Read the Passage: Acts 10
Revelation to Cornelius (10:1–8)
Over the past few chapters we’ve studied Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7); Philip, the first missionary (Acts 8); and Saul, the first enemy of the organized church (Acts 9). In today’s passage we’ll study Cornelius, the first Gentile convert. While Paul was the subject of Acts 9:1–31, he disappears from the narrative until Acts 11:25, which is roughly a ten-year period. Acts 9:32–42 contains two events: the healing of a paralyzed man in Lydda and the raising of Dorcas in Joppa. Both of these events were facilitated by Peter. In Acts 10, we are introduced to a man named Cornelius who was a Roman centurion. The text says that he was “a devout man . . . who feared God . . . who gave alms . . . and prayed to God” (Acts 10:2). The phrase one “who feared God,” as well as the description of Cornelius, is an indication that although a pagan, Cornelius had become an Jewish proselyte.
In Acts 10:3–8 we read of divine revelation from the Lord to Cornelius. The text reports that Cornelius’ prayers and alms had been pleasing to God. The Lord then specifically directed Cornelius to send for Peter at the home of Simon the tanner, who was likely a Hebrew who had become a believer (cf. Acts 9:43; 10:5–6). Three important observations are: first, the specific instructions make it clear that Cornelius did not know Peter; second, it is interesting that Peter would stay with a tanner, even if he was a Jewish believer, for tanners were despised by most Jews on account of the fact that they dealt with the skins of dead animals that made them ceremonially unclean; third, it is interesting that God did not have the angel preach the gospel to Cornelius, but directed him to Peter in order to hear the gospel (cf. Gal. 1:8; Rev. 14:6).
Revelation to Peter (10:9–23)
Acts 10:9–16 records a vision that God gave Peter of many animals of the earth coming down before him in a great sheet. In this vision, which God sent to Peter three consecutive times, the Lord commanded Peter, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). Yet, Peter objected to God’s command, for the Jewish ceremonial laws forbid the eating of many of the animals Peter evidently saw in the vision (cf. Lev. 11:1–47; Deut. 14:3–21). Peter’s objection, however, betrays the fact that he had misunderstood the purpose of the ceremonial law (cf. Col. 2:16–17; Heb. 10:1–10), did not yet grasp the extent of the gospel (cf. Rom. 8:19–22; 1 Cor. 15:20, 23), and that he had not understood Jesus’ explicit teaching at Mark 7:18–19. Interestingly, Mark later records Peter’s understanding of Christ’s teaching here, writing, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).
Acts 10:17–23 records the encounter between Peter and Cornelius’ servants. Interestingly, in the vision God did not tell Peter anything specifically about Cornelius, even though his servants were nearby (cf. Acts 10:9). When the servants, two slaves and a devout soldier who may also have been a proselyte (cf. Acts 10:7–8), approached the house, the Lord apprised Peter of their arrival. Perhaps surprisingly, upon learning about Cornelius from his servants, Peter “invited them in and lodged them” (Acts 10:23), even though it was a cultural taboo for a Jew to aid members of the hated Roman army. Peter’s lodging with a tanner, his reception of the divine vision, and his lodging of the Gentile visitors shows God’s work in his heart. In the morning, Peter and six Jewish believers (cf. Acts 10:45; 11:12) accompanied the visitors back to the home of Cornelius in Caesarea.
Salvation of the Gentiles (10:24–48)
Upon meeting Peter, Cornelius fell down at his feet to worship him (cf. Acts 10:25). This was perhaps predicated upon his reaction to the angel who had appeared to him (cf. Acts 10:3–7, 30–32; Rev. 19:10; 22:8–9). After rebuking Cornelius, Peter inquired about the reason for Cornelius’ summons. Cornelius then recounted for Peter the vision he had seen and the Lord’s directions to send for Peter. In response, after marveling about the ways of God, Peter told Cornelius the gospel message which consisted of Jesus’ sinless life (cf. Acts 10:36–38), Jesus’ death and burial (cf. Acts 10:39), Jesus’ victorious resurrection (cf. Acts 10:40–42), and the offer of salvation (cf. Acts 10:43). After hearing the gospel message Cornelius believed and the Holy Spirit fell upon him and his family. Peter then baptized the new converts and stayed with them a few days for fellowship.
- Given that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, and Peter was the apostle to the Jews (cf. Gal. 2:7–8), why do you think God sent Peter to Cornelius?
- What do Cornelius’ actions reveal about his spiritual condition and sensitivity? Are there any innocent, but spiritually lost people?
- Why do you think God himself did not explain the gospel to Cornelius? Is the gospel ever preached by anyone but a human being in Scripture?
- What do Peter’s actions show about the effect of the gospel in his life? When God has worked in your life, has it been gradually or dramatically?
- Why were the Jewish converts so surprised at the Gentiles’ salvation? Was God’s salvation of the Gentiles a mystery (cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6; 60:3)?