Cornelius Calls for Peter (10:1-8)
1 Caesarea was a large city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea about thirty miles north of Joppa (see Acts 8:40). In Caesarea lived a Gentile named Cornelius, who was a centurion51 in the Roman army.
2 Cornelius and his family were Godfearing. Though they were not Jews, they believed in the one true God of Israel. They worshiped God and tried to do His will according to the spiritual understanding they possessed. Cornelius prayed to God regularly. Therefore, God looked with favor upon Cornelius. In this way, through God’s grace, Cornelius became the first Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian.
3-4 God always remembers our prayers and our good works—that is, our gifts to the poor (verse 4). We are not sanctified or saved because of our prayers and good works, but we will be rewarded according to them (see Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10 and comments).
5-6 Cornelius and his family were about to receive a great blessing, but first it was necessary to find a man called Peter.
7-8 With complete faith, Cornelius sent three men to the place described by the angel, where Peter was staying.
Peter’s Vision (10:9-16)
9-10 Before a meeting between Cornelius and Peter could take place, Peter needed to receive a vision also. This was because Peter was a Jew, and Jews in New Testament times did not associate with Gentiles. According to Jewish tradition, Jews were not allowed to enter a Gentile’s house and, especially, they were forbidden to eat with Gentiles. The difference between a Jew and a Gentile was as great as the difference between a high-caste Hindu and an untouchable.
11-13 The Jews were extremely strict about what they could eat and what they could not eat. According to Leviticus Chapter 11, there were “clean” animals which the Jews could lawfully eat, and there were “unclean” animals which they were forbidden to eat.52
In his vision, Peter saw something like a large sheet, in which were all kinds of animals, both clean and unclean. Then a voice said, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 Peter, being a Jew, was shocked. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean,” he said.
15-16 God said to Peter: “There is nothing that is ‘impure’ or ‘unclean.’ From now on you are not to make a distinction between clean and unclean meat. That Old Testament rule is no longer valid. Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (see Acts 11:5-10).
As Peter pondered the meaning of this vision, perhaps he recalled the words Jesus had spoken: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:15). Having written those words of Jesus, Mark then added: In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean” (Mark 7:19).
But Peter was soon to learn the real meaning of his vision. The real meaning was this: just as there was no “unclean” meat, so there were no “unclean” people. In God’s sight, both Jews and Gentiles were equally “clean.”
Peter at Cornelius’ House (10:17-33)
17-20 When Peter’s vision was finished, the Holy Spirit told him that three men had come to see him. “Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them,” the Spirit said (verse 20). If the Spirit had not said this, Peter certainly would have hesitated, because the men seeking him were Gentiles (see Acts 11:10-12).
21-23 Now Peter finally understood the meaning of the vision (see verse 28). A Gentile had called Peter to come to his house. Through the vision, God had prepared Peter to go.
Peter took some brothers from Joppa with him to Cornelius’ house. These brothers were Jewish Christians. Peter knew that other Jewish believers would surely criticize him for going to the house of a Gentile. Therefore, Peter took these brothers with him as witnesses that Peter was indeed acting according to God’s will.
24-26 When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, Cornelius fell at his feet in reverence (verse 25). But Peter stopped him, and told him to get up. In other religions it is the custom to bow down at the feet of respected teachers or important officials. But it is not so among Christians. We show respect to men, but we show reverence only to Christ—to God.
For this reason, also, Christians must never take for themselves glory or honor that only Christ should receive. The spiritual treasures of Christ have been placed in jars of clay—that is, in our weak human bodies—so that all the glory will go to Christ and not to us (see 2 Corinthians 4:7 and comment).
27-29 In the vision, the Lord had shown Peter only clean and unclean animals. But He had said to Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (verse 15). Peter understood that the word anything meant not just meat but also men. No one was to be called impure—not even Gentiles.
30-33 Cornelius knew why the angel had told him to send for Peter. The angel had said to Cornelius, “He (Peter) will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:13-14). Now Cornelius and his entire household were ready to listen to Peter’s words.
Peter’s Sermon (10:34-43)
34-35 In these verses, Peter states one of the most important truths in the whole Bible: “God does not show favoritism” (see Romans 2:9-11).
God accepts equally all men who fear him and do what is right (verse 35). In the Old Testament, God gave men the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). God accepted everyone—whether Jew or Gentile—who obeyed these commandments. The prophet Micah wrote: He (the Lord) has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Therefore, according to the Old Testament, God accepts not only upright Jews but upright Gentiles as well.
God accepts equally not only men of different races and nations, but also men of different castes and of different positions (see Ephesians 6:9). In God’s sight, all men are of equal standing. And when we believe in Christ—whether we be Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman—we become equal members of one family, the family of God (see Galatians 3:28 and comment).
Here an important truth must be added. Yes, God accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. But this does not mean that such men will automatically receive salvation. In one way, they have done what is right and, therefore, God will accept them. But in another way, such “upright” men are still sinners and need a Savior (see Romans 3:9-12 and comment). Even though Cornelius appeared righteous in comparison with other men, he still needed a Savior. It was for this very reason that Peter had come, that Cornelius might be able to hear about Christ. Yes, Cornelius’ work was good; but man is not saved by good works. Man is saved only by God’s grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8-9 and comment).
36 Then Peter told Cornelius and his household the good news about how men can have peace with God through Jesus Christ. God had sent this message first to the people of Israel—the Jews. “But now,” said Peter, “God has given this message of peace through Christ to all people everywhere. Jesus Christ is Lord of all—both Jew and Gentile.”
37-38 Then Peter reminded Cornelius of what he had already heard: namely, that in the beginning John the Baptist had come to prepare the people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Then John had baptized Jesus. At the time of His baptism, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power (verse 38). The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:9-11).
39-40 Again and again the apostles said, “We are witnesses” (verse 39). The things Peter was telling Cornelius were not secondhand reports from other people. Peter had seen these things with his own eyes. He had seen Jesus die (Luke 23:49), and he had seen Him after He had risen from the dead (see Luke 24:34; Acts 2:32; 5:30 and comments).
41 Jesus didn’t rise from the dead in the form of a ghost, or as the figment of someone’s imagination. He rose in a bodily and fully visible form—even to the point of eating and drinking with His disciples after His resurrection (Luke 24:41-43).
42 Jesus Christ was appointed to be the judge of all men, both those living and those already dead (see Daniel 7:13-14; Acts 17:31). Jesus Himself said: “… the Father … has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22,27).
43 Jesus was not only appointed to be man’s judge; He was also appointed to be man’s Savior. He was appointed not only to judge man’s sin but also to save men from the punishment of sin. Peter said: “… everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins” (see Luke 24:45-48).
Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit (10:44-48)
44 Just as the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, so, as Peter was speaking, did the Spirit come suddenly upon Cornelius and all his household (Acts 2:1-4; 11:15; 15:7-8). In Acts 2:38, Peter had said to the Jews: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” But here, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household first, before they even had a chance to be baptized. The Holy Spirit comes to men according to His own plans and purposes; we men must not try to set rules for Him.
45-46 Just as the disciples had spoken in tongues on the day of Pentecost, so these Gentiles began to speak in tongues when the Holy Spirit came upon them. If they had not spoken in tongues, it’s possible that Peter and the circumcised (that is, Jewish) believers he had brought with him from Joppa would not have believed that the Holy Spirit had indeed come upon these Gentiles.
47-48 It is not actually written here that Cornelius and his family repented and believed in Jesus. But we can assume that they did. According to Acts 15:9, Peter later said that the Lord purified their hearts by faith.
After seeing the remarkable work that God had done in the lives of these Gentiles, Peter could see no reason why they should not immediately be baptized. If the Holy Spirit had not come upon them first, Peter would not have been prepared to baptize Gentiles. But now to refuse to baptize them would be to resist God (Acts 11;17). Baptism is the outward confirmation or sign of new spiritual life. If one has already received the life, why should he not also receive the sign of it?
The day that Peter came to Cornelius’ house was an extremely important day in the history of the Christian religion. On that day the first Gentiles became Christians. From that day on, this new Christian religion was not only for Jews but for all people of every nation.