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Two men in this chapter receive a divine revelation from God. There is a double vision here. Cornelius receives a vision and so does Peter. Both received a revelation in the context of prayer. Cornelius was praying at his house and Peter was praying on his rooftop.
Peter is Jewish (a Jewish Christian) and Cornelius is a Gentile. Peter is saved and Cornelius is unsaved at the time of the vision. God prepared Cornelius to hear the gospel through a vision, just as He prepares Muslims through visions today.
Cornelius receives a VISION (όραμα). He sees an angel. Peter falls into a TRANCE (έστασις). Peter doesn’t see an angel but he does see the heavens open and hears a voice. A trance is a little different from a vision. They are two different Greek words. A trance is like a dream. You are not fully conscious in a trance.
Last week, we looked at the conversion of a man named Saul. Today, we look at the conversion of a man named Cornelius. We have these two conversions back-to-back. They have many similarities.
1) Both were important men
Saul was a very important person in his day. He very well educated. He was the head persecutor of the church. If he wanted some papers from the high priest, the most important religious leader in his day, all he had to do was to go and ask for them. Cornelius was important as well. He was in the army.
He was a professional fighter trained in hand-to-hand-combat. He was not just a SOLDIER the Roman army, he was A LEADER of soldiers. He had one hundred solders under his command in the Roman army. That is what the word centurion means (ruler over one hundred).
Cornelius was probably like a captain in the army today. A US army captain is in charge of one hundred or two hundred soldiers. Cornelius was a leader. He led other men. He was captain over one hundred foot soldiers. He had an important job.
2) Both were religious men
Saul was zealous for the law and the traditions of his fathers. He was very religious. Cornelius was religious as well. He attended the synagogue. He prayed regularly. He feared God. Both were not only religious, they worshiped the same God.
Saul worshiped Jehovah and so did Cornelius. Cornelius was a God-fearer. He wasn’t a full convert to Judaism because he did not go through with the rite of circumcision but he did give up his pagan background.
Cornelius stopped worshiping the many gods that the Romans worshiped and began to worship the God of Israel and so did his whole household (wife, children, and slaves). Apparently, he was not just a leader in the army; he was a leader in his home as well. He was the spiritual leader in his household. He didn’t say that religion is a private matter.
3) Both were unsaved men
They were both unsaved. On the surface, Cornelius looks like a saved man. He is religious. He prays. He fears God. He is righteous. He is moral. He gives to the poor. Cornelius looks like he is saved. Some commentators have said that he was saved but he was not. We know that from Acts 11 when Peter tells the story of Cornelius again.
“He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’” (Acts 11:13-14)
Apparently, Cornelius was not saved until Peter came and preached the gospel to him (cf. 10:43; 11:18).
4) Both were not saved on their own
Saul did not come to faith on his own. Jesus had to appear to him. He had to see a supernatural light which was so bright that it knocked him over and blinded him. He had to hear a heavenly voice which called him by name. He needed someone else to baptize him.
Cornelius did not come to faith on his own. An angel had to appear to him, an apostle had to travel thirty miles to preach to him and the Holy Spirit had to fall on him. Both Saul and Cornelius had a divine revelation.
5) Believers had to be prepared for their salvation
God had to prepare Ananias for the conversion of Paul with a vision. God had to prepare Peter for the conversion of Cornelius with a vision. Neither one were ready for them. In Acts 9, we saw that it was harder to convince Ananias than it was convince Saul. In Acts 10, we see that it was harder to prepare Peter than it was to prepare Cornelius. God told Peter to do something and he said “no” three times.
1) One had a good reputation and one had a bad reputation.
Saul was a good guy and Cornelius was a bad guy. Saul was doing bad things. He was going around doing bad things. He was killing people and terrorizing the church. He was the chief of sinners. Cornelius was a good man. He was a moral man (10:22). He gave money to the poor generously (10:2).
He was well-respected among the Jews (10:22), which is in itself is amazing. The Roman army was one of the greatest armies the world has ever known and the Jews did not think too highly of Roman soldiers because they were occupying their country. Cornelius was in the Roman army and the Jews still liked him. He had a great reputation.
2) One was a Jew and one was a Gentile
Saul was a Jew. He called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”. Cornelius was a God-fearer. He worshiped the true God but he was not a Jew by birth. He was not Jewish. He was not Christian. He was a Roman. Racially, he was an Italian. He was a Gentile.
3) One was open to the gospel and one was antagonistic
Cornelius was what we call today “a seeker”. He was open to the gospel. Saul was completely antagonistic. He was trying to stamp it out and kill Christians.
Cornelius prays and receives a vision of an angel. He describes him as a man in shining clothes (10:30). What was his reaction to the vision? Terror, fear (10:4). He says, “What do you want?” The angel praises Cornelius for all of the good that he is doing but says, “If you want to be saved, go get Peter and have him preach to you”.
The angel tells him what city Peter was in. He was Joppa (thirty miles away) and who he was staying with (Simon the Tanner). The angel says, “I want you to find Simon Peter who is staying at the house of another Simon (Simon the Tanner)”. There are two Simons here.
This raises a few questions. Why didn’t the angel explain the gospel to Peter? The angel did not tell him the plan of salvation. God uses people to preach the gospel, not angels. Why didn’t the angel say, “Go find Peter and talk to him”? He said, “Go get Peter and have him come to you”. Why? There were a number of reasons.
Peter was able to preach to more people that way, because Cornelius had invited all of his Gentile friends over to his house. Peter got a chance to preach the gospel not just to Cornelius but to all of his friends.
The other reason is that God not only wanted to change Cornelius, He wanted to change Peter was well and break down some of his prejudices by inviting him into the home of a Gentile. He is going to kill two birds with one stone.
The next day, Cornelius sends three men (two servants and one soldier) to Joppa to get Peter. Before they get there, God gives Peter a vision as well. God tells Peter that he is going to have some visitors and that he is to go with them. That is a little strange. He doesn’t even tell him why, just that he has sent them.
He also received a vision. This vision happened to be about food – animals in a sheet (pigs in a blanket). Peter saw a lot of unclean animals in his vision. The vision said, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat!”
Peter’s response was interesting. God tells him to do something. Peter was hungry at the time and he still said no. Peter basically said, “I have never done this before and am not going to do it now. It goes against all of my Jewish training”. It is a violation of the OT and all of the Levitical food laws.
God had to say it three times. Peter was a slow learner. I don’t know if he was ADD but Peter had to hear things three times (“Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep”). Peter’s response each time was, “No”.
What he said was “Not so, Lord” or “No way, Lord”. This was Peter’s typical response. Peter always told you exactly what he thought. He was not afraid to tell Jesus he was wrong, contradict Him or even rebuke Him on occasion.
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to REBUKE him. “NEVER, LORD!” he said. “This shall NEVER happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22)
“Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I NEVER will.’” (Matthew 26:31-33)
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall NEVER wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:3-8)
Many have pointed out that the words “not so, Lord” are an oxymoron. You cannot say “No” and “Lord” in the same sentence. If you say “No”, you can’t say “Lord”. If you say “Lord”, you can’t say “No”. Those two words do not go together. This was a strange vision and Peter was trying to figure out what it meant. Peter was receiving brand new revelation.
In the Law of Moses, there were clean and unclean foods. Now God says that ALL foods are clean. Nothing is unclean after God cleanses it. God can take people that are unclean and he can cleanse them. He can take food that is unclean and he can cleanse it. That is what he does here. It’s okay to eat pork now. You can now have bacon for breakfast.
You don’t have to eat only kosher foods. This does not seem like a big deal to us but to Peter it was huge. God was now saying that it was okay to disobey Leviticus 11. God was the one who gave the law in the first place. God has the right to abolish these Jewish dietary laws.
Peter received this vision but was not told what it meant. As Peter was thinking about this vision, three Gentiles knocked on his door. Peter knew that he was not supposed to eat unclean foods but God told him to do it in a dream. He knew that he was not supposed to go with Gentiles into their home but the Spirit told him to do it, so he goes but he takes six men with him.
Cornelius’ house was thirty miles away. When he gets there, what does Cornelius do? “As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.” (10:25). He was probably not trying to worship Peter, as some Bibles read. Cornelius was not an idol worshiper and would not have honored Peter as a god. He was just showing extreme respect for the man but Peter immediately rebukes him.
He says, “Stand up, I am only a man.” The irony here is that the Roman Catholic Church believes that the Pope is the successor to Peter. What do they do when they see him? They get on their knees and kiss his ring. It is not only allowed, it is expected. Peter had much more authority than popes today.
He was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He could raise the dead and write books of Scripture and yet he seemed to be much more humble than leaders today who demand far more reverence than he did
When Peter gets there, he not only finds Cornelius but all of his friends and relatives. Cornelius told him about his vision of an angel and Peter began preaching. What did he preach? He preached about the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. He mentions Jesus dying on a cross. Cornelius could relate a little bit to that because Jesus was actually killed by Roman soldiers.
“You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’” (Acts 10:37-42)
What happened next was a little shocking. “WHILE PETER WAS SPEAKING THESE WORDS, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (10:44). While he was preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on these people and He fell visibly. He did not have an altar call.
Peter was still preaching. The Holy Spirit interrupted his sermon. He did not even wait until Peter was done preaching. God has a sense of humor. It is almost as if He said, “You talked long enough. I am not going to wait until you finish”.
How did they know that the Holy Spirit was poured out? They started speaking in tongues. That was the infallible sign. If they had the gifts of the Spirit they must have had the gift of the Spirit. The exact same thing happened in Acts 2 to Jews. The Holy Spirit came on people.
He filled and baptized people and they way they know that he did this is that they started speaking in tongues (11:17). We see in Acts 10 the same gift (Holy Spirit), the same sign (speaking in tongues) that was clearly seen in Acts 2.
The Significance of Baptism
What was the next thing that happened? Peter baptized them. What does this tell us?
1. Baptism is a command
This section shows the importance of baptism. Peter does NOT say “There is no need to get water baptized, if you already have been Holy Spirit baptized”. Holy Spirit baptism does not eliminate the need for water baptism. Baptism is a command. It is not optional. Peter “ORDERED that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:48).
That is very interesting. The tales are turned a little bit. Cornelius was the Roman centurion. He was the one who was used to giving orders to people. Now Peter is giving an order or a command to Cornelius and his friends. He ordered them all to get baptized.
2. Baptism does not save
When Peter preached to the Jews on Pentecost, he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 ESV). Many believe based on that passage that you have to be baptized to be saved. It seems very clear. It is FOR the remission of sins. There are two commands (repent and be baptized) and two results that take place when you do this. You get your sins forgiven and you get the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The interesting thing is that Cornelius was saved. He was speaking in tongues. He had the gift of the Holy Spirit but he had not been baptized. Cornelius was saved WITHOUT baptism. In Acts 10 it is clear that you do NOT have to be baptized to be saved. It is not an essential requirement of salvation.
Significance of this Event
What is the big deal about this chapter? Why is this chapter important? It is extremely important. It is a turning point in the history of the church.
“The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were ASTONISHED that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles ” (Acts 10:44)
What happens in Acts 10 is historic. It is one of the most important chapters in Acts. It is a turning point in the history of the church. It is so important that Luke gives two chapters in Acts to describe it (Acts 10-11).
This section describes the salvation of the very first Gentile. The gospel was preached to Jews in Acts 2. It was preached to Samaritans in Acts 8. It is preached to Gentiles in Acts 10. Most people in our church are Gentiles. Most Christians all over the world are Gentiles.
When the church began it was almost exclusively Jewish. Now it is almost exclusively Gentile. This was the first Gentile who was saved. Gentiles embrace the Jewish Messiah for the first time. Not only was Cornelius the first Gentile saved, he was saved AS A GENTILE. He did not have to become a Jew first and the Jews who witnessed it were completely shocked (10:45). The Holy Spirit is poured out on uncircumcised Gentiles.
Peter did something never done before. He preached the gospel to a Gentile. He told Cornelius about Jesus’ miracles, death and resurrection. Cornelius becomes the first convert. He is evangelized by the Apostle Peter.
Peter was Jewish but he does not tell Cornelius to get circumcised. Instead he tells him to get baptized. That is a big change. Before this time if a Gentile came to faith in Jehovah, he had to get circumcised. Now they do not have to become Jews to become Christians.
God used Peter to reach Cornelius. He could have used Phillip? Phillip performed miracles and was a world class evangelist and he happened to be in Caesarea at the time (8:40) where Cornelius lived. Why didn’t he ask Philip to preach to Cornelius? There was a very important reason why God used Peter, rather than Philip. Pentecost was taking place.
When we think of Pentecost, if you know your Bible will immediately think of Acts 2 but Pentecost happens in three phases. Pentecost is the birthday of the church. In Acts 2, Jews became part of the church for the first time. In Acts 8, Samaritans became part of the church for the first time. Samaritans were half-Jews.
In Acts 10, Gentiles become part of the church for the first time. Cornelius was not only baptized in water, he was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Every time Pentecost took place an apostle had to be present.
God could have also used Paul to preach to Cornelius. Peter was the Apostle of the Jews. Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles. Why didn’t he use Paul to bring the first Gentile to Christ? There was a very good reason for this.
When we get to Acts 11, Peter had to justify what he did to the Church of Jerusalem. He had to explain and defend what he did to them. Peter was a member of that church at this time. Saul was not.
1. The Gospel is for everyone
The gospel is for EVERYONE. It is for every single person on the face of the earth. It is for person in every country and from every race and color. God sees us all equally. We are all sinners. Jesus died for all sinners.
The gospel is not just for white people or for westerners or for Americans. It is not just for Jews. It is for everyone. Peter said, “WHOEVER believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (10:43). Jesus said in the Great Commission that we are to “go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS ”.
2. There is no excuse for prejudice.
There is no excuse for prejudice, bigotry or racism. We would like to think that if you are a genuine Christian, you cannot be prejudiced at all. That is simply not true. Christians can be prejudiced. We are sinners. How do we know? Peter the apostle had some racial prejudice. If an apostle could be prejudiced, so can we. God had to send him a vision to help him overcome it.
What were Peter’s prejudices? Peter didn’t think it was right to go into the house of a Gentile. He believed that would make him unclean. He had to overcome that fear. Peter thought Jews were superior to Gentiles.
Gentiles were unclean. He learns in Acts 10 that Jews and Gentiles are on the same level. We can’t call any man common or unclean (10:28). Peter said, “I NOW realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism” (10:34). That was something that Peter just learned.
God shows no favoritism. God is color blind. He does not treat people based on race or color. He does not treat rich people differently than poor people. He does not treat black people different from white or brown people. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). God accepts people “FROM EVERY NATION (not just from the Jewish nation) the one who fears him and does what is right” (10:35)
3. Salvation is not by works
Every religion except Christianity believes in salvation by works. They teach that it does not matter so much what you believe or what god you worship. The only thing that really matters is how you live your life. If you live a decent and moral life, you will be saved. You do not even have to believe in Jesus. Many think that you do not have to be a Christian, as long as you live a moral life. There is a problem with this in our passage.
Cornelius had all kinds of works. He gave alms. He prayed. He was a religious man. He feared God. He was a compassionate man. He gave generously to the poor but neither his prayers nor his almsgiving saved him. The angel told Cornelius that he still needed to be saved (11:14). He had to have Peter travel thirty miles to preach the gospel to him.
What is the lesson here? Salvation is not by works. Titus 3:5 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (NKJV).
We are not saved by works. We are not saved by works of righteousness. We are not saved by works of religion. We are saved by grace. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and he said that to Nicodemus, a moral man.
The Story of John Wesley
John Wesley (1703-1791) is one of the best examples of a man who was not saved by works. Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church. The Methodist Church three hundred years ago is very different from the Methodist Church today. Before Wesley came to faith, he was educated. He was moral. He was religious. What do we learn from his life?
1) It is possible to be in a small group and be lost.
Wesley met with others to study the Bible before he was saved. He was part of the Holy Club. That was the name of his small group. It was made up of a few students at Oxford. They met regularly with other men for prayer, bible study and communion. They met until 1735.
2) It is possible to lead a small group and be lost.
Wesley was the leader of a small group. He was the leader of the Holy Club. Teaching a Sunday School class or leading a small group does not save you.
3) It is possible to be moral and be lost.
Wesley did all kinds of good works before he was saved. He helped the poor and visited the sick. The Pharisees were outwardly moral. You can be moral and lost. Cornelius was moral and he was lost. Just because you do not smoke or drink or do drugs or cheat on your spouse doesn’t mean you are saved. Wesley was part of the Holy Club and he was unsaved.
4) It is possible to be religious and be lost.
Wesley was very religious before he was saved. He fasted and prayed. He fasted two days a week (Wednesday and Friday). He even wrote He wrote a book of prayers (1733). You can be religious and lost. Cornelius was religious and he was lost.
Going to church every week will not save you. Religion doesn’t save anyone. The ones who crucified Jesus were religious. Many Muslim terrorist who commit atrocities and mass murder are religious. In fact, they are so religious, they pray before they commit their acts of murder.
5) It is possible to go to a seminary or bible college and be lost.
Wesley went to Oxford and got his bachelor’s and master’s degree. He studied theology. He was very well educated. he could read the Greek Bible before he was saved.
6) It is possible to be a pastor and be lost.
Wesley was ordained as a priest in the Church of England (1728). You can be a preacher and be lost.
7) It is possible to be a missionary and be lost.
He became a missionary in 1735. He traveled from England to America to do mission work with American Indians and he was still unsaved.
8) It is possible to be a theology professor and be lost.
Wesley not only knew Greek, he taught it at Oxford (1726) before he came to faith. He also taught logic and philosophy there. You can teach at the seminary level and still be lost.
9) It is possible to be raised in a Christian home and be lost.
Wesley had had a religious upbringing. He came from a large family. His parents had nineteen kids (eight died in infancy). John Wesley did not get saved until 1738 at the age of 35.
How did he get saved? The faith of ordinary Christians made a big impact on him. On Sunday January 25, 1736, Wesley was on board a ship bound to America. The ship encountered a life-threatening storm. Wesley was full of fear.
He looked at a group of German Moravian Christians also on the boat during this storm and they were calm and were singing. He realized that this group of believers had something that he did not have. They were foreign Christians. He was British. they were German. They were plain simple believers who did not have the education he had but they had far greater faith than he had.
Soon after this happened, he attended some meetings held by the Moravians. He said that he did not even want to go but, while he was there, he found his heart “strangely warmed” as he put it. He got saved.
4. Church leaders do not always get behind what God is doing
In Acts 11, we see what the reaction of the church was to Peter’s action when he went back to Jerusalem from Caesarea. He goes back to the home church and he is in big trouble. Some people in the church were furious with him and criticized him.
“The apostles and the believers throughout Judea HEARD that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers CRITICIZED him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (11:1-2)
This seems strange to us. We do not see what the big deal would be today but in Peter’s day what he did was considered radical. What were they so upset about? What did they criticize him for?
“You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (11:3)
They did NOT criticize him for preaching to Gentiles. They criticized him for doing two things:
- Peter went into the house of a Gentile (which was against rabbinic law because it made you ceremonially unclean)
- Peter violated Levitical food laws. He ate non-kosher food.
This must have been a little discouraging. Here Peter does the will of God. He obeys God. He does exactly what He tells him to do, even though he does not want to at first. He is greatly used by God and the church not only does not support him, it criticizes him.
Peter was criticized for doing good. He was criticized for doing the will of God by believers. That is strange but it still happens today. In fact, it is quite common.
How does Peter defend himself to the church? What Peter does is ingenious. He does NOT explain his actions. He does NOT quote Scripture. He simply tells them what happened. That was his defense because the entire event was God’s doing. God appeared to Cornelius. God appeared to Peter and told him to go to his house and preach to him.
After, he preached to him, the Spirit fell on a bunch of uncircumcised Gentiles and made them a part of the church. There is no way you can criticize Peter here. He had very little to do with it. This was a God thing. To oppose this event would be to oppose God.