The Doors of the Kingdom Opened to the Gentiles.
SUMMARY.--The Centurion Cornelius. His Vision. His Messengers Sent to Joppa. Peter's Vision the Next Day. Peter Directed to Go to Cæsarea. Peter Preacheth Christ to Cornelius and His Household. The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles. The Gentiles Baptized.
1. A certain man in Cæsarea named Cornelius. Cæsarea, at this time the chief seaport of Palestine and the Roman capital, was their military headquarters. Cornelius, a Gentile, a Roman officer, is one of three centurions named favorably in the New Testament: Julius ( Acts 27:1-3 ), the centurion at the cross, and the centurion who built the synagogue at Capernaum ( Luke 7:2 ). The office corresponded to the modern captain. The Italian band. A cohort, composed of about 600 men. Many of the conquered races served in the Roman armies, but this cohort was made up of Italians. At the residence of the Roman procurator would be placed a body of troops on which he could rely.
2. A devout man. This is stated of Gentiles in several places in Acts, and always means those who had abandoned heathenism and turned to Jehovah. They had not become Jews, but were trying to worship the One God. The greater part of the first Gentile converts were made up of this class. He was benevolent and a man of prayer.
3. He saw in a vision evidently. "Openly," distinctly. About the ninth hour. Three o'clock. One of the Jewish hours of prayer (Acts 3:1).
4. What is it, Lord? Filled with awe, he inquired the meaning of the appearance. Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial. He was heard because he was yearning for light and using all the light he had.
5. Send men to Joppa. He is not told to go, because a soldier could not leave his post without orders, but to send. Joppa is about thirty miles south of Cæsarea.
6. Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea-side. See notes on 9:43. Tanners were required, by the ancient sanitary laws, to live outside city walls, and had to be near plenty of water (Hackett). Tell thee what thou oughtest to do. As the angel says that his prayer was heard, he had surely prayed that he might know what to do.
7. Two of his household servants, and a devout soldier. The first were his personal servants, the second of his military household; all, no doubt, "devout."
9. On the morrow, as they . . . drew nigh to the city. Starting in the evening, after three o'clock, they could be near Joppa, thirty miles distant, the next day, "at the sixth hour," or about twelve o'clock. Went up upon the housetop to pray. To the flat roof of the house, surrounded by the usual balustrade about four feet high, a place of retirement, and often the sleeping place of the family in the warm season. Moses ( Deut. 22:8 ) required balustrades to the roofs. See also 1 Sam. 9:25 .
11-15. Saw heaven opened. The meaning of the vision is plain. Peter was hungry. He saw, let down from heaven, all kinds of animals, those ceremonially unclean and prohibited by the Mosaic law, as well as others, and was told to kill and eat. When he answered that he had never eaten anything common (as opposed to holy) and unclean, that is, forbidden by Moses, he was told that what God had cleansed was not common or unclean. This could only mean that the ceremonial distinctions of the law ( Lev. chap. 11 and Deut. chap. 14 ) were abrogated. It was at this time that the messengers from a Gentile, one of a class, with which even Peter would not eat, yet for which Christ had died, presented themselves. The object of the vision was to show Peter that it was the will of the Lord that he should go.
17-23. While Peter doubted. Doubted, not what the Lord had said, but what was the special object. It was while he was thinking over the matter that the messenger came. The Spirit told him their purpose and what he must do. He, therefore, called in the men, took care of them till the next day, and then returned with them. Six Jewish brethren from Joppa went with him ( 11:12 ).
24. And the morrow after. Parts of two days were employed on the journey. Cornelius . . . had called together his kinsmen and near friends, who were like-minded with himself.
25, 26. Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet. Meeting him, as he entered, he cast himself at his feet as God's messenger. Observe Peter's conduct: Instead of receiving worship, as the popes who claim to be his successors, he forbade him, as he was "only a man." Not even an angel ought to be worshiped ( Revelation 22:8 Revelation 22:9 ), only God.
28. Ye know that it is unlawful. Contrary to Jewish customs. Moses prohibited intermarriages and religious intercourse, but the Jews carried their restrictions beyond both the letter and the spirit of the law. They would not eat with the uncircumcised ( Gal. 2:12 ).
33. We are all here present before God to hear. It was an assembly of "devout" men who recognized the fact that Peter had a message of the Lord for them; the first Gentile audience that ever listened to a gospel sermon.
34, 35. Then Peter opened his mouth. The same preacher who, on the day of Pentecost, declared the conditions of salvation to the Jews now declares them for the first time to the Gentiles. To him Christ gave the keys ( Matt. 16:19 ) of the kingdom, and with them he opened its doors to both Jew and Gentile. I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. It has just dawned on him that Jew and Gentile are on the same footing in God's sight. Those who fear the Lord in any nation, of any race, will be accepted.
36-38. The word which God sent to the children of Israel. The message of Christ. That word . . . ye know. Have heard of, but not fully. After the baptism which John preached. Christ's ministry began from his baptism by John. How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth. At his baptism, and made him the Anointed. He gives a condensed summary of the ministry of Jesus. Luke has only preserved the substance of what Peter said.
39-41. We are witnesses. Not only of his life and power, but of his resurrection.
42. He commanded us to preach. In the Great Commission.
43. To him give all the prophets witness. By their testimony of the Christ, which is so prominent a feature of prophecy. See Isaiah 53:11 Isaiah 55:1-3 55:1-3 . That through his name, etc. Three important facts are stated: (1) that remission of sins is in the name of Christ; (2) that it is only granted on condition of belief upon him; that is, trust in his name; (3) that whosoever believes thus, Jew or Gentile, shall receive remission of sins.
44. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard. The kinsmen and intimate friends of Cornelius, as well as on him ( verse 24 ).
45. They of the circumcision. The Jews who went with Peter. They were astonished that the Holy Spirit should fall on Gentiles. This miraculous outpouring was extraordinary, and the object is plain, viz: to convince Peter and his fellow Jews that God had accepted the Gentiles; the same reason for which Peter's vision had been given. This is the only instance recorded of the Spirit falling on unbaptized persons. This exception is made to convince the Jewish Christians that uncircumcised Gentiles were fit subjects of baptism. Peter had to recall this fact in order to convince the church at Jerusalem that he had done right ( Acts 11:2 Acts 11:3 Acts 11:15 ). As on Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell on Jews, so now when Gentiles receive the gospel they are baptized with the Holy Spirit ( Acts 11:15 Acts 11:16 ).
47. Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized? Peter's scruples were overcome. He was now satisfied that the gospel was for Gentiles as well as Jews. God had made no difference in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He asks his Jewish brethren if any man can give a reason why they should not be baptized. Wesley says: "How easily is the question decided if we take the word of God for our rule. Either men have received the Holy Spirit, or not. If they have not, then Repent, saith God, and be baptized, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, then who can forbid water?"
48. Commanded them to be baptized. All who heard and upon whom the Holy Spirit fell. In the name of the Lord. In acknowledgment of his authority. All the baptisms of Acts are in his name, but into the names of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.