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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Acts 10

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-48

THE FIRST THING in the chapter is the angelic ministry to Cornelius by which he is directed to send to Joppa and call Peter. No difficulty arose here, for Cornelius immediately did as he was told. The angel, you notice, did not cut a rather lengthy story short by himself telling the message to Cornelius. The message of grace can only be rightly told by a man who is himself a subject of grace. So Peter must be called. God had respect to the prayers and alms of Cornelius, since they expressed the sincere seeking of his heart after God. If, after hearing the Gospel, he had ignored its message and gone on with his prayers and alms, it would have been a different matter. Then they would not have “come up for a memorial before God.”

Next comes the account of God’s preliminary dealings with Peter by means of a trance. There was more difficulty here, for he was still bound by his Jewish thoughts, and from these he had to be delivered. The hearers were ready, but the preacher had to be made ready to go. The record is that he “went up upon the housetop to pray,” consequently he was in the right attitude to receive the necessary guidance. There was not only a praying seeker but a praying servant also. Hence remarkable results followed.

The great sheet which Peter saw descended out of an opened heaven. It embraced within its folds all manner of creatures both clean and unclean. It was received up into heaven. Peter was bidden to satisfy his hunger by partaking, and he might have done this by selecting a clean animal for his food. Yet they were all jumbled up together, so he declined. He was told however that God could cleanse the unclean: that in fact He had done so, and what He had cleansed he was not to call common. This happened three times so that the significance of it might sink into Peter’s mind. We can see in the vision an apt figure of the Gospel, which comes from an opened heaven, which embraces in its folds a multitude, amongst which are found many Gentiles, who were ceremonially unclean; but all of them cleansed by grace, and ultimately taken up into heaven.

Peter at first doubted the meaning of all this, for ancient prejudices die slowly; but, as he continued to ponder, the situation was cleared by the arrival of the messengers from Cornelius. The Spirit distinctly instructed him to go with them and thus carry the Gospel to the seeking Roman. The “unclean” Gentile was to be saved.

In Acts 8:1-40, we saw how accurately God timed Philip’s interception of the Ethiopian’s chariot. Now we see the servants of Cornelius arriving at the precise moment to clinch the Divine instructions to Peter’s mind. The thing was of God, and Peter was irresistibly carried forward.

Arrived at Caesarea, all was ready in the house of Cornelius. He too was conscious the thing was of God, and so he had no doubt as to Peter coming, and he had called together a number of people who like himself were seekers after God. Verse Acts 10:25 reveals to us the reverential and submissive frame of mind that marked Cornelius. He carried his reverence too far; still it was no small thing that the haughty Roman should fall at the feet of a humble Galilean fisherman.

Peter now found himself in the presence of a large number of Gentiles, and his opening words to Cornelius show how he had accepted the instruction conveyed to him by the vision. The reply of Cornelius reveals how simply he had believed the angel’s message and promptly obeyed it. He had accepted Peter’s gentle rebuke when he asserted, “I myself also am a man:” yet he knew that God was at work and that the meeting was to be held as in His presence. He therefore placed himself and the whole audience as “here present before God,” ready to hear from the preacher “all things that are commanded thee of God.” They were ready to hear ALL. Plenty of folk do not mind hearing pleasant and comforting things, while objecting to the sterner announcements that the Gospel makes.

Peter opened his address with a further acknowledgment that he now perceived that God would have respect to every soul that sincerely sought Him, according to the light he might have, no matter to what nation he belonged. The grace of God was now about to flow richly beyond the boundaries of Israel, though the word which God had sent in connection with Jesus Christ, personally present amongst men, had been addressed to the children of Israel only. Still that word had been well published through Galilee and Judaea, and so Cornelius and his friends knew all about it, being resident in those parts. The things that happened in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth were well known to them.

So Peter could say, “That word... ye know.” There were however, things that they did not know; and these all-essential matters he proceeded to unfold. The death of Jesus had been a public spectacle and everybody knew about it. His resurrection had been witnessed by only a few, and common report denied it, the denial having the backing of the religious authorities, as we learn from Matthew 28:11-15. Hence Peter now announced the astonishing news that the crucified Jesus had been raised from the dead by an act of God, that he and his fellow Apostles had actually seen Him, eaten with Him, and received from Him a command what they were to preach to others. In verses Acts 10:42-43 Peter made the announcements he was commanded to make.

These verses give us the two themes of his preaching, two announcements which must have come with great power to his Gentile hearers. First, the Jesus, whom men crucified, is ordained of God to be the Judge both of the living and the dead. His crucifixion was the act of both Jew and Gentile. Cornelius must have been familiar with the details, and known some who participated in it, if not actually involved in it himself. He was acquainted with His shame and dishonour and apparent failure. Well, the despised Jesus is to come forth in due season as the universal Judge. The destinies of all men rest in His hands. What an astounding declaration! Calculated to overwhelm every adversary with terror!

But second, before this Judge seats Himself on the judgment throne, all the prophets bear witness that there is forgiveness offered in His Name. That forgiveness is received by “whosoever believeth in Him.” Forgiveness through the Name of the Judge! Could anything be more stable and satisfactory than that? The Judge has become the Surety for sinful men, and hence the believer in Him receives the remission of sins, before the day dawns when will be held the great assizes for the living and for the dead.

Cornelius and his friends did believe. Faith was present in their hearts before ever they heard the message. Hearing it, their faith instantly embraced it, and God signalized that fact by instantly bestowing on them the gift of the Holy Ghost. Their faith leapt forth like the lightning-flash, and was at once followed by the thunder-clap of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was poured upon these believing Gentiles just as He had been at the beginning upon believing Jews, with the sign of tongues following. The two cases were identical, and in this way “they of the circumcision” who had come with Peter had every doubt dispelled. There was nothing for it but to baptize these Gentiles. If God had baptized them by the Spirit into the one body, men could not deny them entrance among believers on earth by water baptism.

There is just this difference between Acts 2:1-47 and this chapter, that there the enquirers had to submit first to baptism by water, and then they were to receive the promise of the Spirit. They had to cut their links with the rebellious mass of their nation before they were blessed. Here God bestowed the Spirit first, for had He not done so Jewish prejudices would have raised a wall against their baptism and reception. So God forestalled them: indeed the whole chapter shows us how this opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles was the moving of God’s hand in the fulfilment of His purpose. It shows us too that no rigid law can be laid down as to the reception of the Spirit. It is always the result of faith, but it may be with or without baptism, with or without the laying on of apostolic hands—see Acts 19:6.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 10:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/acts-10.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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