Summary Acts 10:
A Roman Centurion (a very important man whom all Jews resented and despised) named Cornelius was living in Caesarea. He was God-fearing and gave generously to the poor. One day he had a vision of the angel of God. The angel told Cornelius to send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter, which he did.
Peter had a vision that same day of a large sheet being let down from heaven with all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds on it. A voice told Peter to kill and eat these animals.
Peter freaked out. He couldn’t possibly eat anything unclean (as the laws for centuries have been). The voice corrected him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
While Peter was pondering this vision, Cornelius’ men arrived and the voice said to go with these men, which he did.
The next day when Peter arrived, Cornelius had invited all of his relatives and close friends to hear what Peter had to say. Peter reminds everyone it is against Jewish law for Jews to associate with Gentiles but God has said otherwise through this vision.
Cornelius repeats his vision to Peter. Peter finally understands his dream: God now accepts every man into His kingdom; the Jews are no longer singled out as God’s chosen people. With Jesus’ death, everyone is eligible for Salvation.
Peter explains how God chose people to be witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection and to preach to the people and testify that God is the one and only judge of the living and the dead.
The Holy Spirit then came upon all who were listening, much to the astonishment of the Jews present with Peter. Then they were baptized.
BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 7, Day 3: Acts 10
6) He was a devout, God-fearing man and gave generously to those in need. He was respected by all the Jewish people. He prayed to God regularly. He was a strong man, authoritative, and loyal to be a Roman Centurion (commander in the Roman army). He must have been respected, admired, and a good leader. He obeyed God and yearned to know Him more.
7a) God told Peter to get up and kill and eat, which is against Jewish law. Peter’s objection was just that — that these animals were impure and unclean so he couldn’t possibly eat or kill them. God told Peter not to call anything impure that He has made clean.
b) God confirmed His words by having Peter sent for by Cornelius and taken to Cornelius’ house.
8 ) Personal Question. My answer: Jesus’s death. All barriers.
Conclusions BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 7, Day 3: Acts 10
Profound passage as Peter finally realizes that all people are made clean through the blood of Jesus Christ. Now all will be preached to.
End Notes BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 7, Day 3: Acts 10
Caesarea was a predominately Roman city on the shores of the Mediterranean in Judea. It was the headquarters of the Roman governor of the province of Judea. Archaeologists have discovered a stone from a building in Caesarea inscribed with the name Pontus Pilate.
Who Was Cornelius?
- Cornelius was an officer in the Roman Army. A Jew of that day would naturally dislike or even hate him.
- Cornelius was a God-fearer. These were Gentiles who loved the God of Israel; they were sympathetic to and supportive of the Jewish faith. Yet they stopped short of becoming full Jews in lifestyle and in circumcision. Jewish people of that time respected and appreciated these God-fearing Gentiles, but they could not really share their life and homes and food with them, because they were still in fact Gentiles and not full Jewish converts.
- Cornelius gave generously to the poor, prayed often, sought God, and obeyed. How many of us can say the same?
It is significant that God spoke to Cornelius directly, even calling him by name. It is also significant that Cornelius responded with a healthy fear of the heavenly and holy (he was afraid). This shows that Cornelius had a real relationship with God.
Angels have limited abilities. They are primarily messengers. Note that an angel came to Cornelius to deliver a message, not convert him.
Typically, this is how God operates. He speaks to several people about a matter, not just one. Then confirmation is provided, and out of the mouth of two or three witnesses a word is established.
Fun Fact: It is rare in the Bible for God to speak in an audible voice.
Peter had a bad habit of telling Jesus “no” (Matthew 16:22, John 13:8). Compare Peter’s response to God (Not so, Lord!) with Cornelius’ response to God (What is it, Lord?). On that day, it seemed that Cornelius was more responsive to God than Peter was.
God repeated this vision three times. Peter was to regard this as important.
When the vision ended, Peter did not have it all figured out. That came in time. And so it is with us.
Previously, in Acts 10:13 and 10:15, it was simply said that a voice spoke to Peter. Now, we are told that the Spirit spoke to Peter. This was God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, speaking to Peter.
At this point, God has not told Peter that his visitors were Gentiles. Normally, a godly Jew like Peter would not associate in this manner with Gentiles. Knowing this, and knowing Peter’s previous resistance (Not so, Lord!), God simply surprised Peter with the knowledge that these men were Gentiles.
The idea that God could send and use Gentiles was entirely new to Peter. God was expanding Peter’s mind and heart.
Peter didn’t just coldly give these Gentiles visitors a room; he entertained them as welcomed guests, and he did this against every custom of the Jewish people of that day. No orthodox Jew would have invited Gentiles into his house. He would not have sat down at the same table with them. He would not have had fellowship with them. It was forbidden.
God flooded Peter’s heart with an understanding that though the Old Testament said God’s people were not to become like their pagan neighbors, it also said God wanted His people to become a light to their neighbors who didn’t know the true God.
“Centuries ago another Jew had come to Joppa with a solemn message from his God, which he was commissioned to bear far hence to the Gentiles. Jonah, the prophet, took a ship from Joppa and refused obedience to the divine call.” (Gaebelein)
Significantly, whenever in the Bible worship is offered to men or to angels (as in Revelation 19:10), it is refused. But Jesus received such worship freely (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9). This proves that Jesus is more than a man, and greater than any angel (Luke 4:8).
Conversion of Paul
Peter actually entered the house of a Gentile, something that Jewish customs and traditions strictly prohibited. By entering a Gentile’s home, Peter showed that his heart and mind had changed, and that he had learned the lesson of the vision of the great sheet.
“The principle subject of this chapter is not so much the conversion of Cornelius as the conversion of Peter.” (Stott)
Cornelius was not a Christian in the sense that he was not yet regenerated or born again, yet in this case God heard his prayers and remembered his generosity to others.
This is the foundation for Peter’s understanding that the gospel should now go forth to Gentiles. This statement goes completely against the prevailing Jewish thought at that time that God certainly did show partiality, towards the Jews and against the Gentiles. In essence, many Jews of Peter’s day thought that God loved the Jews while hating the Gentiles.
The Prejudice Against Gentiles
According to William Barclay, it was common for a Jewish man to begin the day with a prayer thanking God that he was not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman. A basic part of the Jewish religion in the days of the New Testament was an oath that promised that one would never help a Gentile under any circumstances, such as giving directions if they were asked. But it went even as far as refusing to help a Gentile woman at the time of her greatest need – when she was giving birth – because the result would only be to bring another Gentile into the world.
If a Jew married a Gentile, the Jewish community would have a funeral for the Jew and consider them dead. It was thought that to even enter the house of a Gentile made a Jew unclean before God.
Christianity was the first religion to disregard racial, cultural and national limitations.
When the Jews showed this kind of partiality they were not being faithful to God’s heart as revealed in the Old Testament. The idea that God shows no partiality is also stated in Deuteronomy 10:17 and 2 Chronicles 19:7: For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe (Deuteronomy 10:17).
Notably, Peter’s preaching to the Gentiles was essentially the same as his preaching to the Jews. He presented the person and work of Jesus Christ, with an emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus and our responsibility before God in light of these things.
Peter didn’t have one sermon for one group and another sermon for another. All people needed to be saved by coming to a living faith in a living Jesus Christ.
Peter’s sermon was a wonderful (if brief and perhaps condensed by Luke) explanation of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth:
- Jesus was baptized to identify with humanity.
- Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.
- Jesus was crucified.
- Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected in view of many witnesses.
- Jesus commanded His followers to preach the message of who He is and what He did.
The moment of a person’s salvation isn’t necessarily when they raise a hand or come forward at an evangelistic invitation. It is more likely at the moment they surrender to God and embrace with trust Jesus in the sincerity of their hearts.
Peter allowed the Holy Spirit to interrupt his sermon. The Holy Spirit was doing the greater work in the hearts of those listening, and Peter went with the flow. He stopped and called for their baptism.
The First Gentile Converts to Christianity
These were likely not the first Gentiles to trust in Jesus and be born again. Gentiles had probably received salvation in the eight years since Pentecost (Acts 2). But those Gentiles were saved as they embraced Judaism as well as Christianity. Gentiles may have received salvation before this, but they were saved as Jews, not as Gentiles.
Their filling with the Holy Spirit was accompanied by the demonstration of spiritual gifts. This was a filling with the Holy Spirit in two senses: First, in the sense that He indwells and abides in every believer; second, in the sense of a special empowering with gifts and graces from the Holy Spirit.
This was unique. It was not common in the Book of Acts or in subsequent Christian experience for those who were not previously converted (born again) to instantly be born again and receive such evident spiritual gifts. Yet it was good and even necessary on this occasion, to show that they received the exact same Spirit, the exact same blessing as the apostles and first followers of Jesus did on the morning of Pentecost (Acts 2).
God would fill Gentiles with the Holy Spirit in the same manner and degree as the Jews.
God loved and blessed the Gentiles just as He loved and blessed the Jews, and He did it while they were still Gentiles.
The Old Testament looked for the day when a light would shine in the darkness of the Gentile world: Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)
God promised Abraham and his descendants that the blessing that came through him would extend to all nations (Genesis 12:1-4). Here, we see Jesus – the greatest blessing from Abraham – extended to the nations.
The first Gentile Jesus dealt with in His public ministry was a Roman centurion from Capernaum. When Jesus healed that centurion’s servant, He declared that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:5-13).