ToBeLikeHim.com                                                                             Return to Acts Series

 

The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 10

John Baugh

August, 2009

 

 

Acts 10 (New American Standard Bible)

Acts 10

Cornelius's Vision

1Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.

 

The year was about 37 and the story that Luke reports occurred in the town of Caesarea This city is located on the coastal plain of Sharon, on the southwestern slope of Mt. Hermon, about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee and 65 miles north of Jerusalem. At the time of Luke’s story, it was the Roman Capital of the province of Judea. It was the location of the residence of the Roman procurator (Acts 23: 23-24). In his writings, Josephus said that the population was primarily Gentile, with a Jewish minority. 

 

Philip probably preached to the Jews of Caesarea (Acts 8:40) and Paul stopped there on his way to Tarsus (Acts 9:30), but there’s no indication that he preached in the area. Luke tells us that Peter has carried his own missionary journey as far as Joppa, 30 miles south of Caesarea.

 

During Jesus’ time, it was the northern most point of his ministry. Luke begins Acts Chapter 10 telling us the story of Cornelius, a military man; a centurion who lived in that town.   

 

In his book (the Acts of the Apostles), William Barclay gives the following description of Rome’s military units:

 

In the Roman military set-up there was first of all the legion. It was a force of six thousand men and therefore was roughly equal to a division. In every legion there were ten cohorts. A cohort therefore had six hundred men and comes near to being the equivalent of a battalion. The cohort was divided into centuries and over each century there was a centurion. The century is therefore roughly the equivalent of a company. (The Acts of the Apostles, revised edition, page 79)

 

The Greek historian Polybius described the qualifications of a centurion as follows: "Centurions are required not to be bold and adventurous so much as good leaders, of stead and prudent mind, not prone to take the offensive or start fighting wantonly, but able when overwhelmed and hard-pressed to stand fast and die at their post”

 

In his gospel, Matthew indicates (Matthew 8: 5-10) centurions were men who knew how to give and take orders. Cornelius was a man of importance and his interest in the gospel message is significant. There is more to this significance that needs to be mentioned. This military man was a gentile, and this is the first time that the gospel has gone out to the gentiles. Also significant is that Cornelius appears to be a very different person. He is a centurion, the (non-commissioned officer) commander of a company of probably 100 Roman soldiers. Luke tells us that Cornelius was a member of the Italian cohort. We will learn later that these are the troops that accompanied Paul to Rome. Most Centurions were hard minded military men, and this is a man who is Godly. Luke calls him devout. He recognizes there is a God and he is seeking him out; praying to him, “continually”. Luke says that he has a respect (worded by Luke as fear) for God. Additionally, he is a generous man, who gives alms to the Synagogue and Jewish people.

 

This is a significant event in the book of Acts because for the first time, Luke presents the account of the gospel going out to a gentile household. As a result of this, the church will not remain just an offshoot of the Jewish religion, but a universal body, embracing people from all nations, backgrounds and races. 

 

Here, Cornelius becomes the agent of fulfillment for Luke’s statement in Luke 2:32, when he writes that Jesus would be a “Light for revelation to the Gentiles”, and his quote from Isaiah in Luke 3:6, when he writes the promise that through Jesus, “all mankind will see God’s salvation.”

 

Up to this point, Christ’s Great commission as stated in Acts 1:8:

 

8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

 

Has been carried out. The witness has gone from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. With Cornelius, it will expand from God’s chosen (the Jews) to the gentile nation. God’s will for the spread of his son’s gospel will be illuminated through Peter’s actions with the Roman centurion, has family, his friends and associates.

 

Evidently, Luke sees this event as one of major importance, because he returns to it three times in Acts (Chapter 10: 1-48, 11: 1-18, and 15: 6-11. The story of Cornelius is the longest narrative in Acts and considering the amount of discussion Luke devotes to the subject we know that it must have been critically important to him. In fact, it is one of the pivotal events in the book of Acts, the spread of the church and fulfillment of the great commission of Christ.

 

 

 

3About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, "Cornelius!"

4And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5"Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; 6he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea."

7When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, 8and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

 

Cornelius was an admirable man, but he was not a saved man. Many people today believe that all that is needed to be found acceptable in God’s sight is to be spiritual, sincere, generous, moral, respectful of others, and to lead a clean life. Cornelius was all of these things and he was lacking. He was not yet born again. All of Cornelius’ characteristics are admirable, but they are not eternal life, only a prelude to eternal life. They are characteristic of a heart that is open, ready and hungry for Christ.

 

Cornelius has a vision

The time of Cornelius’ calling begins on a certain day at about three o’clock in the afternoon, which is one of the Jewish times of Prayer. As Cornelius is praying, a messenger of God (an Angel) comes t him and calls him by name. When he acknowledges the messenger, the angel, says:

 

"Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.”

 

The angel speaks in the language of sacrifice used in Jewish circles. The "memorial" mentioned here alludes to the Old Testament flour offerings made from grain that were to be burned "as a memorial portion" (Leviticus 2:2). This offering was burned on the altar and "an aroma pleasing to the Lord" went up to God (Leviticus 2:2). Like the aroma of the sacrifice, the scent of Cornelius’ prayers and gifts is going "up" to God. God is signaling his pleasure with Cornelius, and he is ready to reveal his salvation to him.

 

It is interesting that the angel does not preach the gospel to Cornelius. Angels are not commissioned to preach the gospel. People are commissioned to spread the gospel and so instead of sharing the gospel, he tells Cornelius where to go to find a man who will preach the gospel to Him. That is in keeping with Christ’s Great Commission plan and God’s will for salvation.

 

Luke takes great pains to show that this change in Cornelius’ life and as a result, in the church is the result of God’s will and guidance. It does not come about through some human-devised program. This section shows that God, through the Holy Spirit, is bringing the Gentiles into his spiritual body, the church. On a more personal note regarding Cornelius, As he was drawing closer to God, God was drawing closer to him (James 4:8).

 

There is a story I like and have used many times that comes from one of the foundational works of discipling, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Dr. Robert E. Coleman. A very loosely worded restatement of Dr. Coleman’s story follows:

 

After his ascension, Christ was met by legions of angels in Heaven.  They praised and praised him and then one of them asked what plan he had placed into effect to assure his vision would continue across the world and time, as God had desired. 

 

Jesus looked toward the brilliance of God's throne and then told the angels, "I have left a small band of laymen, mostly fishermen, who will take over my vision and deliver my message to the world. I have made these laymen "fishers of men." They will be responsible for teaching my vision to other faithful believers, who will carry on in the same manner until the end of time."

 

The legions of angels all looked at our Lord with wonder. Finally, one of them spoke. “What an incredible vision. What if they fail?”

 

Jesus replied, “This is my vision. I have no other plan."

 

 

 

Go to Joppa

 

Once the angel has Cornelius’ attention, he gives him marching orders.

 

5"Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; 6he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea."

7When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, 8and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

 

In preparation for his salvation experience, the angel tells Cornelius to send men to Joppa to ask Peter to come to his home. Cornelius calls two servants and a military aide, a devout man, and dispatches them to Joppa to find a man named Simon, who is also called Peter, who is staying with a tanner named Simon in a house by the sea.

 

While God was preparing Cornelius for an encounter with Simon Peter, The Holy Spirit was also preparing Peter for an encounter with the gentile military man, Cornelius. In fact, as much as Cornelius needed to be readied for Peter, Peter probably needed even more to be readied for his encounter with a group of gentile seekers.

 

Jews hated Romans. One big reason for their hate was because for years, they had been forced to live under the military rule of an occupying army, pay taxes to Caesar, carry their bags if commanded, suffer cruel treatment daily, fight continually to keep their temple and Jerusalem free of Roman idols and symbols, and watch many of their brothers suffer the cruel punishment of being publicly beaten and crucified. An observant Jew looked on the Romans as less than animals, and so unclean that if they touched one in the street they would be considered unclean themselves and would have to rush home and wash. And no Jew would ever be found in the home of a Gentile, let alone a Roman soldier. Nor would a Jew be found praying with Gentiles in the temple because of the "middle wall of partition". In fact, gentiles faced the threat of death if they sought to cross it in order to enter the Jewish section.

These were the only some of the beliefs of prejudice Simon Peter was dealing with as he was being prepared by the Holy Spirit to deal with the Centurion, his family and friends.

 

Cornelius was given a vision by the Holy Spirit in preparation for the encounter. That same Holy Spirit placed Peter into a trance of discovery.

 

 

Peter’s Trance and his Vision of the sheet lowered from Heaven

 

9On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.

13A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!"

14But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean."

15Again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."

16This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. 17Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon's house, appeared at the gate; 18and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. 20"But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself."

 

Preparation for Peter was needed (to address his bigotry against Gentiles), and it is what God provided. As the group sent out by Cornelius approached Joppa, Peter was preparing for his sixth-hour prayers. Luke tells us that the location for Peter’s preparation was the rooftop of the Tanner’s house. It was most likely chosen by Peter as convenient and out of the way (private). The time was around 12:00 noon – the sixth hour and one of the appointed times for prayer. As he contemplated his prayers on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s hose, Peter is given a strange vision, where all manner of animals (both clean and unclean) including things that walk, slither across the ground and fly through the air are lowered from Heaven on a sheet, held on the four corners.

 

As Peter observes the animals, a voice tells him “Get up Peter. Kill and eat.”

 

Peter questions this statement:

 

14But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean."

 

This is a falling back on the legalism if the Jews, who would quickly state their observance of the law and expect God to be impressed with their observance. However God wants us above everything else to be yielding to his will, and so Peter receives a response in opposition to his attitude of legality. And so Peter receives a response:

 

15Again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."

 

We are often guilty of this attitude of prejudice toward others and just as often toward ourselves. We see the lifestyle that others have exhibited and see no way why we should consider them cleansed, although that is just what Christ has accomplished in their lives. We also remember our past and refuse to believe that Jesus would (or could) cleanse us of the past. Both beliefs are wrong. The error of our attitude in both cases is easily corrected through God’s words to Peter. “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”  

 

Luke tells us that the words are repeated three times before the vision is removed. The three times use, probably tells us several things:

 

1 – How stubborn Peter was. God had to tell him three times before Peter heard what God was saying.

2 - How much like Peter we are. Why do we need to be told so many times?

3 – Of course, this may be a three-fold statement. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in agreement on how bigoted you are.

 

While Peter is considering (confused by) what he has experienced, The messengers from Cornelius arrive and enquire if a man named Simon Peter is there. So that there will be no misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit addresses their arrival.

 

19While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. 20"But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself."

 

The Holy Spirit assures Peter he is to have no misgivings about accompanying these gentile men. They have been sent by God to find him. God has spoken to Peter and (thank goodness for us) Peter heard what God said. “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

 

21Peter went down to the men and said, "Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?"

22They said, "Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you."

23So he invited them in and gave them lodging.

 

Peter has been given a task to perform. He has been told that what God has cleaned he should no longer consider unholy and he has been told to have no doubts as to whether he should deal with these visitors since God has sent them to see him. And so he invites them in.

 

Perhaps Peter has never done such a thing (have dealings with a gentile) in his life! It certainly is not something we would expect to see an observant Jew doing! It is interesting to see that this was taught to Peter by the Holy Spirit and not placed into him when the Holy Spirit came upon him at Pentecost.

 

We need to be constantly aware of the teachings Of the Holy Spirit that continue throughout our lives.

 

Peter at Caesarea

And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26But Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am just a man."

 

 

There is to be quite a large crowd of witnesses for whatever will take place. They will include Peter and a group of brethren (six fellow Jews noted in Acts 11:12) from Joppa, Cornelius and his family and close friends. At minimum, there would have been eleven people there and most likely many more than that.

 

Perhaps Cornelius mistook Peter for more than he was, because (even though he was a Roman Soldier) he fell at Peter’s feet in worship, but Peter corrected any misunderstanding the Centurion might have, telling him, “I too am just a man.” At this point, Peter is learning quickly. Most Jews would have naturally assumed a position of superiority over any gentile person they encountered. However Peter is led to tell Cornelius that they are both only men.

 

It is often suggested that the book of Acts ought to be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. This is certainly the case with how the Holy Spirit is dealing with Peter in his encounter with Cornelius.

 

27As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. 28And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 29"That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me."

 

Peter obviously is still uneasy at entering the home of a Gentile. He knows that an observant Jew would not enter the home of a gentile and he feels the need to explain his action. As they go into the house he says to Cornelius, (I should not be here), "You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation." Now, that was not God's law; that was man's law. The Jews had adopted that position on their own. But Peter had been taught a lesson, and though he obviously did not fully understand it, he says, (God has informed me that is not the case), "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean and so I've come. What do you want of me?"

 

30Cornelius said, "Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, 31and he said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32'Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.' 33"So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come.

 

Now it is Cornelius’ time to explain. And he does. Strange things have happened. An Angel appeared to me as I prayed to God and said

 

“Cornelius, your prayer has been heard”

 

This statement needs to be addressed. Sometimes people will say “God never hears the prayers of a non-Christian.” Obviously, from this account, that is not true. God did hear the prayers of Cornelius while he was yet unregenerate. God took note of his good deeds and alms as an expression of the earnestness of this man's heart. He remembered them and acted on that basis. God will hear any honest and sincere prayer, regardless of the state of that man's relationship to him, if it is indeed an honest prayer.

 

Cornelius ends his explanation with a beautiful request:

 

“Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord."

 

This actually represents one of the most strategic home Bible classes ever held. Following the exact format of a home Bible class:

 

-          A man opens his home.

-          He gathers his friends into it, has some refreshments ready,

-          He invites a teacher to come and present the gospel to his friends.

 

This is still a workable proposition, just as it was on this occasion when Cornelius gathered his kinsmen and friends together. People are waiting expectantly for the word of the gospel, delivered in the home of someone they trust, in a non threatening situation.

 

Peter’s Message

 

Peter’s words express the purpose for which the Holy Spirit has maneuvered these men together. It is the great message that will set Cornelius free:

 

Gentiles Hear Good News

34Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

 

This is the first preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a Gentile audience. Peter makes seven distinct points and they are a marvelous unfolding of what the good news is.

 

1 - God shows no partiality. God is not a respecter of persons. He receives anyone, anywhere, from any background, race, any social class, any station in life; it does not make any difference to him. He is not any more in favor of one race, nation or political affiliation than another. It makes no difference to God. He is impartial, he accepts any and all.

Peter knew that Cornelius, his kin and friends still needed a lot more. They were still was unregenerate, without Christ. They may have been good people in the worldly sense of the word, but they still needed redemption, they needed salvation, they needed Christ. Still, they were acceptable to God because they were honest. That is what God wants of anyone. Anyone, in any circumstance, who comes to God with an honest heart will find an open door to the truth about Jesus Christ. That is the first part of the gospel.

 

36"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) - 37you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power,

 

2 – Immediately, Peter moves to the coming of Christ, to the incarnation, to the fact that Jesus, who, he emphasizes, is the Lord of all, came to us, nevertheless, as a man.

 

Peter states this in human terms. Jesus came as a man through whom God worked in love and power. He did not come primarily to display his deity, to show us how God behaves; he came to show us how man behaves as God intended him to be, when man is indwelt by God.

 

We will never be a human being as God intended us to be until we are indwelt by God. Jesus came to demonstrate that fact. He is God, reaching out to man in man's weakness, failure, and sinfulness to restore him and to re-inhabit man who had lost the Spirit of God. Peter also preaches the Lordship of Jesus. He does not call him the Savior; he calls him the Lord. It is as Lord that Jesus is to be received into the heart; then he becomes Savior. 

 

 

and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.  39"We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem

 

 

3 - When Jesus Christ arrived, he destroyed the effects of evil everywhere he went. He did this openly, before witnesses, where everyone could see. He came to a world that was lost and despairing, without hope. Everywhere he went he set people free and brought again to human hearts the hope that there is a way out of the desperate bondage of fallen humanity. Jesus Christ can set people free. That is what Christ does. "He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil" as a demonstration of what God is accomplishing in the work of redemption.

 

They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.

 

4 – Point four is brief and sobering. It is almost as though Peter does not want to dwell on it. All he says is, "They put him to death..." Jesus was killed by the most shameful means possible. Even the Romans recognized that. Cicero, the Roman orator, said, "The cross is so terrible that it should not be mentioned in polite company." But by that means Jesus, the man who went about doing good, was put to death. Peter moves on quickly.

 

 40"God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

 

5 – But God raised him up. Death had no hold on Jesus. He became visible again – once alive, then dead, then alive again. Peter said, "I was one of those witnesses who saw him after he rose from the dead. It was no hallucination, no ghostly, spiritual appearance, because we ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He was there in a body. Only bodies can eat and drink, and there he was." He could not be defeated by men. The grave had no power over him. God's power was greater than man's, and he broke the barriers of death.

 

There is the good news of the gospel. Jesus Christ is the answer to death in every form, whatever it may be. Everything which creates hopelessness and despair in human life must yield to the power of this mighty Son of God.

 

42"And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.

 

6 - This good news is to go out to all men everywhere. Jesus commanded us to preach him as a living person. He is not dead; he is alive and available to all men everywhere. Not only that, but he is supremely important to every person. He is the paramount figure in the universe, the ultimate crisis of all men.

He stands at the end of every path down which men go, and he waits there as the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. Knowing this, we are faced with the most important question anyone might ever face in life: "What do you do with Jesus of Nazareth?" What have you done with him?

 

43"Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins."

 

7 - Everything that Jesus did was predicted by the prophets. Long before he ever came, what he would be like and what he would do was written down. Every prophet bore witness to this one fact: The only way mankind can ever find forgiveness of sins is by believing in him." That is the great, final, glorious thrust of the gospel. The good news is that men have been given a way to be forgiven of their sins. It is the basic need of every human heart and Christ fulfills that need. Through Jesus Christ sins are forgiven.

 

Evidently Peter had intended to continue his message, but at this point a most dramatic interruption occurs as the Gates of Salvation open to the Gentiles

 

44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47"Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"

48And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

 

“While Peter was still speaking these words,” The Holy Spirit interrupted him. In fact, the Holy Spirit does this more than once in the book of Acts. It also happened on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would not let Peter finish his message. One might wonder what Peter intended to say at the end of these messages, had the Holy Spirit not cut him off. But, at any rate, he hardly ever got to finish a message because, before he could, the Spirit acted.

 

Peter had just shared with Cornelius and those assembled in his house something to believe. He told them, "The prophets bear witness that every one who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins." As soon as these men heard that they believed and immediately upon believing they received the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus said they would. Jesus said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink... 'Out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water…This spake he of the Spirit, whom they that believe on him should receive;" (John 7: 37-39). As soon as the people heard, they believed, and when they believed, they received the Holy Spirit.

 

As on the day of Pentecost the sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit was the gift of tongues. Perhaps this was in order to indicate to Peter, and the other brethren, that the Gentiles were being received on the same basis as the Jews had been. Regardless of what the others may have thought, Peter understood, because he said,

 

"Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit
just as we have?"

 

It is important to note that the baptism of the Holy Spirit does not do away with the baptism of water. One is a symbol of the other. These men were baptized with water because they had been baptized with the Spirit.

 

This Ends Chapter 10.

 

 

Copyright © 2009, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries

 

Return to Main Page                                                                                          Return to Acts Series