Acts 10 Cornelius and Peter

Tod Kennedy, December 5, 1999

Main points of application or “So what?” from Acts 10

  1. God will bring the gospel to those who desire to know it and to know God. Cornelius, a God-fearer, demonstrates this truth.
  2. God sometimes trains his servants on the job. God taught Peter step by step and had him ready for the ministry God prepared for him.
  3. God guides believers; divine guidance is a practical reality. God uses prayer, his Word, thinking, circumstances, and the Holy Spirit to guide believers into his will. See how God guided Peter to go to Cornelius’ house and deliver the right message.
  4. The good news of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ is offered to all mankind—Jew and Gentile. There are no restrictions as to who may believe the gospel.
  5. All believers are equal members in the body of Christ, the church. They have different functions, but they have equal position in Christ.

Summary Outline

  1. God sent an angel to instruct Cornelius, a God-fearer and a Roman centurion stationed in Caesarea, to send for Simon Peter, who was staying with a tanner in Joppa. Cornelius obeyed the Lord by sending two house servants and a God-fearing soldier to ask Peter to come to Caesarea. Cornelius wanted to know God—he was ready to hear the gospel of Christ (Acts 10.1-8).
  2. While the men were traveling to Joppa, Peter went up to the housetop at noon to pray. During his prayer time God gave him a vision: a large sheet that contained unclean creatures—animals, insects, and birds—descended from heaven; the Lord told Peter to eat from the unclean creatures and Peter said that he could not eat because the Mosaic Law forbade this activity; this happened three times and then the vision ended (Acts 10.9-16).
  3. When the men arrived at the tanner’s house, Peter was wondering about what he had seen. The Holy Spirit told him to go with the men even though Cornelius and the three messengers were strangers to Peter (Acts 10.17-22).
  4. The next day Peter left for Cornelius’ house with the men. When Peter arrived, he awed Cornelius, but Peter reminded Cornelius that he was also a man and was not to be worshipped. Peter entered the house and found a crowd had gathered to hear him speak from God (Acts 10.23-27).
  5. God had set the stage for a history changing meeting: Peter had his Jewish frame of reference; he had just experienced the sheet vision; the Holy Spirit had told him to go with the men; he had first hand knowledge of Jesus Christ the savior; and a crowd of Gentiles awaited his message from God. Cornelius told Peter and the crowd why he had sent for him—God’s angel had told him to send for Peter (Acts 10.28-33).
  6. Peter realized that God set up this meeting. The purpose was to explain to those present, mostly Gentiles, what Peter now understood: the good news of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ was not restricted to Israel; it was the message for all people (Acts 10.34-36).
  7. Peter reviewed the main events of Jesus’ life—he gave a life of Christ walk-through.  John had baptized Jesus; the Father anointed him with the Holy Spirit; Jesus performed miracles; the disciples witnessed all these events; the authorities crucified Jesus; the Father resurrected Jesus and presented him alive to the disciples and many others; and Jesus had commissioned the disciples to witness that Jesus is God, the Messiah, about whom the prophets also testified “that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10.34-43).
  8. Those whom Cornelius had gathered in his house believed in Jesus Christ as savior. They immediately received the Holy Spirit. By causing them to speak in tongues in front of the Jewish believers God demonstrated that he accepted Gentiles as equal members in the body of Christ without their having to become Jews. The Jewish believers marveled when they realized that God accepted Gentiles on an equal basis with Jews.  Peter then baptized the new believers with water (Acts 10.44-48).

Dictionary of Bible Doctrine

  1. Barnabas was Jewish, a Levite, and a believer in Christ. He was originally from Cyprus; he was generous; he had an active, varied, and wonderful ministry. His original name was Joseph, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement (Acts 4.36-37). He was the cousin of John Mark (Colossians 4.10). About A.D. 37, at a time when  believers were still somewhat afraid of Saul, Barnabas took Saul in hand and introduced him to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9.26-27). Later, when the Jerusalem church heard that a large number of Greeks  at Antioch were believing in Christ, the leaders sent Barnabas there to witness the ministry. After seeing the good ministry, he encouraged the believers at Antioch. Luke records that Barnabas was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith (Acts 11.23-24). Barnabas then went to get Saul, who was in Tarsus; Saul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch teaching the Word of God (Acts 11.19-30). Barnabas was Saul’s partner on the first missionary trip (Acts 13-14, about A.D. 48-49) and at the Jerusalem council meeting (Acts 15.1-5).  Barnabas served in evangelism, teaching, reconnaissance, financial responsibilities, and encouragement of believers. Though he was a grace oriented believer, even he gave in to the pressures of the legalists in Antioch; these legalists objected to Peter sitting down to dinner with Gentiles, and so Barnabas, along with Peter, separated from the Gentiles until Paul corrected them (Galatians 2.11-19). Barnabas and Paul disagreed on whether they should take John Mark with them on the second missionary trip; Barnabas said yes, Paul said no. The two men separated; Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and Paul took Silas and began the second trip (Acts 15.36-40, about A.D. 50).  Barnabas illustrates biblical application for us: be flexible in the use of gifts and training; the prepared believer has a variety of ministry opportunities; no service is insignificant; spiritual failure does not remove one from future ministry; be an encouragement to others, not a discouragement; and beware of legalism.
  2. Roman Army:  The Roman army helped provide the stability and peace for the age in which Christ was born, kept peace during the time of the early church, and participated in both the persecution and protection of believers. Jesus marveled at the faith of a centurion, a non-commissioned officer, whom he met in Capernaum (Matthew 8.5-13). The Roman army took part in the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 23.47; John 18-19); it both protected and arrested Paul (Acts 21.27-33; 27.31-42); a centurion sent for Peter in order to hear him give God’s message, the gospel (Acts 10.1-2,22); the army arrested Peter on orders from Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12.3,18); the Roman army was so well known that Paul taught believers how to prepare themselves for spiritual battle by comparing believers to Roman soldiers and their armor (Ephesians 6.10-17) and by comparing the Christian life to a soldier’s life (1 Corinthians 9.6; 2 Timothy 2.3-4); and Paul lived with a Roman soldier during his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28.16) and ministered to the Praetorian Guard and to Caesar’s household (Philippians 1.13 and 4.22). The largest army group was a legion, which was four to six thousand men; six tribuni commanded, in rotation, the legions. A legion had ten groups, called cohorts, of 600 men. A cohort was manned by three maniples, each made up of 200 men. Each maniple was composed of two centuries; a centurion commanded a century. A century had from 70-100 men. The Roman army also had independent or volunteer cohorts made up of 1000 men; Acts 10.1 mentions the Italian cohort and Acts 27.1 mentions  Julius, a centurion of the Augustan cohort.
  3. God-Fearer was the term for Gentiles who were attracted by the monotheism and ethical standards of the Jewish community; some practiced in a more limited way the Jewish observance of the Sabbath and the dietary laws; some attended the synagogue and prayed regularly.  God-fearers were respected by  the Jewish people (Acts 10.2,22; 12.6,26); they were often open to the gospel and many God-fearers responded in faith to the gospel and became a strong force in the early church (Acts 10.35). Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian cohort who lived in Caesarea, was a God-fearer. God instructed Cornelius to send for Peter, who would reveal the gospel to him. Cornelius, along with other Gentiles, listened to Peter, believed the gospel, received the Holy Spirit, and was baptized in water (Acts 10). A God-fearer was, then, a Gentile who, influenced by the Old Testament, had passed through God-consciousness and was ready to hear the accurate gospel of Christ.
  4. Divine Guidance means that God makes his will known to believers. Sometimes we know his will all at once (Jude), and sometimes he reveals his will a step at a time (Peter). God guided Peter in the Cornelius situation through a combination of Peter’s prayer, the Word (the sheet vision), Peter’s thinking about the vision, circumstances, and through the urging of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10.9-22 and Acts 11.4-12). Peter did not fully know to what end God was guiding him until he arrived at Cornelius’ house and heard Cornelius’ explanation as to why he had sent for Peter (Acts 10.34-35). Peter followed God’s guidance step by step. God guided Jude to change the subject of his letter from salvation to an appeal that believers earnestly contend for the faith because of the surrounding apostasy (Jude 1-4). God guided Jude through a combination of Jude’s knowledge of Bible doctrine, the circumstances of apostasy, and a strong inner necessity produced by the Holy Spirit. After the Scripture was completed, God stopped guiding by visions or direct revelations; we now have his completed Word, Bible doctrine. Therefore, we need to know the Word of God, walk in fellowship with God, walk by the Holy Spirit, and listen to the Word and the Holy Spirit.
  5. Water baptism is the church age ritual that publicly identifies a believer with Jesus Christ as savior and with the new eternal kind of life in Christ Jesus. The Greek word “to baptize” is baptizw, which means to dip, immerse, plunge, overwhelm, and so to identify with something. Israel, during the Exodus, was baptized into Moses, which means that the nation was identified with Moses, their leader (1 Corinthians 10.2). Water baptism is not necessary for salvation; it points to relationship with Christ, not to the person administering the ritual; it ought to be done reasonably soon after receiving eternal life by faith in Christ; the ritual is performed by immersion in water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Water baptism is of secondary importance to the gospel and to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Any believer can baptize another believer, though usually pastor-teachers or evangelists administer the ritual (Matthew 28.19-20; Acts 16.33; 1 Corinthians 1.13-17).