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Acts 10:9-43 by Robert Dean
Jewish religious practice at this time observed strict separation from Gentile culture, even though the Jews did have a level of missionary activity. To disrupt centuries of tradition was truly revolutionary. Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, carefully orchestrated and revealed by God, signals a complete change of direction from strict observance of the law exclusive to the Jew, to universal inclusion of the Gentile in Grace. Peter had to contemplate the enormity of this change, but lost no time in obeying God and going to Cornelius in Caesarea. Cornelius and his family responded to Peter’s revelation of Truth. See how Cornelius and his family acted to fulfill God’s sign to the Jew of a judgment to come for national rejection of their Messiah.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 25 secs

Jews and Gentiles Saved by Faith. Acts 10:9-43


Sometimes we just don't grasp how remarkable this is because we are coming at it from the situation as it existed in the first century where the church up to this point has been primarily Jewish, and if you were Jewish you were somewhat secluded. You were separated from the Gentile culture and society around you. You could have Gentiles under certain circumstances have Gentiles in your home as guests but you could not go to the home of a Gentile. There was a very strict observance of this separation between the Jewish community and the Gentile community, and the grace of God was for the Jews, not really for the Gentiles even though a Gentile could come into the synagogue as a God-fearer, like Cornelius. Early Judaism, after the fall of the temple in the first century and in the first two or three centuries preceding Christ, was a religion that reached out and sought to bring in converts. It was involved in missionary activity, not in the same way that the church is or to the degree and intensity of the church, but it was nevertheless a part of Judaism. This is why they had three or four different levels of converts, because they were seeking converts to Judaism. This was part of the Abrahamic covenant, that the Jews understood that the promise of God to Abraham was that they should be a blessing to all peoples. They understood that within the Old Testament context of bringing people into the Jewish fold, as it were.

So when we look at this chapter we have to put ourselves in the place of the first century apostles and first century Christians, who even though they had some sort of theoretical understanding of reaching out to Gentiles that Christ had died for all, including Gentiles, it was still very strange for them. Even though Peter goes through these events in Acts chapter ten it is not long before the events in Galatians chapter one occur when he goes to Antioch and instead of going to dinner with the Gentiles and eating, for example, lobster and fried catfish for dinner he isolated himself and only ate with the Jews and stayed among the Jews. He sort of fell back into his former manner of life. It was the habit pattern and it was difficult for them to break. It was cultural and habitual, it wasn't just a matter of a spiritual issue, and so they were having to learn this transition. What occurs here in Acts chapter ten is revolutionary from their perspective.

We look at the description of what takes place in chapter ten as God coordinates Hs revelation to Cornelius and to Peter. Here is a principle that is so important to understand. When God revealed anything in private in the Scriptures, to a prophet or anyone else, there is always external objective confirmatory evidence. You never have people saying "God appeared to me" and you just take their word for it. There is confirmation of it, a validation of the claim. There are qualifications given in the Old Testament for anyone who claimed to speak for God or who claimed to be a prophet. All of his predictions had to be one hundred per cent true. If it was not one hundred per cent true they faced the death penalty because they had misrepresented God and that would mislead people away from the truth. The visitations, whether they were a theophany where God appears to speak to an individual or whether it was a Christophany such as when Christ appeared to Paul in Acts chapter nine, or whether it was a dream or a vision, there is an objective aspect to it in that what is revealed can be validated or verified.

Here we have a situation where Cornelius has a very specifically described vision in terms of its time and the circumstances during the ninth hour, which is about the time of prayer, an angels calls to him and informs him that his prayers had been heard, and instructs him to send a delegation down to Joppa to find Simon Peter. Simon would then come back and they were to bring him back to Caesarea. That happened late in the afternoon and so they probably didn't leave until the next day, and it would have taken most of that day to travel down to Caesarea.  Acts 10:9 NASB "On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray." Peter's vision was timed to fit with the arrival of this delegation from the north. The sixth hour is about noon and he is getting hungry. He falls into a trance. This is the Greek noun ekstasis [e)kstasij] from which we get our English word ecstasy. It is not describing the sort of outer-body experience that is had in some kinds of meditation techniques; neither is it describing the kind of ecstatic experience that the mystic religions would induce by various artificial means. The pagan and human viewpoint thought is not the same kind of thing that happens when God reveals Himself in Scripture. Throughout Scripture we see that the way God does things is always different from the way the world's religions do things. So this is a term for simply having a vision, as opposed to a dream, because Peter would be wide awake and conscious during this part of the day.

The text makes the point that while he is in the state of advanced hunger God lowers the sheet and there are all manner of beasts in it, and God addresses him. Acts 10:13 NASB "A voice came to him, 'Get up, Peter, kill and eat!'" the word for "kill" is thuo [quw] which is more frequently used in terms of making a sacrificial slaughter. It is not typically a word simply for butchering an animal to eat, so there is a certain ceremonial overtone to the word that God uses here. It reinforces the fact that many of the beasts and animals and birds that are on the table cloth are identified as unclean in the Old Testament. And yet the word that God is using is a word that implies making a sacrifice; and yet, you would never sacrifice an unclean animal in the Old Testament. So God is making a point of the fact that what is going on here is a major shift in what God requires of His people. Under the Mosaic Law there was a specific dietary requirement.

We frequently run into people today who are on various forms of diet and there is always someone who comes along every few years and they have a biblically-based diet. They try to argue that the diet that is there in the Mosaic Law is the healthiest of all diets and that if we would only follow that diet then we would live longer, be healthier, and all of these other things. What they are assuming is that the diet that is there is given for health reasons. There may have been a health benefit or secondary consequence to the diet but physical health benefit had nothing whatsoever to do with that diet. The reason that we know that is because when  we get to Acts chapter ten here God declares all of these animals to be clean and nothing has happened agriculturally, biologically, ontologically, genetically or culinarily to change anything. They have not suddenly learned to cook pork so that the meat is well done to kill off any bacteria. It is a decree from God that it is now clean. Why? Because there was the lesson that was taught in the Old Testament through the diet to teach that sin impacted everything, and some animals are associated in some way with the curse, with death, so that animals were scavengers, unclean. That was the penalty for sin, so you didn't eat catfish, lobsters and shrimp because they feed off of carrion and what was on the bottom of the ocean, off the consequence of the penalty of sin. So there was to be this separation from sin and anything that has been touched or affected by sin. This is why a woman after she gave birth, certainly not an immoral act, was considered ceremonially unclean for a specific period of time. It had nothing to do with the fact that it was unhealthy or any other factor, it was simply that part of the curse of Genesis 3 was that a woman would experience increased pain and suffering in childbirth. So the act of childbirth has been impacted by the judgment of sin in Genesis 3 and people need to have a little visual aid to remind them of these things. The diet was the same thing. The animals considered to be unclean were unclean because in some way something about them, their eating habits, whatever it might be, were somehow affected related to the impact of sin.

So Peter as an observant Jew, although he is beginning to wake up to grace in the sense of realisation of the dispensational distinctives—that the law is no longer in effect because he is living with Simon the tanner, a man who would be unclean every day until sunset because of his work. He is somewhat prepared for this but it still comes as a surprise and a bit of a shock. We don't always capture things right away when we learn them or are exposed to correct ideas, and it doesn't mean we are slow or dense, it just means we are human and we have to assess what we are learning and integrate it with what we have already learned and what is in our background. Peter is told to rise, kill and eat. Acts 10:14 NASB "But Peter said, 'By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.'" The word "unholy" there is the Greek noun koinos [koinoj] in the accusative singular feminine here, and it means that which is common, not in the pejorative sense but in what is just an every-day, ordinary contrast to that which was set apart to the service of God. That which was set apart to the service of God is distinguished from that which was common or for every-day use. This was true of eating utensils in the home, it was true of all of the utensils that were used in the tabernacle or the temple; they were sanctified, set apart to the service of God. This is why the land of Israel is called the holy land. Holy doesn't mean pure; holy means set apart. And that is the only piece of real estate in the world that God has set apart for His use, for His people, and Israel will belong to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for all eternity. That is why it is called the holy land. It is a special land because Gods has decreed that it is to be set apart for the Jewish people, for a temple, and for a place where in the future once again all worship will be restored to Israel. All the nations will come to the millennial temple and worship there. That is not true today. Jesus made that clear to the woman at the well in John chapter four that there would be this period when people would not focus on one spot as the center of worship. We also know that there is a clear indication in Scripture that that is for a temporary period when the church is here during the church age, the present age. 

Peter is struggling with this concept of what is profane versus what is holy and set apart to God and cleansed as opposed to unclean. God instructs him three times to eat, and then we are not told that he ate, we are told that the table cloth with all of these animals ascends to heaven. Peter is left there to contemplate and think about what he has just seen. The third scene in this episode is describing the arrival now of the delegation that Cornelius sent. Acts 10:17 NASB "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; [18] and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. [19] While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Behold, three men are looking for you.'" The point has been made that whenever God does something in private He always has confirmatory evidence. There was the original vision of Cornelius up in Caesarea to send these men down to Joppa. When they arrive God gives a corollary vision to Peter, telling Peter that these men are going to arrive and they want Peter to go with them. So there is confirmatory evidence on both sides. How the Spirit told him we don't know. Was is audible? Was it just inside of his head? We don't know. [20] "But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself."

Acts 10:21 NASB "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?' [22] They said, 'Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous …" Here he uses the term dikaios [dikaioj] which is the same term as for righteous or righteousness in Romans, but here it doesn't mean righteous in a divine sense, in a sense of imputed righteousness, because that would indicate that he was already saved. He is just in that he is living his life as much as possible in accordance with the stipulations of Judaism, a just life in relative human justice, and he fears God. Remember, fearing God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:4). Fear of the is a term that does not necessarily mean that a person is a believer yet. It expresses though and identifies his positive volition. Positive volition is a term that is used to describe the unbeliever's (it can describe the believer too) desire to know God, to know more about God. And because the unbeliever through general revelation, through his conscience, has come to understand that there is something greater than himself, he wants to know more about that. So God will give him more revelation, and this is what has happened with Cornelius. God is in the process of giving Cornelius that increased revelation so that he can come to the knowledge of the truth as he so desires. "… and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews …" He is well respected. He takes that which he has made and uses that to aid the poor among the Jews and he has a great reputation. "… was {divinely} directed by a holy angel to send for you {to come} to his house and hear a message from you."

Acts 10:23 NASB "So he invited them in and gave them lodging [overnight]. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him." So he has this group of observant Jews who are really curious at this point because they are getting ready to go to the home of a Gentile, which they have never done. They have never been inside of a Gentile's home because that has been completely prohibited in the past. [24] "On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends." Remember that we read in verse 2 that Cornelius was "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household." So he brings all of his family together and all of his servants in order to hear what Peter has to say.

Acts 10:25 NASB "When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped {him.}" What Cornelius is doing isn't an act of worship per se. This was a typical way in which a Roman would prostate himself before someone of great respect. It was not necessarily an act of worship towards God. The word for worship simply means to bow the knee or to bend down. [26] "But Peter raised him up, saying, 'Stand up; I too am {just} a man.'" This is a great verse to go to in terms of those who wish to affirm that those who have descended from Peter are the vicars of Christ and are due special honour and respect—speaking of the popes of the Roman Catholic Church who claim to have a direct lineage through apostolic descent from Peter. But Peter shows tremendous humility here and does not wish any kind of special distinction or honour.

Peter began to talk to him and everybody is crowding around and wanting to hear what Peter and Cornelius are discussing. One of the things that Peter points out is that it is completely out of line and unlawful for a Jewish man to come into the house to enjoy the hospitality of a Gentile. The term "foreigner" [NASB] is ethnoi [e)qnoi] is a term for Gentiles or national ethnicities, and here it would be more clearly translated "not to go into the home of someone who is a Gentile." [28] "…and {yet} God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy [common] or unclean." He is using this is a technical, ritual sense because the Mosaic Law had distinguished the Jews from everybody else. The Jews were hagios, set apart; they were not common. They were set apart to God while the Gentiles were common in the sense that they were not set apart to God and had not been placed in a unique or distinct relationship with God with a distinct covenant. Only Israel has a specific covenant with God.     

Acts 10:29 NASB "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." Notice he is completely oriented to God's authority, he follows God's command. [30] "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, [31] and he said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God." He is describing his vision as the angel appeared to him and how the angel instructed him to send a delegation to reach Peter.

Notice that verses 30-32 are pretty much repetitive to what we find initially described in vv. 3-6. When Peter goes back to the Gentiles in chapter eleven, vv. 1-16, he is describing in detail what has already been covered in the last part of chapter ten. If we read through this and read the story as it happens then we read the individuals involved in it recount all the details of the story again. It is one of the most repetitive sections in Scripture. We ought to ask the question: Why does God repeat Himself so much in these two chapters? Because this is so foundational to the transition from Israel to the church and understanding the importance of this. We find no other event in all of Scripture that has this degree of redundancy and repetitiveness. So we should really pay attention because there must be a reason that God the Holy Spirit wants us to realise how important this is.

Then we have the next scene.  Acts 10:34 NASB "Opening his mouth, Peter said: 'I most certainly understand {now} that God is not one to show partiality." Literally he is saying God has no favourites among men. He is not making a distinction in terms of salvation. There never was in the Old Testament. There were a number of Gentiles who were saved in the Old Testament, there qs not something special about Gentile salvation. Ruth, the Moabitess, was a Gentile. Naaman, the Syrian General at the time of Elisha became a believer, and the greatest example of God's blessing to the Gentiles in the Old Testament is when God sent Jonah to the Assyrians to warn them that while they were so reprobate that there was always hope if there was spiritual change. Political change is just window dressing. If there is no cultural change then it is just a change of window dressing, from one cosmic viewpoint to another cosmic viewpoint.   

What we have here is just the continued blessing to the Gentiles, but now it is on steroids; it really expands out to the whole world. Acts 10:35 NASB "but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him." This is a verse that has a problem for some people because they think that this is stating that on the basis of works righteousness someone is accepted by God. That ignores the context. The context is talking about a man with positive volition. Cornelius was described as a just man, one who feared God and had a good reputation. But he wasn't saved yet. We know that because he hasn't believed. It is clear that by verse 43 Peter is saying that there is only one way to have forgiveness of sins and that is believing in Jesus; not by works righteousness. But those who fear God and are trying to live for God before they are saved are expressing positive volition, and God will honour that and bring someone to them who will explain the gospel. In Acts chapter eleven as Peter is recounting this episode to the Jews back home, he said, v. 15: "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as {He did} upon us at the beginning. [16] And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' [17] Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as {He gave} to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" What is the key verb? They believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. So Peter is recounting the coming of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his family and indicating that this comes when they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. So "believe" is still central to salvation. Acts 10:35 isn't talking about justification and regeneration. Peter is just saying that in every generation God has brought the gospel to those who want to know about him, those who are positive.

Acts 10:36 NASB "The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— " He is connecting this back to Israel and the prophecies related to the Messiah, but he doesn't go into detail; he is not talking to Jews. If we go back to when Peter was talking to the Jews in Acts chapters two and three we see that he goes into more detail, he cites Old Testament passages and talks about how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies specifically. But now he is talking to Gentiles who don't have the frame of reference of Torah knowledge that a Jewish audience would have. So he just summarises the information rather than quoting the verses and dealing with the detail. [37] "you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed." He assumes they know something about the life of Jesus because this word has spread all over for one reason or another during the previous six or seven years, but it has been about four or five years since the crucifixion.

Acts 10:38 NASB "{You know of} Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and {how} He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." He doesn't go into the specifics of why which are given in the Gospels, that this was part of the prophesied credentials for the Messiah that would give indication to the Jews as to who the Messiah was. [39] "We [the apostles, Acts 1:8] are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross." Luke is connecting this event back to that Acts 1:8 mandate. [40] "God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible." Notice that Peter describes a lot of details here that aren't necessary to believe to be saved. The point is that he is describing everything related to Jesus and His death, burial and resurrection, he is not giving just a narrow gospel presentation. He talks about all the things historically that happened that confirmed Jesus in terms of Hs person and His work, and that would include the resurrection. He appeared to many people, but He didn't appear to everybody; God was selective in who Jesus would appear to. God chose those who would be effective witnesses. [41] "not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, {that is,} to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead." This is saying that out of all the believers Jesus only appeared to a select few, and those God selected were those who would indeed carry their witness forward in terms of the Acts 1:8 mandate. 

Acts 10:42 NASB "And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify [martureo] that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." John 5 tells us that the Father is going to delegate to Him all judgment. [43] "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." That is the narrow gospel presentation. At the instant a person believes—no invitation to walk the aisle, invite Jesus into your life, etc. At that instant the people who are there listening to him are saying in their minds, "This is true." So instantly there is a reaction. [44] "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. [45] All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also." The Jews there who were listening were just absolutely amazed that the same thing that had happened to them at Pentecost is now happening in front of them and the Holy Spirit coming upon these Gentiles. The word "pouring out" is also used in 1 Corinthians 12 to describe the baptism by the Holy Spirit, so that connects these events. This is the same as what happens to any person now at the instant they trust in Christ. The reason there is a delayed reaction here with these Gentiles is because it is a transition period and in Acts each member of different ethnic groups is going to be brought into the body of Christ through the baptism by the Holy Spirit in the presence of an apostle, showing the apostolic foundation and unity of the church.

Acts 10:46 NASB "For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered" In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says that the purpose for tongues is to be a sign of judgment upon the Jews. This goes back to Isaiah chapter twenty-eight, talking about the fact that a sign of judgment on Israel would be that they would hear Gentile languages in the temple. Many people get confused and think that the reason for tongues was for evangelism. It never says that. It is not for evangelism here, they are already saved because of the evangelistic message of Peter. It wasn't for evangelism on the day of Pentecost because there it says they simply described the miraculous works of God. There are always people who say that would include the gospel. Well it is a generic term. Every generic general phrase is going to include the gospel if you want to push it like that, but that is inane! The only purpose the Scripture says for tongues is a sign of judgment. Why? Let's think biblically. God restricted His work to Jews from Genesis chapter twelve on. That means God is giving His revelation through the Jewish language, through the Jewish people, because they are the people that He has determined to work with. But what happens when they reject the Messiah? They are going to come under divine discipline. And so God as a sign or warning of judgment is that they are going to start hearing the message of God in a non-Jewish language. They are going to hear it in a Gentile language. That is the sign that God is not working directly through them anymore. That is the whole point. It is not what they said, it is that is was said in a Gentile language. Because that is giving an indication that there is a shift away from God's focus on Israel and blessing the world through the Jews. He is shifting to the church.

So the focus in all of these passages is never on what they said. Both here and in Acts chapter two it uses the most general phrase possible that they just praised God, they spoke of the wonderful works of God. If the Holy Spirit wanted us to read that and say they were witnessing He would have said that. He is very good at being precise when He needs to be precise, but when He doesn't want us to narrow the focus He uses more generic terminology because this goes to the very purpose of tongues. Now there are Gentiles speaking in tongues (Gentile languages), there are Jews present; and so this astonishes them and within 48 hours this is going to be travelling all over Israel. God is giving this revelation through Gentiles, not Jews. Those who had a clue as to what was going on would understand that this was a fulfilment of the Isaiah 28 prophecy, that this was an indication of judgment.

Peter answers. Notice he doesn't wait and say to wait until everybody really got it clear. Acts 10:47 NASB "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we {did,} can he?" Receiving the Holy Spirit was just the result of something else—belief in Christ. Because they believed in Christ they should be baptized immediately, and so they were. They are baptized in the name of the Lord. The language goes right back to Matthew 28:19, 20. [48] "And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days." Then we see that Peter goes back to Judea in the next chapter and he has to explain himself when he gets back home.