Acts 10 Part 2
21. Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?”
Peter knows well how to obey, and so he goes down to the men. He identifies himself as the one they seek, and then asks them for what reason they have come? Remember, though the Spirit told Peter they had come and He had sent them, He had not told Peter why He sent them or what they would want. All He told Peter to do was to go down to them, and then to go with them. Thus, Peter asks them why it is that they have come? That three Gentile men like this would come seeking him would not have been a common experience for Peter at all. God has not informed him of what is going on here, so he is still unsure exactly why they are there.
22. And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.”
The three messengers of Cornelius identify the one who sent them. They also feel the need to throw in a few good words about Cornelius here. They too must have been aware that they were calling upon an Israelite, and that officials in the occupying army were not well-loved by such, to say the least. Thus, they bring in the fact that Cornelius fears God. The Jews hated the Romans as polytheists, and the fact that Cornelius was not one of these must have impressed them. They also bring in the fact that he is a just man. Another problem that most Jews had with their occupiers was the injustices they practiced on the people based upon the position of power they held over them. The fact that Cornelius did not do this spoke well of him. Finally, they bring in the good reputation that Cornelius has among all the nation of the Jews. This again was a most unusual thing for a Roman occupier, and said much about Cornelius in a few words.
Now, Cornelius’ messengers speak of the instructions given to Cornelius by God through His messenger. The word “summon” here is a form of pempo again, and indicates a simple sending to get Peter, not sending with authority. A request like this summons was one that any Roman in occupied territory would have been hesitant to make of a Jew under normal circumstances, yet this is the request they have been told to make by God. Now, Peter must respond, and he will do so based upon the vision he had received. He well knows what God’s instructions to him are, and like an obedient servant he will carry them out.
Notice the interesting expression they use here, the “nation of the Jews.” The word for “nation” here is ethnous, and if we translated this consistently with the way it is so often translated in so many of our versions, we would have to make this “the Gentile of the Jews.” But how ridiculous would that be, as if the Jews had their own, pet Gentile, and Cornelius’ messengers are here talking about him! The translators have been forced here to translate this word “nation,” as it should always be translated. Yet let us learn from this the truth: that Israel was as much a nation (not a “Gentile!”) as anyone else, and it is wrong for us to exclude them from statements about “the nations” by translating this phrase “the Gentiles.” Since Israel is a nation, there are times in the Bible when the phrase “the nations” includes them as a nation. To translate this phrase by “the Gentiles” obscures this truth. For this reason, among others, this word should always be rendered as “nation” or “nations.”
23. Then he invited them in and lodged them.
On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
Peter must have been surprised to see that the men God had sent him were Romans, yet he obeyed the instructions he had been given by the Holy Spirit, considering well the lesson of the vision he had received. Thus, he acts in accordance with it, not only to go with the men, but he also invites them into the house of Simon the tanner and gives them lodging there. This is something that no Israelite under normal circumstances would have done. For one thing, they knew that men of other nations did not keep the clean and unclean laws that God had given to His people. A Gentile would have no idea if he had come in contact with anything unclean, nor would he have gone through the ritual cleansing to make himself clean again afterwards if he had. By bringing a Gentile into your home, you were almost guaranteeing that he might make you and everything he came in contact with unclean. Thus, most Jews would never under any circumstances have invited a Gentile into their homes. Yet Peter now realizes that God has declared these men clean, and he believes God and treats them as such.
On top of this, though, these men were not just any Gentiles, but Romans. The Roman army was occupying Israel at this time, as I have already pointed out. To invite a Roman into your home, on top of bringing uncleanness, would have given many of your fellow Israelites the strong impression that you were fraternizing with the enemy. On top of this, their culture attached even more importance to lodging someone in your home and sharing food with them than we do today. They viewed this as a sign of the closest possible kinship and fellowship. For this reason, the centurion in Luke 7:6 declared himself unworthy to have the Lord come under his roof. He knew the stigma this would bring upon the Lord, and he didn’t want to be the cause of subjecting Him to that. Yet now, God Himself has commanded Peter to fellowship with these Romans. To Peter’s credit, when he was commanded to do this, he did not hesitate. Many try to make this story a picture of Peter’s prejudice and lack of faithfulness to the Lord’s commands. In reality, it is the exact opposite, for it shows just how obedient Peter was. He was willing to forego every social stigma and risk severe censure and rejection at the hand of his fellow Jews in order to obey the orders he was given. Peter was a faithful man indeed!
Now the next day Peter goes with them, journeying back to Ceasarea to visit Cornelius, as he had been commanded. He is not going to go alone on this, however. He and the brethren with him must have known the social stigma that Peter and anyone who accompanied him was risking by obeying God’s command on this. No doubt, the brethren determined that Peter could not be expected to go this alone, and face alone the possible outcome of having been bold enough to do this. Thus, these men accompany Peter, not just to serve him, but also to be witnesses as to his conduct, and to prove that they, too, are willing to follow God wherever He leads, no matter what radical actions that might require.
24. And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.
Peter, his company, and the messengers arrive in Caesarea the following day. Waiting for them, we learn that Cornelius has gathered together quite a company. Not only is he himself waiting, but he has called together his relatives and close friends. This probably was a large company of people who, like Cornelius, were interested in the true God. Cornelius had probably gathered such a company around himself, perhaps even being responsible for some of them having this attitude towards God. Now, he wants them all to share with him in the message he is about to receive from God.
25. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.
Cornelius knew that Peter would be God’s messenger to him, but there can be little doubt but that he took him to be more than that, for he fell down at his feet and worshipped him. Cornelius gave Peter the same status as we would give Jesus Christ. He thought perhaps that Peter was God in human form. This was something that was foreign to the thinking of an Israelite, but would have been a much more acceptable thought to a Gentile like Cornelius. No doubt Cornelius had wondered who it was whom God would be sending to see him in this sensational and miraculous way as he waited for his messengers to return. Of course he didn’t know, but it is human nature to guess, and he had come to this conclusion. Cornelius had the right idea, though he had the wrong man. There is a Man Who is God in human form, but He is not the one who was standing before Cornelius now. Yet Peter represented him, and so Peter will do His work now to straighten Cornelius out and to reveal to him the truth.
26. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”
Peter wastes no time in straightening Cornelius out. He lifts him to his feet, informing him that he too is just a man like Cornelius. This is a good lesson for all to take whom men might elevate to the status that should be reserved for God alone. If Peter, God’s apostle and representative on earth, would not take the glory that belongs to God alone, how much less should we?
This also provides an answer for those who wish to make out that Jesus Christ Himself was just a Man, maybe just a particularly Spirit-filled Man, and not God. Yet we know that men offered Jesus Christ worship, and He never stopped them from doing so or straightened them out, as Peter did here. We can see this in Matthew 2:11, 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, 15:25, 20:20, 28:9; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; and John 9:38, in all of which the same Greek word proskuneo is used as is used here. The Lord accepts worship, and does not refuse it as Peter did here. What clearer evidence could we have but that the Lord considered Himself as more than a Man, in fact, as God Himself?
27. And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together.
Peter continues to talk with Cornelius, though we do not have what their further conversation was. Yet as they talked, they went into Cornelius’ house, an act which in itself was forbidden by Jewish custom. Yet Peter has been commanded to come to this house, nothing doubting, and Peter is a man who learned to obey the Lord. Now inside, Peter finds this group of many people whom Cornelius had gathered together to meet him. Now Peter knows he must address this crowd of eager individuals to bring them whatever message God might have for them.
28. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
Peter by coming into this house had just committed an act that was most strongly taboo for his people and culture. Therefore, the first thing he does for this crowd is to explain his actions. They already knew that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. Being Gentiles living among the Jews, they would be made aware of this fact every day, for it was the culture they were living in as outsiders. Yet Peter tells them that God has shown him a truth that he did not know before: that he should not call any man common or unclean. This was what God said, and, though it went counter to Peter’s culture and everything he had been taught and grown up to believe, Peter was a man who believed God rather than men. This is a lesson we would do well to take to heart when we find that our own culture and upbringing conflicts with what God has said.
The word “unlawful” here is not based on the usual word for the law of God, nomos. Rather it is the Greek word athemitos, and is used only here in connection with Jewish practice. It has to do with being contrary to custom or statute. Peter is not saying that this was contrary to the law God had given to Moses, for it was not. Yet it was contrary to their custom and practice, and that is why the Jews did not do it. Now, God said differently, so Peter was acting differently.
Notice that this is what Peter now realizes God had shown him. This was the point of the vision he received. Thus we now learn the interpretation of the great vision of the sheet let down from heaven with the unclean animals in it. What God was showing Peter was this: that he should not call any man common or unclean. This is what the unclean foods in the great heavenly vessel were symbolizing. Thus this vision was making a statement about men. From now on, Peter was to view no man as unclean in God’s sight.
Conversely, this vision was not telling Peter anything about food. God was not telling Peter to start eating unclean foods from then on. That was not how Peter understood it, and that is not how we should understand it either. This changed nothing for Peter regarding his diet. That change would wait for Paul to announce it, as he did in I Timothy 4:4-5.
4. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5. for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
Yet at this time for Peter, these laws still applied. To take this vision and apply it to foods is to twist it. The reality of the vision is that it had nothing to do with foods. To make it out to be talking about foods is to twist it. Just because all foods are clean for us today does not mean that we should twist this passage to be saying that. Peter was living in the Acts period, and this great change had not yet taken place. For Peter, there still were clean and unclean foods. Not until later, until another dispensational change took place, would all meats be considered clean.
29. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”
Peter completes his explanation. It was because God had shown him this that he had come as soon as he was asked for. God had freed him from this cultural tradition that would have kept him from coming to Cornelius. May God likewise free us from the traditions of our culture that would separate us from doing His will!
Now Peter asks Cornelius for what reason he had sent for him? Notice that Peter honestly does not know. Peter has not come to this house expecting to preach the gospel to these Gentiles. In his mind, the gospel is not for Gentiles, and thus he does not imagine that that is why God has sent him. Peter is rather puzzled, not knowing for what reason God has sent him on this mission.
I suppose that most evangelical types today would think that Peter should have immediately known, that he should have walked right into this house and started preaching the gospel to these people. Yet what these fail to understand is that Peter was operating under a different dispensation than we do today. The gospel at that time was not freely available to all nations, as it is today (Acts 28:28.) Instead, the word was sent to the people of Israel (Acts 2:39, 13:26.) They were the ones authorized to hear it, and no others. Was Peter wrong to think this? Most certainly not, for this was the command he had been given by the Lord.
The program the apostles were given was that they were to go out and proclaim the truth to Israelites around the world. Once this was done and Israel was brought into the kingdom, then they would take the truth to the nations, bringing them into the kingdom as well. That was what Peter understood was to happen, and that is what had been happening throughout the book of Acts up until this time. Now God is interrupting the program with something new, and Peter does not know what it is. He only knows that he has been commanded to do something, and, like a good servant, he is doing it.
30. So 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 clothing,
Cornelius starts to repeat his part of the story. Four days ago, he tells Peter, he was fasting until this very hour. Thus we discover that it must again have been afternoon around three o’clock at this very time when Peter was meeting with them. In the record earlier we did not learn that he was fasting, nor did we learn, as he now says, that he was praying in his house when he received the vision. Thus, Cornelius tells us some new details here that we didn’t know before. Perhaps Cornelius was seeking after God through his fasting, for that is often what fasting was a sign of. Thus the visit to him was an answer to his prayer and heartfelt seeking. It is a rule of the kingdom that “he who seeks finds” (Matthew 7:8, Luke 11:10.) Cornelius sought, and the Lord granted him his request.
Now, Cornelius reveals, a man stood before him in bright clothing. This is all according to the story as we read it earlier in the chapter. Otis Sellers translates this as “splendid attire.” In the paintings and illustrations we are used to seeing of angels, they are always dressed in simple white robes. Clearly, this angel was wearing something far more spectacular than this. While it does not describe this apparel for us, we can be sure that it was an impressive set of clothes indeed.
31. and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God.
This is not exactly how the angel said it, though it is close, and pretty much says the same thing. Cornelius is not trying to be inaccurate, but remember that he is speaking four days later, and repeating the angel’s words from memory. He does not get them exactly right. Yet how human this is! Which of us could repeat word-for-word a message we received four days before, no matter how impactful it was? The important fact is that he remembered all the basic points, and repeated them honestly.
Yet notice too that this is a proof of the authenticity and inspiration of this Book. God remembers exactly both what the angel said and how Cornelius repeated it, and He accurately repeats both. Yet a forger, or even one writing an honest history but working off of human memory, would have only bothered obtaining one quote, and probably when repeating it here would have rolled the scroll back to see what he wrote before, and would have copied it word-for-word. Yet God gives both the original message and Cornelius’ imperfect repetition of it word-for-word. Only God could write this way!
32. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’
Cornelius continues repeating the angel’s message. Again, he does not get it exactly right, although all the important details of the instructions he was given are here. If we were to number the important points of both messages, we would find they are there in both. They just are not put in the same words. Cornelius was a man used to following orders, and he knew how to remember them. Yet even he was not up to repeating them in the exact same words used. Yet he repeats them competently and sufficiently.
33. So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
Upon receiving these orders, Cornelius reveals, he immediately sent to Peter. Peter has done well to come, he says, acknowledging that he had to break Jewish custom in doing so, but knowing that Peter did this at the command of God. Cornelius knows it is always good to follow the orders of God. He has done so, and he recognizes that Peter has done so as well.
Now, he concludes to Peter, he and all these his friends are present before God, waiting to hear the things God has commanded Peter to tell them. Now, it is up to Peter to speak the words God has given him.
The word “present” here is the Greek word pareimi, which means “present,” as we have discussed before, as opposed to the more technical parousia, which has to do with an official presence. They were present before Peter and before God, waiting to hear His words.