Cornelius, The Beginning Of The Long-Awaited Salvation Of The Gentiles; The Vision That Was Necessary To Prepare Peter To Open The Door Of Salvation To The Gentiles; The Great Response To His Message
The Holy Spirit, speaking to us through His great servant Luke, has been teaching us that the Message about salvation through Immanuel had been spreading among the Jewish people throughout Israel, and beyond the borders of Israel to the Jewish community in Damascus. The Message of Eternal Life had gone to the Samaritans, who were a people of mixed Jewish and Gentile heritage.
The time had arrived for something long anticipated by the prophets to occur. Now it was time for the Lord’s salvation to extend beyond the holy nation and be given to the other nations of the world. Israel, the Chosen People, would continue to fulfill our part in the plans of God, being a light to the nations, bringing the truth about the God Who Alone Can Save to the nations of the world who were in a state of darkness, confusion and death.
This breakout of messianic salvation to the Gentiles would come through two special men who were being prepared for this historic moment in the history of salvation – Jewish Peter and Gentile Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman officer who was in charge of 100 soldiers. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household. He gave charity to the Jewish people that his nation had conquered, and he prayed to God continually.
That attitude toward the God of Israel and Jewish people was unusual. Most Romans didn’t respect us or our God. But this Roman officer did not look down on the conquered Jewish people and our invisible God, but respected the God of Israel and was kind to us. And, he encouraged his family and friends to show the same kind of faith and respect. Cornelius’ courage and spirituality and good deeds caught the attention of Heaven and he was chosen to be the first man among the nations of the world to experience Messianic Salvation!
And, Peter was chosen to be the special human being who would bring the Message of Messianic Salvation to Cornelius. Peter was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was one of the leaders among the apostles. He was given great spiritual authority. He was empowered to do many and great miracles. He was a writer of parts of the New Testament. Although his primary sphere of ministry was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, like Paul, he too was uniquely used by God to reach both Jews and Gentiles. This man, to whom the “keys of the Kingdom” were given, used those keys to open the first doors of salvation to the Jewish, and then to the Samaritans, and then to the Gentiles. Now Peter was being prepared for something monumental, something unprecedented – opening the doors of salvation to the nations of the world who so desperately need Messianic salvation!
And, even though Peter was wise and bold and filled with the Holy Spirit, and dedicated to proclaiming the Good News to Jewish people, because what was about to happen was so radical, Peter would need a dramatic revelation to prepare him to bring the Good News about the Jewish Messiah to those of humanity who had not received it – the Gentiles.
Why? Up until this point in salvation history, the way of salvation for Gentiles who were being drawn to the God of Israel was for them to gain knowledge and faith in the God of Israel, and accept the Tenach as the Word of God. Then they were circumcised and immersed. In this way, they took upon themselves all of the requirements of Judaism. If their faith was genuine, these proselytes to Judaism were saved. They were connected to the holy nation of Israel. In a generation, they could be fully integrated into the Jewish community. If a proselyte/convert married a Jewish person, their children were considered Jews.
But now something unprecedented was about to happen. The Lord of All didn’t want the Gentiles who were about to receive salvation to leave their cultures and peoples. He didn’t want them to be circumcised – indicating that they were under the Sinai Covenant. He didn’t want them to become Jews. He didn’t want them to live exactly the same way the Holy and Chosen People did. The non-Jewish believers would not be required to keep all 613 commandments that were directed to Israel. The Lord wanted Gentile Christians to know Him and be saved and remain who they were – redeemed people who remained within their nations and cultures and peoples. It was God’s will for saved Gentiles to remain Gentiles. This was a very radical departure from what had come before, and Peter would need supernatural help to understand this.
When the angel who was speaking to him had left (instructing Cornelius to send for Peter so that Cornelius and his family and friends could hear the Message About Eternal Life), he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier (a soldier who shared Cornelius’ faith in the God of Israel) of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Yafo. On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour (noon) to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the Earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat”! But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean”. Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy”. This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
Many, probably most Christian commentators wrongly interpret this vision. The common misinterpretation is that the Lord was nullifying the kosher laws for the Church – including the Messianic Jewish remnant. All Christians in the Jewish Messiah, including the faithful remnant of Israel like Peter, would no longer be encouraged to keep kosher. But, that is not the meaning of the vision. The meaning has nothing to do with a change in the dietary laws. The Messianic Jews of the first five centuries did not understand it that way, since we know that they continued to keep kosher.
The meaning of the vision is that people from among the uncircumcised Gentiles were about to be cleansed. They were about to become holy through the new covenant and the Jewish Messiah. They were about experience messianic salvation. For centuries before this, we had considered the uncircumcised ones unholy and unclean, and in various ways we tried to maintain a distance from them. But something was about to happen so that we should no longer consider them unholy and unclean, but look at them like a potentially delicious kosher meal! We should become interested in those Gentiles who may become interested in Messianic salvation, and search for them and associate with them.
Even though the vision included a three fold repetition, the interpretation of this vision was not clear to Peter. He would need some God-directed circumstances to clarify things. Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be (and I can understand the source of his great perplexity – kill and eat non-kosher animals! Abandon the laws of God? That can’t be right! Yet, that message was repeated three times!) behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there.
God is in control of all things, all people, all events. There is no such thing as coincidence or luck. We believe in providence, not coincidence or luck. God is in control of time and circumstances, and time can be an important factor that helps us understand what God is doing – as it did here. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself”. Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come”? They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you”. The meaning of Peter’s vision was clarified by the sudden appearance of Cornelius’ representatives who came at just the right time, and who came at the direction of a holy angel. The instructions of the angel was that a special God-fearing Gentile was to be given a message.
This was a very unusual situation. It was obvious that God was at work and Peter was willing to cooperate. So he invited them in and gave them lodging (and by inviting them into a Jewish home, Peter and Simon the tanner started showing a new and more welcoming attitude toward Gentiles, since Jewish people probably did not routinely welcome Gentiles into their homes). And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Yafo accompanied him. On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. Cornelius feared God, but he still had things to learn – like worship is reserved only for God – not for human beings, even if they are special and great like Peter (or Mary). But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man”. As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him (this was the normal Jewish attitude toward Gentiles at that time); and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. And that is the true interpretation of Peter’s vision which he now fully understood. Messianic Jews would need to change our attitudes toward Gentiles, particularly toward those whom the Lord was drawing to Himself, and be willing to associate with them. Peter’s vision has nothing to do with encouraging Messianic Jews to stop keeping kosher.
Peter continued: That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me”. In response to Peter’s request for the reason he was sent for, Cornelius graciously recounted for Peter all the background information he needed to understand the reason why he had asked Peter to come. Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, and he said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Therefore send to Yafo and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea’. So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. What was the reason Peter had been sent for? Cornelius gave the reason in his concluding remark: Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord”. Cornelius and his friends and relatives wanted to hear the entire message that the God of Israel had commanded to be declared to them.
Cornelius’ explanation of the message of the angel reinforced Peter’s interpretation of his own vision. So, after centuries and centuries of anticipation, with everything now prepared for the beginning of the salvation of the Gentiles, Peter used those special keys of the Kingdom and gave the first message to the Gentile world. Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. In other words, the Creator is not partial to one nation – the Chosen People. He wants men and women from every nation to experience Messianic Salvation! And, here is the message of salvation that Peter gave those Gentiles that special day: The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Messiah Yeshua (He is Lord of All) –
This is a message that came to and through the Jewish people first. It is a Jewish message that is meant by the Lord of All, the God of Everyone, to go beyond the Jewish people and be understood and embraced by everyone.
It is a message of peace – the greatest kind of peace that is possible, the peace that ends mankind’s alienation from our Creator that happened in the beginning, peace which can be reestablished by having faith and confidence in the life and death and resurrection of Israel’s ultimate God-sent, God approved, God-anointed Prophet, Priest, King and Savior – the Messiah!
And, the life and death and resurrection of the Son of God is what Peter told them in more detail: You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Yeshua of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. The Messiah was very close to God and was able to do powerful, supernatural things. He did a lot of good things for people, especially by healing people physically and spiritually, overpowering the Adversary, who is a very real and powerful enemy who dominates and harasses human beings.
Messiah’s miracles are not myth or fantasy or something made up, but real things that were verified by many reliable eyewitnesses, which makes the miracles very believable. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
Even though Yeshua is the Messiah and is close to God, and did so much good, something very unjust happened to Him. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. Yeshua really died a horrible and painful death by crucifixion.
But, that is not the end of the story! God raised Him up on the third day. God the Father literally and truly brought His Son back to life – thereby overcoming the great and deadly forces arrayed against us – Satan, sin and death. And, His bodily resurrection really and truly happened! And granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
Messiah’s resurrection and post resurrection appearances to His special representatives, appearances where the Resurrected Rabbi ate food and drank with them, showing that He has a unique and real resurrection body, is not some myth or fantasy, but a reality that was verified by many reliable eyewitnesses. That makes Yeshua’s resurrection very sure and believable.
Those special eyewitnesses of these great and important realities, which alone can save ruined humanity, were commanded by God not to keep this vital information to themselves, but to share this Good News. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Yeshua is the Messiah. He is alive. He is the Savior of those who come to know Him and give Him their allegiance. And, one day He will be the final judge of humanity, all of humanity. All will appear before Him, those who are alive when He comes and those who have died. He will judge all and rule over all. He will reward with eternal life those who are allied to Him and His Father, and punish all those who continue in rebellion against the Three-in-One God. Your goal of the life of every human being should be to appear before Him and successfully pass through His judgment.
The message of the apostles was not new. Their message was consistent with God’s revelation that came before. They were not the only ones declaring these great truths. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins”. In other words, all of the holy prophets had been saying the same thing! The Messiah would come and Yeshua of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah! And, what the holy prophets of Israel and we are telling you is that by placing your faith in Yeshua, and who He is and what He has done, is the only way for all of your sins to be forgiven, and for you be reconciled to the Creator from whom the whole world is estranged. And, the greatest need of every human being is to have his sins forgiven and be reconciled to the Creator.
Before Peter had fully finished giving his message on the person of Yeshua, and the implications and the meaning of His death, burial and resurrection, something tremendous happened. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message – showing that these Gentiles believed the message, and God was blessing these Gentiles with Messianic Salvation, and that He was now receiving Gentiles as Gentiles (notice they weren’t circumcised before the Holy Spirit came to them), and that He was welcoming them into His presence and Kingdom and granting them eternal life! Fantastic! Praise the Lord!
Well, God’s approval of these Gentiles as Gentiles, without becoming converts to Judaism, or Sinai Covenant observance, was radically new and stunning to the Jewish believers! All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with other languages and exalting God – definitive evidence that God was at work in them, and was saving them, just as He had been at work among the Jewish people on that special Shavuot after Yeshua rose from the dead.
Peter understood that when God makes it clear that he approves of something and gives His acceptance, we must too. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Messiah Yeshua. Baptism is important. Baptism is the first thing we do to show that God has saved us through the Messiah and are becoming part of His community.
Then they asked him to stay on for a few days – no doubt for further teaching and instruction in the Faith.
Let me summarize:
The Son of God has come making salvation possible. Amazing! Fantastic!
God has a passion for world evangelism, starting with the Jewish people first. Do you?
God wants to establish strong, growing, witnessing communities throughout the world. That is one of His highest priorities. Is that one of your highest priorities? If not, why not?