The following is taken from my book, Study Notes on the Book of Acts. Link to Purcahse
The conversion of Cornelius is typically used as an example of how sinners are saved in this present age of grace because he received the Holy Ghost before being baptized with water. It is commonly taught that Cornelius was baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ by hearing and believing Peter’s message. However, Cornelius is an example of Gentile salvation under the gospel of the kingdom.
A major hindrance in Bible study is to anticipate revelation, which is the mistake of reading something into a passage before it was revealed. Most commentators and Bible teachers read things into Acts 10 that are not there. If the household of Cornelius were the first Gentiles baptized into the Body of Christ, as it is commonly believed, why does the scripture say that the door of faith was opened to the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry (Acts 14:27)? What God used Peter’s ministry to accomplish in the household of Cornelius was in accordance with prophecy (Acts 15:13-18), but the manner in which it occurred will be used of God later on to help the apostles recognize Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles.
Acts 9:32 through Acts 10:48 record events in the ministry of the apostle Peter that took place outside of Jerusalem, but still within the land of Israel. As far as the record is concerned, at this point Peter is still operating under the kingdom program of Israel and does not yet know about the new revelations that Christ gave to Paul concerning the Body of Christ.
It is possible that when Saul of Tarsus met with Peter in Jerusalem three years after his conversion that he told him Christ had sent him to the Gentiles. After all, the Lord told Ananias (a devout man according to the law) that Saul was a chosen vessel to bear His name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). However, it is not likely that Saul told Peter about the revelations Christ had given him because:
- He did not have time to discuss such major revelations during a brief and busy visit (Gal. 1:18).
- The record does not say that he did.
- It is not until Acts 15 that the apostles in Jerusalem begin to understand some things about Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles (Gal. 2:1-2, 9).
During the meeting that is recorded in Acts 15 God used the salvation of the Gentile household of Cornelius in Acts 10 to convince the Jewish apostles that Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles was according to His will. Although there are some things that take place in Acts 10 that had not taken place before, there is no indication that Peter understood that a new dispensation had begun.
In the Bible, ten is a number associated with Gentiles. For example, Genesis 10 contains the genealogy of Gentile nations. In Acts 10 the Lord sends Peter to preach to the Gentile household of Cornelius. This was the first time that one of the twelve apostles preached to uncircumcised Gentiles. Their ministry had been to “the Jews only” (Acts 11:19). In light of Matthew 28:19, why would it take a special vision from God to get Peter to go preach to some Gentiles?
The issue with Peter was not so much about preaching to Gentiles as it was about keeping company and eating with uncircumcised Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3). Circumcision was the token of the covenant between God and Abraham. To be uncircumcised was to be unclean (Isa. 52:1; Ezek. 44:7-9) and cut off from the blessings of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14).
If Peter had understood the revelation of the mystery concerning the Body of Christ, he would not have had a problem going to the house of an uncircumcised Gentile (Col. 3:11). It is important to understand that Gentile salvation is not exclusive to this present age of grace. Gentiles could be saved in the OT, but only through and in connection with Israel (Gen. 12:1-3). Many Gentiles will be saved in the tribulation period and kingdom age. According to the kingdom program of Israel, Gentiles are to be saved through the rise and instrumentality of Israel.
(1) Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.
(2) For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
(3) And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
(4) Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.
(5) Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. (Isa. 60:1-5)
The reason that the Jewish apostles had not yet preached to the Gentiles was not due to stubborn prejudice (they were filled with Holy Ghost and remained obedient in the face of persecution), but because Jerusalem had not yet repented (Lk. 24:47; Acts 1:8). The Jewish church did not have any problem with Gentiles getting saved (Acts 11:18).
The distinctive thing about Gentiles being saved in this present age is that they are being saved and blessed WITHOUT Israel (Rom. 11:11-15). Under Paul’s ministry, idol-worshipping and uncircumcised Gentiles are saved by grace through faith, without works required, and baptized into the spiritual Body of Christ.
The Vision of Cornelius
(1) There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
(2) A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
(3) He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
(4) And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
(5) And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
(6) He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
(7) And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
(8) And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
Cornelius was a captain over one hundred Roman soldiers that were from Italy but stationed in Caesarea. He was no “run-of-the-mill” idol worshipping Gentile. He was not a proselyte (a Gentile that submitted to circumcision and kept the law, Acts 2:10) because he was uncircumcised (Acts 11:3). However, he was a God-fearing Gentile.
- Devout – He was a religious man (e.g., he was fasting, v.30).
- Feared God with all his house – Which implies he taught his house about the God of Israel.
- Gave alms to the Jews (v.22).
- Prayed to God alway – He observed the Jewish hours of prayer (Acts 3:1).
He was the kind of Gentile that Christ was willing to minister to during His earthly ministry even though He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:21-28; Lk. 7:1-10).
Cornelius was sincere and religious, but he was lost (Acts 11:14). Why would God hear this lost man’s prayers, take knowledge of his good deeds towards the Jews, and send an apostle to preach to him about salvation? The salvation of Cornelius is an example of how God will save Gentiles in the tribulation period and Kingdom Age (Matt. 8:5-13; 25:31-46).
The angel appeared to Cornelius in a vision at 3:00 in the afternoon. Cornelius called him “Lord” in the sense of honor and respect, not because he thought that he was God. It was not the angel’s place to tell Cornelius how to be saved (Acts 11:13-14). He told Cornelius to send for Peter who was staying with Simon, a tanner (one who tanned leather hides), who lived by the sea in Joppa.
In the Bible the sea symbolizes the Gentile nations (Isa. 60:5; Rev. 17:15). It is interesting that Joppa was the same city that Jonah went to when he rebelled against the call of God to preach to the Gentiles in Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-3). Peter was the son of a man named Jonah (Matt. 16:17). It took a vision from God, but Peter was obedient to preach unto uncircumcised Gentiles.
The Vision of Peter
(9) On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
(10) And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
(11) And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
(12) Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
(13) And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
(14) But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
(15) And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
(16) This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
(17) Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate,
(18) And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.
It is interesting to see how God simultaneously worked with Cornelius and Peter to bring them together. Peter was praying on the housetop (it was common to spend time outside on the flat housetop) of Simon the tanner at twelve o’clock noon (Ps. 55:17) when he became very hungry and fell into a trance.
There are three men in the Bible that are said to have been in a trance and in each case, it had to do with Israel and the Gentiles.
- Balaam (Num. 24:15-19) – Israel will reign over the Gentiles.
- Peter (Acts 10:9-16) – Gentiles will have a place in the kingdom.
- Paul (Acts 22:17-21) – Paul is sent to the Gentiles.
Peter saw heaven opened (denoting a divine revelation) and a great sheet that was knit at the four corners was let down like an inverted parachute. When it landed on the earth Peter saw all manner of beasts, creeping things, and fowls inside of it and then came a voice commanding him to kill and eat. Even though he was very hungry, Peter said, “Not so, Lord” because he saw animals that were unclean according to the law of Moses and he had never eaten them before (Lev. 11:46-47).
What made the animals unclean under the law was the pronouncement of word of God and not the meat in and of itself (cf. Mk. 7:15). Therefore, if God now said they are clean, Peter is not to call them common. The vision was given three times for emphasis before the vessel was received up again into heaven. Like most of us, Peter was a slow learner. He argued with the Lord and was perplexed after seeing the vision three times. This was not the first time Peter said “No” to the Lord. Peter’s refusals were due to confusion, not rebellion (Matt. 16:21-23; Jn. 13:8-9)
Peter did not want to eat of the unclean animals because he was still following the law. In light of what Paul wrote to the Body of Christ we now know that Christ took the law out of the way for us by nailing it to His cross (Col. 2:14), but there was no record at this point that God had revealed to the believing Jews that they did not have to observe the law. The believing Jews obeyed the law for years after the cross (Acts 21:20).
What did the vision mean? We need to be careful not to read more into it than what the scripture says. Some claim that unclean and clean animals in one vessel is a symbol of the Body of Christ. God gave the revelation of the Body of Christ to Paul, not to Peter, who later learned some things about Paul’s ministry from Paul himself.
After talking to the men sent from Cornelius and then seeing many Gentiles gathered in the house of Cornelius, Peter finally understood that the unclean animals were symbolic of uncircumcised Gentiles (Matt. 15:26). The main purpose of the vision was to reveal that God would now accept as clean those that had been previously called unclean. In other words, uncircumcision would no longer keep a Gentile separated from God and His people. This was not out of line with the kingdom program of Israel (Isa. 56:3-8) and it is not the same thing as Jews and Gentiles being baptized by the Spirit into one Body wherein there is no distinction (Eph. 2:11-18).
Peter Visits the House of Cornelius
(19) While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.
(20) Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
(21) Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?
(22) And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
(23) Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
(24) And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
(25) And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
(26) But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
(27) And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
(28) And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
(29) Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?
(30) And 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,
(31) And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
(32) Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of oneSimon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.
(33) Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
The Lord had the three men sent from Cornelius show up to meet Peter at the perfect time. The next day the group of ten men (ten is the number for Gentiles in the Bible) traveled 30 miles down to Caesarea to visit Cornelius. When Peter entered the house Cornelius fell down at his feet, but unlike the pope, Peter told him to stand up because he was just a man. Cornelius had invited his family and friends to hear the word of God.
As a law-abiding Jew, Peter would not have gone into the house of an uncircumcised Gentile without this special revelation from God. There was no specific commandment in the law which forbid a Jew from entering a Gentile house, but in order to avoid eating unclean meats they erred on the side of caution. Peter also learned from the vision that he could now eat what had been called unclean without becoming defiled (Acts 11:3). Peter has learned that he can keep company with the Gentiles, but he was still unsure why God sent him there until Cornelius told him about his vision.
This event should not be taken to mean that God revealed to Peter that the believing Jews were to no longer keep the law. It was revealed through the apostle Paul that the Body of Christ is not under the law, but Israel will keep the law from the heart in the kingdom age (Jer. 31:31-34). Neither should this be taken to mean that Peter was now an apostle to the Gentiles. Peter preached to some Gentiles, but he was an apostle to the circumcision (Gal. 2:9).
Peter’s Preaches to Gentiles
(34) Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
(35) But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
To be a respecter of persons is to be unjustly partial in how you deal with people (Deut. 10:17-19; Jam. 2:1-4). The verses that refer to God not being a respecter of persons typically concerns judgment (1 Pet. 1:17). Some think that God choosing Israel made Him a respecter of persons but that is not the case. He chose Israel to make them a blessing to all the families of the earth. God gave Israel advantages as His people, but He also judged them when it was necessary. If He saved a man or reserved judgment on the basis that he was a Jew, then God would have been a respecter of persons.
Peter perceived from what was transpiring that God was not a respecter of persons in that He would accept people from other nations that feared Him and worked righteousness (Acts 10:2, 22). Cornelius was accepted as clean so that Peter could visit him, but he was not yet saved (Acts 11:14).
Salvation is not by the works of the flesh in any dispensation, but under the gospel of the kingdom faith must be proven by works (e.g., Matt. 25:31-46). If Cornelius were saved by works alone, he would not have needed to hear Peter’s message because he already had works.
(36) The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)
(37) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
(38) How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for 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 slew and hanged on a tree:
(40) Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
(41) Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
(42) And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to bethe Judge of quick and dead.
(43) To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
Peter briefly rehearsed what God had been doing in Israel from the baptism of John until the resurrection of Christ and His commission of the apostles. The gospel of the kingdom was sent to the children of Israel, but he added that Christ is Lord of ALL. Cornelius knew some things about the earthly ministry of Christ (“ye know,” Acts 10:37) but had not yet believed on Him.
Peter summed up the ministry of Christ by saying that He “went about doing good.” He did good because He is good (Ps. 119:68), and there is none good but God (Mk. 10:18).
Peter did not preach anything to the household of Cornelius that he had not already been preaching. There was nothing new in this message. Once again, he held the Jews responsible for killing their Messiah. He knew nothing yet about God’s plan to set Israel aside as a nation.
Peter preached Christ according to prophecy (Acts 10:43). The remission of sins is only found in the one whom the prophets said would come (Isa. 53:11). The gospel of the kingdom began with Israel, but it will go out to the world (Lk. 24:44-48). Many read Paul’s gospel into this passage because Peter said, “whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” However, Paul did not communicate his gospel to Peter until Acts 15. What were they to believe? That Jesus is the risen Christ and coming Judge (1 Pet. 4:5). Peter did not tell those Gentiles that Christ died for their sins and that they would be saved by grace through faith without works.
The Gentiles Baptized with the Holy Ghost and Water
(44) While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
(45) And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
(46) For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
(47) Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
(48) And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
As they heard the word of God they were baptized with the Holy Ghost. God, who knows the hearts of all men, knew that they believed what they were hearing. This was the same baptism the apostles experienced on Pentecost in Acts 2 (Acts 11:15-17). As we have already proven, the prophesied baptism with the Holy Ghost is not the same spiritual baptism that was revealed in Paul’s epistles (1 Cor. 12:13).
That Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Ghost astonished Peter and the Jews that were with him because it was not in line with the order of how things were going to happen according to their understanding of prophecy. Also, they were astonished that the Gentiles received the Holy Ghost before water baptism and without the laying on the apostle’s hands.
Why did Christ interrupt Peter’s message and pour out the Holy Ghost on these Gentiles in the manner that He did? To prove to the Jews that God had accepted these Gentiles and to prepare Peter to later recognize Paul’s ministry.
Peter immediately “commanded” them to be baptized with water because he had been sent to baptize. Water baptism was part of the gospel of the kingdom and was to be observed by Jews and Gentiles who will enter the kingdom (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38).
Thanks very helpful
God’s mercies are indeed humbling.. In any dispensation. Beyond comprehension. The great lengths He has gone to for man’s salvation. Thank you for this blog.
Cornelius Wondering about his salvation is what brought me to accept MAD RD I just posted a paper by https://www.bereanbiblesociety.org/the-practical-beginning-of-the-body-of-christ/ it was very good . My question about Cornelius was /is if he had died prior to Peter coming wouldn’t he have been saved in the position of a believing gentile resurrected with the believing Jews at the end of the Trib? But after Peters visit would ne be in the little flock ahead of the OT believers ?
I see it now brother David! Hebrews through Revelation cetainly makes more sense reading it written to the kingdom church.
Praise God brother!! I get it!