44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”– Acts 10:44-11:3 ESV
Peter preached the gospel to a house full of Gentiles and something incredible happened. They came to faith. Now, that alone should not have surprised Peter and his six companions. They had seen thousands of people respond to the gospel message, placing their faith in Christ. But this was the first time they had seen it happen to non-Jews or Gentiles. And what made this particular occasion even more amazing was that Cornelius, and those among his family and friends who placed their faith in Christ, immediately received the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you recall, back in chapter eight, Philip took the gospel to the Samaritans and Luke records, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12 ESB). They believed and were baptized, but it was not until Peter arrived that they received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. – Acts 8:14-17
Why was the situation in Cornelius’ house different? They simply believed and were not even required to undergo water baptism. Luke simply states that the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. In verse 16 of chapter 11, Peter infers that these new converts had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And not only that, they received the Spirit in the same that he and the 119 other disciples had on the day of Pentecost.
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” – Acts 11:15-17 ESV
They had the exact same experience as that of the Jewish disciples of Jesus. They received the Spirit and they spoke in foreign languages. And more than likely, they spoke in Aramaic, because the men who accompanied Peter from Joppa were Jews and they were able to understand that they were praising God. These Greek-speaking, Gentile converts to Christianity were experiencing the same powerful display of the Spirit’s indwelling and confirming presence as Peter, James and John had. And it was all based on nothing more than their faith in the gospel message as proclaimed to them by Peter.
So, why the difference? How come the Samaritans had been required to wait for the arrival of Peter and have him lay hands on them before they could receive the Holy Spirit? Luke never provides us with an explanation. He simply records the facts as they occurred. Once again, we have God seemingly breaking established protocol. Not only was He doing a new and seemingly unacceptable thing by having Peter take the gospel to unclean, uncircumcised Gentiles, He was pouring out His Spirit on them without any involvement by one of His chosen apostles. All of this would have left Peter and his six companions perplexed and bewildered. What was God doing? What was He thinking? And Luke records that Peter and his fellow Jews were amazed at what they were seeing. This would not have been what they expected. It was hard enough for them to fathom God allowing Gentiles to embrace the gospel. But for Him to do so without requiring them to undergo water baptism, signifying their repentance, was hard to understand. These Gentiles were immediately anointed by the Spirit of God, with no additional or prerequisite steps placed upon them. What we have here is the inaugural occurance of what will be many more Gentile conversion stories. And they will all follow this same basic pattern.
Immediately after their acceptance of Christ as Savior and their acceptance by God as illustrated by their baptism in the Spirit, these new converts were baptized in water, signifying their acceptance and membership into the family of God, the body of Christ. And just as Peter’s vision of the sheet filled with unclean creatures had been a shock to his system, this day’s events was a real-life illustration of what God had been trying to tell him through that vision. “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). The word “common” has a much more intense meaning in the Greek. It is koinoō, and it refers to something that is defiled, unholy, or profane. God had been trying to tell Peter that Gentiles, who were seen as “common” or defiled by the Jews, were no longer to be viewed that way. He was declaring them clean. And Peter had just seen God confirm His words with actions. The apostle Paul would later write of the significance behind that day’s events.
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 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 12:12-13 NLT
That day, in the home of a Roman centurion, Peter was given a shocking introduction into God’s new dispensation of grace. In that room there stood Jews and Gentiles, each of whom had expressed their faith in Christ as their Savior and had received the gift of the Holy Spirit as confirmation. They had all things in common. They were co-equals. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. And as Paul would later tell the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NLT). This was a new day.
But not everyone was going to be thrilled with God’s seeming change in plans. When word got back to Jerusalem that Gentiles had received the word of God and been baptized in the Spirit of God, they were not exactly thrilled. This had not been what they were expecting. It wasn’t that they were unwilling for Gentiles to be included in hearing the gospel message. Jesus had made that pretty clear in His commissioning of them as His witnesses. It was just that they thought there would be more requirement involved, such as circumcision, conversion to the Jewish faith, keeping of the Mosaic law, and more. After all, these people were common and unclean. They were out of step with the holy demands of God’s righteous commands as given to Moses. There had to be more for them to do. And when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, he was met with criticism from the circumcision party. This is a reference to those Jews who had come to faith in Christ, but who held strong ethnic-religious ties to their Jewish faith. After all, Jesus had been a Jew and a rabbi. He was the Messiah who, according to the Old Testament prophets, was to be the Savior of the Jewish people. These people put a high stock in things like circumcision and the keeping of the various dietary restrictions and Jewish religious observances. So, they were not exactly thrilled to hear that the Gentiles in Caesarea had been baptized into the body of Christ without any additional requirements placed upon them. In fact, they look down their noses at Peter and express their disdain for his activities in Caesarea: “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV). As far as they were concerned, Peter had violated the law of God. He, a Jew, had defiled himself by associating with common, unclean Gentiles. But they were in for a shock. Their preconceived notions of how things should be were about to be rocked. They were going to hear about Peter’s vision about the sheet filled with unclean animals. They were going to share his shock at God’s command to “kill and eat.” They would reel upon hearing Peter’s recounting of all that happened in the home of Cornelius. And I find it interesting that Peter doesn’t bother to bring up that his host during his stay in Joppa had been a man who practiced the unclean trade of tanning animal hides. Peter kept that little tidbit to himself.
But the bottom line is going to be that the church was entering a new and exciting dispensation, where the grace of God was going to be extended to all and all who would believe in the name of His Son. Men, women, slaves, freemen, Jews, Gentiles, Romans, tax collectors, prostitutes, priests, widows, businessmen, shepherds, fishermen, and even tanners. We may not always agree with God’s ways. We may not approve of His methodology. But God doesn’t ask for our advice or our permission. He simply asks that we trust Him and willingly submit to His divine plan for our lives and the redemption of the world.
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.