17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:17-43 ESV
Peter was at a loss as to what the meaning behind his vision might be. But even as he wrestled over the possible implications of his dream, he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would be receiving three visitors and that he was to accompany them. That was all the detail he received from the Spirit. And, just as the Spirit had said, the three men arrived at Simon’s house, in search of Peter. When Peter asked them the purpose behind their visit, they replied: “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say” (Acts 10:22 ESV). This entire encounter had the hand of God all over it. Cornelius was spoken to by an angel from God. Peter had received a vision, clearly given to him by God. Then he had received a word directly from the Spirit of God. Peter may not have known what his vision meant, but he no doubt understood that God was behind all that was happening. And so, after hosting his guests for the evening, he accompanied them the next day to Caesarea, not knowing what God had in store for him there.
We know from Acts 11:22, that Peter did not go to Caesarea alone. He had invited six other brothers from Joppa to join him on the trip. The journey most likely took them about two days time. And when they arrived at the home of Cornelius, they found it packed with the centurion’s family and friends. Luke informs us that Cornelius, in a sign of gratitude and veneration, fell down at Peter’s feet and worshiped him. There is no indication that he knew of Peter’s status as an apostle of Jesus. He simply knew that this man had been sent to him by God with something important to share with him. But Peter, informing Cornelius that he too, was nothing more than a man, had him stand and explain what it was that he wanted. Cornelius recounted to Peter the vision and message he had received from the angel, then he explained that he and his guests were eagerly waiting to hear what God had to say to them through His messenger, Peter. “Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you” (Acts 10:33 NLT).
Luke doesn’t tell us when Peter finally put all the dots together. But sometime between when he arrived at Cornelius’ house, saw the crowd of Gentiles gathered, and heard Cornelius’ description of his vision, Peter grasped the significance and meaning of his own vision. Here he was in a Gentile’s home, surrounded by other Gentiles who eagerly waited to hear him deliver a message to them from God. And Peter, as a good Jew, saw the absurdity of it all. He even told Cornelius and his guests, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28 NLT). The vision of the sheet filled with unclean creatures and the command from God to “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 ESV), all began to make sense. He remembered the words of God, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV), and and he realized that Cornelius and the people gathered in his home were Gentiles whom God saw as clean, not unclean and common. They were acceptable to God, so they must be acceptable to Peter. To a Jew, a Gentile was considered unclean and to avoided at all costs. They were uncircumcised and did not keep the strict dietary laws of the Jews. They did not obey the Mosaic law. So, any contact with them made a Jew ceremonially unclean. And yet, here was Peter, under the direct command of God, sitting in the home of a Gentile, and a Roman centurion at that, getting ready to share the gospel. God was doing something new. He was opening up the door of salvation and including those outside of what had once been the closed doors of the Jewish nation. The apostle Paul would later remind the Gentile believers in Ephesus of the significance of their inclusion into the family of God.
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT
He would remind the believers in Corinth that they were a fellowship made up of Jews and Gentiles, a blended family chosen and adopted by God. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT). And here was Peter experiencing this new phenomena for the very first time. This was an historic moment. It was a paradigm-shifting point in time. Nothing would ever be the same. The playing field was being leveled. There would no longer be the haves and the have-nots, clean and unclean, Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. And Paul would make that point perfectly clear in his letter to the Galatian believers.
26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT
All of this would have been a shock to Peter’s system. As a devout Jew, this was antithetical to all he had ever believed. He was part of the chosen race. He was a member of the holy nation, God’s people, the Jews. But Peter saw the hand of God in all of this. When God had commanded him to go to the home of Cornelius, he had obeyed. “So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:29 ESV). He may not have fully understood what was going on, but he knew it was the will of God, and that was enough for Peter. And when he saw what God was doing in Cornelius’ home, he fully grasped that God had far greater plans for the gospel than he or the other apostles had ever understood. God was non-discriminatory. In fact, Peter told Cornelius and his guests, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34 ESV). Peter got it. The vision of the sheet made sense now. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were no longer to be considered unclean and unacceptable.
Which is what led him to later write to the highly blended congregations located in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV
Jews and Gentiles together were to make up the body of Christ. And so, Peter began to explain to the house full of Gentiles eagerly listening to his voice all that God had done through Jesus Christ, relating His ministry, death, burial and resurrection. And he told them the commission that Jesus had passed on to he and his companions.
42 “And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” – Acts 10:42-43 NLT
But notice that the “everyone” in Jesus’ order had just taken on a new meaning. No longer was the gospel restricted to Jews living in Jerusalem. It had already begun to spread outside the city walls and had even been taken to Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews living outside of Jerusalem. It had been shared with the Ethiopian eunuch. And now, Peter was sharing the good news with a house full of Gentiles in the city of Caesarea.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.