34. Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.
Peter now begins his message. He opens his mouth and begins to speak, but I do not believe that these were Peter’s words. Peter was God’s inspired apostle, and when he spoke he was both speaking on behalf of God, and was speaking with the very words of God. God had sent him on this mission to the household of Cornelius, and God would not fail to give him the words to speak when he arrived there.
Peter begins by summarizing for his hearers what he himself has just learned. He now knows the truth that God shows no partiality. He does not favor people, as we do, based on the things of this world such as nationality.
35. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
Peter now declares the lesson he has learned from God, and it is one we would do well to consider. There are many in the Christian world, and even particularly among those who call themselves evangelicals or fundamentalists, who hold the idea that men who have never heard of Jesus Christ are automatically considered as unbelievers and are lost. It is unreasonable to charge a person with unbelief who has never heard the thing he was supposed to believe, yet this is done by many. Yet this is not the truth that Peter learned here.
What Peter declares is that in every nation whoever fears God and works righteousness is accepted by Him. Even though a man may be part of a tribe deep in a jungle somewhere, or living in a country where the name of Jesus Christ is never spoken, he still can do this. If He fears the One he knows to be God, if he refrains from what he knows to be wrong and does that which he knows to be right, then, according to this verse, this man will be accepted with God. This might fly in the face of certain dearly held doctrinal creeds, and yet this is what the Word says, and it cannot be erased. Peter learned this lesson. We would do well if we would learn it as well.
Now some will protest that this means that there will be salvation for some apart from Jesus Christ. It is true that no man will receive salvation unless he has a Savior, and the only available Savior is the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet if we ask for what reason Christ may identify Himself with a man, we can discover here that God’s standard is clear. This has been the standard that to which God has held men from Adam up until now. He expects every man to fear Him and to work righteousness. If a man does this, then the Lord Jesus Christ will save him, whoever he may be. The Lord does not respect persons, as we do. He does not honor one because he lived in a “Christian nation,” or grew up in some particular church. He looks at the heart of men, whatever nation they may be a part of.
Now having said this, we must make it clear that this is not an alternative way to salvation for any who might have heard the message of Christ and yet not cared to believe it. When a man hears the truth about Jesus Christ, then his act of righteousness is to believe on the One God sent, as Christ said in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” For the one who knows the truth about Jesus Christ, there is only one work of righteousness which can be considered as sufficient in the eyes of God, and that is to believe in Him. A man who formerly had feared God and worked righteousness, and yet upon hearing of Christ refused to believe and rejected Him, could not go back to what he was before by continuing to fear God and work righteousness. He is condemned already, not having believed in the name of the only Son of God.
For example, Cornelius was a man who feared God and did what he knew to be right. Thus, up to the time the angel came to him, he was accepted in God’s sight. However, once he had heard what Peter said, if he then had rejected it, and said, “That’s nice, Peter, but I just can’t believe in this One you speak of,” then he would have lost everything he had before. His previous works of righteousness would have counted for nothing in the sight of God, for he would have been guilty of having rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. However, once he did believe, he earned for himself the much greater blessings that come to those who believe. No longer was his fate merely to receive eternal life in God’s kingdom, but now he also was part of the exalted company of believers in the Acts period, and would receive a high position in God’s government in the future.
So this is the lesson that Peter learned, both through his vision, and through what God showed him afterwards. Yet have we learned this same lesson? Will we accept this truth, or will we reject it and refuse to believe that “in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him”? The choice is ours.
The word “nation” here is the Greek word ethnos, the same word that is incorrectly translated as “Gentile” in so many passages. Here the translators were forced to translate it correctly as “nation,” for think how foolish it would be to say “in every Gentile whoever fears Him and works righteousness.” Thus we learn the true meaning of this word. It does not mean a Gentile, but a nation, and should be translated this way in every occurrence. To translate it any other way, as so many translators have done, is simply dishonest translation.
36. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—
Having declared what he himself had learned, Peter now proceeds to give the word of God to Cornelius and those with him. First, he speaks of the word which God sent to the children of Israel, proclaiming peace through Jesus Christ. “The word” here is logos or the expression of truth which God sent to them. The word “sent” is a form of the Greek word apostello. When this is used of people, we speak of them being sent with authority or commissioned. However, here it speaks of an inanimate thing, the word. When this word is used of inanimate things, it means authorized or made available. Thus, this word regarding peace through Jesus Christ God was authorized to the sons or representatives of Israel.
The sons of Israel were the men living at any one time who thus represented that nation as a whole. The nation as a whole existed throughout time from when Abraham first received his promises from God. Yet only those Israelites who are alive at any one time are currently representing that nation, and these then are the sons of Israel. The word is huios or sons, and should not be translated “children,” as it is here. The point is that these were the Israelites living at that time and representing the fathers that came before them.
Notice that this word was authorized to the sons of Israel only, for this had been true up to the time Peter was speaking these words. Only the Israelites were qualified to receive this message. If a Gentile had been in attendance and heard the word, he could not have received it, for it was not authorized to him. He might ask that a word be authorized to him sometime in the future, as the Gentiles did in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:42. Yet until that occurred, he could not receive it. Only to the children of Israel had this word been made available.
Yet now, something new was happening, for God had authorized this word to a certain Gentile and his near friends, this man Cornelius. That is about to become clear as we continue through this passage.
Now Peter gives a word for Cornelius, for he tells him that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. This was a strong word indeed, and yet a true one. If Cornelius accepted this statement, he was already on the road to faith.
37. that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached:
Cornelius already knows this word, Peter proclaims. Some might wonder how this could be, since Peter was just now declaring it to him? Yet remember that Cornelius was a soldier of the occupying force in Israel. He was a lot like what a police officer is today, and it was part of his job to keep the peace in the land. Thus, any big movement that started in the country he had jurisdiction over, it was his business to know about. Considering how the movement following Jesus Christ had continued to grow, as we have seen throughout Acts, he would have been derelict in his duty if he had not sought to learn as much as he could about it. He had to know if there was any threat to Rome in this movement, at the very least. Beyond that, anything that strongly affected the people over which he had charge, he needed to learn about. Thus, he already knew and was well aware of the word regarding Jesus Christ that Peter spoke about.
Yet for all that Cornelius knew about it, he had done nothing to believe this word or procure it for himself. This was no dereliction on his part, for he had no choice in the matter. Even if he had wanted to do this, the word was not for him. It was only authorized to the children of Israel. Cornelius knew this.
Peter goes on describing the word: how it was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached. Again, Galilee was the northern district in Israel, whereas Judea was the southern. Throughout both these regions the word of Jesus Christ had been proclaimed. This had started all the way back after the baptism which John proclaimed.
38. how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
He repeats these facts, again ones that Cornelius already knew, about the Lord. God had anointed or set apart this Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. “Holy spirit” is pneumati hagio in Greek here, and means the power of the Spirit, not the Person. As we have discussed in the past, the Spirit is the Giver, and He is always connected with the gifts; He is the Source of power and is always connected with the power, and He is the Worker and is always connected with the work. When the article “the” appears before the words “holy” and “spirit” in Greek, then the Person of the Spirit is emphasized, whereas when the article “the” does not appear before these words, then the work of the Spirit is emphasized. Here, there is no “the,” and so we would make this, “with holy spirit, even with power.”
The Lord went about doing good, as Cornelius knew, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. The word “oppressed” here has to do with overpowered. The devil’s power is indeed stronger than our own, but it is as nothing compared to that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus healing those who were overpowered by him was a most impressive work indeed, and it is no surprise that Cornelius would have heard of it. Peter also reveals how He was able to do this: it was because God was with Him.
39. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.
Peter now offers himself and those who are with him as witnesses, proving that they have seen all these things that the Lord did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. These things were not exaggerated or imaginary. Yet in Jerusalem, he reveals, they had killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. “They” here means the Jerusalemites, or particularly the leaders among them. These were the ones who had plotted to put the Lord to death by crucifixion.
40. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly,
God responded to this, Peter reveals, and raised Him up on the third day, that is, when death was final and complete according to the Jewish way of thinking of things. God did not hide Him after doing this either, but showed Him openly. These things were not done in secret. As Peter said, Cornelius already knew much about this, and he could easily summon some of the other witnesses Peter mentioned to confirm the truth of this if he wished.
41. not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
Needless to say, the Lord did not appear to all the people. Yet He did appear to witnesses chosen beforehand for this purpose by God. These witnesses not only saw Him, but ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. Eating and drinking indicated the closest possible fellowship, and one which could not be accounted for by some sort of mass hallucination. No one could insist that a whole group of people would imagine that they had shared a meal with someone who was not really there. They saw Him, they talked with Him, and they ate with Him after He arose from the dead. They were not mistaken in Who this was, for they had done these same things with Him before He died.
The witness of these particular men was perhaps even more impressive than if He had indeed appeared to all the people. Those who were not close to Him might have been deceived by another pretending to be Him. The testimony of those who knew Him better might have gotten lost in the crowd. Yet with Him appearing to those who were closest to Him, they were able to offer their knowledgeable testimony. They knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was their Lord, the same One they had eaten and drunk with before His death. Their testimony above all others could be believed.
42. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
As He was fellowshipping with them after his resurrection, Peter reveals, the Lord gave them a command. He told them to proclaim to the people, that is, to the Israelites. Now these were the Lord’s instructions, according to Peter’s own testimony, even as he stood speaking to a Gentile. The Lord had commanded them to proclaim to the people of Israel. Many have imagined that somehow the apostles had misunderstood the Lord, or refused to believe what He really wanted of them. They think the Lord meant for them to go out and preach to all, Gentiles included, and that the apostles stubbornly refused to do that until the Lord nagged them about it. Yet this is not the testimony of Peter, one of those whom God had chosen before to be a witness. He knew what his commission was, and it was to speak to the people, not to everyone. It is the modern-day expositors, not the apostles, who do not understand the Lord’s command properly.
The apostles were further commanded to testify to the people that it is He, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. The Judge in their mindset was not what we call a judge in our country today. Rather, a judge was one who would determine what was right in any given situation, and then would set things right according to his determination. A judge differed little from a king in Old Testament times, other than that they did not have hereditary lineage for the next judge. When the Lord judges the living and the dead, He will make a determination regarding all of these as to their worthiness or unworthiness to live in the kingdom of God, and then, if they are worthy, regarding what position they shall hold in it.
This same truth is what Paul declared in II Timothy 4:1, when he said:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
Yes, the Lord will judge all men when the kingdom comes. This is the truth Peter is declaring to Cornelius here.
43. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
To this one, Peter declares, all the prophets had given witness. They had done this when they spoke of the One Who was to come as a Savior. Their witness was that through His name (that is, His character and authority,) whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. “Remission” here means “forgiveness.” True forgiveness of sins comes by believing in Christ!
Notice that believing in Him is the only criterion for this forgiveness. They do not have to join a church, give to the offering, or volunteer to help the poor. All that is necessary is that they believe. This is still true today. We know that forgiveness of sins still comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that all my readers have exercised such a faith in Him, for He is the One Whom God has set forth to be our Savior.
44. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
While Peter was still speaking this last sentence, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and all those with him who heard the word. In the Acts period when this happened to a person, it was a manifest and obvious thing. What happened was something out of the normal, and none could doubt that this was an act of God. Thus the Spirit gave witness to the fact that these people, as they heard the words from Peter, believed them, and believed immediately. No sooner did they hear the word than they believed it. These were indeed the kind of people whom God is ever ready to call His Own!
The first occurrence of “words” in this verse is the Greek word rhema, which has to do with a saying or the actual words used, whereas the second time it says “word” it is the Greek word logos or expression. What Peter was speaking was an actual saying contained in words, and yet it was also an expression of God, and God was made plain to these people through it. Thus, what he spoke was both a rhema and a logos.
The phrase “the Holy Spirit” here in Greek is to pneuma to hagion, or “the Spirit the Holy (One).” Thus it was the Person of the Spirit Who fell upon them. Yet how He did so is through His power, and we will see what the result of that power was in verse 46.
45. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
Now we read of the reaction of those Jewish brethren who had accompanied Peter. There were six of these, as we will read in Acts 11:12, making along with Peter seven witnesses to this event. These six men, all believers, all of the circumcision or law-keeping Israelites, are all astonished to see this. They reason they are amazed is because the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the nations also. Of course, this does not mean any nation as a whole, but on Cornelius and his household and friends, as members of the nations as a whole and not of God’s chosen nation of Israel. This was an unexpected and amazing thing to these circumcised believers. Even though they knew from Peter that God had sent them to a Gentile household for some reason, they had never imagined that it would be for something like this. As far as they knew, the gift of the Spirit was only for the Israelites, and was not meant for men of other nations. Thus, they were astounded that God had done this.
Yet if this so astonished these Jewish believers, then we must conclude that they had never seen or imagined such a thing up to this time. It could not be that since Acts 2 God had been calling Jews and Gentiles together into something called “the church” if here in Acts 10 the Jewish believers are astonished to see even one group of Gentiles receive the gift of the Spirit. The truth is that Cornelius and his household were the first Gentile believers they had ever heard of, and the first non-Jews to receive the gift of the Spirit. Thus, these men were astonished.
The phrase “of the Holy Spirit” here is tou hagiou pneumatos, or “of-the Holy Spirit,” in Greek. Thus again it is the Person of the Spirit Who is referred to. However, notice here that the full phrase is “the gift of the Holy Spirit” here, and so once again the Giver is connected with His gift. This is ever the case throughout the New Testament.
46. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
Then Peter answered,
This tells us what the gift of the Spirit was that they saw Cornelius and those with him receive. They spoke with tongues, magnifying God in the languages they were speaking. It is as the people said in Acts 2:11, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Even so it now was with these Gentiles. The Spirit gave them a gift, and that gift was complete and flawless knowledge of certain languages that they had never learned or spoken before. Now they were using those languages to speak words magnifying God. This proved to these Jewish brethren that this could be no less than the work of God.
47. “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Now Peter speaks up. He seems to be speaking to the men of the circumcision who were there with him. Normally, as good law-keeping Israelites, these would have demanded that men must be circumcised and agree to keep the law of Moses before they could be counted as part of the nation of Israel. Yet Peter asks if any of these would now dare to forbid water for these men, that they should not be baptized, when they had already received the Holy Spirit just as Peter and his companions have? And it seems that no one could. When God gave this gift of the Spirit, it was an obvious thing. No matter how much it might seem logically or religiously or culturally wrong to them, they could not deny that God had acted, and they could not argue with Him.
As we have discussed, to be baptized means to be identified. What Peter wanted was to have these men be identified, through means of a water ritual, with the company of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Until now, this company had consisted purely of Israelites who believed. Now, however, one small company of Gentiles is to be added to that number.
Once these men were identified with Him, it would be too late for them to back out. They had joined God’s government, and thus were under His control. They could not “backslide” and get away with it. They could not be derelict in their duty to Him. Like a man who is sworn in as a soldier in the army today, they are now under obligation, and woe be to them if they do not fulfill it!
Men may perform a ritual that they call baptism today. Yet though this ritual might identify a person with a certain church, it does absolutely nothing to identify a person with God. Those who perform these baptisms have no right to act on God’s behalf, and God pays no attention to their actions. Yet Peter was a man qualified by God to act as His apostle, and so when he identified a man, that man was identified. For Cornelius and his household, once this had occurred, they were identified, and this could not be changed.
Peter notes here as proof of the rightness of the action he is suggesting that these men had received the Holy Spirit even as they had. How, then, could it be that some today argue that this “speaking in tongues” is not the same as that of Acts 2, but that there it was languages, whereas here it was a meaningless babble, such as self-styled “tongues speakers” perform today? This could not be! Such a babble would not have been just as the Jews had received it, and it would have proved nothing of the kind to them. Instead, it would have reminded them of the actions of the so-called oracles in the heathen temples of their day, who performed the “tongues of religious ecstasy” when they were supposedly speaking for their pagan gods. If the Jews had heard this, they would have rejected these men in disgust, concluding that they were idol worshippers and not followers of the true God. No, these tongues could have been nothing but languages. The gift these men received was the ability to speak a language they had never learned. Anything else would not have proven a thing.
The phrase “the Holy Spirit” here is again to pneuma to hagion, and means the Person of the Spirit. The Gentiles had received Him, even as the Jews had, through His gift of tongues.
48. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
Receiving no objections from his fellow Israelites, Peter commands that Cornelius and those with him be baptized in the name of the Lord. This no doubt was done by means of a water ritual, though we do not know what that ritual was or how they performed it. Yet the ritual was not the important thing. What was important was the reality that they were now identified with the Lord Jesus Christ, even to the point of being merged with Him. Peter was a man who could do this to a person on behalf of God. When he did it to these men, they were identified with Christ from then on.
Having received this identification, Cornelius and his group now ask Peter to stay with them a few days. No doubt they wanted to learn more of the truth, and more about this Lord Jesus Christ that they had now identified themselves with. We certainly cannot blame them, for no doubt if we had a messenger from God in our houses, we would probably hope to get him to stay a while as well. As far as we can tell, Peter granted their request, and stayed in their home a few days to teach them more about the Lord Jesus.
Thus we learn of the conversion of Cornelius and his household and friends. This was a pivotal point in Acts indeed, as well as in the history of God’s work. It marked the first time a Gentile believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet this would not pass without resistance, as we will see in the following chapter.