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Cornelius Is Visited by an Angel
In this chapter it becomes clear for the first time that salvation is going to extend to the nations. This has already been preceded by God’s work among the Samaritans in Acts 8. Samaritans are not Jews either, but are still connected to them, even though they are mixed together. The eunuch is also an example of someone who did not belong to the Jews, a true Gentile. Nevertheless, he had a certain connection with Jerusalem. He sympathized with the Jewish religion and from his sympathy for it he had visited the city.
In this chapter we see how the history of the church is continued by opening it up to the nations that have no connection whatsoever with the Jewish people. The most characteristic of this new development is that the nations are incorporated into the church of Jesus Christ without being circumcised.
While Saul, as the apostle of the nations, has already been converted, Peter is still used to open up salvation to the nations as well. After the conversion of the Samaritans and the eunuch, the conversion of Cornelius is proof of the entrance of the nations into salvation in the full sense. Cornelius is converted apart from Jerusalem. His conversion takes place in Caesarea, where he is visited by Peter and hears the gospel. The name Caesarea reminds us of the Roman emperor. Cornelius is also part of the Roman army.
Here it is fully clear that God’s favor is not limited to the Jews and also that it is not necessary to become a Jew to participate in the salvation that is in Christ. The conversion of Cornelius does not yet reveal the truth of the church as a body united with the Head in heaven. It is the preparation for it because someone from the nations is accepted without becoming a Jew.
A beautiful testimony is given of Cornelius. What is said of him is a rarity for a Gentile. On top of that he is in a social position, where ungodliness is practiced in the most brutal way, that is in the army. He is not a proselyte, but he sympathizes very much with the Jewish religion. His whole attitude indicates that he has already been converted, but that he has yet to be saved. So Peter says later in his account in Jerusalem (Acts 11:13-2 Chronicles :).
His whole house is under his God-fearing influence. Personally he is pious. To God he is full of reverence. He loves the people of God, which is shown by the alms he gives to the people. His life is dominated by dependence on God, which is shown by the statement that he constantly prays to God.
Such an attitude and prayer life do not remain without an answer from God. God shows Himself to people who pray. He uses a vision to address Himself to Cornelius. He does this at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer and of the evening burnt offering (see explanation of Acts 3:1). At that hour, Cornelius sees “clearly”, not vaguely, an angel of God coming to him. The angel greets him by mentioning his name. With this he says as it were that God knows him. Very surprised, Cornelius gazes at the angel, while a feeling of great fear overwhelms him. We see this fear more often in people when they see angels (Luke 1:12; Luke 2:9-2 Samuel :).
Then he asks the anxious question about the reason for his coming. The angel reassures him. Not only his name, but also his alms and his prayers are known to God. These are all constantly before God. They are in His thoughts and in His time He goes to work with them. God never forgets anything that someone sincerely does for Him or says to Him. In His time He will also respond to them. For Cornelius that time has now come.
God lets Cornelius know through the angel that he must now send men to Joppa to invite Peter. The angel can give a hint to do something, but he cannot bring the gospel. The message of grace cannot be brought by an angel, but only by a man who himself has become the object of grace. The angel says where he can find Peter and that is in the house of a certain Simon. He tells him Simon’s profession and where the house is.
The housing of a tanner does not immediately evoke the image of a luxury accommodation. It stinks very much. Something has already been said about the symbolic meaning of the profession of tanner in the explanation of Acts 9:43. Here something is added which also has a symbolic meaning. The house is said to be a house “by the sea”. The sea is a symbol of the sea of nations. It is an indication that the gospel is for the nations and that Peter is the instrument to open the gospel for the nations.
When the angel has left, Cornelius immediately takes action. He does not have to think about it. The task is clear. He calls two servants and a God-fearing soldier. As boss Cornelius must have been a very amiable person who had a confidential relationship with his staff. He informs them about the angel’s visit and what the angel said to him. The men leave without asking questions. Cornelius acts obediently to God and his men act obediently to Cornelius.
The hearers have been prepared by God; now the preacher has yet to be prepared. There is not only a praying seeker, there is also a praying servant. Peter seeks solitude with God. He devotes himself to prayer in order to serve with God’s Word (Acts 6:4). Peter also sees a vision through which God prepares him for the visit of the men of Cornelius. He gets that vision when he is hungry and wants food. God uses this practical need to make him receptive to the message He has for him.
While the food is being prepared, Peter sees the sky opened up. He sees something descending from it that is reminiscent of a great sheet. He also notices that the sheet is lowered by the four corners to the ground. Furthermore he sees in the sheet “all [kinds of] four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air”. The fish are missing. What he sees are the animals that also went into the ark with Noah, where also the fish were missing (Genesis 7:14). All these animals came into the saving ark and were spared from the flood.
Noah had clean and unclean animals in the ark. God saved all those animals. Here God stretches a great time span through which He connects the history of the flood with this time in which the gospel is opened to all people, Jews and Gentiles, as the saving gospel. Just as all the animals that came into the ark were saved through their stay in the ark, so there is salvation for all who are in Christ. This is what Peter sees in the vision.
This vision contains several clues to the gospel through which the church is expanded. We see that it comes from heaven, which points to the origin of the gospel and also to the origin of the church. Attention is also drawn to the fact that the sheet is great, that it is lowered by the four corners and that the earth is the terrain on which it is lowered.
The fact that it is a great sheet reflects the size of the church: there is room for everyone. The four corners indicate the expanse of the gospel: it extends to everyone, to all corners of the earth. The whole earth is the area where it is preached. The mixing of pure and impure animals and birds shows that the distinction between pure and impure is gone. There is no regard for the person with God (Romans 10:12-1 Chronicles :).
The order to Peter comes from heaven. He is ordered to get up, kill and eat. Peter reacts shocked. No matter how hungry he is, he doesn’t dare. As a pious Jew, he still abides by the food laws, which forbid the eating of unclean animals (Leviticus 11:46-2 Corinthians :; Deuteronomy 14:3-Ecclesiastes :). The Jews had to keep these food laws in order to keep themselves clean from the nations. Food forms a human being. If Peter eats the food the nations eat, he will look like them.
But now the sheet descends from heaven. All those animals in the sheet together form the church, as it were, which consists of all people who have come to faith, both Jews and Gentiles. The barrier of the dividing wall has been broken down (Ephesians 2:14), the food laws do not apply to the church (Colossians 2:20-Ecclesiastes :), because the church is from heaven and for heaven. The food laws are for the earth and an earthly people.
Peter must be led to see the new as something that comes from the Lord. This will cost him effort. Old prejudices die only slowly, especially if they are prejudices that have always been part of the right religion. It is a problem of his conscience. We can also have a certain certainty that something is good and still not dare to do it because our conscience contradicts it. The Lord understands this and makes sure that we do not have to do something with a bad conscience. It may well be that this makes us ‘more papist than the pope’. If God says that we can or should eat, we should not say ‘no’ because of our conscience. Peter is now told that God is making a change in His earlier precepts.
The cross of Christ has changed everything and removed the distinction between Jew and Gentile. For the Christian, the food laws no longer have any meaning at all. God can give the law of pure and unclean animals; He can also undo it for a certain group of people. This group of people includes all those who are in Christ, for whom there is therefore no more condemnation (Romans 8:1) just as there was no judgment for all in the ark.
For Peter to properly understand the meaning of the vision, he is told three times that what God has cleansed, Peter may not consider to be unholy. More things occurred three times in Peter’s life: three times he denied the Lord and three times the Lord asked him if he loved Him.
After it has been said to him three times, the object is raised up again into heaven. Here we see the picture of the church confirmed. The fact that the sheet descends from heaven indicates that the church is of heavenly origin. The fact that the sheet is taken up into heaven again indicates that the destination of the church is also heavenly.
The Messengers of Cornelius
The vision he has just seen is not immediately clear to him, but it will soon be so. While he is thinking about it, the men of Cornelius appear. Here again we see such wonderful timing of the Lord that we also saw in Philip who was also with the eunuch just at the right time (Acts 8:29-Amos :). The Spirit leads Peter further. He does not explain the vision to him either, but prepares him further for its meaning. He tells Peter that three men are looking for him. He orders him to get up, go downstairs, and go with them without misgivings. As an extra certainty, the Spirit says that He has sent them.
We can apply the statement that Peter has to go downstairs in such a way that Peter has to get rid of his prejudices and go to the level of the Gentiles. He must not think any further about whether or not to go with them, but must go with them without misgivings. It is really a command of God’s Spirit. Then Peter obeys and goes downstairs.
He tells the men that they have found who they are looking for. He wants to know what the purpose of their coming is. That is still unknown to him. The Spirit did not tell him that. The men of Cornelius tell Peter the reason for their coming. They give a beautiful testimony of Cornelius (Acts 10:22). It is the same testimony the Holy Spirit gave him in Acts 10:2. His surroundings know him in the same way. It is beautiful if we can also pass on such testimonies from fellow believers to others.
After the men have told the purpose of their visit, Peter invites them in and gives them lodging. Simon will have given him access to his house. After a good night’s rest, the men return with Peter to Cornelius. Also “some of the brethren” – there are six of them (Acts 11:12) – of Joppa go with them. It will have done Peter good that the local believers show so much interest in this work that they sent a delegation with them. He acts in fellowship with his brothers. It is a matter of the church.
Peter Comes to Cornelius
When Peter comes to Cornelius, he appears to be on the lookout. Full of expectation he looked forward to the arrival of Peter. He also invited others to come and listen to the words that Peter will speak. It concerns his relatives and close friends with whom he speaks confidentially about the things of God because those things also have their interest. It is an expression of the new life because it is attracted by those who also own it or are interested in it.
They must have heard a lot about Peter and they are very impressed by this special servant of God. As soon as Peter enters, Cornelius goes to meet him, falls at his feet and worships him. What Cornelius did was not good, but it showed his mind to fall as a Roman captain at the feet of a simple fisherman from Galilee. Peter, however, does not accept any man’s homage (cf. Revelation 19:10). Homage is only for God. People are only servants.
What Peter says to Cornelius is a condemnation of the papacy. The pope can be worshipped. He boasts of continuing in Peter’s footsteps, because he imagines himself to be the successor of Peter who, according to him, is the first pope. This abominable presumption will be judged by God (Revelation 17:15-Job :; Revelation 18:1-1 Samuel :Revelation 18:21-Jeremiah :).
Peter then goes inside with Cornelius. There he finds the whole company invited by Cornelius. In Acts 10:22 there is only mention of Cornelius as the one who needs to hear those words. But he is not the only one who wants to hear those words. He has invited many more. That also means that he has talked about it with others and is not ashamed of the Name of God. It is also an extra proof of his firm trust in what God has said about the coming of Peter.
Peter Tells Why He Has Come
Peter begins by saying that they know that he, as a Jew, is not permitted to join a stranger, but to remain separated from the nations. This prohibition is based on the law (Deuteronomy 7:1-Numbers :; Deuteronomy 7:6; cf. John 18:28). When we read that part of the law, we read about the prohibition to join the nations, but nowhere does it say that contact with the nations is forbidden. This has to do with the exaggerated explanations of the rabbis.
In order to prevent another catastrophe such as the deportation to Babylon, which was the result of the mixing of Israel with the nations, the rabbis put up a fence around the law. They tightened the commandment to avoid breaking the law and thus make the law tighter than God gave it. They really wanted to take it seriously with God’s law, but in their zeal for it, they have gone further.
Even Peter was entangled in it and God had to make that clear to him. This is what Peter tells us when he says that God has shown him he should “not call any man unholy or unclean”. Peter then makes the application of what God has shown him in the great sheet. He has understood what God meant by it and he has also taken the teaching to heart. He has understood that when God considers people to be clean, he must do the same. That is why he accepted the invitation and has now come to Cornelius without further contradiction.
By the way, removing the difference between clean and unclean does not mean that there can now be free association with the world. Friendship with the world is still forbidden. Light and darkness cannot coexist and friendship with the world is enmity against God (2 Corinthians 6:14; James 4:4). We cannot avoid our contact with the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-2 Samuel :), but we may not make friendship with it.
It is about the inner attitude towards the world that we know has rejected the Lord Jesus and still does. The Lord Jesus was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19), but it was those tax collectors and sinners who had a sincere interest in Him. He did not in any way participate in their wrong practices. The Pharisees did not have such contact and condemned the Lord for it. He was a friend to repentant tax collectors and sinners, but an enemy to the world.
Peter still does not know what he had to go to Cornelius for. He therefore asks him. It is important that Cornelius himself tells what he needs. We also have to ask questions first and learn to listen to what occupies people. In the same way Philip approached the eunuch with a question (Acts 8:30).
Cornelius Explains the Invitation
In his explanation, Cornelius begins by mentioning that the origin of his request lies in prayer. Cornelius was a man who had persistently gone to the Lord. He did not pray just occasionally for a cause, but constantly.
God wants to be prayed to. He will answer that. The answer for Cornelius came from heaven in the form of a man wearing a beautiful robe. God’s answer radiates beauty. Cornelius repeats what the angel said in Acts 10:4. In Acts 10:2 the order is still: alms and prayers. This is how it must have been for Cornelius, but God puts the prayer of Cornelius first and then speaks about the alms.
Cornelius is a born-again man. Only born-again people seek God in truth. He is also a man who does not yet know the gospel of salvation (Acts 11:14). He has life out of God, but not yet the certainty of salvation, because then someone receives the Holy Spirit as a seal of that salvation (Ephesians 1:13). Peter must speak those words of salvation. For this Cornelius had to have Peter called from Joppa. The angel told Cornelius exactly who he had to call, where that person was and also why he had to call him. He also got the certainty that Peter would come.
Cornelius further tells how he immediately did what the angel said and sent Peter a message. He praises Peter for coming. This is a holy moment and a holy place. The presence of Peter and the six brothers of the church in Joppa gives to all the feeling that they are in the presence of God. This is how Cornelius expresses it. It is the right atmosphere to hear the words of the Lord. Peter is allowed to tell what has been commanded to him by the Lord. Cornelius and the others are not waiting for anything else.
The Preaching of Peter
Peter begins his gospel speech which is the key that opens the door of the gospel to the nations. This is a very different speech than in Acts 2. He knows that this is a different audience and takes this into account in his speech.
In his first words, he acknowledges the sovereignty of God in removing any distinction between people. It is not about whether someone is a member of the right people by birth, but whether someone fears God and shows that by doing what is pleasing to Him. These are strange words from the mouth of a Jewish man, but they are the thoughts of God. Peter begins to learn the lesson. Cornelius is such a man who fears God and works righteousness. Peter acknowledges that he is pleasing to God.
In his preaching Peter speaks about the great facts of salvation in connection with the Lord Jesus. He speaks about His life, His death, His resurrection and His glorification. When God sent the word to the sons of Israel, He did so by proclaiming Jesus Christ as a word of peace. But the coming of Jesus Christ is not only important for Israel. Peter immediately makes that clear by speaking of Him as “Lord of all”. He is not only Lord of the Israelites (Acts 2:36), but the Lord of all nations.
Then Peter connects to their knowledge about the actions of John the baptist. From that moment on he takes his hearers to Jesus Christ as John the baptist pointed out to Him. It is important to always bring forward the great truths about the life and work of the Lord Jesus.
Peter speaks about Him as “Jesus of Nazareth”. He is so because of His birth and the years He spent in Nazareth, from the moment He went to live there until His performance among the people. It is the Name that evokes contempt in people (John 1:46). To God He is the chosen, beloved Son. He has anointed Him. The anointing expresses God’s pleasure, His election. God was with Him because He always did what was pleasing to Him.
His anointing also took place in view of His service. The Holy Spirit gave Him the power for His service. It is to be clothed with power that has come upon Him, just as it happened later with the disciples (Luke 24:49). We are also anointed (2 Corinthians 1:21), because we also need this anointing for our service. The service of the Lord Jesus implied that He did good, healed and broke the power of the devil. In everything He did, God was with Him, for everything He did was a joy to God’s heart.
Peter, together with the apostles, can call himself a witness to all of this. He has seen what the Lord Jesus did in the land of the Jews, Judea, and in Jerusalem, thus in the heart of the Jewish religion. That is where He was most opposed in His service and that is where they finally killed Him by hanging Him on a cross. That is where the foundation was laid for all doing good, healing and the breaking of the devil and his works. There God gave His Son to nullify sin for all who believe in Him.
But His death was not His end. How could that be! People may reject Him as despicable and think they have got rid of Him, but for God it is different. It is precisely in His rejection that God has found the greatest reason for His pleasure. Precisely in His rejection the Lord Jesus has fulfilled everything that God has asked of Him. That is why God has shown His convincing pleasure in Him and His work by awakening Him on the third day. In this way He gave Him the opportunity to reveal Himself to various persons after His resurrection.
He did not appear to the unbelieving people, but to believers. He appeared to many to give the undeniable testimony of His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:4-Ruth :). In the resurrection there can only be fellowship with those who have Him as their life, who share His resurrection life. We live in the age of faith, without seeing (2 Corinthians 5:7), but the resurrection has been recorded as a fact observed by many. Peter and the other apostles have been commissioned to bear witness to a resurrected Christ on earth (Acts 1:22). Paul will become the witness of the glorified Lord in heaven Whom he saw on his way to Damascus.
Peter has not yet indicated in his speech that salvation is also for the Gentiles. So far it is only a Christ for Israel. The command to preach about Him has been given in view of God’s earthly people. That is why Peter, at the end of his speech, presents Him as the Judge of the living and the dead appointed by God. This is the final piece of Christ’s coming for His people.
Then Peter says that the testimony is not limited to Israel, but that there is forgiveness of sins through His Name for everyone who believes in Christ. All of the above is necessary to come to this point. It is all about faith in Him. This has been pointed out by all the prophets. The prophets have also pointed out that there is forgiveness for everyone who believes in Him. At this point the breakthrough takes place.
Consequences of the Speech
Even during the speech, the Holy Spirit suddenly falls upon all those who hear the Word of salvation. The gift of the Holy Spirit, the seal of Christian blessing among the Jews and the fruit of the work of salvation accomplished by the Lord Jesus, is given as much to the nations as to the Jews. The order we find here is:
1. hearing and believing the Word,
2. then receiving the Holy Spirit
3. and then be baptized (Acts 10:48).
The Spirit is given here after the testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, of which they apparently had not heard. They did know about His life and death. Without first being baptized – as with the conversion of the Jews in Acts 2 – and without the laying on of hands – as with the conversion of the Samaritans in Acts 8 – the Holy Spirit comes upon those who hear the Word. Here we see how Gentiles are added to the church of God through the gospel. This is still God’s way of doing things (Ephesians 1:13).
The believing Jews, here emphatically called “the circumcised believers”, are perplexed. They cannot understand what is happening. It is difficult for Jews to accept that the nations will be in the same relationship to God as they, the chosen people, in an even simpler way, because they had to be baptized first.
God is tearing down the borders around Israel. He proves that He accepts the nations. He emphasizes that by linking the wonder of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the sign of speaking in languages, just like in Acts 2. Here too this is the sign that God is addressing all nations. This is a sign for believing Jews who are non-believers in a certain respect because they cannot believe that the Gentiles are also accepted by God (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:21-Song of Solomon :).
The Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit without first becoming Jews. God does not require them to confess that they are unclean because they belong to the nations, but accepts them without condition. They must not even be led into Judaism. They belong to the new herd outside the fold of Judaism (John 10:16). They now belong to the church. For receiving the Holy Spirit, faith alone is sufficient. If God does not attach any further conditions to it, people are not allowed to do so by commanding them to keep the law or something of it.
If God then adds them to the body solely on the basis of faith through the gift of the Holy Spirit, people cannot deny them access to the circle of believers on earth that takes place through baptism with water. Baptism used to mean that someone was baptized to join the Jewish people, the proselyte baptism. Here baptism means entering Christendom. Thus Cornelius and his people are baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.
After Cornelius and his family are baptized, the service of Peter is over. They want him to stay a few more days, greedy as they are for more teaching. Peter will no doubt have complied with this request.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 10". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany