The Book of Acts (Chapter 10:1-33) (Part 19)
God has always wanted to save Gentiles and bring them in to be a part of the Commonwealth of Israel and to share in the covenant blessings He had provided for the Jewish people. (Ephesians 2: 11-22). God’s plan was always that Israel as a nation was to be a light to enlighten the Gentiles regarding His laws and commandments. God chose Abraham because He wanted to have a nation free of Idolatry and in Abraham one who would teach his household to follow the LORD and to keep His commands and statutes. The LORD said; “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:19).
A light to the nations
What Israel failed to do would be accomplished by the Lord Jesus, the full embodiment of what Israel should have been. The Lord Jesus said “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). Of course in the Millennial Kingdom Israel will become a light to the nations but the source of its light will be the Lord Jesus Christ reigning from Jerusalem.
An ingrained prejudice
Now the Apostle Peter did not realise that the Lord Jesus wanted to save the Gentiles and give them the same life and power that He had given to the Jewish believers on the Day of Pentecost. Peter had an ingrained prejudice which was common among all the Jews at that time. He genuinely thought that the gospel was mostly for the Jews only even though Gentiles were starting to be saved. Through the persecution instigated by Saul the fellowship in Jerusalem had been forced to scatter and as a result Gentiles started to be saved as the believers shared the gospel such as we saw in the case of the Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Now Peter was to learn a lesson from the Lord Jesus that he would never forget.
(Vs.1-2) “”Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.”
Cornelius was a Roman Centurion, an officer who commanded a hundred men. He was a proselyte, a Gentile convert to Judaism and a man who did his best to obey the laws of Moses according to Torah and one who along with his whole family loved and supported the Jewish people. He had a sincere desire to please God and prayed continually to God. His heart was hungry to know God because the blessed Holy Spirit had already been working on this man. God had opened this man’s heart, through the word of God which Cornelius would have been studying, being faithful to the light he understood from the scriptures. Cornelius had heard about the Lord Jesus and what He had been doing in Judea but as yet had no revelation concerning Him. Cornelius did not know the way of salvation.
(Vs 3-7) “About 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!” And 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. Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” When 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, 8 and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
Today in the Muslim world multitudes of Muslims are having dreams and visions of the Lord Jesus because they do not have Bibles or exposure to the gospel. As a result many are coming to faith in Jesus and being saved. This is a wonderful thing. Even though Cornelius had access to the scriptures and knew about the God of Israel he did not know Jesus. Like the Ethiopian Eunuch that Phillip had led to the Lord Jesus, Cornelius was familiar with scripture. While the LORD does speak through dreams and visions He still uses humans to reach humans. As Paul wrote; “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written; “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15).
Cornelius recognized that God was speaking to him through an angel who commended him for his prayer, his faith and his good works to the people of Israel. In fact his efforts had ascended to God as a memorial. He was being obedient to the light he had and God was pleased with this. Through the vision the angel told him what to do. When God speaks it is very clear. There is nothing indefinite about His voice. It is the same way with the Holy Spirit. He always speaks clearly and always in line with the word of God. His guidance is not complicated. As the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ gets closer dreams and visions will increase in the faithful Body of Christ. Once God had spoken clearly to Cornelius he had to obey God’s instructions. So he called in three of his men and after explaining to them what had happened he sent them to get Peter.
(Vs.9-12) “On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop he sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of air.”
Peter went on to the roof top to pray as was his custom no doubt. He thought everything was okay and proceeded to pray to the LORD. He became hungry. Through his physical hunger the Lord would show him the spiritual hunger in the hearts of Gentiles. He was going to eat and preparations were being made. Suddenly he fell into a trance. He suddenly saw outside of time into the eternal realm. The sky was opened up and he saw an object like a great sheet coming down. It was a message from heaven that would challenge Peter’s bias and prejudice. It was lowered by four corners to the ground and it signified that God’s message was to go to the four corners of the earth. In this sheet were all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. These were obviously “unclean” creatures that Jews would not eat. The LORD then spoke directly to Peter.
(Vs.13-16) “A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.”
Peter was commanded to get up, to kill and to eat but said to the LORD that he had never eaten of these unclean creatures. He did not realise what these “unclean” creatures represented. Yes they were “unclean” but God had declared they were clean and that what He had cleansed was not to be called unholy. These unclean creatures represented the unsaved Gentiles who needed to be saved and cleansed from sin and the ones whom the LORD had already set apart to be saved. The point He was trying to make to Peter was that God would accept Gentiles who believed as much as He would accept Jews who believed. The Holy Spirit had to deal with Peter’s prejudice. Sometimes we see unsaved people that we think will never be saved. After all they may be saying and doing things that are ungodly and even profane.
Some it would seem are so far from God that the tendency is to think that they could never be saved. Religious people especially have a problem with those who do not conform to their religious way of thinking. These religious people have self-imposed rules and regulations that they try to force on others and if these regulations are rejected then the people are rejected and looked down on. The Pharisees were guilty of this sin. In fact James tells us that partiality of any kind is sin and he was writing to believers. (James 2:1-8).
Some years later the Apostle Paul had to take Peter to task because he had slipped back into his old way of thinking, favouring the Jews over the Gentiles. The irony was that Peter was living more like a Gentile rather than a Jew but starting to insist that the Gentile believers live like the Jews. (Galatians 2:11-14) Even Barnabas got carried away with himself. Today in some Jewish Messianic circles you will find a tendency to look down on Gentile believers because they do not keep the ceremonial customs and feast days of Torah that the Jewish people keep. This was a problem that James and the other apostles would have to deal with in the future when many Gentiles were coming to faith in Jesus.
Notice that this encounter happened three times which was not an accident. Three times Peter had denied the Lord Jesus yet he had been forgiven. It may well have reminded Peter again of the time when the Lord Jesus had asked him three times whether he loved Him more than anyone or anything else. At first the lesson did not get through completely to Peter. He had trained his mind to think in one direction only and God had to open his mind and his heart to change his thinking, which for a Jew and a stubborn man like Peter was not an easy thing to do.
(Vs.17-24) “Now 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; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” Peter 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?” They 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.” So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”
Peter was perplexed as to what the vision meant. Possibly he had some inkling of what it was supposed to mean but could not be sure. The Lord Jesus was attempting to adjust Peter’s thinking in relation to Gentiles being saved. Peter was reflecting on the vision when the Holy Spirit spoke to him clearly. When the Holy Spirit speaks His direction is clear. Peter, like every believer, had the privilege of being regularly led by the Holy Spirit. This privilege of course was not restricted to apostles as we saw in the case of Phillip the evangelist. Every born again believer has this privilege. In the New Testament we read; “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14) and again we read; “Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
The guidance of the Holy Spirit is not complicated when a believer is walking in fellowship with the Lord Jesus and praying constantly in the Holy Spirit. Also the knowledge of God’s word will enable a believer to hear more clearly from God because He never contradicts His word, the Bible. The Spirit also told Peter not to have misgivings because He had sent them Himself.
In the Last Days this kind of experience will be the normal spiritual experience for believers who have been born again, baptized with the Holy Spirit and understand how the Holy Spirit works. The fact that the Holy Spirit Himself speaks clearly defines that He has personality and is not merely some spiritual impersonal force but a loving and sensitive and divine person equal in deity with God the Father and with God the Son. So then after Peter had the vision confirmed by the men sent from Cornelius they stayed overnight with Peter and the next day they went to Caesarea accompanied by Peter and some other Jewish brothers from Joppa.
(Vs.24-26) “On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”
When a man is really filled with the Holy Spirit he will not draw attention to himself or to his gifts or to the ability of the speaker but He will always point to the Lord Jesus. As the Lord Jesus said concerning the Holy Spirit; “However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me by taking from what is Mine and disclosing it to you. Everything that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said that the Spirit will take from what is Mine and disclose it to you” (John 16:13-15).
Now when Cornelius saw Peter he fell at his feet to worship him. Undoubtedly, being a Roman, he may have thought that Peter was a semi divine being sent from God as this kind of religious thinking was prevalent in Greco-Roman thinking at the time. We do know that Cornelius knew about the Lord Jesus, however, he was still as yet unsaved and without a revelation of Jesus to his mind and heart. Now Peter would not take any credit at all but was quick to set the man’s thinking straight.
What a contrast Peter was to those so called ’prophets’ and even ’apostles’ that are a plague in the Body of Messiah who draw the crowds to their supposedly signs, miracles and wonders crusades. Why showmanship is the name of the game for these conniving men and women fleecing the sheep while chasing wealth and popularity and adulation as they work the crowd. A cursed brood! Peter would have nothing of that! He was very quick to point out that he was just a man like them. Nowhere in the New Testament do you find the Lord Jesus or the apostles going around advertising healing and miracle crusades and asking for money.
Tragically today there are those who have an anointing of some sort but it is not from the Holy Spirit. We know that in the Last Days just before the Lord Jesus comes back that all kinds of counterfeit signs, miracles and wonders will be perpetrated on undiscerning and naive Christians who have no ability to rightly divide the word of God and in many cases neither do their pastors who, along with them, get carried away with these so called ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ with their miracle working cures and so called deeds of power followed by appeals for money! These false miracles signs and wonders will open the way for the Antichrist to have power in the professing Christina Church we would call Christendom or Institutionalised Christianity.
When you consider the flood of false prophets and teachers infesting the church with their unbiblical doctrines it is clear that the apostasy is well under way and in full swing. The tragic thing is that these false deceivers from Satan are laying truth and error side by side. As the Apostle Peter would later write; “Now there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies that even deny the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow in their depravity, and because of them the way of the truth will be defamed” (2 Peter 2:1-2). The word for “destructive heresies” means “laying truth and error side by side.” This is how Satan works. He does not tell outright lies but mixes truth with error. It is like having a regular feed of nutritious gourmet sandwiches laced with arsenic which is a slow working poison that over a prolonged period brings about sickness and eventually death.
(Vs.27-29) “As he talked with him, he entered and *found many people assembled. And 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. 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 was still struggling with an inbuilt prejudice concerning Gentiles. Even though the Lord Jesus had shown Peter the truth that He loved Gentiles as much as He did Jews Peter was finding it hard to accept them. Never the less he was obedient to the Holy Spirit. There is a story told of a church that was about to have a worship service with a guest preacher whom was known for his powerful ministry. On this particular Sunday morning people rocked up in their Sunday best. As they were going up the stairs there was a shabbily and rather dishevelled looking man sitting on the steps. Everyone passed by him in their eagerness to get a seat in the church to hear the famous preacher. The service commenced with the hymns and choruses, the notices and so on until the time came for the preacher to speak. When the speaker was announced everyone was shocked as the speaker walking down the aisle to the front was the man who had been sitting on the steps outside of the church.
Well Peter had to accept the testimony of the Holy Spirit in this matter of the Gentiles. Upon inquiring the reason for calling him Peter asked why they had sent for him. I think Peter really knew what was going on but his Jewish upbringing regarding Gentiles was still in his mind to some degree. Well Cornelius spoke to him.
(Vs.30-33) “Cornelius 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, and he *said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 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.’ So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
Once Cornelius had related his experience to Peter it was obvious he had heard from the LORD. Because he was submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his life Peter instantly recognized that the Lord Jesus was in this situation and that he dared not hinder what God was doing. These Gentiles were ready and eager to her what Peter had to say. Whenever the Holy Spirit is going to use a believer to speak, to preach, or to testify to the unsaved He will always go ahead to prepare their hearts to receive the message. In the work of ministry and evangelism as believers we are not responsible for bringing people under conviction. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Lord Jesus said; “And when He (The Holy Spirit) comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). As believers our responsibility is to make sure we are filled with the Spirit as we hold out the word of life to others and give the Holy Spirit room to work.