Cornelius Calls for Peter, 1-8
Ac 10:1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.
This chapter records an event which is one of the great turning points in the spread of the gospel. The goods news breaks decisively out of its Jewish constraints and begins its journey to the ends of the earth.
Here is ‘an account given us of this Cornelius, who and what he was, who was the first-born of the Gentiles to Christ. We are here told that he was a great man and a good man-two characters that seldom meet, but here they did; and where they do meet they put a lustre upon each other: goodness makes greatness truly valuable, and greatness makes goodness much more serviceable.’ (MHC)
‘Although it is likely that the Ethiopian eunuch was the first non-Jewish convert to Christianity (Acts 8:25-40), it was the conversion of Cornelius that sparked the controversy about Gentile converts among the Jewish Christians who probably had not heard about Philip and the eunuch. The account here suggests that the Christian community in general, and Peter in particular, were not prepared for the direct acceptance of Gentile converts and had to be convinced. Luke means us to see the acceptance of the situation by the church in ch. 11 as forming the background for the later decision in ch. 15.’ (NBC)
‘The whole story can easily be divided into scenes: 10:1-8, Cornelius in Caesarea; 9-23a, Peter in Joppa; 23b-48, the meeting of Peter and Cornelius in Caesarea; 11:1-18, the aftermath: the church leaders dealing with the Gentile question.’ (NBC)
Caesarea – a large port on the Mediterranean coast. It was built by Herod the Great and was the place where the Roman Governor had his main residence. It was some 32 miles north of Joppa.
Some lessons from the life of Cornelius:-
God reaches those who want to know him
The gospel is open to all people
There are people everywhere eager to believe
When we are willing to seek the truth and be obedient to the light God gives us, God will reward us richly
Ac 10:2 he and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
His family – Roman soldiers were not permitted to marry (although many had concubines). The word here is ‘household’, and may therefore simply refer to his servants and attendants, such as those mentioned in v7.
Devout and God-fearing – This could mean simply that he was religious (cf. v35), or, more technically, that he had become a ‘god-fearer’; (cf. Acts 13:16,26) i.e. ‘a proselyte of the gate’. If the latter, he had accepted Jewish belief in one God, had embraced Jewish ethical standards, attended synagogue services, but had not become a full proselyte or been circumcised. Although respected by the Jewish people, he was still a Gentile, an outsider.
He gave generously to those in need – Hagee, writing as a Christian Zionist, says that it was to the Jews that this man gave alms (see also v4, 31). This may be so. But it is an unwarranted extrapolation from the text to infer that ‘a godly Gentile who expressed his unconditional love for the Jewish people
in a practical manner was divinely selected by heaven to be the first Gentile to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.’
Cornelius was a man ‘whose heart had tired of pagan myths and empty religious rituals, and who had turned to Judaism in hopes he could find salvation. Cornelius was as close to Judaism as he could get without becoming a proselyte. There were many “God fearers” like him in the ancient world (Ac 13:16) and they proved to be a ready field for spiritual harvest.’ (Wiersbe)
‘It is difficult for us to grasp the impassable gulf which yawned in those days between the Jews on the one hand and the Gentiles…on the other. Not that the Old Testament itself countenanced such a divide. On the contrary, alongside its oracles against the hostile nations, it affirmed that God had a purpose for them…The tragedy was that Israel twisted the doctrine of election into one of favouritism, became filled with racial pride and hatred, despised Gentiles as “dogs,” and developed traditions which kept them apart. No orthodox Jew would ever enter the home of a Gentile, even a God-fearer, or invite such into his home (cf. v28).’ (Stott)
‘What we see emerging to this point is the basic outline of the “more light” principle of God’s redemptive mercy. (compare Lk 8:18; 19:26) Cornelius has responded in faith and obedience to the “light” he has received, as evidenced by his piety. He fears the one true God, prays to him regularly and acts in love to the needy among God’s people. Such obedience is not a “works righteousness” that earns salvation. This we can see by God’s response. He does not declare Cornelius saved. Rather, he grants him “more light” by which he and his household may be saved. (Ac 11:14) God’s response is embodied in a command to send for the messenger who carries the gospel, the essential “more light” (Acts 4:12). What have we done with the light we have received?’ (IVP NT Commentary)
‘It is interesting to see how religious a person can be and still not be saved. Certainly, Cornelius was sincere in his obedience to God’s Law, his fasting, and his generosity to the Jewish people (compare this to Lk 7:1-10). He was not permitted to offer sacrifices in the temple, so he presented his prayers to God as his sacrifices. (Ps 141:1-2) In every way, he was a model of religious respectability-and yet he was not a saved man.’ (Wiersbe)
Ac 10:3 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!”
‘Visions-often double visions-occur in four episodes in Acts. Each time they function to give divine guidance for the advance of God’s mission, especially in the face of human resistance or uncertainty (Ananias and Paul, 9:10, 12; Gentile Cornelius and Jewish apostle Peter, 10:3, 17, 19; 11:5; Paul and the European mission, 16:9-10; Paul and the evangelization of Corinth, 18:9; compare 5:19-20; 8:26).’ (IVP NT Commentary)
Ac 10:4 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.”
“Lord” – This may mean no more than a corteous “Sir,” but in the context it suggests that Cornelius knew that he was in the presence of a messenger of God.
“A memorial offering” – Cf. Lev 2:2-3,9,16; Ps 141:2.
‘What we see emerging to this point is the basic outline of the “more light” principle of God’s redemptive mercy. (compare Lk 8:18 19:26) Cornelius has responded in faith and obedience to the “light” he has received, as evidenced by his piety. He fears the one true God, prays to him regularly and acts in love to the needy among God’s people. Such obedience is not a “works righteousness” that earns salvation. This we can see by God’s response. He does not declare Cornelius saved. Rather, he grants him “more light” by which he and his household may be saved. (Ac 11:14) God’s response is embodied in a command to send for the messenger who carries the gospel, the essential “more light” (Acts 4:12). What have we done with the light we have received?’ (IVP Commentary)
Ac 10:5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.
“Bring back a man named Simon” – ‘God deals with Cornelius this way to demonstrate that salvation comes to all people in the same divinely commanded and enabled way: through human messengers who proclaim the gospel. (Lk 24:47) we need to constantly remind ourselves of this, whether we are considering the claims of the gospel and are tempted to wait for some extraordinary experience, or whether having received it and become a witness to it we are tempted to become lax in evangelism, thinking that there may be other ways God will save people.’ (IVP Commentary) we should add, however, that God had a vital message to teach Simon Peter in this episode.
‘The angel did not preach the gospel to the centurian; that privilege was to be entrusted to the apostle Peter.’ (Stott) ‘It is interesting that the angel told Cornelius to send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter rather than having given him the good news about Jesus then and there. God had something in mind for Peter and the church as well as for Cornelius and his family.’ (NBC)
God sent an angel to instruct Cornelius and Cornelius immediately obeyed. But why send for Peter, who was thirty miles away in Joppa, when Philip the evangelist was already in Caesarea? (Ac 8:40) Because it was Peter, not Philip, who had been given the “keys.” God not only works at the right time, but he also works through the right servant; and both are essential. Moreover, there was a vital lesson for Peter, and through him, the whole church, to learn about the salvation of the Gentiles.
Acts 10:6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
Ac 10:7 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.
Two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants – The former were household servants, with whom he would have had a close relationship. The latter was an orderly who would have been on similarly intimate terms with his master.
Acts 10:8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
Peter’s Vision, 9-23a
Ac 10:9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.
‘A Muslim doesn’t consider it impolite to go into the kitchen of non-Muslim hosts to make sure milk and meat are not mixed in the meal preparations. So strong is our commitment to ethnic distinctives of diet, especially when they are grounded in religion. We do not readily leave the comfort zone of our religio-ethnic identity. But if Peter is to spearhead the Jerusalem church’s Gentile mission, God must move him out of his Jewish comfort zone.’ (IVP Commentary)
‘Before Cornelius could be welcomed into the Church, Peter had to learn a lesson. Strict Jews believed that God had no use for the Gentiles. Sometimes they even went the length of saying that help must not be given to a Gentile woman in childbirth, because that would only be to bring another Gentile into the world. Peter had to unlearn that before Cornelius could get in.’ (DSB)
Peter went up on the roof to pray – The rooftop provides solitude, possibly an awning for shade, and the refreshment of breezes off the Mediterranean.
‘Peter also had to be prepared for this event since he had lived as an orthodox Jew all of his life. (Ac 10:14) The Law of Moses was a wall between the Jews and the Gentiles, and this wall had been broken down at the cross. (Eph 2:14-18) The Gentiles were considered aliens and strangers as far as the Jewish covenants and promises were concerned. (Eph 2:11-13) But now, all of that would change, and God would declare that, as far as the Jew and the Gentile were concerned, “There is no difference” either in condemnation (Rom 3:22-23) or in salvation.’ (Rom 10:12-13) (Wiersbe)
Ac 10:10 he became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.
He fell into a trance – This is not a dream, and Peter does not lose control of his senses. ‘Commentators have suggested that Peter’s hunger, his thoughts of conflict between Jews and Gentiles in the churches of the coastal plain, and the flapping of the awning or the sight of ships in full sail on the Mediterranean are psychological influences on the vision’s details.’ (IVP NT Commentary)
Acts 10:11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.
Ac 10:12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.
‘Evidently a mixture of clean and unclean creatures calculated to disgust any orthodox Jew.’ (Stott)
Acts 10:13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
Ac 10:14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
See Lev 11:1-47 for the Jewish food laws. Generally speaking the Jew might eat only animals which chewed the cud and whose hoofs were cloven. All others were unclean and forbidden.
It has been said that you can say ‘No,’ and you can say ‘Lord’; but you cannot say ‘No, Lord!’ If he is truly our Lord, then we can only say “Yes!” to him and obey his commands.
Ac 10:15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
‘Although Mk 7:19 says Jesus ‘declared all foods “clean”‘, the NIV, in common with other translations, puts this comment in brackets. That meaning of Jesus’ saying was not at the fore in the original context, and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that the disciples were able to see that implication in what Jesus said at that time; hence Peter’s protests in this story, years later.’ (NBC)
Acts 10:16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Ac 10:17 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.
‘By the immediate linking of Cornelius with the vision we see that God had more to teach Peter than a lesson about foods (important as that was). Gentile-Jewish relations were profoundly affected by the change in what Jewish Christians could consider clean foods. ‘It would be a short step from recognizing that Gentile food was clean to realizing that Gentiles themselves were clean also’ (I H. Marshall, Acts IVP, 1980, p. 186; see 10:28). The Lord did not cover this in Peter’s vision, because he intended a much more dramatic and wonderful sign in Acts 10:44 below.’ (NBC)
Acts 10:18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
Ac 10:19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you.”
Ac 10:20 “So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
“Do not hesitate” – This could alternatively be translated, ‘do not make any distinction between Jew and Gentile’. ‘Thus, although the vision challenged the basic distinction between clean and unclean foods, which Peter had been brought up to make, the Spirit related this to the distinction between clean and unclean people, and told him to stop making it.’ (Stott) Peter’s grasp of this is clear from v28.
Ac 10:21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
Note ‘how perfectly God dovetailed his working in Cornelius and in Peter. For while Peter was praying and seeing his vision, the men from Cornelius were approaching the city (9-16); while Peter was perplexed about the meaning of what he had seen, they arrived at his house (17-18); while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him that the men were looking for him and he must not hesitate to go with them (19-20); and when Peter went down and introduced himself to them, they explained to him the purpose of their visit (21-23).’ (Stott)
Acts 10:22 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.”
Acts 10:23a Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
Peter at Cornelius’ House, 23b-48
Acts 10:23b The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.
The journey to Caesarea takes somewhat longer than it had taken Cornelius’s envoys, maybe because of the larger group and their lack of mounts
Ac 10:24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
Relatives – The word can men ‘countrymen’, and may well do so here. It seems unlikely that Cornelius would have members of his family in the city where he was stationed.
Ac 10:25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.
Fell at his feet in reverence – ‘Greco-Roman paganism believed not only in gods but in semidivine men, often sons of the gods, who had supernatural powers. (Ac 14:11 28:6) one would offer obeisance to gods by falling at their feet and worshiping them, as Cornelius does to Peter here. Cornelius should know better (10:2) than to treat Peter with such reverence; perhaps he intends only a special form of homage, which a servant of Jesus finds inappropriate.’ (cf. Lk 22:25-27) (IVP Background Commentary)
Ac 10:26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
“I am only a man myself” – As God’s creatures, we all stand on level ground. Cf. Acts 14:18. ‘How easy it would have been for Peter to accept honor and use the situation to promote himself; but Peter was a servant, not a celebrity.’ (1 Pet 5:1-6) (Wiersbe)
Ac 10:27 Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.
A large gathering of people – Cornelius has become a witness even before he has become a convert!
‘In this passage the most surprising things are happening. Once again let us remember that the Jews believed that other nations were quite outside the mercy of God. The really strict Jew would have no contact with a Gentile or even with a Jew who did not observe the Law. In particular he would never have as a guest nor ever be the guest of a man who did not observe the Law. Remembering that, see what Peter did. When the emissaries of Cornelius were at the door-and knowing the Jewish outlook, they came no farther than the door-Peter asked them in and gave them hospitality. (Ac 10:23) When Peter arrived at Caesarea, Cornelius met him at the door, no doubt wondering if Peter would cross his threshold at all, and Peter came in. (Ac 10:27) In the most amazing way the barriers are beginning to go down.’ (DSB)
Ac 10:28 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.”
“It is against our law” – Or, rather, ‘it is against our custom.’ Peter is not talking about something that was strictly illegal, but rather something that was taboo.
“I should not call…” – ‘Devout Jews would not enter into idolaters’ homes lest they unwittingly participate in idolatry; they apparently extended this custom to not entering any Gentile’s home. It was considered unclean to eat Gentiles’ food or to drink their wine; although this purity regulation did not prohibit all social contact, it prevented dining together at banquets and made much of the Roman world feel that Jews were antisocial. Cornelius is undoubtedly accustomed to accepting reluctant (Acts 10:22) snubs, so Peter’s statement in 10:28 would mean much to him.’ (IVP Background Commentary)
Acts 10:29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
Ac 10:30 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.”
“Four days ago” – This accords with the information given earlier in the chapter.
- Day 1 – Cornelius received his vision
- Day 2 – Peter received his vision and Cornelius’ messengers arrived
- Day 3 – Peter set out for Caesarea
- Day 4 – Peter arrived at Caesarea
Acts 10:31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.
Acts 10:32 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.’
Ac 10:33 “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.”
Wiersbe has the following comments on this section (22-33):-
1. The idea that “one religion is as good as another” is completely false. Those who tell us that we should worship “the God of many names” and not “change other people’s religions” are going contrary to Scripture. “Salvation is of the Jews,” (Jn 4:22) and there can be no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ, who was born a Jew. Cornelius had piety and morality, but he did not have salvation. Some might say, “Leave Cornelius alone! His religion is a part of his culture, and it’s a shame to change his culture!” God does not see it that way. Apart from hearing the message of the Gospel and trusting Christ, Cornelius had no hope.
2. The seeking Saviour (Lk 19:10) will find the seeking sinner. (Jer 29:13) Wherever there is a searching heart, God responds. This is why it is essential that we as God’s children obey his will and share his Word. You never know when your witness for Christ is exactly what somebody has been waiting and praying for.
3. Peter certainly was privileged to minister to a model congregation. (Ac 10:33) They were all present, they wanted to hear the Word, and they listened, believed, and obeyed. What more could a preacher ask?
Ac 10:34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.”
“God does not show favouritism” – See Deut 10:17; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9.
Ac 10:35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
Or, ‘In every nation whoever fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to him.’ ‘The emphasis is that Cornelius’ Gentile nationality was acceptable so that he had no need to become a Jew, not that his own righteousness was adequate so that he had no need to become a Christian.’ (Stott, who goes on to quote Lenski as saying, ‘If his honest pagan convictions had been sufficient, why did he seek the synagogue? If the synagogue had been enough, why was Peter here?’). Peter is about to teach Cornelius the necessity of faith for salvation, v43.
‘It may be that the NIV is slightly misleading…If this “acceptance” is taken strongly, it might be taken by some to imply that God accepts them as forgiven people. Strictly speaking, however, the Greek say that everyone who fears God and obeys him “is acceptable (dektos) to him,” or even “welcome” to himno (cf. Lk 4:24) prophet is accepted in his home town”). It is never used in reference to whether or not a person is accepted by God in some saving sense. The point of Peter’s comment, in the context, is not to pass judgement on whether or not Cornelius is saved, but to conclude that in principle people from outside the Jewish race are acceptable to God as is evidenced from the fact that by the thrice-given vision of the sheet with its unclean animals Peter is assured he has not only the permission by the obligation to preach the gospel to people other than Jews, to the end that they too may be saved.’ (Carson, The Gagging of God, 306f.
‘Does this statement teach a “larger biblical hope” that the vast majority but not absolutely all will be saved? Does it teach that God will judge the heathen by light they have, not according to “the light that did not reach them” (Pinnock 1990:367; compare Anderson 1970:102; Marshall 1980:190)? It is true that dektos means “pertaining to that which is pleasing in view of its being acceptable” (Louw and Nida 1988:1:299). It is used in the Old Testament of acceptable sacrifices and prayers and of moral acts. (Le 1:3 19:5 Pr 15:8) In each case, however, God declares the conditions for acceptability. Is the acceptability or welcome spoken of in Acts 10:35 right standing with God, salvation? Only if the verse is divorced from its immediate and larger contexts. If Cornelius is already a saved believer, why does the angel tell him to send for Peter, who would bring “a message through which you and all your household will be saved?” (Ac 11:14; Fernando 1987:133) That Cornelius or anyone else can be acceptable to God for salvation without hearing the gospel or confessing the name of Christ contradicts the angel’s message and Luke’s understanding of the way one comes to salvation through the gospel message (Acts 11:14; compare Acts 11:1; Lk 8:11-15; Acts 16:30-31)…What Peter is saying is the same thing that the writer to the Hebrews points out: “anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) In turning away from idols to the one true God, Cornelius demonstrated belief in God’s existence; in turning away from pagan immorality to doing what is right according to the Old Testament ethic, he showed his earnestness in seeking God. He had made the first steps of repentance, which did not save him but made him a proper candidate to hear the good news, according to a “more light” principle.’ (compare Acts 11:18) (IVP Commentary)
So, in the reverse of what we might expect, the New Testament teaches judgment (v42), while the Old Testament teaches salvation (v43)!
'He, he it was that was Jacob’s “Shiloh,” (Gen. 49:10,) David’s “Lord,” (Psalm 110:1,) Isaiah’s “Immanuel,” (Isai. 7:14,) Jeremy’s “Branch,” (Jer. 23:5,) Daniel’s “Messiah,” (Dan. 9:25,) and Haggai’s’ “Desire of all nations.” (Haggai 2:7.).' (William Taylor, in Puritan Sermons, Vol 5.)
Ac 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
This event has been thought of as a second pentecostal experience, a Gentile Pentecost. God had shown his acceptance of Gentiles by pouring on them the same Spirit that he had given to Jews. God is no respecter of persons; (Ac 10:34) all stand before him on equal footing.
Pr 8:34; 15:31; Ec 5:1; Hab 3:2; Lk 8:15; Jas 1:19; Rev 2:11.
Acts 10:45 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.
Acts 10:46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,
Ac 10:47 "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."
Ac 10:48 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.
He ordered that they be baptized - Interestingly, it does not say, ‘he baptized them'. It was the church who received these new converts, and not any particular person.