Before going on to Acts 11, I think I should consider Peter’s speech before Cornelius and his household and friends to highlight a few things that he mentions. We shall begin in Acts 10:34 and continue to the end of the chapter.
Peter equated his own vision as preparatory to his meeting Cornelius and the folks gathered in his home. He began by saying that God is no respecter of men, regardless of their national origins, as far as righteousness is concerned. This is a major breakthrough in Scriptural insight for Peter.
Looking back from the 21st century CE, we sometimes read the word Christian into the events that transpired in the first 10 chapters of Acts. Nevertheless, a Christian, as we would know him today, didn’t even exist until Acts 11:26! All believers in Jesus (before Cornelius) were either Jews or gentile proselytes in the Jewish faith. It was presumed that, if you believe in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, you must become a Jew. After all, no other religion on the face of the earth could boast of having its roots in the command of God to separate oneself from all others—whether nations or gods—and enjoy an exclusive and special relationship with him. Salvation and Judaism was like male and female, bread and butter, salt and pepper. The two simply went together, but Peter announced here in Acts 10 that God had revealed to him that this simply is not so. No man or no nation was special to God—as far as righteousness is concerned. All men who fear God are accepted by the Lord over all (Acts 10:34).
This idea has its roots in the preaching of Jesus, heard throughout Judea and beginning with the Baptism of John (Acts 10:36-37). The Romans didn’t recognize a national difference between Galilee, Samaria and Judea. All were Jews to Rome, and the only difference among them stemmed from difference in religious practice. Therefore, when Peter spoke of Judea here in Cornelius’ home, his hearers would have understood him in that context, and Peter expected these people to, at least, have heard of both Jesus and the Baptist and the works they had done.
Peter first pointed out that God had anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). This was in reference to the words of the prophet, Isaiah (Isaiah 61), which Jesus ascribed to himself (cp. Luke 4:18-19). Isaiah’s whole prophecy concerns God’s appointing Jesus to build up and establish the Kingdom of God. How is he doing this? According to Peter, Jesus is building up the Kingdom with men and women from all nations—those who fear God and are kind to one another.
Secondly, Peter tells us in Acts 10:38 that God was continually with Jesus as he went about doing good (Greek—benefacting). The Romans present would recognize Peter’s term reveals a kind ruler or deity as benefactor, bestowing gifts and mercy upon those of lower degree (cp. Luke 22:25; Acts 2:22).
Next, Peter says that Jesus was slain (Acts 10:39). He uses the indefinite pronoun they which by immediate implication refers to Jesus’ countrymen. However, in Acts 4:27-28 Peter says all mankind—gentiles and Jews alike—gathered themselves together against Jesus (cp. Psalm 2:1-3), the anointed Emissary of God, and slew him after each tried him in their courts. But, God overruled the courts of men and raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 10:40) and showed him openly to those chosen men, whom he had appointed to be his witnesses (cp. Acts 10:39-41).
Fourth, by implication, Jesus’ appearances to these men meant that they would testify to others that Jesus is the appointed Judge over all—whether living or dead (Acts 10:41-42). The word judge for these Romans was equivalent to the Jewish Son of Man, a title in Judaism that was rich in meaning in both the Old Testament and in inter-testimental literature. Nevertheless, this deeper understanding would hardly have been understood by non-Jews, hence Peter using the term judge.
Finally, Peter ends by saying: the prophets testified that through Jesus’ Name—i.e. whomsoever believes in him—should receive forgiveness of all their sins (Acts 10:42). The prophets foretold of a coming age when God would simply end man’s rebellion by forgiving him—making peace with mankind through Jesus’ sacrifice (Acts 2:24; cp. Isaiah 53: 6, 11; Joel 2: 32; Luke 24:4;Acts 2:21; 10:35). The proof that the new age of God’s peace and forgiveness extending to all had begun is the descent of his Holy Spirit upon mankind, whether Jew or gentile (Acts 2:32-33; cp. 10:44-47). Therefore, God ended all doubt, concerning whom he has accepted by falling upon Cornelius and his gentile friends. None of them were Jews, and none were circumcised. If God has accepted them, no man dare refuse them on any grounds. It is not given to anyone but Jesus to control or dispense the gift of God’s grace. Rather those who consider themselves religious had better recognize this and rejoice in it.