While the Risen Lord was still instructing the Eleven, as is recorded in the first chapter of Acts, He told them to spread the Good News throughout the entire world, starting at Jerusalem. Had His will been accomplished? In the first few chapters we find the early church ministering only to the Jews in Jerusalem and in Judea. In Acts 8
We read about Philip’s ministry among the Samaritans. But the early community had not ventured out to share the Good News with the Gentiles. The events, recorded in the 10th chapter have Peter as the principal character, along with the Gentile Cornelius. Gareth Reese writes the following,
“It is noteworthy that God selected Peter for the purpose of preaching the Gospel first to the Gentiles. This is in harmony with the events at Caesarea Philippi where, after making the good confession of Christ, Peter was told that to him would be given the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:18, 19). Peter used those keys for the Jews on the day of Pentecost. He is now about to use the keys to open the door of the church to the Gentiles.”
So, we invite you to study along with us as we journey through the first 23 verses of the 1Oth chapter of Acts. Let each one be looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance.
THE MAN CORNELIUS: ACTS 10:1-2
Who is this man Cornelius? What does the Word of God tell of him? Sometimes we think of Jerusalem being the prominent city in Palestine at this time. And it is so if we look at things from a biblical standpoint. But to the Romans the most important city in the land was Caesarea. It was here that the Romans had their seat of government. The city was named after Caesar Augustus.
In verse 1 we’re told that there was a certain man in the city whose name was Cornelius. We’re further told that he was a centurion. Luke further informs us that he was of the Italian cohort Irving L. Jensen, writes the following in Acts: An Independent Study,
“’Cornelius a centurion … Italian Cohort.’ The name Cornelius was a very common Roman name at this time. Originally a centurion commanded one hundred men, though this number varied later. A Roman legion consisted of ten cohorts, or bands. The commander of a cohort was called a chiliarch, or chief captain (cf. John 18:12). A cohort comprised six companies, each commanded by a centurion. Cornelius was commander of one company, or even possibly of an entire cohort. The fact that he was an Italian has some significance. Because of his nationality, he and his men would be considered to be very loyal to the emperor and his representatives in the land of Palestine.”
Verse 2 of the narrative tells us of the character of Cornelius. We’re <told that he was a devout man, one who feared God. We’re further told that he and family his family gave alms to the people and that they prayed constantly. It is apparent that Cornelius was a proselyte of the gate. To show that he was not a proselyte of righteousness, Gareth Reese writes the following in New Testament History: Acts,
“Cornelius is not a proselyte of righteousness, for Peter understood that he was a foreigner (Acts 10:28), and the rest of the Jews knew that Cornelius was not considered to be one of them (Acts 11:3).”
We’re told further in the narrative that Cornelius was keeping the hour of prayer. Here was a man with pagan roots who had been so influenced by the religion of the Jews that he had embraced it partially. The fact that God heard Cornelius’s prayers is proof that we serve a prayer answering God.
THE PRAYER OF CORNELIUS: ACTS 10:3-7a
We now come to the actual prayer of Cornelius. He is praying at the ninth hour, that is, 3:00 p.m. Luke tells us that Cornelius, while praying; saw in a vision an angel of God. In verse 3 the angel speaks clearly to Cornelius calling him by his name. It seems that the angel assumed human form. In verse 4 Cornelius fixed his gaze upon the messenger. The text tells us that he was alarmed. I suppose that you and I would be just as alarmed as he was. He calls the angel, Lord. H. Leo Boles wrote the following,
“It seems that Cornelius recognized the angel as a messenger from God: hence he addressed the angel as ‘Lord’”.
The angel then informs Cornelius that his prayers have been heard and are going to be answered by God Himself. In verse 5 we are told that the angel told Cornelius what to do. He tells him to send some men to Joppa to contact Simon, who is also called Peter. Verse 6 tells us where Peter is to be found. He is living with Simon the tanner. We’re further told that Simon’s house was by the sea. In the first part of verse 7 the angel departed.
CORNELIUS SENDS HIS SERVANTS IN SEARCH OF PETER. ACTS 10:7b-9a
In the second part of verse 7 we have Cornelius summoning his servants, two to be exact, to his side. Also he calls to his side a devout soldier. These were the ones that he would trust with this most important task. In verse 8 he explains to them the situation before sending them to Joppa. James Burton Coffman, in his Commentary On Acts, writes the following,
“’Having rehearsed all things unto them …’ a mutual love and trust between Cornelius and his subordinates appear in such a thing as this. Rather than writing a letter, Cornelius fully explained the details and purpose of his mission to trusted servants and sent them on their way. It appears, from the text they left the same day. They were found the next day approaching the city of Joppa. Since it was about 30 miles between the two cities, it can be assumed that they had traveled all night.”
GOD REVEALS HIS WILL TO PETER THROUGH A TRANCE: ACTS 10:9b-16
In the latter half of the 9th verse we find Peter on the housetop ready to pray at the 6th hour, that is, noon. Verse 10 informs us that Peter became very hungry and as the preparations for the meal were taking place he fell into a trance. In verse 11 we’re told that the sky opened up. The text tells us that an object like a sheet was lowered from the sky. Verse 12 gives us the contents. ‘And there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.’ Here we have a mixture of clean and unclean animals. James Burton Coffman, in his Commentary on Acts published by Firm Foundation, had this to say.
“‘All manner …’ is the significant word concerning; all those creatures let down. In Leviticus 11th chapter, one may find a list of clean and unclean creatures, the latter being forbidden for Jews to eat; but the collection of creatures Peter saw was clearly made up of many that were unclean. God was about to open Peter’s eyes to the truth stressed by Paul, that ‘every creature of God is good (to eat); and nothing is to he rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving,’ etc. (1 Tim. 4:4). Of course, this was no new doctrine discovered by the apostles; Jesus had plainly taught this, but it took a miracle to get Peter to believe it. See Mark 7:15-19. A similar thing may also be noted in the fact of Peter’s Pentecostal declaration that the promise of the gospel was ‘to them that are afar off.’”
Peter could understand that this meant the Gentiles could receive the gospel without being circumcised and keeping the Law of Moses. Concerning this same passage, Gareth Reese writes the following comments,
“The particular point of the vision is that a law peculiar to the Law of Moses is going ‘to be called into question. It was designed to teach Peter an important lesson in regard to the introduction of the Gospel to all nations. Certain distinctions that used to hold true are no longer true.
“In verse 13 the voice tells Peter to ‘Arise, Peter, kill and eat.’ But in verse 14 he refuses. He says that he has never eaten anything unclean. In verse 15 we find the Lord’s reply to Peter. ‘And again a voice came to him a second time, what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ In verse 16 Luke tells us that this was repeated three times. After this happened the object was taken hack into the sky. Perhaps at this time Peter was coming to the realization that the Law was to be abolished, yea, was already abolished.”
THE MESSENGERS FROM CORNELIUS ARRIVE IN JOPPA: ACTS 10:17-23
Verse 17 informs us that Peter didn’t know what to make of the events that had just transpired. The verse further informs us of the arrival of the messengers from Cornelius. Verse 18 found them inquiring if Peter was here. It was at this time that the Spirit told Peter that the three men were looking for him. The Holy Spirit further instructs Peter, in verse 20, telling him to accompany these men without asking questions.
In verse 21 Peter descends from the rooftop and identifies himself to the messengers of Cornelius. He then asks them why they have come to him. They tell Peter that Cornelius was informed and directed by an angel to send for you to come to his house that he might hear a message from you. In verse 23a Peter invites them in and offers them lodging for the night.
It is here that we have chosen to divide the chapter, in the next lesson we will continue our studies and finish the 10th chapter. We ask that the reader study along with us and be prepared to continue this journey through the Book of Acts. The upcoming article will be titled, “Peter Preaches The Gospel to the Gentiles.” Please pray with us as we endeavor to present these studies. Let us always he looking for the return the Lord of Glory. Until next time MARANATHA!