This chapter is a milestone in the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is preached to the Gentiles in earnest, beginning with the conversion of Cornelius and his household. Jesus declared that the gospel should be preached in all the world, to all creation, to all people (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Those who first preached and those who first received the gospel were of the Jewish nation, the Israelites. Paul states that the gospel is God’s power for the salvation of all who believe—first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Rom. 1:16-17). Jesus died to make salvation possible for all mankind, but it took time and divine demonstration to convince Jewish Christian evangelists to cross the line and go to the Gentiles.
The centurion Cornelius was a prime example of Gentiles who were ready to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. The case of Cornelius makes it clear that a good heart, good intentions, and good deeds do not lead to salvation. Not apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Salvation is by grace, through faith and obedience to Christ (Eph. 2:8-10).
On such a momentous occasion, an angel spoke to Cornelius and the Holy Spirit spoke to Peter to get sinner and evangelist together. Angels do not tell us how to be saved. We all need the gospel. Cornelius sent messengers to request Peter’s help in the matter of salvation. Peter’s vision was about far more than which meats were clean and unclean under the Jewish law. The Law of Moses had been fulfilled and abolished (Matt. 5:17-18). Distinctions between Jew and Gentile had also been abolished. The vision of animals in a sheet taught Peter that the gospel is for all. Timing was everything. Messengers from Cornelius arrived at the very moment that Pete’s vision concluded. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Jews and Gentiles alike needed the gospel. Salvation would be the same for all of humanity. They would become one in Christ (Gal. 3:26-29). The ground is level at the foot of Jesus’ cross. All in need, all saved in the same way. What a timely truth for our day. Would that all barriers between humanity be broken down. God wills that we work and worship together in the cause of Christ without distinction, without respect of persons (Acts 10:34-35). How our country needs to come together at this time. So many in need of salvation, but such a time of division and spite.
When Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius, he was greeted with unusual reverence. Peter made it clear that he was a mere man, just like the Gentiles who sent for him. No superior race. “I myself am only a man” (Acts 10:26). No ranks among Christians. Previously, it had been unacceptable for a Jew to associate with Gentiles. No more. Peter had come to assist in breaking down the wall (Eph. 2:14-18).
“May I ask why you sent for me?” “We are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (Acts 10:30, 33). Cornelius had been searching for salvation and God sent Peter with the gospel. Peter rehearsed his vision and his decision to come to Cornelius. A house full of people ready to listen and obey. An apostle eager to share the way of salvation. What a day! This was perhaps the most significant day in the advance of the gospel since Pentecost, the day when the church began.
Peter briefly rehearsed his qualification as a witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Only a few true witnesses were chosen by God to be the first representatives of the gospel. Peter preached Jesus as the only hope of mankind (Acts 2:22, 36; 4:12; 10:43). Salvation comes not through the messenger, but through the message. Especially through the Lord, Jesus Christ.
The outpouring of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household did not save them. Nor did it indicate they were saved before baptism. It demonstrated to the Jewish evangelists that Gentile sinners were equally in need of the gospel. The church began with miraculous presentation of the gospel in Acts 2. Miraculous demonstration accompanied the beginning of evangelism in the Gentile world. There would be questions to answer back in Jerusalem, but there was celebration in Caesarea.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.