1 - 3 Jehovah God is preparing people and circumstances for the crossing of the barrier that separated Jews and Gentiles. The apostles and the Lord's church were about to cross the "race barrier." God chose a Gentile by the name of Cornelius who was characterized as a devout (eusebes) or godly man, one who feared God (phoboumenos ton Theon), or he reverenced God with all his house. Godly fear can also include awe, reverence, worship and obedience. He was liberal with his money, sharing it with all the people. He was a praying man, and one day while he was praying, he experienced a vision (horamati) or a spectacle at the ninth hour of the day (three p.m.). Cornelius could have been a good Jewish proselyte, all he lacked was circumcision; he also had faith in God but knew nothing of God's Son. Nothing is said about him fasting. Cornelius was a centurion; that is, a company commander of one hundred men. "Centurions are required not to be bold and adventurous so much as good leaders, of steady and prudent mind, not prone to take offensive or start fighting wantonly, but able when overwhelmed and hard-pressed to stand fast and die at their post...(They) were the backbone of the Roman army" (Bruce, p. 215). Verse 1 points out Cornelius's social and political prestige, while verse 2 describes his consistent religious life. An angel of God approached this Roman army officer and spoke his name.
4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter. 6 He lodgeth with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside; he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
4 - 6 Cornelius clearly (phaneuros) or distinctly saw an angel from God, and he said to the angel, "What is it, Lord?" Whereupon the angel told Cornelius that his prayers had been heard by God and his liberality to others was recognized by God as a memorial (mnemosunon), a matter of record or a remembrance (they had ascended like the smoke of a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God). He was told to dispatch men to Joppa to find Simon Peter whose was residing as a guest (xeniletai) in the house of Simon a tanner, who lived by the shore of the Mediterranean. Simon Peter would have a message for him. Although Cornelius was not a Christian, he was a good man and was in search of something he needed. He did have some light upon which God could grant more light. His prayers gained for him a visit from Peter, a preacher of the gospel of Christ, and Peter could tell him how to be saved. Cornelius had enough faith to believe there was a God, but he knew not the plan of salvation. He was not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage teaches - "if a sinner sincerely follows whatever light he has, it is incumbent upon a moral God to see that he gets more light. God, of course, knows what the unsaved think and do and how they respond to the light of conscience. If and when He finds sincerity He must reward that by offering the light of the Gospel of Christ" (Yeager, IX, p. 546).
It is interesting that "God does not instruct the officer (Cornelius) to travel to Joppa to meet Peter. Rather, Cornelius must send his men to Peter and ask him to come to a Gentile home in Caesarea. This is significant: as the apostles Peter and John went to Samaria and welcomed the Samaritans as full members of the Christian church, so Peter travels to Caesarea and welcomes the Gentiles as full members of the church. Thus, in fulfillment of Christ's mandate to the apostles (1;8), God ordains new phases in the growth of the church through the apostles of Christ" (Kistemaker, p. 373). One may ask why did not God's angel tell Cornelius how to be saved, rather than Cornelius sending for Peter. God uses human beings to reach other human beings. One human can testify to God's grace which he has himself experienced; however, an angel cannot do so because they are not saved or unsaved beings.
7 And when the angel who spoke unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of those that waited on him continually; 8 and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
7, 8 Since Cornelius was a soldier, he was familiar with giving and taking orders. He immediately called two of his house servants, who were more or less considered a part of his family, and a devout soldier (all three of them were 'orderlies'). He related (exegeomai) to them what the angel had said to him and gave them orders to go to Joppa and find Simon Peter. Since God is omniscient He was very specific with His orders to Cornelius, knowing where Peter was and knowing where Simon the tanner's house was. Not only did God work with Cornelius, but He would also give instructions to Simon Peter in a vision as well.
9 On the next day, as they went on their journey, and drew near unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour. 10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten, but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 11 and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth; 12 in which were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
9 - 12 Since Cornelius received the message from the angel at three o'clock in the afternoon, there was not time for the travelers to leave until the next day. Travel by night was risky and dangerous. On the next day the travelers made their journey of thirty miles to Joppa. In the meantime Peter, God's servant, became very hungry and the ladies of the house were still preparing the meal, so Peter retired to the housetop for a session of prayer. The roof tops of the houses were flat with railings or balustrades some three or four feet in height (Deuteronomy 22:8), and so it was a good place for prayer and meditation. "Unable to pray because of the intensity of hunger pangs and unable to eat because lunch was not yet ready, Peter was treated to an experience that may have been to some extent the result of his hunger, and certainly was to his benefit, as he was to learn a lesson that he and his brethren, to the strengthening of whom he was committed by a divine commission (Luke 22:31,32), would never forget" (Yeager, IX, p 553).
God was not particularly interested in Peter's prayer; He wanted to tell Peter something. As Peter was praying, he fell into a trance (ekstasis) or rapture, a standing outside of oneself. Doubtless Peter was so hungry he could not keep his mind on his praying, so God sent him a ecstatic (ekstasis) moment. In this trance Peter saw heaven opened and a sheet or sail cloth with the corners tied by four cords let down. Contained within that vessel were four-footed animals (tetrapoda) of all kinds (probably the swine, the sheep, the cow and the coney), creepers/crawlers (herpeta) or serpents of the earth, and fowls (peteina) or birds of the air. "To one committed to the taboos of Leviticus 11 it was a revolting sight, but the real problem comes when Peter heard the Lord's instructions" in the next verse (Yeager, IX, p 555).
13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spoke unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16 This was done thrice; and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
13 - 16 The voice from heaven commanded Peter to arise (anastas) from his knees, kill (thuson) the animals, the creepers and the fowls and eat (phage) them. Keep in mind now Peter was very hungry! Peter protested vigorously and rebelled (medamos) or said, 'by no means;' he had never eaten anything common (koinon),defiled or ceremonially unclean (akatharton) or filthy. "Hungry or not, Lord, I am not eating anything which your law says is 'off limits,'" Peter must have thought if he didn't put his thoughts into words. The only animals that were clean were those which both chewed the cud and had cloven hoofs. In a real sense Peter was maintaining a pose of piety beyond the will of the Lord; he was calling unclean what God had cleansed. Of course the Lord's object lesson was being given for another purpose.
One is reminded of what Ezekiel wrote concerning the coming judgment against Jerusalem, "And the Lord said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the nations, where I will drive them. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Behold, my soul hath not been polluted; for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces, neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth" (4:13, 14).
Peter heard the voice from heaven again, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." The sheet containing these repulsive animals was hoisted up and down three times and was returned to heaven. So God's lesson was repeated twice and the sheet let down and up three times in order to impress Peter so that he would not forget. God was preparing Peter for a greater lesson - God was referring to clean and unclean people (the Jews and Gentiles). Of course God had originally separated His chosen from other peoples (nations) as well as giving them directions concerning clean and unclean animals (Leviticus 20:24 - 26). "One simply could not dine in a Gentile's home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e. ritually proper, fashion (cf. Acts 15:20). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (Mark 7:14 23)" (Polhill, p. 255). "When does God abolish the dietary laws for Jewish Christians? The moment God removes the barrier between the Jew and Gentile, the validity of the food law ceases. Abolition of these laws means that Jewish and Gentile Christians enter in to a new relationship and accept one another as equals in the church. God himself removes the barrier, for he is that lawmaker" (Kistemaker, p. 380).
17 Now while Peter was perplexed what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men who were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, 18 and called, and asked whether Simon, who was surnamed Peter, was lodged there.
17, 18 Was Peter still hungry? Maybe he had lost his appetite! Simon Peter was perplexed (dieporei) or was thoroughly confused as to what God really meant by what he had heard and seen. God's time clock was just on time - the men from Caesarea send out by Cornelius inquired (dierotesantes) or asked repeatedly if this was where Peter was staying temporarily as a stranger or guest (xenizo). Now is the time for God to give Peter further enlightenment which He does in the following verses.
19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. 20 Arise, therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.
19, 20 God was about to open the 'door of faith' to the Gentiles; Peter was going to be God's instrument. Peter was so perplexed or confused, he had to ponder (dienthumoumenon) or weigh in his mind thoroughly what had happened. "Peter was revolving in his mind, through and through, in and out, to find the meaning of the strange vision" (Robertson, p. 138). As he was doing so, the Spirit approached him and gave him another message - men were seeking (zetousin) him downstairs; there is some question as to whether there were two or three men (probably two house servants and one soldier acting as a guard) seeking Peter. "Go down and ask no further questions (diakrinomenos) or doubt no further (without hesitation) for I have sent them to you," the Holy Spirit must have said. Peter had already questioned God's judgment, and He did not want Peter to ask any further questions. The Sovereign God of the universe is in complete control.
21 Then Peter went down to the men who were sent unto him from Cornelius, and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek. What is the cause for which ye are come? 22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a righteous man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
21, 22 Peter does obey now; he goes down the stairs ( by an outside stairway of stone, no doubt) and asks the question of Cornelius's messengers, "Who is seeking me? and for what cause are you men come?" A note of impertinence may be detected in Peter's voice and comment, after all he was hungry and he had been robbed of his afternoon nap. Whereupon the men stated their reason for their trip from Caesarea to Joppa; their captain, who was a benefactor of the Jewish nation had sent them. They were simply obeying his command; he had a message from God.
23 Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the next day Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And the next day after, they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
23, 24 Simon Peter seems to have taken the initiative of inviting (eiskalesamenos) or calling the men to come into Simon, the tanner's house. Apparently the guest, Simon Peter, was inviting other guests to take advantage of Simon, the tanner's hospitality. Was Peter, a guest, taking on too much authority asking other guests without the consent of Simon, the host? Without a doubt Peter was beginning to understand his vision now. Nevertheless, after spending the night as guests (xenizo) or lodging with Simon, the tanner, Peter and the men along with some others (probably as witnesses) left for Caesarea. In view of the novelty of his mission, he acted wisely in taking some members of the church at Joppa with him - six in number, as he himself reports in 11:12 (Bruce, pp. 221, 222). When they arrived at Cornelius's house, he had called together his kinsfolk (relatives) and close friends (anagkaious philous) to hear what Peter had to say.
25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius fell down at his feet, and worshiped him. 26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
25, 26 As Peter approached Cornelius, he bowed himself at Peter's feet (prosekunesen podas) or worshiped Peter; at the least he prostrated himself before Peter as a manner of Oriental custom. He recognized Peter as a heaven-sent messenger or an inspired prophet. Peter lifted Cornelius up, and his response was, "stand up; I myself also am a man." Peter did not permit Cornelius to worship him! Peter shows his humility even though he had just healed a paralytic a few days ago and raised a woman from the dead recently. Although our Lord accepted worship, His servants should not; He is divine and we are His servants.
27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. 28 And he said unto them, ye know that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
27, 28 When Peter arrived at Cornelius's house he found a rousing reception; a whole company full of eager expectation was gathered to hear Peter's interpretation of the vision of Cornelius. He talked (sunomilon), fellowshipped or associated with them for a short period of time. This verb indicates a state of close fellowship - even camaraderie. If Peter expected haughty behavior on the part of Cornelius, he was surprised. We would say, 'they hit it off well.' Peter began his message with a disclaimer that custom ruled that a Jew was not to keep company or associate with a Gentile or anyone from a heathen nation (allophulo) or race; it was probably a rule of the rabbis rather than an Old Testament regulation. In fact it was downright unlawful (athemiton) or abominable. God had been shown him, however, that no man was common or unclean. God would be pleased for him to abide with Cornelius and even preach to him.
The barrier between Jew and Gentile was about to be broken down. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:14, "For (Christ) is our peace, who hath made both (Jew and Gentile) one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us..." "Having confessed to his audience that he had learned a valuable lesson - a lesson that places bigotry forever beyond the purview of the Christian, Peter than told his audience that his new light on the subject was the reason why he had come to Caesarea when he was invited, and he proceeded to ask them what they wanted" (Yeager, IX, p. 572). The Lord intended for Peter to accept Cornelius as a potential "brother in Christ." God had graciously brought them together.
29 Therefore came I unto you without objection, as soon as I was sent for. I ask, therefore, for what intent ye have sent for me? 30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting unto that hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
29 - 31 Peter related to his audience further that he came at Cornelius's bidding without objection (anantirretos) or without debate. Now what did Cornelius want with him - why was he called (metepimphasthe) or sent for? To Peter's question, Cornelius related all of his experiences - his praying, the visit of the angel, the angel's message to him and the fact that God wanted Peter to visit him.
32 Send, therefore, to Joppa, and call here Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon, a tanner, by the seaside; who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. 33 Immediately, therefore, I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now, therefore, are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
32, 33 Cornelius had done his part, now it was up to Peter to instruct him further. It is well that Peter had done the bidding of the Roman centurion; in fact, Cornelius congratulated him for his coming. "He commends Peter for his courage in breaking away from Jewish custom and takes no offence at the implied superiority of the Jews over the Gentiles. Cornelius and his circle of kinsmen and close friends are prepared soil for a new era in the history of Christianity. The Samaritans were now nominal Jews and the Ethiopian eunuch was a single case, but here, Peter the chief apostle, not Philip the preaching deacon (evangelist), was involved" (Robertson, p. 142). If God has a message to be delivered by Peter they were all ready to hear it. Both Cornelius and Peter discovered that they were under the command (prostasso) or orders of the same Lord; He had spoken to both of them.
34, 35 Peter begins his sermon by saying that he perceived (katalambanomai) or he comprehended that God is no respecter of persons (prosopolemptes) or He is not "a receiver of a face." Our heavenly Father does not respect one person above another. God is impartial and does not regard one man better than another on the ground of national descent. Peter has been gradually coming to this conclusion; it did not dawn on him all of a sudden. Evidently he did not fully understand the Great Commission like God wanted His children to; they were to go to all the world. This means that there are nations out there besides the Jewish nation; it also means that it is not necessary for a Gentile to become a Jew before he can become a Christian. God respects those who respect Him and accepts (dektos) those who fear Him, and those who perform certain acts of righteousness. Cornelius's righteousness, his obedience to the divine will, as far as it extends, is as fully approved of God, through he is a Gentile, as if he were a Jew. It is necessary, however according to verse 43, to believe on Christ, in order to obtain " the remission of sins."
"Reverence for God and a propensity for doing what is right will secure an audience with God for the unregenerate. It will not secure salvation for him unless He asks for salvation on the basis of the finished work of Christ when he gets his audience at the throne of grace. Cornelius revered God and tried to do what was right. He followed the dictates of his conscience. He followed the light that he had, and the light that everyone has (John 1:9)...If Cornelius's good works and sincerity of heart had gained for him salvation from the penalty for his sins and the surety of a home (in) heaven, he would have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit without the necessity to send for Peter...God could never reject a prayer that said, 'Lord, give me more light. Show me the way.' Apparently it was in that spirit that Cornelius prayed" (Yeager, X. p. 3). Acts 4:12 says, "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among me, whereby we must be saved." The only way to heaven is through the name of Jesus, not good works, not immersion, not church membership and not contributions in the offering plate. God knows the heart of every seeker; He knows who is sincere and who is not.
It was told that many years ago in a large church in Washington, D. C. when the invitation to trust Christ was given by the pastor after his message, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, of the United States Supreme Court, and a small Chinese laundry boy both walked down the aisle trusting Christ as Lord and Savior. Both were received on a profession of their faith in Christ. Truly God is no respecter of persons; the ground is level at the foot of the Cross.
36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
36 - 38 Now the apostle begins with Israel, and tells how anyone can be saved. God's word given to Israel contained the message of salvation and peace through the name of Jesus Christ. Only through the Lord Jesus Christ can there be peace, either peace between God and man and between man and his fellow man. Only through Christ can there be peace between races and nations. This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Ephesians (2:14, 17), "(Christ) is our peace...and he came and preached peace to you who were far off and to them that were near." The prophets of Israel pointed to the Messiah. Peter and the first century Christians were fortunate enough to have been born at the time Jesus was manifested to the world. The word (rema), fact or history of the coming Messiah was published in all Judaea beginning at Galilee (where Jesus of Nazareth grew up). His baptism at the hands of John the Baptist was publicized, and His public ministry manifested the power of God. Furthermore, everywhere Jesus would go He went about doing good and casting out demon spirits for God had anointed Him to do so. "(Jesus') triumph over this form of Satanic agency is singled out as the highest exhibition of his wonder-working power" (Hackett, p. 135). As Paul told Agrippa in Acts 26:26, the events concerning the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ were "not done in a corner," that is, in a secluded place of the world. The word of Jesus' coming was published, propagated and proclaimed. There could be no mistake made when people saw the hand of God upon Jesus as he went about doing good (euergeton) and healing the oppressed (katakdunasteuomenous) or exercising the power over Satanic influence. The Holy Spirit of God was His power.
39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did, both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree. 40 Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; 41 not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
39 - 41 Peter and certain others were witnesses to what Jesus did. Furthermore, after he was crucified by His enemies, Jehovah God raised Him from the dead. He was seen or manifested (emphane), not by everyone, but unto certain witnesses chosen of God. In His resurrected body, Jesus ate and drank with His disciples. "God staged a series of public demonstrations during which His Apostles and some of His disciples were given the empirical evidence, in terms of physical sight, sound and touch, that Jesus arose from the grave in the same physical body in which He suffered...The Apostles repeatedly supported their testimony that Jesus died and rose again with the statement that they saw Him, before and after His death (I John 1:1 -3; II Peter 1:16 - 21)" (Yeager, X, p. 11). Peter and John and the other disciples were a hand-picked (prokecheirotonemenois) or 'chosen beforehand group' who were privileged to eat and drink with our Lord after His resurrection but before His ascension.
42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he who was ordained by God to be the Judge of living and dead. 43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
42, 43 Peter now relates to Cornelius and his household that he and the other disciples were commanded to preach (keruxai) or herald the message unto all the people that Jesus was the Savior of the world, but He was also ordained (horismenos) or decreed to be the Judge of the living and the dead. Peter, standing in the presence of Cornelius and his household, was a living witness to all the claims that Jesus had made. Furthermore, the Old Testament prophets gave witness that Jesus was the Savior; through His name whosoever, all (panta) or anyone who believes can receive remission of sins.
Ministers of the gospel would do well to pattern their sermons after the sermons found in the Acts of the Apostles - Peter's sermon to the Jews (2:14 - 36), his sermon on Solomon's Porch (3:12 - 26), his discourse to the Sanhedrin (4:9 - 12), Stephen's sermon (7:2 - 56), and Peter's sermon to Cornelius and his household (10:34 - 43). They literally proclaimed, published and propagated the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ which is the "good news" to hell-bound sinners in any generation.
44 While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them who heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
44 - 46 As Peter was preaching (lalountas - present participle) the Holy Spirit was doing His work; the Holy Spirit fell (epepesen - aorist) on all them that were hearing (akouontas - present participle) the word of God. God through His Holy Spirit had prepared the hearts of Cornelius and his household - all that was needed further was a preacher who could tell them how to be saved. Sure, those (of the circumcision) who came with Peter from Joppa were astonished (exestesan), amazed or surprised - God saved the Gentiles as He had saved the Jews. This sudden manifestation of the Holy Spirit's power on uncircumcised Gentiles was probably necessary to convince Peter and the six brethren of the circumcision that God had opened the door wide to Gentiles. God has poured out His Holy Spirit upon some Gentiles - just as He had on the Jews of Jerusalem (2:1ff), the Samaritans (8:5ff), and on the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26ff). The Gentiles began to speak in other languages (lalounton glossais) and to magnify (magalunonton) God or to show how great God was. So Cornelius and his friends, under the impact of the Holy Spirit, were manifesting the same evidences of divine grace that marked the Pentecost experience for the Jews. When they began to speak in other languages, Peter and the other Christians present knew that they had received the Holy Spirit the same as they.
Then answered Peter, 47 can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then asked they him to tarry certain days.
47, 48 Peter announced, "There is no one who can forbid that these should not be immersed, is there?" There are two negative particles here (meti and me, and kolusai implies the negative) in this question; Peter expected a negative answer. So Peter commanded (prosetaxen) or ordered that the new converts to Christianity be immersed in the name of the Lord. The new converts were so delighted with their new-found faith that they asked (erotesan) or desired Peter and his six companions to remain (erptesam) or tarry with them a few days. How long Peter stayed with the new converts we do not know, but he stayed long enough to teach them the basics of their new-found faith.
A turning point had been reached in Christian history. From that point the mission to the Gentiles as well as the Jews has continued and will continue until Jesus comes again. His work is To be continued.
Peter gave a clear testimony of Jesus. His message centered around the person and work of Jesus, including His ministry (36 - 38), His death (39), His resurrection (40,41), and His commission to world missionary evangelism (42, 43). This is the full gospel which Peter and all Christians have been instructed to deliver to anyone who will listen. Cornelius and his friends responded with faith to the facts presented by Peter. The Holy Spirit came upon them; His presence was proof that they were truly trusting Jesus (Romans 8:9) (Henderson, Adult Quarterly, November 14, 1993, p. 56).
There's a wideness in God's mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
--Frederick W. Faber
1 - 3 Not long after Peter's visit to house of Cornelius, word got around that some Gentiles had been saved up in Caeserea. Not only that but one, Simon Peter, had gone to Cornelius's house and had eaten with Gentiles. Peter's action could not fail to arouse alarm in Jerusalem. The news came to Jerusalem possibly before Peter and his friends did; how fast news travels! The news created some disturbance. It was true that some Samaritans (of course they were half-Jews) had been saved under Philip's ministry, and an Ethiopian eunuch had been saved, but these were isolated cases. "Peter had no more need to defend himself for preaching the gospel to Cornelius than Philip had for preaching it to the Ethiopian eunuch" (Bruce, p. 235). Things were getting out of hand, so Peter had to set the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem straight. They were contending (diekrinonto) with Peter or judging him. Had they forgotten so soon the commission which Jesus gave (Matthew 28:18 - 20)? Jesus had said, "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations..." The Gentiles in Caesarea were of another nation. The main complaint that the Hebrew Christians had was the fact that Peter and his six companions had gone to an uncircumcised (akrobustian) Gentile's house and had eaten (sunephages) (unclean food) with them. At least they thought that Peter had done something unorthodox, something unusual, and they wanted him to report to them. Lest we be too harsh with the Jewish Christians, we must remember that Jesus made the difference. He fulfilled all the law of Jehovah God.
4 But Peter reviewed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it in order unto them, saying, 5 I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, a certain vessel descending, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners, and it came even to me; 6 upon which, when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
4 - 6 So Peter started at the beginning (arxamenos) and expounded (exetitheto) or laid out his activity concerning Cornelius. Whereupon Peter was anxious to do so. He relates his praying in Joppa, his trance and the vision. He adds here that in the vessel from heaven that it also contained beasts of the wild (theria) which he did not do in 10:12. Peter wanted to impress upon his hearers that the sheet let down from heaven contained unclean animals and wild animals of all kinds, as well as snakes and birds - probably the pig and the snake and the buzzard. These would have been most repulsive to the orthodox Jew.
7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. 8 But I said, Not so, Lord; for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 10 And this was done three times; and all were drawn up again into heaven.
7 - 10 He tells about the voice from heaven which said, "Arise, Peter; slay and eat." He relates his response to God and God's further message to him. Peter wanted to impress upon their minds the message of God was that "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." The implication was the same with human beings as with the animals; a Gentile was clean if God said he was clean. Evidently Peter did not quote Isaiah 1:18 which says in part, "...though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool," however, he could have. "What happened at Calvary makes social and religious discrimination impossible. Those who are cleansed have their place in the body of Christ" (Yeager, X, p. 29).
11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. 12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover, these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house.
11, 12 Peter tells them what happened next. "Behold, immediately...," he spoke with enthusiasm as if to say, "Do you know what happened next?" Why, all of a sudden as though it were planned, three men appeared inquiring for me. It was planned, and God did the planning. "And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting." Had not the Holy Spirit instructed Peter to go, he would normally have been very hesitant about going to the quarters of a Roman centurion. Furthermore, Peter took six brothers (hex adelphoi) with him, and they could give the same testimony as Peter gave. Peter indicated if he had any misgivings before, when the men from Caeserea made themselves known, he was convinced that this was the will of God. 13 And he showed us how he had seen an angel in his house, who stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter, 14 who shall tell thee words, by which thou and all thy house shall be saved. 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
13 - 15 Peter relates how God was working in the heart of Cornelius as well as working in his heart. Cornelius wanted Peter to tell him how he and his family could to be saved. And while Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit fell on them just like He had fallen on the Jews at the beginning meaning Pentecost.
16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how he said, John baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. 17 Forasmuch, then, as God gave them the same gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I, that I could withstand God?
16, 17 Then Peter recalled how that God's word stated that just as John the Baptist baptized with water, so God would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). So God gave the Gentiles (Cornelius and his household) the gift (dorean) of the Holy Spirit the same as He had done for the Jews. As if the convince the gainsayers further Peter said, "What was I, that I could withstand (forbid, prevent ) God?" "The Message of God is His property - a genitive of possession. The Message can also be described as Divine - a genitive of description. And the Message originated with God - an ablative of source" (Yeager, X, p. 23). The message of salvation is God's from beginning to end. 18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Peter presented a good case; when the Hebrew Christians of Jerusalem heard Peter's case, they held their peace (esachasan), they remained silent or ceased wrangling. They concluded that God was in it from the beginning and the Gentiles became Christians just like the Hebrews had; in fact, they gave God the glory for the Gentiles' salvation. Furthermore, it taught them it was not necessary that Cornelius and his household embrace Judaism before they became Christians. For them to argue that Cornelius's experience was not genuine was tantamount to criticizing God. "The Western text reads, 'who was I that I could hinder God from giving them the Holy Spirit when they believed on Him?" (Barnes, p. 233).
Was not Jesus prediction to Peter in Luke 22:32 fulfilled where Jesus said to Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen the brethren." Truly Peter had made an about-face in his feelings toward the Gentiles; the gospel message was for all the nations of the world. It is rather humorous that the Hebrew Christians did not raise again the question they had asked of Peter about him eating in the home of Cornelius.
"When the then Prince of Wales visited India, there were a number of high-caste people who were waiting to shake hands with him, and there was a big barrier separating them from the masses of people. The prince arrived, shook hands with those who were presented to him, then, looking over their heads to the crowds beyond, said, 'Take those barriers down.' They were taken down, and anyone who liked had free access and a welcome from the son of the Emperor of India. The next time the prince came that way, ten thousand outcastes were gathered under a banner inscribed: 'The Prince of the Outcastes.' We have a Prince, who said, 'Take the barriers down'" (Sunday School Times, May 27, 1967). His name is the LORD JESUS CHRIST.
19, 20 Chronologically Luke goes back to 8:1 - 4 which tells of the persecution that arose when Stephen was martyred, and how Saul made havoc with the church scattering (diesparesan), sowing or dispersing it to the four winds. Some of the followers of Christ left Jerusalem and traveled up the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to towns in Phoenicia, the island of Cyprus (Barnabas' homeland) and the city of Antioch. These were people of the Diaspora (diasporentes) or those who were scattered thoroughly (see Acts 8:1, 4) where the word is first used. While Philip was preaching in Samaria, and to the Ethiopian eunuch, and while Peter was visiting Joppa and preaching to Cornelius, some other followers of the Christ were evangelizing Phoenicia, towns in Syria, and Cyprus an island in the Mediterranean Sea. They were evangelizing the Jews only, Luke writes; however, when they got to Antioch they began preaching the Lord Jesus to the Greeks also.
Of course Antioch was the capital city of Syria; it was a tremendous city. It was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire, probably surpassed only by Alexandria, Egypt and Rome itself. Despite its beauty, it was vile and utterly bankrupt of morality. "The city was proverbial for its lax sexual morals; this reputation was mainly due to the cult of Artemis and Apollo at Daphne, five miles distant, where the ancient Syrian worship of Astarte with its ritual prostitution, was carried on under Greek nomenclature. But a new chapter in the city's history was now to begin, for Antioch was about to become the metropolis of Gentile Christianity" (Bruce, p. 238) It was in desperate need of the Gospel. The church at Antioch was destined to be the center of outreach to the Gentile world with the Gospel.
21 It is said of the disciples that "...the hand of the Lord was with them;..." a Hebraism meaning that they had divine help. A great number (arithmos) believed and turned (epestrephen) to the Lord or were converted.
22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem; and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch, 23 who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cling unto the Lord.
22, 23 Word of the conversion of many to Christianity was received by the church at Jerusalem, so Barnabas was sent forth to the church at Antioch to investigate the situation. Not that the church at Jerusalem exercised control over the church at Antioch, but she sensed the need to encourage the church members. Peter and John had earlier gone to Samaria to investigate Philip's missionary service there, so now Jerusalem sent a delegate to Antioch to look into the strange events that were being enacted it that city. When Barnabas had come to Antioch he saw how the Lord had blessed them with many converts and he rejoiced that God's offer of salvation was extended even to the sophisticated philosophical Greeks as well as the Jews. Furthermore, because he felt like the work was genuine and that it was the work of the Holy Spirit, he exhorted (parekalei) or entreated them to cling (prosmenein) or to remain near unto the Lord. Christian persistence was needed in such a pagan city as Antioch. "These people was added to the Lord Jesus before they were added to the church. If that were always true, what a difference it would make in our churches" (Robertson, pp. 158, 159).
24 For he was a righteous man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith; and many people were added unto the Lord. 25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass that for a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught many people. And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
24, 25 In these verses Luke writes of the characteristics of Barnabas; the church at Jerusalem could trust Barnabas because he was of sterling character (Acts 4:36, 37). While in Antioch Barnabas toiled as a worker for the Lord, and many were added to the church; however, he envisioned that he needed someone to assist him. As soon as the responsibilities would permit, he traveled to Tarsus, less than 200 miles from Antioch by sea, to seek out (anazetesai) or to look up Saul. The word used here seems to indicate that Saul was not easily found; he was busy evangelizing his home province and possibly in Asia Minor. Only those who are busy with tasks at hand are called to larger spheres of service. The last we heard of Saul was when he was escorted out of Jerusalem because some of the Jews sought his life (9:29, 30). Saul was a great scholar and a splendid logician, and Barnabas sensed the need of Paul's type of ministry in the church at Antioch. "He needed the presence of one whose wisdom was greater than his own, whose zeal was an example to all, and whose peculiar mission had been miraculously declared" (Hackett, p. 140).
The believers in the Lord Jesus Christ were called Christians first at Antioch; whether it was intended to be a title of reproach or otherwise is unknown. The word Christian is found here, in Acts 26:28 and in I Peter 4:16. "One Antiochene would ask another, 'who are these people?' as two or three unofficial missionaries gather a knot of more or less interested hearers and disputants among them in one of the city colonnades. 'O, these are the people who are always talking about Christos, the Christ-people, the Christians.' And so it was in Antioch, says Luke, that the followers of Jesus first came to be popularly known as Christians" (Bruce, p. 241). They were probably given the name Christian (Christianous) because they were "out of step with unregenerate standards of ethics and hence the object of persecution" (Yeager, X, pp. 48, 49).
26 Barnabas found Saul, and he was willing to accompany him to Antioch. There they remained a whole year (olov aniauton) A. D. 44 teaching the basic principles of the faith, preaching the message of salvation and strengthening the members of the church.
27 And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. 28 And there stood up one of them, named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren who dwelt in Judaea; 30 which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
27 - 30 Antioch was visited by some prophets, Agabus and others, from Jerusalem who brought a message from the Lord that a great famine (limon) or dearth was in the offing. This famine was expected to last some months and would cover the known world, which probably meant all the Roman world. This famine would take place during the reign of Claudius who was the Roman emperor A. D. 41 - 54. This would give the church an opportunity to show their love and mercy to others; those who have obtained God's mercy and grace were to be merciful to others who were less fortunate. The Christians were not only "to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength...(but) thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Mark 12:30, 31). The followers of Jesus determined (orisan) or declared to send relief to the brethren according to their ability (euporeito) or those who have the means. "Each man of the disciples who rose to the occasion (not all did) made his own decision, not only to send money, but also how much money he could afford to send...Each gave in keeping with his ability" (Yeager, X, p. 54, 55). Such an act of charity would strengthen the bond between the totally Jewish-Christian church of Jerusalem and the mainly Gentile Christian church at Antioch. They also deputized Barnabas and Saul to take the money to the poor saints at Jerusalem. "David H. Adeney, former missionary to China, extracted the following words from a Chinese newspaper; 'We Communists do not play with words. We are realists. Seeing we are determined to achieve our object, we know how to obtain the means. Of our salaries and wages we keep only that which is strictly necessary and we give up the rest for propaganda purposes. To this propaganda we concentrate all our free time and part of our holidays.' The newspaper was evidently addressing Christians with these words, and then continued to say: 'You only give a little time and money to the spread of the Gospel. How can anyone believe in the supreme value of the Gospel if you do not practice it, if you cannot spread it, and if you sacrifice neither time nor money for it. Believe me, it is we who will win, for we believe in our Communist message and we are ready to sacrifice anything, everything, even our life in order that social justice shall triumph. But you people are afraid to soil your hands.'
"Dedication makes the difference! These biting words could never have been written of the early church. Theirs was a complete dedication to the task of pushing back the frontiers of darkness and idolatry to the glory of God" (The Sunday School Times, May 27, 1967). What a reprimand and how convicting this statement really is?