Acts 10:23-33

23 Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.

25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.

26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”

27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together.

28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

30 So Cornelius said,  “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,

31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God.

32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’

33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

lodged them (v.23) — Peter’s first step in response to the vision (see Leviticus 19:34)

some brethren (v.23) — Peter took six Jews along with him (v.45)

waiting (v.24) – actively expecting

relatives and near friends (v.24) — Again we see Cornelius’ concern for those around him (see 10:2, 7)

fell down at his feet (v.25) — common practice in the East for inferiors and petitioners

worshiped (v.25) — as one sent by God — but Peter tells him this was a wrong thing to do before a man (v.26). Christ, being God, accepted such honor (for example, Matthew 2:11)

you know (v.28) — The Gentiles knew how the Jews felt about them.

Jewish man (v.28) — Peter still defined himself as of the Jewish religion.

God has shown me (v.28) — Peter understood the point of the vision.

you have done well (v.33) — a common formula of thanks

present before God (v.33) — Cornelius understood that Peter was just a messenger.

The Israelites were, indeed, denied the “unclean” meats of which Gentiles freely partook (Leviticus 20:25). They were also forbidden to make covenants with the Gentiles or to intermarry with them (Deuteronomy 7:2-3; Ezra 9:2) and thus a distinct separation was maintained between them, but we know of no explicit injunction prohibiting any association at all with those of other nations, nor even of doing business with them. Indeed, as we have already seen, the Israelites were specifically instructed to deal kindly wiht Gentiles who had come among them and to treat them as those born in their midst (Leviticus 19:33-34). Certainly Cornelius, a God-fearing man, and living, as he did, in Palestine, was entitled to this sort of treatment as far as Moses’ law was concerned.

In what sense, then, had it been “unlawful” for Peter to even visit Gentiles, and why did his fellow apostles call him to account for so doing?

We believe the key to this problem is to be found in our Lord’s first commission to His twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1-7). Here the apostles wee specifically instructed: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” (Matthew 10:5).

While our Lord had as yet sent forth only these twelve, this rule would, of course, apply to any Jew, even though those who were indifferent or antagonistic to His claims would not recognize it.

As we know, our Lord Himself also kept aloof from the Gentiles during His earthly ministry. He did help one Gentile man and one Gentile woman, but they came to Him for help, and at least in the latter case He made it very clear that He had not been sent “but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

We know that our Lord did not follow this course because of lack of love or pity for the Gentiles, but because He recognized the divine plan of the covenant and prophecy to send salvation to the Gentiles through redeemed Israel (Genesis 22:17-18; Zechariah 8:13, 23; etc.). So far as the revealed program of God was concerned, Israel must first be saved before salvation could be sent to the Gentiles. Thus our Lord said to the Gentile woman referred to above: “Let the children first be filled” (Mark 7:27).

Our Lord did not change all this after His resurrection, for under the so-called “great commission” the apostles were explicitly instructed to begin their ministry with Israel (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). This was with the assumption, of course, that Israel would now receive Christ, and that salvation could then also be sent to the Gentiles, Surely Peter makes it clear in Acts 3:25-26, that Israel must first be saved, so that salvation might flow through her to the Gentiles.

In view of this, it is natural that Peter had considered it “unlawful” to go to the Gentiles, for Israel had certainly not yet been saved. Indeed Israel had declared war on Christ (Acts 8:1-3).

but now the prophetic program was to be interrupted by the dispensation of the grace of God. God, in infinite grace, had already reached down to save Saul, the leader of the rebellion, with a view to sending him to the Gentiles, Israel’s obstinacy notwithstanding. To pave the way for this and to ensure the recognition of Paul’s subsequent ministry by the twelve, God had now sent Peter to the Gentiles, even though Israel remained unrepentant.

Peter, then had been in perfect harmony with the will of His Master, and was in perfect harmony with it still as he now went to the Gentiles. Note carefully the exact wording of his statement in Acts 10:28: ” … it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; BUT God has sowed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”

How did God show Peter that he should go to these Gentiles even though his labors with Israel had not been successful? Was it by opening his eyes to Old Testament truth? Was it by the so-called “great commission”? No, it was by a special vision. Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 86-89.

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