With the persecution against the Hellenistic believers ended and Paul sent home to Tarsus, God used this time to introduce the disciples to the idea that he had cleansed the gentiles (Acts 10). A man named Cornelius had seen a vision from God and sent for Peter who was staying at Joppa with Simon the tanner. God prepared Peter for what was about to occur by giving him a vision of unclean animals and telling him to kill and eat. It was unlawful for a kosher Jew to eat what was ceremonially unclean, so Peter understandably refused, but Jesus told Peter that he should not call common what God has cleansed. The ceremonial laws of Moses often depicted a spiritual principle. For example, a Jew could not eat an animal that did not part the hoof—indicating one walking the separate life, for God called the Jews to separate themselves from the world. Neither was it lawful to eat an animal that didn’t chew the cud—indicating that they should fully digest the word of God, thinking and meditating upon it, not just hearing the word to satisfy intellectual knowledge (hunger). If one parted the hoof, but didn’t chew the cud, like the swine, that one may live the separate life but had no idea why he lived so. In other words nothing came from the heart. If one chewed the cud, but didn’t walk the separate life, it indicated a hypocrite who says but does not.
Peter was told to receive the strangers Cornelius had sent to him, so he did and went with them from Joppa to Caesarea the following day. When he arrived at Cornelius’ home he went in trusting what Jesus had told him in the vision, for it was not lawful for a Jew to even enter a gentile dwelling. When Peter preached the Gospel, the Jewish believers who accompanied Peter were astonished that the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the gentiles gathered at Cornelius’ home (Acts 10:45). They began speaking in tongues etc. just as the disciples had done on Pentecost just after Jesus’ crucifixion. There was absolutely no explanation for this occurrence other than God had accepted the gentiles just as they are (Acts 10:47). The Hellenistic believers were correct, and God vindicated their theology by receiving Cornelius and his household without their having to become Jews, or even accept the Jewish faith. All that was necessary was for them to believe what Peter preached to them, namely, that Jesus was Lord (Messiah) of all—having been sent and empowered by God but rejected and crucified by the Jews, and then raised again to life by God to be the judge of all. Peter preached to Cornelius’ house what Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10. That is the theology, while Luke 23:42 and Acts 10:44 are the practical application.
This was earth shaking news as we shall see in later chapters in Acts. It is what got James, the brother of John, killed, and would have meant death for Peter as well, if God didn’t save him from Herod, but we’ll speak of those things as we come to them. Here, God emphasized what he declared to the woman at the well in John 4—the Temple (and therefore the Jewish faith) is not needed to worship him. I don’t mean to imply the Jewish faith was ever wrong, but I am saying God accepts all—just as we are and where we are. He meets us here and causes us to follow him from where we happen to be when we meet him. That is the point of the Gospel—ending Adam’s rebellion right where we happen to be.
May God quicken his Gospel in the hearts of his people everywhere and help us to see his great love for each of us.