ACTS - CHAPTER 10
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the
band called the Italian band,”
This marks a new phase in
the development of the Church. There may
have been proselytes among those converted on the day of Pentecost, and the Ethiopian
eunuch may have been one also, but Cornelius appears to have been what was known as a
God-fearer, i.e., a Gentile, who though having adopted many Jewish beliefs,
had stopped short of becoming a proselyte. Many
Bible scholars believe that his conversion occurred about eight years after
Caesarea means severed,
and Cornelius, pitiless satiety: pertaining to a horn, but I am unable to see
any spiritual significance related to these meanings, nor can I see any special
significance in his being a centurion of the Italian band. We should note, however, that in the provinces a centurion might
have commanded a thousand men rather than a hundred, and what is written of this man
indicates that such, in fact, was his position.
The servants at his command, and his giving “much alms” indicates a
position far above that of one who commanded merely a hundred soldiers.
“A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much
alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.”
His being devout,
God-fearing, generous, and prayerful may not be taken to imply that he was born
again, but rather that he was like many today who hope to earn a place in heaven
through their religion, morality, and good works.
There is no question about the sincerity of many of these people, but it is
faith in Christ, not sincerity, that saves men from hell and fits them for heaven.
Many a man has been sincerely wrong. God’s
dealing with him as He did, however, makes it clear that underneath the outward form
of religion, morality and generosity was a heart searching after God, and in regard
to such, God’s promise is, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall
search for me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13), and again, “... seek, and ye
shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Mt 7:7).
“He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of
God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.”
The ninth hour was three
o’clock in the afternoon, the Jewish hour of prayer, so it seems reasonable to
assume that Cornelius was praying when the angel appeared to him.
The fact that God spoke to him through an angel continues to make it clear
that the Jewish age hadn’t yet ended, for in that age it wasn’t unusual for God
to communicate with men through angels. With the completion of the canon of Scripture, however, that mode
of communication ceased, His communication thereafter being through the written Word.
The fact that he was addressed by name reminds us that the matter of salvation
is personal. We must deal with God as
individuals. No one can act for us.
“And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord?
And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial
Afraid falls short of
conveying the true nature of his reaction. Other renderings indicate
that he was filled with terror, reminding us that it is one thing to be indifferent
to God when He is in a distant heaven, but if the appearance of an angel produced
such fear in the heart of this devout Roman, what terror will grip the hearts of the
unconverted when brought face to face with the God of heaven! There will be no indifference at the great white throne.
“And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname
“He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he
shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.”
As noted already Joppa means
fair to him; Simon the Greek form of Simeon, hearkening; and Peter, a
stone. It isn’t just coincidence
that the one Simon should be lodging with another of the same name. God would remind us that the obedient should have fellowship with
the obedient, and not with unbelievers, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with
unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what
communion hath light with darkness? And
what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an
infidel? And what agreement hath the
temple of God with idols? ... Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,
saith the Lord” (2 Co 6:14-17).
For the significance of
Simon’s being a tanner, see notes on 9:43.
Inasmuch as the sea is a
Biblical symbol of unconverted humanity, see Isa 57:20, his dwelling by the sea ought
to remind us that we also dwell by that same “sea,” and are to fish in it for
“... he shall tell thee
what thou oughtest to do” doesn’t appear in many of the original manuscripts, but
it is of no doctrinal significance, and certainly is a true statement.
Peter was to be Cornelius’ instructor.
“And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two
of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him
As already noted, his having
several household servants, and his liberal giving, point to his holding a higher
rank than that of commander of only one hundred soldiers.
I don’t doubt that there
is some deeper spiritual truth connected with his sending two servants, and one
soldier, but I regret being unable to discern what it may be.
“And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to
This would indicate that he
was a kind and gracious master who enjoyed good relations with his servants.
Another would probably have sent a letter without taking the bearer into his
confidence. His immediate obedience to
God’s command given through the angel, is one we would do well to emulate.
“On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city,
Peter went up upon the house top to pray about the sixth hour:”
Christians for the most part
have lost awareness of the power of prayer, even though Scripture repeatedly
emphasizes its importance. We noted in
our study of verse 3 that Cornelius was probably praying when the angel appeared to
him, and now we find Peter also praying, and since the sixth hour doesn’t appear to
have been a specific time for prayer amongst the Jews, we learn that Peter’s
prayers weren’t limited to any prescribed schedule.
He prayed much apparently,
and his going up to the house top should remind us that effective prayer requires a
place of quietness in separation from the ordinary affairs of life.
Prayer is impossible in the midst of distraction.
“And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready,
he fell into a trance,”
The mention of Peter’s
literal hunger is not just incidental, for as always in Scripture, literal hunger is
but a figure of spiritual desire, and a characteristic of every spiritual believer is
that he hungers for a deeper knowledge of God. There
is no question about Peter’s being such a man, and because he was, God was
preparing to give him a fuller revelation of truth, even though at the time Peter may
have been unconscious of having such a need. We
too are seldom as aware as we should be of our spiritual needs.
Our spiritual hunger and thirst are seldom as acute as in the physical realm.
The fact that God used a
trance as the means of communication is a further reminder that it was still the
Jewish age, for His communications after the apostolic era, have been and continue to
be through the Holy Spirit’s use of the written Word.
“And he saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it
had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:”
What he was about to learn
was that God desired the gospel to go out to the four corners of the earth, not just
to the Jew, but also to the Gentile. Note,
for example, the mention of the number four, and of the earth, for four
is the Biblical number associated with the earth in connection with testing.
The use of a symbolic method reminds us that much of the Bible is symbolic, so
that God may reveal to faith what He would hide from unbelief.
The sheet is believed to
have been of sail-cloth, and that too is significant, for a sail propels a ship by
means of the wind, and the Church is symbolically portrayed as a ship propelled by
the wind (a symbol of the Holy Spirit), sailing through the sea, which is itself a
symbol of humanity’s unconverted masses (Isa 57:20).
The wind as the power propelling the ship, reminds us that the Holy Spirit
alone is to direct the activity of the Church, and of each individual believer.
“Wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild
beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.”
The sheet appears to portray
the earth, the various creatures representing, not the actual animal life of earth,
but spiritual equivalents, the four-footed beasts “of the earth” representing
humanity, and pointing to man’s earthy state, “The first man is of the earth,
earthy” (1 Co 15:47).
It is questioned whether
“and wild beasts” properly belongs in the verse, but if accepted, these words
would point to the inherent savagery in the heart of the natural man.
Note, for example, Paul’s words in 1 Co 15:32, where clearly the reference
is not to literal wild beasts, but to men acting like such; and if further proof were
needed, we have but to contemplate the savagery of man towards the Lord in the
judgment hall, and at Calvary.
The “creeping things”
portray the secret working of man’s corrupt mind, and also his evil secret deeds,
for as the creeping things of earth almost invariably shun the light, so does the
natural man, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and
men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to
the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (Jn 3:19-20).
The significance of the
fowls is easily read, for the symbol is interpreted for us in the parable of the
sower, where the Lord Himself declares the fowls to be the representatives of Satan
and his evil minions (Mt 13:4,19).
All of these things
constitute the world in which the gospel is to be preached.
“And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.”
He didn’t see God, nor do
we. We have simply His “voice,” the written Word.
It is to be obeyed no less than if He stood before us and spoke with His lips,
the unwelcome, and seeming difficult commands to be obeyed no less than the welcome
“But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is
common or unclean.”
“Not so, Lord” was a
contradiction in terms, for His being Lord requires that He be obeyed, yet all too
often we are guilty of the same inconsistency. We
call Him Lord, but disobey His Word. If He is Lord, He is to be obeyed.
Nor did Peter’s appeal to
past practice justify his disobedience. The demands of tradition must give place to
the commands of God. This was the problem with the Israel to which the Lord had come.
As He Himself declared, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your
tradition?.... Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your
tradition” (Mt 15:3-6).
Peter’s refusal to eat any
of them indicates that they were all unclean creatures, reminding us of the words of
the prophet relative to the state of all men, the Jew as well as the Gentile, “But
we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa
Common, incidentally means
simply unhallowed, undedicated, unholy, prohibited, according to Levitical
“And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed,
that call not thou common.”
Since the sheet represents
the world; and the contents, what is found in the world, it is not to be inferred
that all of these will be saved, for certainly there is no salvation for what is
represented by the fowls. Satan and his
demons are to be ultimately cast into the lake of fire.
Many of the wrong interpretations of the sheet, including that which takes its
contents to be the Church, have arisen from failure to understand the symbolic
meaning of fowls, and creeping things, and failure to note that the
correct meaning of cleansed, as used here, is “to pronounce clean in a
Levitical sense” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words).
That, however, is a very different thing from being cleansed through faith in
Peter was being taught that
that Gentile world in which the gospel was now to be preached, was no longer
forbidden ground, as it had been formerly, even the Lord Himself having forbidden His
disciples to go there, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of
the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). All of that was about to change. The age of law was to give place to that of grace.
The gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles also, Peter, the apostle to the
Jews, being privileged to be the first to use the keys of the Kingdom to begin that
great work in the Gentile world.
“This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.”
Since three is the Biblical
number of resurrection, the lesson being taught here is that the gospel was now to
offer to the Gentiles the same hope of resurrection as it had presented to Israel.
The popular view which sees
in the withdrawal of the sheet and its contents into heaven, a type of the Rapture of
the Church, is incompatible with what seems to be a more scripturally accurate
interpretation of this sign.
“Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen
should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for
Simon’s house, and stood before the gate.”
Our comprehension of truth
isn’t always instantaneous. Apparently
enlightenment came to Peter only when Cornelius’ servants arrived. And the coming of those servants to the house of Simon
(hearkening) reminds us that the Holy Spirit will lead every earnest obedient
seeker to a source of enlightenment. Their
standing at the gate speaks of patient importunity, and it is interesting to note
that Peter had need of enlightenment, as well as they, his need being to understand,
as a believer, the meaning of God’s message; theirs, to learn, as sinners, the way
of salvation. Saint and sinner alike
have need of that obedient patience which waits upon God, the latter, to understand
the gospel; the former, to learn the spiritual significance of what is written in
That gate through which they
passed to Peter, and through which he passed with them to the house of Cornelius,
points to the opening of the gate of life to the Gentiles.
“And called, and asked whether Simon which was surnamed Peter, were lodged
God leads a step at a time. First Cornelius’ servants had had to find the house of Simon the
tanner, and now having found it, they inquired whether Peter was there.
This step by step leading is characteristic of God, see for example, what is
written concerning His revelation of truth, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and
whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and
drawn from the breasts. For precept must
be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little,
and there a little” (Isa 28:9-10). He
who runs may read, but he who would understand what God has written must do more than
read - he must meditate, and walk in obedience so that he may enjoy the enlightenment
which comes only from the ministry of an unquenched and ungrieved Holy Spirit.
There is no Scriptural warrant for either seminary or Bible school.
As already noted, Simon
means hearkening; and Peter, a stone, (not, as is erroneously taught by
Rome, the Stone upon which the Church is built), but rather, one of the living
stones comprising that Church. All of
those stones are “Peters,” but not all, unfortunately, are also “Simons.”
Only those having the Simon Peter character are vessels suitable for
the Master’s use. Only such are likely to be used of God to lead “Corneliuses”
“While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three
men seek thee.”
All translations indicate
earnest meditation, and emphasize, as noted already, the need of meditation on
God’s communications, given today, not through visions, but through the written
The Holy Spirit’s work in
the heart of Cornelius, and also in that of Peter, ought to impress upon us the
imperative of being submissive to His leading. All
that is done apart from His direction is wasted effort.
Human schemes and organizations frustrate His purposes, for He works today as
He has always worked - through obedient individuals.
There is no more Scriptural warrant for organizations in connection with the
Lord’s work, than for seminaries or Bible schools.
“... three men seek
thee.” Since three is the Biblical number of resurrection, there can be
little question that God would have us see in these three servants of Cornelius the
representatives of the great multitude of Gentiles, who believing the gospel, would
be raised up out of spiritual death to walk in newness of life.
The earnest searcher will be saved, for God’s promise to Judah through
Jeremiah, is to all such seekers, “And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall
search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).
“Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for
I have sent them.”
There was work to be done,
and there still is. We too must arise. There is a time to pray, and a time to act; a time to read and
study, and a time to put into practice what we have learned.
There is a time to be separate from the world, and a time to go into it with
the gospel. The times of separation will be far more fruitful if they are used
to prepare us for service.
“... doubting nothing: for
I have sent them.” We walk and serve
by faith. It is not yet the time for us
to understand all that God does. There
will be effective service when we are in the current, not of His permissive, but of
His directive will. All here was
according to the unhindered working of the Holy Spirit.
He had sent the three men, and would now send Peter.
This is how God’s work is done. The
Spirit works upon the hearts of believer and unbeliever alike, and the one as much as
they other may resist Him, but where there is an obedient response, God will be
glorified and man blessed. Peter was to
go, without doubt, even though he knew not why.
So are we.
“Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius,
and said, Behold, I am he whom you seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?”
Do we have the same attitude
to those seeking God, or do they cross our paths and go away without being presented
with the gospel? God hadn’t revealed
everything to Peter, nor does He to us. It
is not for us to know, but to obey, taking a step at a time as He directs.
This rules out human organization, which leaves no room for the Spirit’s
leading. When anyone crosses our path,
we should view it, not as a chance encounter, but as being by God’s ordination, so
that that person might hear the gospel. Some
of those encounters preclude the possibility of presenting the good news verbally,
but there is scarcely one that doesn’t provide opportunity to give a tract, our
encouragement being, that whether spoken or written, the gospel is still “the power
of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Ro 1:16).
“And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth
God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an
holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.”
In spite of his being just,
God-fearing, and of good report among the Jews, Cornelius was “warned from
God,” and that warning extends to every other such moral, but unconverted man.
Morality will save no one. Nothing
less than a new birth will save men from hell and fit them for heaven.
The “gospel” which omits warning is no gospel at all. The new popular, polite social substitute, that carefully omits
warning, is Satan’s counterfeit of the divine reality, and is carrying myriads of
deluded “converts” down to hell. It
is one of his most successful devices.
Cornelius was warned by
“an holy angel (messenger).” God’s
agents must be holy, as it is written, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so
be ye holy in all manner of conversation (living)” (1 Pe 1:15).
“... to send for thee.”
We are unlikely to be wrong if we live by the principle that every person with
whom we have contact, has been sent to us by God, and a question we ought to ask
concerning every such individual is, Who will tell this person if I don’t?
“... into his house.”
Tradition had forbidden Peter to enter a Gentile house, and tradition would
tell us that people should “go to church” to hear the gospel, or that others
should tell them, or that it isn’t polite to interfere with people’s religion.
Tradition, in fact, can offer a thousand reasons for not preaching the gospel,
but we are to obey God, not tradition, and His command is, “Go ye into all the
world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).
“... and to hear words of
thee.” Cornelius, and all gathered in his house, heard words of life from
Peter. What words do people hear from us
when we enter their houses? Polite
social conversation, or the Word of life? What
transformation would be wrought in people’s lives if we resolved that we would not
enter any house without presenting the occupants with the gospel!
“Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren
from Joppa accompanied him.”
In 2 Jn 10 we are warned
neither to receive into our houses, nor to bid them God speed, those who abide not
“in the doctrine of Christ,” but it is very different relative to the genuine
seeker after God. Such are to be
received, as we learn from Peter’s bringing the visitors in and lodging them.
Every opportunity is to be grasped to lead men to the Savior.
The morrow was a new day,
and as frequently in Scripture, it speaks here of a new beginning.
It was the beginning of a new day for the Gentiles. They were to have the gospel preached to them, and by means of it
were to be offered the blessings which Israel as a nation rejected, all of this
having been foretold by the Lord in His parable of the rejected invitation to the
wedding feast, recorded in Mt 22:2-10.
Six brethren from Joppa
accompanied him, see 11:12, so that the party journeying back to the house of
Cornelius numbered ten, the Biblical number of God in government. This was an ominous portent for Israel, though her blind eyes
didn’t discern it, for it was the NT counterpart of the departure of the divine
glory from her midst in the days of Ezekiel, as recorded in Eze 9-11.
Her house was about to be left unto her desolate, and this was the first step
of God’s departure from her.
On a happier note, and of
practical instruction for us, is that there were six of these unnamed men who went
with Peter, but since six is the Biblical number of man, weakness, and sin, the
lesson God would teach is that in spite of all the frailty and failure that mark us
as men still in earthly bodies, we may nevertheless enjoy the privilege of helping in
the spread of the gospel. The absence of
their names, or of what they did, would remind us that the Lord has countless such
servants whose names and work are unknown to men, but known and valued by Him.
The day cannot be far off when their names and work will be revealed, and the
Lord Himself will commend their faithfulness with His Own, “Well done, thou good
and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee
ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Mt 25:21).
There are many, who because
they aren’t called to a public ministry, refuse to serve at all, yet it is clear
that the Lord sets a high value on that service which is rendered in obscurity.
What surprises there will be
at the Bema when He commends those who in obscurity, prayed faithfully, gave
sacrificially, and did willingly the work He had given them to do, while others who
had basked in the limelight of public adulation, will be found to have rendered
relatively little worthy of His commendation.
“And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea.
And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near
together his relatives and friends to hear God’s message from Peter, reveals the
sincerity of this man’s heart. Even
before conversion he had a concern for the spiritual welfare of others, his concern
rebuking the indifference of many professing Christians.
There is something radically wrong with the man or woman who professes faith
in Christ, yet shows no desire to see others led to the Savior.
A further lesson may be
learnt here from the fact that those he had brought together were “his kinsmen and
near friends.” This is the Scriptural
pattern for spreading the gospel. None
are more difficult to witness to than those closest to us, but that is where our
witness must begin. It is folly to
believe that we can carry the gospel to distant places if we haven’t first warned
those near to us by the ties of nature; nor is it just in this verse that we find
that truth. In the beginning, the gospel
was to be preached first in Jerusalem, then in Samaria, and then throughout the whole
world, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in
Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Ac 1:8).
The same pattern is found in
connection with the former demoniac of Gadara, “Jesus sent him away, saying, Return
to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee.
And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things
Jesus had done unto him” (Lk 8:39), but Mk 5:20 adds the fact that he also “began
to publish in Decapolis (the ten-city region) how great things Jesus had done
“And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet,
and worshiped him.”
As noted already, there is
abundant evidence that Cornelius was wealthy, and it might have been expected that he
would have waited for a servant to bring Peter into his presence, but he himself met
God’s messenger. He esteemed God’s
So should we.
But his coming personally to meet Peter, indicates also his eagerness to hear
God’s message. That spirit is
conspicuously absent amongst professing Christians today.
There is as little desire on the part of many of them for teaching, as there
is amongst the unconverted for the gospel.
“But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.”
The humility that marked
Cornelius, was found also in Peter, but regrettably, that same spirit is also
becoming rare today, not only on the part of the teachers, but also on the part of
those who need teaching. We do well to
remember that the Lord Jesus Christ was “meek and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29), and
He is to be our Example.
“And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come
The large number was a
testimony to the zeal of Cornelius in bringing together as many as possible to hear
God’s message. That zeal has also
become a rare virtue amongst professing Christians - at least in relation to God’s
work! Is it perhaps fear of being left
with a pricked conscience that prevents us from asking, When did I last make any
effort to bring someone under the sound of the gospel?
“And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man
that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath
shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
The magnanimity of grace
couldn’t long remain within the borders of Judaism, and in the vision of the great
sheet, Peter had been shown that God’s grace was to flow out to the Gentiles, they
being no less the objects of His love than were the Jews.
The Gospels make it clear that the Jews, by their additions to it, had made
the law far more restrictive than God ever meant it to be, and certainly He never
meant His command to be separate from the nations, to extend to the refusal to share
with them the knowledge of Himself. A practical lesson for us is to see that while me may not join
them in their sinful activities, God’s enjoined separation is not to keep us from
bringing the gospel to the men of the world.
“Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I
ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?”
There was no such arguing
with God as had marked Jonah’s response to the command to preach to Nineveh, nor
was there any delay in obeying God’s command.
It would be well if the same swift unquestioning obedience marked our own
responses to God’s commands.
His question indicates that
he knew nothing of the reason for his being sent to this Gentile house.
This is the kind of obedience God requires of all of us.
“And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the
ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright
“And said, Cornelius, they prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in
remembrance in the sight of God.”
“Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he
is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh,
shall speak unto thee.”
Since these verses are a
virtual repeat of verses 3-6, readers should consult the comments relating to those
“Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art
come. Now therefore are we all here
present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”
Cornelius was as prompt in
obeying God’s command as had been Peter, and all who would be blessed must yield
the same precise obedience. The KJ
version obscures somewhat the literal meaning of the words, “thou hast well done
that thou art come.” Weymouth’s
rendering is better, “I thank you heartily for having come.”
This Roman official, who might have commanded the attendance of Peter,
displayed not only his gratitude, but also his humble spirit.
The phrase “present before
God” implies more than may be discerned at first reading.
It conveys the implicit assurance that they were assembled with a pure motive,
knowing that nothing could be hidden from God. Whether
saint of sinner, he who would deal with God must lay aside all dissimulation.
Nor were they assembled
merely to weigh Peter’s words. The
miraculous circumstances that had brought about this meeting had convinced them that
the apostle was God’s spokesman, and they were prepared to obey. The apostolic office was only for the foundation of the Church,
but the principle governing their ministry remains the same.
Today, as then, when the servant’s message is validated by Scripture, it is
to be obeyed.
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no
respecter of persons:”
What Peter may not have
understood when the great sheet was first let down before him, was now made crystal
clear. He now knew that the Gentiles are
just as precious to God as are the Jews.
“But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is
accepted with Him.”
As it is written in Ps
111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have
all they that do his commandments....” A
right relationship with God begins with the fear which makes the individual tremble
at the knowledge that for a man to meet God without having had his sins remitted
through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is to be cast into hell.
The new popular, polite, but
bogus “gospel” which generates no fear in the heart of the hearer, will produce
That there is more to
salvation than a mere verbal confession of faith, however, is declared in the second
part of the verse, “and worketh righteousness.”
The evidence of a genuine conversion is a changed life-style, as the Lord
Himself declared, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of
heaven” (Mt 7:20-21).
“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by
Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)”
“That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and
began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;”
The gospel which had first
been preached to Israel by the Lord Himself, and then also first to Israel by His
disciples after His resurrection, was now to be preached to the Gentiles, because
foolish Israel, as a nation, would not believe that the Jesus she had crucified was
her Savior Messiah.
“Preaching peace by
Jesus Christ” reminds us that peace is the very essence of the gospel.
Man in his natural state is at war with his Maker Who must treat him as a
rebel until he lays down the arms of rebellion, and is reconciled to God through
faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is written, “For if, when we were enemies, we
were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more being reconciled, we shall
be saved by his life [daily delivered from sin’s dominion through His resurrection
life]” (Ro 5:10), for it is through the blood of His cross that He has made peace,
and will eventually reconcile all things unto God (Col 1:20).
But it isn’t only with God
that the believer has peace: he has peace in his own conscience for there is no more
guilt about sins, all being forgiven through faith in Christ’s shed blood as that
which makes atonement, i.e., covers them, and blots them out, not only from God’s
sight, but from His memory also (He 10:17).
All of this, Peter declares,
was known by those gathered in the home of Cornelius, for, beginning with the
ministry of John, who called upon Israel to repent, the need of repentance had been
faithfully preached in Israel even until that moment when Peter spoke. This is the great lack in connection with today’s new false
“gospel” - the need of repentance is omitted, as is also the need of holy living
on the part of the converts.
“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who
went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was
Peter’s describing Jesus
as being of Nazareth is particularly appropriate when it is remembered that that
city, though belonging to Israel, was especially despised by the Jews, see, e.g.,
Nathanael’s comment, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Those to whom Peter spoke were Gentiles.
They were of a despised race, but faith in the despised Jesus Whom the apostle
presented as the world’s Savior, would lift them to heights of eternal glory that
are the antithesis of the depths of shame and torment that will be the eternal
portion of all unbelievers.
As the Father had anointed
His Son, the despised Jesus of Nazareth, with the Holy Spirit and with power, so does
He anoint every believer, those assembled in the home of Cornelius being the first of
the Gentiles to have this privilege and blessing offered to them.
As the Lord Himself went about doing good, so is every believer also to do
good, and by the preaching of the gospel, bring spiritual healing to those oppressed
by Satan today. And as the Son, during His sojourn on earth, enjoyed the presence
of the Father, so may every obedient believer.
“And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the
Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree.”
Peter was only one of many,
unbelievers as well as believers, who could testify to the miracles performed by the
Lord, for they had been done in the presence of all the people. The phrase “land of
the Jews” has a deeper significance than is at first apparent, for a careful study
of Scripture reveals that the earth is used symbolically in connection with
genuine faith; the land, with mere empty profession; and the ground,
with total indifference to spiritual things. Empty
profession was all the Jews had, the term “Jews,” incidentally, having a bad
connotation throughout Scripture.
The specific mention of
Jerusalem as having been also the scene of the Lord’s miracles, appears to be
designed to emphasize that it wasn’t only the common people, but their leaders also
who had witnessed the miraculous display of the Lord’s power, so that the nation
about to be abandoned by God, was without excuse for its unbelief.
A transcendent wonder is that the crowning act of their rebellion wasn’t
their crucifixion of Christ, but rather their disbelief of His resurrection, and
rejection of God’s pardon for their murder of His Son, and for all their sins, see
The Lord’s having been
“hanged on a tree,” i.e., crucified, confirms the accuracy of the prophetic
Scriptures, for stoning was the Jewish method of execution, yet Ps 22:16, written a
thousand years before Christ’s incarnation, describes the piercing of His hands and
“Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;”
The Lord’s resurrection
was as well attested as His miracles, and its being on the third day continues to
confirm the accuracy of His word, for He Himself had declared that He would rise
again on the third day (Mt 16:21), the OT announcement of that fact being
symbolically declared in the experience of Jonah, to which Christ referred the
unbelieving Jews when they asked for a sign, see Mt 12:40.
“Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us,
who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.”
Christ’s resurrection was
the ultimate validation of all His claims, but that proof was given only to those who
had had faith to believe before His death.
This is always God’s order. There
must be first belief without proof, for that alone is faith, but once that faith is
exercised, God confirms its wisdom by furnishing abundant proof, e.g., the moment a
man believes, He receives the ability to understand Scripture - something the
unbeliever can’t do - and in its prophecies, typology, numerical structure, etc.,
he finds incontrovertible proof of what he was first willing to believe by faith,
i.e., without proof.
Inasmuch as eating and
drinking are synonymous with fellowship, the truth being declared here is that
believers are privileged to enjoy fellowship with their resurrected Lord.
“And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he
which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick (living) and dead.”
The preaching of the gospel
is not an option for believers: it is the Lord’s command, disobedience, as always,
marring fellowship, hindering blessing, and rendering the disobedient believer
subject to chastisement.
That warning is an essential
part of the gospel is declared in that Christ is to be presented, not only as Savior,
but also as Judge, for he who will not receive Him as Savior, must meet Him as Judge
at the great white throne, the result of that judgment being consignment to eternal
torment in the lake of fire.
All judgment has been
committed to Christ, not only that of the sinner, but also of the saint, “For the
Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (Jn 5:22). Believers too must meet Him in that capacity at the Bema, the
recompense of disobedience being loss of reward. Today, however, warning is conspicuously absent both from the
gospel and from ministry to believers.
“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever
believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
The spiritual famine
gripping the church today is due in large measure to her almost total neglect of the
OT, for apart from that knowledge the NT is robbed of much of its wealth. It is to be remembered that the Lord Himself, “Beginning at
Moses and all the prophets ... expounded unto them (the two on the road to Emmaus) in
all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).
Those who have taken the trouble to learn the symbolic language of Scripture,
find the Lord as clearly presented on the pages of the OT as on the New.
And the witness of the OT
prophets is the same as that borne by the NT age evangelists: whosoever believeth in
Him shall receive, not only remission of sins, but with that pardon, God’s gift of
eternal life, the value God sets on the name of His Son being declared from beginning
to end of the Bible, just one of many examples being the truth that, “There is none
other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Ac 4:12).
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which
heard the word.”
The “all” here must be
understood in its proper context. Whether
it embraces everyone in the house, the truth never changes that only believing
hearers are saved, see, e.g., Jn 5:25 where clearly the hearers who live are only
those who hear believingly.
Lacking any word to the
contrary, we may perhaps conclude that all gathered there that day did hear
believingly, and as a result of their belief, received the Holy Spirit.
There was no laying on of
hands. Immediately there was saving faith, the Holy Spirit took up
residence in the believer’s body, evidence that the man or woman had been raised up
out of spiritual death, and had become a new creature possessing a new life and a new
nature, both Christ’s. And this
remains the norm for the Church age.
“And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as
came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the
Circumcision was the
covenant sign for Jews, but under the new and better covenant of grace all such
outward signs were abolished. The new
covenant embraces the whole world, the literal cutting off of the flesh being
replaced with the cutting off of the deeds of the flesh, i.e., a holy life is now to
be the outward sign of a converted state. It
is necessary, however, to note that just as circumcision wasn’t infallible proof of
a man’s being a righteous Jew, neither is an outwardly impeccable life proof of a
man’s being a born again believer. Only
God can discern a man’s true spiritual state.
“For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,”
Their ability to speak in
foreign languages which they hadn’t learned, was one of the proofs that they had
received the Holy Spirit, but it must be remembered that such was the case only while
the millennial kingdom was still being offered to Israel, and that offer didn’t end
until AD 70. Thereafter this gift
ceased, as Paul in 1 Co 13:8 had said it would.
Since then it has not been evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, but
rather the proof of demonic activity. The
Jewish age continued till AD 70, and miraculous phenomena characterized it in the
early apostolic era, as it always had, but with the ending of the Jewish age,
miraculous manifestation also ended. It
has no place in the Church, nor does either Church history or Scripture furnish any
evidence of such manifestation after AD 70. As
was emphasized in our early studies of the book of Acts, until AD 70 there was one
order governing the lives of Jewish Christians, and another governing that of Gentile
believers, the Gentile order superseding the Jewish, and governing the whole Church
after AD 70, i.e., after the ending of Jewish autonomy, and withdrawal of the offer
of the millennial kingdom.
What occurred on the day of
Pentecost, and here in the home of Cornelius, and continued, though in diminishing
measure, till AD 70, was the partial fulfillment of Joel 2:28.
It was the proof that God was still offering Israel the millennial kingdom in
which there would be even more dramatic evidence of His miraculous power.
Her national rejection of the King, however, entailed also her loss of the
millennial kingdom, and brought an end to all such occurrences.
“Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have
received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
The emphasis upon their
having received the Holy Spirit, places beyond dispute the fact that baptism is for
believers only, while Peter’s present mention of this ordinance reminds us that
they should take this first step of obedience as soon as possible.
This doesn’t, however, exclude the fact that there should be some evidence
of new life. Here that evidence was
their having received the Holy Spirit, as certified by their speaking in tongues.
Today that evidence is not given, hence the need for elders to wait to see
some evidence of divine life before rushing to baptize a professed convert.
Nor should his question
“Can any man forbid water?” be construed as authority for sprinkling.
Romans 6, and many other Scriptures leave no question that baptism is to be by
“And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.”
is a command, not an option.
And surely our own
experience as believers answers the question as to why they wanted him to “tarry
certain days.” It can have been for no
other reason than that they wanted to know more of Him Whom they had just come to
know as Savior. It is a sad commentary
on the coldness of even the redeemed heart, that so few who profess faith, display
any desire to know more of Him Who has given His life to save them from hell and fit
them for heaven.