5. Gods Plan of Salvation as Exemplified in Acts 10 and 11
by Dave Brown
We left off in the last article on example conversions with Acts 9:19 at the completion of the conversion of Paul. Luke follows his actions at this point, although a comparison with the first chapter of Galatians indicates that Luke leaves out a number of details. This is very interesting reading especially in the establishment of Paul's apostolic credentials and the confirmation of the New Testament as the law that applies to us today.
The scene changes quite abruptly in Acts 9:36 to interrupt the history of Paul and pick up once again with Peter. Several miracles are described at the end of Acts 9, perhaps to get us back to realizing that the Holy Spirit was still quite (overtly) active with all of the apostles. Also, it will be Peter that will preach to the first gentiles, and his authority in this regard was being questioned the Jewish Christians. We will see that it was questioned by those who were inclined to require gentiles to become proselyte Jews before their baptism. So, it is fitting to document these miracles to show that what Peter was doing was of God.
Acts 10 and 11 go together as a unit. These two chapters are very significant from the point of view of an issue that still haunts mankind today: racism. The Jews had developed a very overt form of racism (see 10:28), which went beyond the warnings of the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament prophesies the salvation of the gentiles in many places. The key words to this effect are “all nations.” God’s promise to Abraham was that through his seed all nations would be blessed, and the great commission sent Christians to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). However, reversing the old mindset of even those Jews who were converted would prove to be quite difficult.
Back to the story in Acts 10. The first thing we see is the emphasis on the righteousness of Cornelius and the fact that he was a gentile. He was “devout ..., feared God, gave much alms, ... and prayed to God always.” In a very real sense, he was a believer in God, but had not yet been exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Many today would conclude that such a man would already be saved. But remember, we are not saved by our own works – like all of us, Cornelius needed the blood of Christ. In this regard, note, Acts 11:13-14: "... and he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, Send to Joppa, and fetch Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall speak unto thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house."
Cornelius saw a vision and the events were quite similar to what happened to Paul – the vision did not convert him, it just told him what to do in order to learn the truth. The fact that every example conversion has the truth being taught through the instrumentality of other men is no accident. This may have been preparing for the time when the truth would be fully revealed and the direct intervention of God/Jesus through miracles, or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, would no longer be needed.
About the same time that Cornelius saw his vision, Peter was having a vision as well. It is given in Acts 10:9-16. Its obscure nature shows us that God expected Peter to use his head and be able to figure it out. God just did not come right out and force him to see His intent. However, Peter apparently "got it," since we see him going with the men that Cornelius sent.
Note that Peter took others from Joppa with him (10:23); this is significant.
There are some preliminaries (Acts 10:24-33) that indicate that Peter either does not know or wants Cornelius to commit to affirm just what they are getting together for. This could be a building of trust which was necessary for strangers – especially between a military man and one who had been persecuted.
The teaching starts in Acts 10:34, where is appears that Peter had put everything together and come to the right conclusion; Acts 10:34-35 “And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is acceptable to him.” There is not a more definitive statement against racism anywhere.
Aside from this, Peter begins to get into the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, before he could really get started (see also Acts 11:15), the Holy Spirit fell on the hearers.
Acts 10:44-48: “While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days."
Note the emphasis on who were astonished – those of “the circumcision which believed.” These were Jewish Christians who in many cases felt that circumcision (i.e., conversion to Judaism) was necessary prior to baptism.
The context indicates that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which later is identified as a baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15-17), was as much for the benefit of these Jewish believers as it was for the gentiles. While they “heard them (i.e., the gentiles) speak with tongues, and magnify God,” there is no evidence that this was revealing anything that Peter did not already know. It was confirming to the Jewish hearers the reality of the acceptability of the gentiles just as they were (e.g., without circumcision).
In verse 47, there is an implication that Christian Jews were "forbidding water" from gentiles, perhaps until after they became proselyte Jews (see Acts 15:1-2). This event clearly indicated that such a prohibition was not only inappropriate, it was sinful (see Galatians 5).
Note that Peter commanded them to be baptized. This was not a command of Peter, it was a command of Christ, as we saw in our article on Acts 2. We might speculate on what would have been the fate of those had they refused to obey this command, perhaps claiming that since they had clearly received a baptism in the Holy Spirit, they really did not need water baptism. We feel the answer is quite obvious and needs no further elaboration.
Acts 11 is a rerun of the story for the benefit of “they that were of the circumcision” (Acts 11:2) in Jerusalem. That is, down through verse 18. Note verses 11:15-20, which explain some of the details that occurred.
Acts 11:15-20 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, ‘John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Inasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as [he did] unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, 'Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.' "
It seems clear from Acts 1:5 and 8 that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was a baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was “on us [the apostles] when we believed [in the beginning]” (Acts 11:17) However, there is no other recording in the bible of any such outpouring, other than in Acts 2 and Acts 10-11. Had this been a common thing, Peter would not have been able to reference the Pentecost experience (Acts 2) in this way. Thus, this appears to be only the second time that an event is referred to as a “baptism with the Holy Spirit.” The first came with the first conversion of Jews, this one with the first conversion of gentiles. Those who teach that all references to baptism in the New Testament are referring to Holy Spirit baptism either do not know the truth or are being intentionally misleading to divert attention from God's command for water baptism. Holy Spirit baptism was a promise to a limited number of people; water baptism is a command to all those who want to become part of the body of Christ (Romans 6:3).
Even this second outpouring was not equivalent to the first. We do not see the "clothen tongues like as of fire" nor the "sound like a mighty rushing wind" that occurred in Acts 2. These gentiles did not become apostles. We never see where they could lay hands on others and impart gifts of the Holy Spirit, while the apostles had this capability (Acts 8:17-19). Also, the emphasis throughout the book of Acts is that the word came “through the apostles.” While others had miraculous gifts through the laying on of the apostles hands (Acts 8:17-18), none had the measure of the miraculous gifts that the apostles did.
In our next article we will take up the next detailed cases of conversion, which are described in Acts 16. If you have any questions, please Contact Us.
Go on to Lesson 6