Salvation of Gentiles
Published by Stanley Pouw in 2023 · 5 February 2023
Acts 10 would certainly be a primary consideration in a mission emphasis because it described Gentiles who are saved. The Gospel was committed first to the Jews in Jerusalem, and then the Gospel was taken to Judea and Samaria, and finally the design of God is to take the Gospel to the uttermost part of the earth. And our Lord Christ had laid out this master plan of evangelism in Acts 1:8.
Initially the church was Jewish, and it was God who stretched them to be able to reach the Samaritans, whom they despised. It would even be a greater step to reach Gentiles whom they doubly despised. And so as we come to Acts 10, we find that monumental account which tells us how God began to open the church to the Gentiles, and He did it through Jewish men, which is a great truth.
Now the key to these days in the early church is Peter. The church had been founded on the day of Pentecost. It had exploded in Jerusalem, and then it exploded all throughout Judea and Samaria, and people were being saved everywhere along the way. Great revivals were breaking out in Samaria under the ministry of Philip and as well Peter and John and the other apostles.
Peter was moving around. He is God’s catalyst in the explosion of the church. But more than that, Peter had a very special commission. In Matthew 16:19, our Lord Christ had said to him, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” What He meant by that is that, Peter, you will be the guy who will unlock the next door. He was the one that opened the church to the Gentiles.
We can see, that the Spirit of God already has begun to do the preparation. Peter has accepted the Samaritans, and that’s monumental. The Samaritans were from the time of the separation of the kingdom, disliked by the southern kingdom. And then when they were taken into captivity and intermarried, they became despised to Jews who thought that their national existence should never be polluted.
Another tradition was broken down because he stayed, in Acts 9:43, in the house of Simon, the tanner. And a tanner was a despised trade to a Jew, because he dealt with the skin of dead animals, and no self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with such a man. But Peter stayed in his house maybe as a long as a couple of years, and he shows that his prejudice was gone by our Lord.
In Ephesians 3, Paul says this is the mystery, that the Jews and the Gentiles would be one body. Well, this was extremely hard to understand, after centuries of exclusiveness. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, from now on there is neither bond nor free, male nor female, Jew or Gentile. You’re all one in Christ. That’s a new concept for the Jew. A Jew wouldn’t have anything to do with a Gentile.
And all of a sudden Christ came along and said, “Now, I’m going to take Jews and Gentile and I’m going to make one new man.” And in theory it was great, and in theology it was great, and by His power He could do it, but it was a tough thing for the Jew to swallow and to practically really make it happen. And Peter, even though he got going here in Acts 10, had a few relapses in his life.
Well in order for God to get this unity, He’s going to have to do some preparation. So in Acts 10:1-20, that introduce to us this confrontation that finally results in the Gentiles being brought into the church. We find that God prepares two people. First He prepares the Gentile, and then He prepares the Jew. The Gentile is Cornelius, and the Jew is Peter. It’s got to be more than theory; it’s got to happen.
So God gives each one a special vision, which is like sort of training in preparation. Before they’ll ever come together, there’s going to have to be a lot of character change, and so He begins with a vision here in the first eight verses to Cornelius, and then from verse 9 on, He gives a vision to Peter. And this then is the beginning of the Gentile inclusion in the church.
Because here is a receiver, Cornelius, and there is a messenger, Peter, and you’re going to see how God prepares the receiver who is going to get the Gospel and how God prepares the messenger who’s going to give it. Please catch these principles, because they’re important to understand how God’s going to use us to be prepared messengers, to hit the prepared receiver at the divine moment.
Now it says in verse 1, “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius.” The first thing we learn is God chooses the receiver. There were a lot of Gentiles, a lot of possible guys that could have been saved, but God chose Cornelius. God is involved in choosing the one who receives the gospel as well as the one who brings it. In John 6:37 Jesus said, “No man comes to Me except the Father draws him.”
Ephesians says we were elect, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. God had Cornelius all singled out. In Acts 13:48 it says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord.” Here are some Gentiles, and watch this, “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” God had already selected who would be redeemed.
In John 10:16, Jesus said, “I have some sheep of another fold,” and soon I am going to call them. In Romans 10:20 it says, “But Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’” And there He’s speaking specifically about Gentiles. God does the choosing of the receiver. That’s His plan, and He always chooses.
Here you have the sovereignty of God and the predestination of an election, the choice of man. And these two go together in Scripture. So notice verse 1 about Cornelius. He lived in Caesarea, which is a beautiful place. It was a military garrison, and it was the home of Pilate, because the Roman government had their headquarters there. The place was populated predominantly by Gentiles.
Now Cornelius had a seeking heart, and so God moved in to give him more light, and here you have volition brought into sovereignty. Verse 2, “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” God reached down and gave him, really, the disposition to turn and seek God, even when he was dead in trespasses and sins.
Now the term feared God became a technical term for Gentiles. There were three kinds of Gentiles in the mind of a Jew. One kind was just the plain Gentile. The other kind was a “God-fearer.” This was a Gentile who had come to the conclusion in his mind that the God of Israel was the true God. Much like the eunuch in Acts 8 whom Philip met. He believed in the ethics of the Old Testament.
The third level of Gentile would be the proselyte who had come all the way to Judaism, actually gone through the act of circumcision, and fully identified himself with Israel and was considered to be a Jew in a spiritual sense. Well, Cornelius is the God-fearer. He didn’t accept the ceremonial laws, and the circumcision, but he often attended worship. He believed in one God.
So here’s a man who is a very religious but not saved. He did not know Jesus Christ. Now, in order for God to deal with this guy, he must choose God, and respond to his searching heart. God also had to prepare him, and so He comes to him in a vision. Verse 3, “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
This was 3:00 pm, and here appears clearly an angel who says, “Cornelius.” Verse 4, “And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” Do you know that anywhere in the world, God sees and reads the heart of every single individual? And then the angel gives him specific instructions.
Verse 5, “Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.” Now here God gives the receiver the opportunity to respond actively. Paul said in Romans 1 that we are sent to the world for the obedience of faith, because that’s what the Christian life is all about. Praise the Lord, he was obedient. And the Lord wanted Peter to lead Cornelius to Christ in Cornelius’ own house.
Verse 6, “He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” God makes a distinction, so he could find the house. Verse 7- 8, “And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
Verse 9, “The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.” That’s noon. Now God had to sort of tear Peter down. But he needed one other super kind of vision to try to get him to deal with Gentiles. Now we’re going to see that work of the Holy Spirit on the messenger is identical to that on the receiver.
Now God is in the business of choosing His messengers, right? If you feel God calling you strongly, be obedient. God has placed His hand upon you as a messenger for a specific mission. In John 15:16 Jesus says to His disciples, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go forth and bring forth fruit.” Well, Peter is His chosen messenger.
Verse 10-13 says, “Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
Peter looks up and there’s heaven open. Here comes a big sheet. Now it’s full of all kinds of animals. Now the animals in this were clean and unclean. In Leviticus 11:2-4 it says, “These are the animals which you may eat, 3 whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud. 4 Nevertheless you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves.”
All these dietary laws were given to Israel. And so in the mind of a Jew, there was a division between clean animals and unclean animals. Peter never touched anything but the clean. God did that to separate them from other Gentile peoples. Now in those days, social meetings occurred at banquets. So God just gave the Jews such distinct dietary laws that they couldn’t get together in banquets.
Verse 14-16, “But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.” The word common means defiled. The voice spoke unto him a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, you must not call defiled.’”
And his mind was like, “Did God cleaned all those animals?” Well, that’s a hard message to get, so verse 16 says that God told him three times. And then “the vessel was received up into heaven.” There is a specific meaning and also a general meaning. Specifically, God is abolishing the Old Testament Jewish dietary laws. They were designed to separate the Jew from the Gentile.
The body of Christ is designed to unite them. They had to learn to socialize together, because they were now one. This problem kept appearing. Paul dealt with this in Romans 14 where he says, “Don’t serve foods like from pigs. That’s purposely offending Jews who don’t yet understand their liberties.” And he says to the Jews, “Don’t make Gentiles conform to your dietary laws.”
Mark 7:14 records the words of Jesus. “There is nothing from outside of a person that entering into him can defile him. The things which come out of you, they are the ones that defile you.” He’s saying, “Ceremonial things are not important now. I’m talking about spiritual things.” This is a new age. What you eat doesn’t go into your heart. I’m concerned about is what’s on the inside spiritually.
Here’s the general meaning of the vision: The sheet is the church born in heaven. It includes Jews and Gentiles, and the significant part of the vision is that the sheet, when it was finished, was received up into heaven. How is the church going to be leaving this world? By the Rapture. And if the church consist of Jews and Gentiles, then it ought to be acceptable to us to allow Gentiles to come in.
Verse 17-18, “Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.” Before he has a chance to act, someone knocked on the door and said, “Is Simon Peter there?”
God prepares the receiver and prepares the messenger, but He ordains the divine timing. You’re moving along a planned path that God has that intersects with prepared receivers all through your life. Verse 19-20, “While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” Let us pray.