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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 10

 

 

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Verses 1-48

Gentiles also must now hear the gospel. The heart of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, had been already prepared by God, having a wholesome, genuine fear of God that proved itself in kind works toward the Jewish people, a man of consistent prayer. Though the apostles had been told to go to Gentiles (Luke 24:47), it was no easy matter for them to begin this, and God gave two visions, confirmatory of one another, to persuade Peter to go. Cornelius was given a vision of an angel, who told him his prayers and alms had come up for a memorial before God (v.4). Therefore there is no doubt that Cornelius was already born again, for only the new life can have God's approval in this way.

He is told, not to go to Joppa himself, but to send men to bring Simon Peter from there, giving instructions as to where to find him. For it was important, on this occasion of publicly admitting Gentiles into the kingdom of heaven, that Peter should present the gospel to a number of them together. Cornelius chose two household servants and a devout soldier on whom he could depend, to carry the message to Peter (vs.7-8).

As they neared Joppa, the Lord was preparing Peter for their coming, causing him to go to the housetop to pray at about noon. Though he became very hungry, God did not allow him to eat, but while a meal was being prepared he fell into a trance, seeing heaven opened and a vessel resembling a great sheet knit at the four corners let down from heaven to earth. In this were beasts of every kind, domesticated, wild, creeping things and birds

Peter however resisted the voice that told him to rise, kill and eat. Obedient to Old Testament law (Leviticus 11:1-47), he had never eaten what was there forbidden as being unclean. But he is plainly told, "What God has cleansed you must not call common" (v.15).

What does the vessel with its animals symbolize? Peter recognized its meaning when later he spoke to Cornelius, "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." (v.28). The vessel therefore symbolizes the church of God as including those people redeemed from every nation, whether cultured (domesticated animals), savage and unrestrained (wild beasts); repulsive and deceitful (creeping things); or influenced by

Satanic doctrine (fowls of the air). The vessel descending from heaven indicates that the origin of the church is heavenly: its being drawn up again into heaven shows the destination of the church to be heavenly. Three times the matter is impressed upon Peter's mind, implying a full manifestation of God's thoughts on this subject. For the dispensation of the grace of God fully sets aside the principles of legal requirements. The literal eating or not eating of certain meats has no longer therefore any spiritual significance, as 1 Timothy 4:3-5 insists.

Understandably Peter was in doubt, wondering why the vision was given. But he had not long to wait for an answer, for the men sent from Cornelius were at the gate asking for him. He does not go in response to their asking, however, but by the direction of the Holy Spirit, who tells him of the three men seeking him, and instructs him to go with the men without personal reservations, for God had sent them.

Peter's interest is greatly awakened, so that he questions the men as to the reason for their coming. In answer they highly commend the character of Cornelius, and inform Peter of his having been instructed by an angel to send to bring Peter to his house, in order to hear the message Peter had to give.

Of course Peter was fully ready to go, and after having the messengers lodged for the night in the home of his host, he accompanied them the next day on their return to Caesarea, together with other brethren from Joppa. There was wisdom in this, for Peter knew that his Jewish brethren would certainly require some witness as to a matter of such tremendous consequence to Jewish minds. He would be very thankful he had done this when he was later challenged as to his having gone into a Gentile's home, and having eaten with Gentiles (Ch.11:2-3).

Fully expecting Peter, Cornelius had already gathered together his relatives and close friends to hear the word of God. However, because of thorough reverence for the things of God, he made the serious mistake of falling at Peter's feet to worship him. Some men would proudly accept this, but not Peter, who knew that only the Lord is to be worshiped. Peter took him up, ordering him to stand, for he was just as Cornelius, a mere man, and not God. When John (in Revelation 22:8) fell down to worship an angel, the angel solemnly forbid him to do it.

Speaking to the gathered audience, Peter tells them they knew it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with, or even come on friendly terms to the home of, one who was of a foreign nation. This was not precisely what Israel's law had said, but it was the interpretation the Jews generally had at this time accepted. The Lord sent Elijah to stay with a Gentile widow (1 Kings 17:9). More importantly, God sent Joseph and Mary with the child Jesus to Egypt, where it would be impossible to keep this Jewish regulation. Moreover, the Lord Himself spoke in kindness to a Samaritan woman, she being surprised at this, for the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9). But Peter's rigid thoughts had to give way to the Lord's revelation to him: he must not call any man common or unclean, of whatever nation he was. This was his reason for coming immediately without objection.

In answer to his question, Cornelius explains to him the experience of his seeing the vision of the angel in response to his prayer, and of the instructions he was given to send for Peter. The miraculous character of this was fully corroborated by the vision given to Peter, so that in this there was no possibility of deception, as in the cases of many who claim to have had visions. The gathering in the home of Cornelius therefore had been carefully arranged by God, and they were ready to hear all that God had commanded Peter.

Peter's opening words then are precious, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him." Evidently he had himself considered that God was a respecter of persons, for his education was such as to give Israelites a higher place in God's sight than all other nationalities. In the church of God all of this must be totally leveled; and God used this miraculous way of impressing such truth upon Peter.

He reminds them that they knew of the word of God sent to Israel by Jesus Christ, He who preached peace in the midst of the strife and confusion of the nation. The parenthesis he adds, "He is Lord of all," shows that the message was not to be confined to Israel. The facts of John's baptism and of the ministry of the Lord Jesus following this, beginning in and published throughout all Galilee, were well known through the land. Peter speaks of the public anointing of the Lord Jesus at Jordan when John baptized Him, the power of the Spirit of God therefore manifest in His many good works, healing of the sick, etc., proof of God's being with Him.

The apostles were witness of all these things that the Lord had done, and also of the cruel opposition of the Jewish leaders, who had slain Him, hanging Him on a tree. No doubt Cornelius had heard this too, but beyond that he needed the most vital news that Peter had to give him, that God had on the third day raised Christ from among the dead and showed Him openly. This was not however to the public generally, but to special witnesses before chosen by God, the apostles and others who actually ate and drank with Him following His resurrection.

Having a message of such tremendous import, Peter and the other apostles had been commanded by God to preach to the people and testify that this same Jesus has been ordained by God as Judge of the living and the dead. His resurrection is proof of this great prerogative (Acts 17:31). Notice that in all this matter there is great care given to back up everything with solid proof, God having first shown this in the two visions given at corresponding times to Cornelius and Peter, then in all that Peter speaks.

Peter's last words to Cornelius and those gathered in his house appeal to the united witness of all the Old Testament prophets, whose prophecies concerning the Messiah of Israel were unmistakably fulfilled in the blessed Man Christ Jesus. Yet they did not only establish the fact of His being Judge, but that whoever (Jew or Gentile) genuinely believed in Him would receive remission of sins. Marvellous message of grace!

As Peter was speaking God suddenly intervened by sovereign power and grace. The Holy Spirit fell on all those who were listening. They were not called upon to be baptized first, as Jews had been (Ch.2:38), but God here demonstrated His full acceptance of Gentiles in a public way that could not be mistaken. Gentiles had not been guilty of the public rejection of the Messiah, as had been the case with Israel, who were therefore required by baptism to publicly reverse their previous stand against Christ before God could publicly accept them.

The Jewish believers who came with Peter were astonished to witness the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon Gentiles: for just as Jewish disciples had spoken in other languages (Acts 2:4) at the reception of the Spirit, so now Gentiles do the same, indicating that national barriers are broken over and an understanding established between those of every nation, the result of the value of the sacrifice of Christ. These languages were understandable to some present at least, for they heard them magnify God.

Baptism is not by any means ignored, however, for it is the public badge of Christianity. Neither were they left to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be baptized. Peter by his question sets aside any objection that might be raised by Jews as to whether the Gentiles should be baptized. Actually God had decided it by His giving them the Spirit. Therefore Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Surely this was not any ignoring of the commission the Lord gave Peter and the other disciples in Matthew 28:19, as to baptizing "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." For when this formula was used, this was certainly baptizing in the name of the Lord. At their request Peter remained with them some days, certainly to further instruct them in the truth of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 10:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-10.html. 1897-1910.

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