Keith Hunt - Bible Story, NT - Chapter Fifty-four: Peter's Vision towards Gentiles   Restitution of All Things
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New Testament Bible
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Chapter Fifty-four:

Peter's Vision towards Gentiles


                     
                      THE BOOK OF ACTS 
                             AND
                      RELATED EPISTLES

                 ACTS chapters Ten and Eleven


CORNELIUS GETS A VISION

     There was a man in the town of Caesarea( about 40 miles
north of Joppa on the north-west coast of Palestine) by the name
of Cornelius. He was in the Roman army, in the centurion band
called "the Italian band." He was a religious man, a person that
had a respectful fear towards God, and so he taught all his
household to be like him. He gave much material gifts to the poor
and was a man always praying to God.
     About the ninth hour of the day or around 3 p.m. in our
reckoning, he had a vision in which an angel of God came to him
and said, "Cornelius."  And Corlelius was at first terrified, but
responded with, "Yes, what is it master?"  The angel continued,
"Your prayers and all your good deeds have come up before God in
heaven. Now send men to Joppa, and ask for one named Simon,
surnamed Peter. He stays with a Simon the tanner, whose house is
by the sea side: he shall tell you what you are to do."
     The angel departed and Cornelius then called for two of his
household servants, and a devout religious soldier that was at
his service all the time. He told them what his vision had been
all about, and then sent them to Joppa (Acts 10:1-8).

PETER'S VISION

     As the servants of Corlelius were on their way the next day
after the vision had come to their master, and they were close to
the town of Joppa, it was about the sixth hour or 12 noon, and
Peter went up on top of the roof of the house (the roofs were
flat topped in those days) to pray. He got hungry and was
thinking about having a meal, when he became sleepy and went into
a visionary trance. He saw heaven open, and as it was a great
sheet tied at the corners and let down to the earth. Inside the
sheet was all kinds of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild
beasts, creeping things of all sorts, and many different fowls of
the air. A voice came to him saying, "Rise, Peter, kill, and
eat." Peter was quick to reply, "Not so Lord, for I have never
eaten anything that is defiled or unclean." 
     We can gather from Peter's reply that all on the sheet were
creatures that under the Old Covenant would have been classified
as "unclean" and not to be eaten as food by any Israelite.
     We can also note from Peter's answer to the command to eat,
that he had not, from the start of the New Covenant on that
famous Pentecost day of Acts 2, broken the clean and unclean food
laws of the Old Covenant. Obviously Peter did not automatically
believe that the clean and unclean food laws were "done away
with" under the New Testament.
     The voice again spoke to him, "What God has cleansed, don't
call common or unclean."
     The whole vision was repeated three times, and then the
sheet went back up to heaven (Acts 10:9-16).

     Verse 17 says, "And while Peter DOUBTED in himself what this
vision should mean, behold, the men which were sent from
Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood at the
gate.
     It is very obvious that Peter did NOT automatically believe
this vision of unclean beasts being called "clean" by God, meant
that the food laws of the Old Covenant were now "abolished" and
that he could eat whatever took his fancy. Peter was doubting
what the vision meant. While meditating on it all as to what the
Lord was trying to relate to him, the men from Cornelius were
standing at the gate. They called out and asked if Simon,
surnamed Peter, was lodging there. 
     Peter was still thinking about the vision when the Holy
Spirit said to him, "Look, three men are seeking you. Arise and
go down, and go with them, do not doubt, for I have sent them to
find you."
     Peter went down and walking up to the men sent from
Corlelius, and said to them, "Yes, I am the one whom you are
looking for. What is the reason that you have come to
find me?" 
     And they said, "Cornelius, the centurion, a just man, one
that has deep respect for God, and a man of good report among all
the nations of the Jews, was told by an angel from God to send
for you here in Joppa and in this house, and to have you come and
speak words to him" (Acts 10: 17-22).

     Peter told the men to come on into the house and lodge
overnight. On the following day Peter went with the men and so
did certain other brethren from Joppa. They all travelled to
Caesarea. And the day after arriving at Caesarea, Cornelius was
anxiously waiting for Peter, and in eager anticipation he had
called many of his family members and close friends to be with
him when Peter arrived. When Peter came in Cornelius fell to his
knees as if worshipping more than just a man. But Peter putting
out his hand to have him rise up, said, "Please stand up for I am
just a man like yourself." Peter was busy talking to Cornelius as
he entered his house, and was somewhat surprised to see a large
gathering of people had come together to greet him. Then he said
to them all, "I'm sure you all know that in Jewish law and
traditions it is unlawful for a man that is a Jew to
socialize with others of a different nation; but God has already
shown me that I should call no man, common or unclean. I
therefore came without a second thought as soon as the messenger
came for me. But I am still unsure for what purpose it is that
you have called for me. Please explain it to me."

     We see here the explanation of the sheet let down from
heaven with all the unclean creatures on it. Peter had wondered,
for he did not automatically think it was to show him that the
clean and unclean food laws of the Old Covenant had been
abolished. Now, he knew the exact meaning of the vision and the
unclean beats. It was to show him that Jews should throw away
their man-made idea and tradition that it was improper to
socialize with non-Jews. The Jews over the centuries had
misapplied some verses in the Old Testament that told Israel to
abstain from the things of the pagan nations around them, to
separate themselves from those nations. Of course Israel would be
its own nation with its own land, but there are many verses in
the old Scriptures that said they should allow strangers to be a
part of their nation, and if those strangers wanted to accept
their religious faith, then they would be fully adopted into the
nation. There was to be one law for both the Israelite and
strangers or non-Israelite among them (see Ex.12:49).
     The Jews under the leadership of the self-righteous
Pharisees, had invented a law that no Jew should eat with or
socialize with, anyone that was not an Israelite. Remember
how we have seen that during those first years of the New
Testament Church of God, the preaching of the Gospel went to the
Jews only, and of course to Gentiles that had accepted the Jewish
faith, for they would also be in the Sabbath synagogue
congregations. But no thought or effort was made to deliberately
go to the Gentiles with the Gospel. Now the time had come for all
that to change.

     Back to Peter asking all in Cornelius' house the reason why
they had wanted him to come to them. It was fitting that
Cornelius should answer his inquiry.

     "Four days ago I was fasting in my house and at the ninth
     hour I prayed, and a man like figure stood before me in
     shining clothing, and said to me, 'Cornelius, your prayer is
     heard and all the good deeds you have done, is remembered in
     the sight of God. Send to Joppa and call Simon, surnamed
     Peter, who is lodging in the house of one called Simon the
     tanner, whose house is by the sea. When he comes to you he
     will speak to you great truths.'
     Immediately I sent for you, and you willfully and quickly
     came. Now we are all gathered here to hear from you the
     words that God has commanded you to speak and give to us."

     Guided by and filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter said:

     "Well I know now that God is not a respecter of persons. But
     in EVERY nation those that fearfully respect Him and work
     righteousness, is acceptable to Him. The word which God
     sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus
     Christ (He is Lord of all), that word, you know, which was
     first proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from
     Galilee, after the ministry and baptism of John. God
     anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with
     power. He went about doing good, and healing all that were
     oppressed of the Devil, for God was mightily with Him. And
     we apostles are witnesses of all the things which He did,
     both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom some
     there slew and hanged on a tree. This same man God raised up
     from the dead the third day, and was show openly to us. He
     was not shown to all people, but unto witnesses chosen
     before-hand by God, we apostles are part of those chosen,
     and we did both eat and drink with Him after He rose from
     the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and
     to testify that He is the one who was ordained and appointed
     by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. And to
     Him all the prophets also give witness, that through His
     name, whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission
     (forgiveness) of sins."

     As Peter was still speaking the last words, the Holy Spirit
came upon all that were listening. Those of the circumcision who
had come with Peter, which believed, the Jewish brethren who had
accompanied Peter from Joppa, were astonished, for they beheld
the gift of Holy Spirit coming upon Gentiles. And they heard
those Gentiles speaking in different languages, and magnifying
God (Acts 10: 23-46).

     This is an example of the Holy Spirit being given to some
BEFORE they were baptized in Jesus' name. Yes, God can (He is in
charge at all and any time) if He so desires for whatever reason
(here it was to show Jews that the Gentiles were part of the
whole peoples that God wanted as His children) give the gift of
the Holy Spirit to some before water baptism. But as a general
rule of thumb, it is as Peter instructed in Acts 2:38, baptism
comes first and then the gift of the Spirit is given, as we have
seen, with prayer and the laying on of hands. Yet, on special
occasions, for special reasons, sometimes not know by us, God
gives His Spirit before baptism. 
     Should people who receive God's Spirit before baptism, still
be baptized? Well Peter gives us the clear answer, for after
seeing this pouring of the Spirit upon Gentiles, he went on to
say, "Can any man say we are to deny water, that these also
should not be baptized which have received the Holy Spirit, like
we received it?"
          
     And Luke finished this section with these words, "And he
(Peter) commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
Then they earnestly asked Peter to stay for certain days with
them" (Acts 10: 47-48).

     We must also note from this passage of Scripture that there
is not one word to indicate that Cornelius or any there in the
house with him were proselytes to the Jewish religion or that any
of them had been circumcised. It is simply recorded that
Cornelius was a devout man, one who prayed always, and a man who
did good deeds towards others. All of this would have made it
even more shocking for the Jewish brethren who had accompanied
Peter from Joppa to see the Holy Spirit poured out on the
Gentiles here in Caesarea.  

PETER EXPLAINS HIS MISSION TO CAESAREA
TO THOSE IN JERUSALEM

     It did not take very long for the word to spread back to the
apostles and brethren in Jerusalem that the Gentiles had received
the word of God and the Holy Spirit, without them having to be
circumcised.
     Those believers in Jerusalem that thought and taught that it
was still imperative for men to be circumcised to be saved and
part of the children of God, were soon questioning Peter about
the matter when he arrived back in Jerusalem. It is vital for us
here  to remember the importance of the rite of circumcision for
the Jews. They had had about 2,000 years history of practicing
the rite. And it was a covenant given by God Himself to their
great father Abraham. Even under Moses no one could partake of
the Passover service unless he was circumcised (see Exodus 12).
So this physical rite and under the Old Covenant, law of God, was
a huge part of Jewish life, and had been for generations. We need
note also that up to this time in the Church of God, no angel had
been sent to meet with all the apostles and tell them that
circumcision was no longer necessary under the New Covenant. It
was not until this happening with Peter in Cornelius' house that
the Spirit of God had been poured out on uncircumcised Gentiles.
So it would have been quite in line for those who still believed
circumcision was needed to be in covenant with God, to question
Peter over the matter.

     It was also brought up to Peter that he socialized with
uncircumcised people, which we have seen the Jews in their
traditional upbringing were taught not to do so. Peter
carefully went over all that had happened with him and with
Cornelius, including the sheet that came down from heaven with
all manner of unclean beasts on it, and how he was commanded to
eat, but he did not, how it was done three times, then was
removed back to heaven. Then how three men had come from
Cornelius in Ceasarea, and how the Spirit bade him return to that
city with them. He told them how six brethren from Joppa
accompanied him to Cornelius' house. How Cornelius had had a
vision to send for himself, and was told that he would say words
to him and his whole housefull of relatives and friends, whereby
they could be saved. Peter told them that as he was yet speaking
those words the Holy Spirit came on them as it had in somewhat
like manner as they had received on the feast day of Pentecost
some years back. He told them that it was at this time he
remembered the words of Jesus, "John baptized with water, but you
shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" which is another way of
saying, you will be plunged into the power and nature of the Holy
Spirit.
     Peter finished his explanation of the events by saying, "In
so much then that God gave them the gift that He gave us, who
believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who on earth was I that I
should question the workings of God."

     When they heard all this from Peter's mouth, they could say
nothing. All they could do was glorify God by saying, "Then has
God also granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life" (Acts
11:1-18).

BARNABAS GOES TO TARUS TO FIND PAUL

     Meanwhile back at the ranch as the saying goes, Paul was
living in the town of Tarus.  This was the capital of Cilicia,
and the birthplace of Paul, and as we have seen, apart from about
three years in Damascus, and a brief visit to Jerusalem, Paul was
there preaching and teaching the Gospel, up to this time, when we
shall now see that the apostle Barnabas goes looking for him.
     The city Tarsus was straight north of Jerusalem, but in Asia
Minor, or what is today Turkey. As you can see on a Bible map.
you go straight up the sea coast of Palestine, and a little
around the coast of the sea, and still on the sea is Tarsus. It
is about 400 miles from Jerusalem.
     Tarsus was situated in a wide and fertile plain on the banks
of the Cydnus river, which flowed through it. The town was
founded about 850 B.C. when the Assyrians entered Cilicia. It was
renowned as a place of education under the early Roman emperors.
In fact Strabo compares it in this respect to Athens and
Alexandria. That fact would explain to some degree the high
education Paul had, as well as the fact that he tells us in his
writings that be was a student of the famous Jewish theologian
Gamaliel. It was a city also of much commerce. Both land and sea
highways made Tarsus a famed ancient emporium. The famous
Cilician Gates, one of antiquity's most famous mountain passes,
is not far distant, and access by water to the Mediterranean made
Tarsus a famous trading center (information taken from "The New
Ungers Bible Dictionary" - Moody Bible Institute, 1988).

     Here in chapter 11:19 we have seen that the Gospel which the
scattered disciples preached after the persecution that arose
after Stephen's death, was only to the Jewish people. The Gospel
had gone to Phenice, and Cyprus, and to Antioch. Some from Cyrene
and Cyprus came to Antioch and spoke to the Greek Jews about the
Lord Jesus. And God was with them for a great number believed and
accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and Messiah. All this was
noted by the members of the Church of God in Jerusalem, and they
determined to send forth Barnabas as far as Antioch. Antioch was
a little further south of Tarsus, about 50 miles away, but still
on the sea coast (see the maps in the back of most Bibles).
     
     When Barnabas arrived in Antioch he was happy to see the
grace of God that had  been in operation there. He exhorted the
brethren to remain faithful to the Lord. Barnabas we are told was
a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and through his
teaching many were added to the Lord's family.
     But Barnabas, remembered the zealous Paul. He had not seen
him for some time now and being only about 50 miles away from
Tarsus and where Paul was living, he decided he wanted to have
Paul with him in Antioch, for it seemed God had many He
wanted in that city to come to Him through Jesus the Christ.
Barnabas set off for Tarsus and did find Paul, and urged him to
join up with him as a team and go back to Antioch to teach and
preach the Gospel there. Paul did do so. 

     Both Barnabas and Paul stayed in Antioch about a full year
with the church there, and through their teaching many were
taught about Jesus. It is here that Luke tells us that the
followers of Christ were first called Christians. "And he
disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."

     It was during the stay of Barnabas and Paul in Antioch that
prophets from Jerusalem came to visit. One of them named Agabus
was inspired by the Spirit to tell them that a great draught
would come upon all the known world, a general very hard time
for farmers throughout the Roman Empire. It did indeed come to
pass as he foretold, in the time of Claudius Caesar. This was in
the early 40s A.D.
     It would seem that Judea had a greater draught than some of
the other areas of that part of the world, for the brethren in
Antioch determined, as each had the ability to give, that they
would send some goods to help relieve the poor and hungry
brethren in Judea. They would send these material goods by the
overseeing hands of Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11:19-30).
     We are not told much, actually not really anything about
this visit of Barnabas and Paul to Judea in the early 40s of the
fist century A.D.  We are given information about James, the
brother of John, and an event concerning Peter, and how the then
Herod died. All this is in the next chapter of Acts. All these
events we shall see in chapter twelve, took place while Barnabas
and Paul were visiting in Jerusalem, but all that is said of
them, is that they returned to Antioch after they accomplished
what they had been sent to do, and on their return they took with
them John, whose surname was Mark (Acts 12:25).

                   .......................

TO BE CONTINUED



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