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The Book of Acts – CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS (Part 1)

In terms of the number of verses in the text of the Bible, this is the longest recorded case of conversion in the book of Acts – it goes from Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:18. The message in chapter ten is the historical record of how a gospel preacher, Peter, got together with Cornelius and others who were with him. The chapter-eleven segment reveals the conversation that Peter had with Jewish brethren back in Jerusalem in which the apostle narrated what had occurred and explained why he went to Cornelius.

     Here is a brief breakdown of Acts 10: an angel told Cornelius to send for Peter (10:1-8); while in Joppa, Peter saw a vision (10:9-18); Peter and six Jewish brethren went to Cornelius’ house (10:19-27); Cornelius explained why he called for Peter (10:28-33); Peter’s sermon (10:34-43); Cornelius’ and his house received the Holy Spirit and were commanded to be baptized (10:44-48). We are going to approach the study of these special events by examining a series of questions.

     (1) Why is this conversion so important? In fact, each conversion is important to God! The case of Cornelius is of special significance because it is the first recorded instance of a Gentile being converted to the Christ after the church began. At a later gathering in Jerusalem, Peter declared to those assembled, “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7). He was talking about Cornelius and others with him who obeyed Peter’s message. After Peter rehearsed how the Lord sent him to preach to the Gentiles, then the Jewish saints had to admit that if “God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18), then, yes, Gentiles can be saved, too. That was a monumental moment in the history of God’s church. [Note: Some Gentiles became followers of the Jewish religion (Judaism), being known as “proselytes.” Such people were present on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10) and may have obeyed the gospel on that day or at a later time, and it is probable that the eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8) was a Gentile who had become a follower of Judaism. But, Cornelius and those with him who responded to the gospel were in a different category – they were physical Gentiles who had not converted to Judaism. Yes, it was special that “the Gentiles (Cornelius, rdc) had also received the word of God” (Acts 11:1)].

     (2) What good qualities did Cornelius possess before he became a disciple of Jesus? He was “a devout man,” he feared God, he “gave alms generously to the people,” he “prayed to God always,” and he fasted (Acts 10:2,30). His servants called him “a just man,” noting that he had a good reputation among the Jews (10:22).

     (3) Why did Cornelius send for Peter? An angel of God instructed him, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and your household will be saved” (11:13,14). The Lord wanted Cornelius and those with him to hear words, a message that Peter had called – “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Yes, an angel spoke to Cornelius, but it is not the role of angels to preach the gospel. That task is carried out in earthen vessels, that is, through human messengers (2 Corinthians 4:7).

     (4) What did Cornelius do and say that showed his attitude toward God and His word? Before Peter ever arrived, Cornelius “had called together his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24). Why did he do that? He told Peter, “. . . we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” (10:33). What a great attitude!

     (5) Why did God show a vision to Peter three times? In that vision, Simon saw animals which he considered to be “common or unclean,” so he said that he would not eat them (10:12-14). However, the Lord wanted Peter to learn, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (10:15). Gentiles could receive life through Jesus just like the Jews. When Peter spoke to Cornelius, the apostle’s message was, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (10:34,35).

     (6) What message did Peter actually preach to Cornelius? In addition to proclaiming God’s impartiality (10:34,35), He preached peace through Jesus, who is “Lord of all” (10:36). God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power, and Jesus went about doing good and healing (10:38). In the end, Jesus was crucified, but rose from the dead on the third day, after which Peter and others witnesses ate and drank with Him (10:39-41). The risen Christ was ordained by God to be the Judge of all (10:42).

     What did Peter tell the Gentiles about the remission of sins? All the prophets gave witness to Jesus of Nazareth “that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (10:43). And water baptism? By the authority of Jesus, Peter commanded those who heard him that day to be baptized: “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (10:48). Surely the purpose of water baptism was unchanged from the Day of Pentecost – repenting believers were to be immersed for the remission of sins (2:36-38).

— Roger D. Campbell

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