Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Acts 10

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-48

Chapter 10

A DEVOUT SOLDIER ( Acts 10:1-8 )

10:1-8 There was a man in Caesarea called Cornelius. He was a centurion in the battalion called the Italian battalion. He was a devout man and a God-fearer with all his household. He did many an act of charity to the people and he was constant in prayer to God. About three o'clock in the afternoon in a vision he clearly saw the angel of God coming to him and saying, "Cornelius." He gazed at him and he was awe-stricken. He said, "What is it, sir?" He said to him, "Your prayers and your works of mercy have gone up to God for a memorial; so now, send men to Joppa, and send for a man called Simon who is also called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is on the sea-shore." When the angel who was speaking to him went away, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his orderlies. He told them everything and despatched them to Joppa.

Acts 10:1-48 tells a story that is one of the great turning points in the history of the Church. For the first time a Gentile is to be admitted into its fellowship. Since Cornelius is so important in church history let us gather together what we can learn about him.

(i) Cornelius was a Roman centurion stationed at Caesarea, the headquarters of the government of Palestine. The word which we have translated battalion is the Greek word for a cohort. In the Roman military set-up there was first of all the legion (see legeon, G3003) . It was a force of six thousand men and therefore was roughly equal to a division. In every legion there were ten cohorts. A cohort therefore had six hundred men and comes near to being the equivalent of a battalion. The cohort was divided into centuries and over each century there was a centurion. The century is therefore roughly the equivalent of a company. The parallel to the centurion in our military organization is a company sergeant-major. These centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. An ancient historian describes the qualifications of the centurion like this, "Centurions are desired not to be overbold and reckless so much as good leaders, of steady and prudent mind, not prone to take the offensive to start fighting wantonly, but able when overwhelmed and hard-pressed to stand fast and die at their posts." Cornelius therefore was a man who first and foremost knew what courage and loyalty were.

(ii) Cornelius was a God-fearer. In New Testament times this had become almost a technical term for Gentiles who, weary of the gods and the immoralities and the frustration of their ancestral faiths, had attached themselves to the Jewish religion. They did not accept circumcision and the Law; but they attended the synagogue and they believed in one God and in the pure ethic of Jewish religion. Cornelius then was a man who was seeking after God, and as he sought God, God found him.

(iii) Cornelius was a man given to charity; he was characteristically kind. His search for God had made him love men, and he who loves his fellow men is not far from the kingdom.

(iv) Cornelius was a man of prayer. Perhaps as yet he did not clearly know the God to whom he prayed; but, according to the light that he had, he lived close to God.

PETER LEARNS A LESSON ( Acts 10:9-16 )

10:9-16 On the next day, when they were on the way and when they were getting near the city, about midday Peter went up to the housetop to pray. He became hungry and he wanted something to eat. When they were preparing the meal a trance came upon him. He saw the heavens opened and he saw a kind of vessel coming down. It was like a great sheet and it was let down by the four corners to the earth. On it there were all four-footed animals, all animals that creep on the earth and all that fly in the air. A voice came to him, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, because I have never eaten anything common or unclean." And the voice spoke again the second time, "What God has cleansed, do not you reckon common or unclean." This happened three times; and thereupon the sheet was taken up into heaven.

Before Cornelius could be welcomed into the Church, Peter had to learn a lesson. Strict Jews believed that God had no use for the Gentiles. Sometimes they even went the length of saying that help must not be given to a Gentile woman in childbirth, because that would only be to bring another Gentile into the world. Peter had to unlearn that before Cornelius could get in.

There is one point which shows that Peter was already on the way to unlearning some of the rigidness in which he had been brought up. He was staying with a man called Simon who was a tanner ( Acts 9:43; Acts 10:5). A tanner worked with the dead bodies of animals and therefore he was permanently unclean ( Numbers 19:11-13). No rigid Jew would have dreamed of accepting hospitality from a tanner. It was his uncleanness that made it necessary for Simon to dwell on the sea-shore outside the city. No doubt this tanner was a Christian and Peter had begun to see that Christianity abolished these petty laws and tabus.

At midday Peter went to the roof to pray. The house-roofs were flat and, since the houses were small and crowded, people often went up to the roof for privacy. There he had a vision of a great sheet being let down. Perhaps above the flat roof there stretched an awning to ward off the heat of the sun; and maybe the awning became in Peter's trance the great sheet. The word for sheet is the same as for a ship's sail. Maybe on the roof Peter was looking out on the blue waters of the Mediterranean and saw the ships' sails in the distance and they wove themselves into his vision.

In any event the sheet with the animals on it appeared to him and the voice told him to kill and eat. Now the Jews had strict food laws, recorded in Leviticus 11:1-47. Generally speaking the Jew might eat only animals which chewed the cud and whose hoofs were cloven. All others were unclean and forbidden. Peter was shocked and protested that he had never eaten anything that was unclean. The voice told him not to call what God had cleansed unclean. This happened three times so that there could be no possible mistake or dodging of the lesson. Once Peter would have called a Gentile unclean; but now God has prepared him for the visitors who would come.


10:17-33 When Peter was at a loss in his own mind to know what this vision could mean, look you, the men who had been sent by Cornelius had asked their way to Simon's house and stood at the door. They spoke and asked if Simon who was also called Peter was lodging there. When Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Look you, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and go with them without any hesitation, because it is I who sent them." So Peter came down to the men and said, "Look you, I am the man you are looking for. Why have you come?" They said, "Cornelius, the centurion, a good man and a God-fearer, one to whose worth the whole nation of the Jews bears witness, was instructed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to listen to the words you would give him." So he asked them in and gave them hospitality.

On the next day he rose and went with them and some of the brethren from Joppa came with him. On the next day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had invited along his kinsmen and his closest friends. When Peter was going to come in Cornelius met him and fell at his feet and worshipped him. Peter raised him up and said, "Rise; I, too, am a man." So he went in, talking with him as he went. He found many who had assembled there and he said, "You know that it is against the law for a man who is a Jew to have contact with or to visit one of another race. But God has shown me not to call any man common or unclean. So I came without any objection when you sent for me." So Cornelius said, "Four days ago from this time, I was praying in my house at three o'clock in the afternoon, and, look you, a man stood before me in shining clothes and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your deeds of charity have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and send for Simon who is also called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, on the sea-shore.' Immediately I sent to you; and I am most grateful that you have come. Now then we are all present before God to hear all that God has enjoined you to tell."

In this passage the most surprising things are happening. Once again let us remember that the Jews believed that other nations were quite outside the mercy of God. The really strict Jew would have no contact with a Gentile or even with a Jew who did not observe the Law. In particular he would never have as a guest nor ever be the guest of a man who did not observe the Law. Remembering that, see what Peter did. When the emissaries of Cornelius were at the door--and knowing the Jewish outlook, they came no farther than the door--Peter asked them in and gave them hospitality ( Acts 10:23). When Peter arrived at Caesarea, Cornelius met him at the door, no doubt wondering if Peter would cross his threshold at all, and Peter came in ( Acts 10:27). In the most amazing way the barriers are beginning to go down.

That is typical of the work of Christ. A missionary tells how once he officiated at a communion service in Africa. Beside him as an elder sat an old chief of the Ngoni called Manly-heart. The old chief could remember the days when the young warriors of the Ngoni had left behind them a trail of burned and devastated towns and come home with their spears red with blood and with the women of their enemies as booty. And what were the tribes which in those days they had ravaged? They were the Senga and the Tumbuka. And who were sitting at that communion service now? Ngoni, Senga and Tumbuka were sitting side by side, their enmities forgotten in the love of Jesus Christ. In the first days it was characteristic of Christianity that it broke the barriers down; and it can still do that when given the chance.

THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL ( Acts 10:34-43 )

10:34-43 So Peter opened his mouth and said, "In truth I have come to understand that God has no favourites; but that in every nation he who fears him and acts righteously is acceptable to him. As for the word which God sent to the sons of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ--this is he who is Lord of all you all know the affair that happened all over Judaea, after the baptism which John preached--you know about Jesus of Nazareth, about how God anointed him with the Spirit and with power, about how he went about healing all who were under the sway of the devil because God was with him; we are witnesses of all he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they took him and hanged him on a tree. It was he whom God raised up on the third day and made him evident, not to all the people but to the witnesses elected beforehand by God, to us who were with him and who ate with him and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he gave us orders to preach to the people and to testify that this is he who was set apart by God, to be the judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets testify that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

It is clear that we have here but the barest summary of what Peter said to Cornelius which makes it all the more important because it gives us the very essence of the first preaching about Jesus.

(i) Jesus was sent by God and equipped by him with the Spirit and with power. Jesus therefore is God's gift to men. Often we make the mistake of thinking in terms of an angry God who had to be pacified by something a gentle Jesus did. The early preachers never preached that. To them the very coming of Jesus was due to the love of God.

(ii) Jesus exercised a ministry of healing. It was his great desire to banish pain and sorrow from the world.

(iii) They crucified him. Once again there is stressed for him who can read between the lines the sheer horror in the crucifixion. That is what human sin can do.

(iv) He rose again. The power which was in Jesus was not to be defeated. It could conquer the worst that men could do and in the end it could conquer death.

(v) The Christian preacher and teacher is a witness of the resurrection. To him Jesus is not a figure in a book or about whom he has heard. He is a living presence whom he has met.

(vi) The result of all this is forgiveness of sins and a new relationship with God. Through Jesus the friendship which should always have existed between man and God, but which sin interrupted, has dawned upon mankind.


10:44-48 When Peter was still saying these things the Holy Spirit fell upon those who were listening to his word. All the Jewish believers who had come with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles too, for they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone stop water being brought? Can anyone stop those who have received the Holy Spirit, as we too received him, from being baptized?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they asked him to wait with them for some days.

Even as Peter was speaking things began to happen against which even the Jewish Christians could not argue; the Spirit came upon Cornelius and his friends. They were lifted out of themselves in an ecstasy and began to speak with tongues. This to the Jews was the final proof of the astonishing fact that God had given his Spirit to the Gentiles too.

There are two interesting sidelights in this passage.

(i) These Gentile converts, as always in Acts, were baptized there and then. In Acts there is no trace of one set of people only being able to administer baptism. The great truth was that it was the Christian Church which was receiving these converts. We would do well to remember that in baptism today it is not the minister who is receiving a child; it is the Church which is receiving the child on behalf of Jesus Christ and accepting responsibility for him.

(ii) The very last phrase is significant. They asked Peter to wait with them for some days. Why? Surely in order that he might teach them more. The taking upon ourselves of church membership is not so much the end of the road as the beginning.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 10". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/acts-10.html. 1956-1959.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile