commentators have suggested that Peter’s hospitality to the three messengers in Joppa suggests that he had already worked out God’s intent for him to preach to the Gentiles.

But others believe that the text doesn’t tell us if Peter fully understands the meaning of his visions yet, he is possibly still giving it some thought.

Peter At Cornelius’s House

“The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” Acts 10:24-26

I don’t know about you but I don’t think I have ever met anyone whom I consider worthy of me falling to my knees with exception of Jesus Christ of course.

But when Cornelius met the apostle Peter he bowed down before him but rather than just accepting such adoration or encouraging it in any way, Peter told Cornelius to get up because he too was a man.

Paul and Barnabas wouldn’t accept worship from them because they recognised that they too were only humans, Acts 14:14-15, they too like Peter knew where to draw the line.

Peter was a man who had all of these things I just mentioned but he knew where to draw the line. Peter understood that he was an apostle of Christ but he also remembered where he came from.

He was a humble fisherman who became a servant for Christ but he was still a human being. He wouldn’t allow anyone to place him high above anyone else, Mark 10:45. Peter understood what it meant to be humble, that’s why he wouldn’t accept any bowing down from Cornelius, 1 Peter 5:5.

But he also recognises that if Cornelius and his household are going to receive him, he wanted them to remember that he was simply a servant, sent to them by God. And so Luke goes on to inform us what happened when Peter went inside Cornelius’ house.

“Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, `Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us. I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:27-35

Peter has finally understood the meaning behind the visions.

I love those two little words, ‘but God’ because it tells me that God is always one step ahead of my thinking. Paul says, you know maybe a good friend might die for you to show that they love you, ‘but God’ proved that He loves you because Christ died for us, Romans 5:7-8. Paul says you know Epaphroditus almost died, ‘but God’ had different plans for him, Philippians 2:27.

Peter says that he shouldn’t even be here with these guys because they are Gentiles, ‘but God’ has different plans. And so now this God-fearing centurion named Cornelius, his family and friends opened their hearts to receive the Lord’s commands from Peter.

And Peter was taught a powerful lesson from God, a lesson that God had been trying to teach His people for generations. The lesson which Peter had to learn was that acceptability to God no longer depended on national descent, but upon character, Amos 9:7 / Micah 6:8.

In other words, we don’t need to become a Jew to please God. There is no such thing as a superior race in Christianity, Galatians 3:26-28.

Do you remember in Matthew 16 when Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought Jesus was and then Jesus asks Peter who He thought He was and Peter said that Jesus was the Christ? Notice that Jesus says, ‘I will give you the keys’, plural, Matthew 16:18-19.

We all know what keys are used for, they are either used for locking or opening something up. In this case, the keys were to be used to open the way back to the Father.

And in Acts 2 when Peter first preached, he used one of those keys to open the way back to the Father for the Jews. And what we’re about to see happening here is Peter using the other key to open the way back to the Father for the Gentiles.

“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen-by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:36-43

Peter never got tired of preaching the Gospel, he began his sermon by preaching the simple Gospel message he had already proclaimed to so many Jews.

Peter says that first of all, the Jews had learned that Jesus was the means of man obtaining peace with God and his fellow man and for that to happen Jesus had to be Lord or master, overall.

But this is interesting because when you read the text here, it comes across as if Peter presumed they had already heard of the preaching of Jesus which had spread through Judea and Galilee, beginning with the message of the forerunner, John the baptizer.

Peter presumed that they knew about how Jesus was God’s anointed and had performed numerous acts of kindness and healing. And he tells Cornelius and those listening that he and the other apostles stood as witnesses of the good Jesus did and the terrible trial the Jewish leaders put Him through, followed by his death on the cross.

He goes on to tell them that they could also testify that God raised Him up and made Him known to certain witnesses, some of whom even ate with him.

And then finally, he tells those listening that the apostles were given the commission to testify that Jesus would ultimately judge both the living and dead. And he says, even the prophets had referred to the coming Messiah through whom those believing in his name could receive the remission of their sins.

However, Peter is in the middle of a sentence when something truly miraculous happens.

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” Acts 10:44-46

Luke says that Peter was in full flow with his sermon when all of a sudden these Gentiles, who had never gotten rid of their uncleanness through circumcision and sacrifice, were speaking in tongues and magnified the name of God. Peter and the other six brothers who came with Peter, Acts 11:22, were astonished.

Remember that the Jews thought that no one else was acceptable to God unless they were a Jew. This event clearly shows us that God has other plans.

This event shows us that the Gentiles could now enter the church through baptism without first submitting to the requirements of the Law of Moses.

“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:47-48

We don’t have to wonder what does this event mean? Peter understood fully well what this event meant. He drew the obvious conclusion and asked how anyone could forbid these Gentiles the opportunity to obey Christ by putting Christ on in baptism.

And notice when God gives a command people need to obey it. Luke says after the entire group had obeyed the Lord, they asked Peter and his companions to stay for a few days.

I have heard many people who claim that Holy Spirit baptism is still happening today and they use the events of Cornelius’ household as proof. I believe that Holy Spirit baptism was an experience unique to the first century.

And so let me try and explain why. Like any good Bible, student should do, we need to ask the question what was its purpose?

Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Joel in Joel 2:28-29 foretold of a time when the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon ‘all flesh’ or ‘all people’ as some translations have it.

The expression ‘all flesh’ is not related to every human being because even animals have flesh. The phrase ‘all flesh’ merely embodies the two major segments of humanity, from that ancient vantage point. In other words, the Jews and the Gentiles.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel’s prophetic declaration, remember in Acts 2:16ff. And when he did that he was revealing that the prophecy was ‘beginning’ to enjoy its fulfilment that very day. When Peter and his Jewish brothers visited the family of Cornelius in the city of Caesarea.

The Spirit of God was ‘poured out’ on Cornelius, his family, and near friends at that time, Acts 10:45. Later, when Peter defended their acceptance of the Gentiles to the Jewish church and then he identified the Caesarean experience with the events that occurred ‘at the beginning’, Acts 11:15-17. In other words, he says what happened to us on Pentecost, happened to Cornelius’ household.

Let’s get back to the question, what was its purpose? Why did the apostles receive the Holy Spirit?

The purpose for which the apostles received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was unique. Remember the Lord promised His apostles that ‘they’ would receive an unparalleled measure of the Spirit’s power to ‘guide them’ in teaching the Gospel.

The Spirit would bring to their memories the things ‘they’ had learned from the Saviour, John 14:26. He would guide ‘them’ into all truth and declare unto them things to come, John 16:13.

The Lord promised ‘they’ would be able to proclaim His message, unfettered by the need for personal preparation, rather, Gospel truth would be ‘given’ to ‘them’ as ‘they’ required it, Matthew 10:19-20.

Now here’s the important question we must ask ourselves. Was this another instance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

I recall, a few years ago, being taught that the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred twice during the New Testament period, once in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when the first Jews obeyed the Gospel, and once at Caesarea when the first Gentiles became Christians.

That explanation was both simple and satisfactory because it dealt very effectively with many of the arguments made by so-called ‘Pentecostal’ and ‘Charismatic’ groups, who continue to claim to be baptised in the Holy Spirit.

But I don’t now believe that this explains what happened in the house of Cornelius. I don’t think that this was a second occurrence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We must ask ourselves the question, to who was the baptism of the Holy Spirit promised and why was it promised?

1. It was personally promised by the Lord to ‘His apostles’ and never promised to anyone else, John 16:7. Cornelius wasn’t an apostle.

2. Those to whom it was promised were instructed ‘to wait’ to receive it, Acts 1:4-5.

3. When ‘they received the baptism, it would guide ‘them’ into all truth, ‘they’ would receive new revelations, and ‘they’ would be granted total recall of all that ‘they’ had been taught by the Lord, John 14:26 / John 16:13-14.

4. ‘Their’ baptism in the Spirit would endow ‘them’ with power and bestow on ‘them’ the authority to become His witnesses, Acts 1:8-9.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Lord’s promise was fulfilled, Acts 2:33. The Holy Spirit fell on ‘the apostles’, not on the listening Jews, nor on the 3000 who obeyed the Gospel. But, in contrast, in the house of Cornelius, the Spirit fell upon the listening Gentiles.

The two events are obviously quite different, and the only point of similarity is the fact on the Day of Pentecost, in the house of Cornelius the Holy Spirit signalled His presence and approval by enabling these seeking Gentiles to speak in languages they had not learned and.

1. They received the forgiveness of their sins, Acts 2:38 and they received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s own gift to those who obey Him. Acts 5:32.

There is no Biblical evidence that Cornelius or his household had the teaching powers as the apostles did. There’s no Biblical evidence to suggest that they could lay their hands upon other people, and pass on spiritual gifts as the apostles could.

The purpose of Cornelius being granted the Spirit was to demonstrate to the Jews that God was ready for the Gospel to be offered to the Gentiles.

This was evidenced by the fact that even Peter initially resisted the idea that the Gentiles could become Christians as we saw in Acts 10:14ff. This was also evident in the fact that the Jews of Jerusalem when they learned of the matter, criticized Peter, Acts 11:2-3.

It was the miraculous demonstration of the Spirit upon Cornelius and his associates that turned the tide. And the effect of this divine act of Gentile acceptance remains intact to this very day.

Holy Spirit baptism is not necessary to one’s salvation today, nor is it a demonstration of our salvation. It was a phenomenon of the first century, unique to those circumstances.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians in A.D. 62 he confirmed that there was but ‘one baptism’,  Ephesians 4:5. Clearly, he’s talking about ‘water’ baptism, the very practice that was to continue ‘to the end of the age’ as Jesus commanded, Matthew 28:19-20.

The point of the pouring out of the Spirit here was simply to demonstrate that the Gentiles can now be a part of God’s kingdom. The Jews didn’t think that no one else was acceptable to God unless they had been circumcised in the flesh and been converted to Judaism and so, God was demonstrating otherwise.

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"Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;'"