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Acts 10:1-16
In the week before Jesus would be put to death, He had made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem - an
invitation to Israel to receive her King. For the final time, Jesus cleansed the temple - specifically the court
of the Gentiles - and was teaching and healing there each day.

Some Gentiles, who had come up to Jerusalem, observed Jesus, and desiring to speak with Him, asking His
disciple Philip to meet Him. When Philip went and told Jesus, no doubt with the Gentiles in tow, Jesus
gave a response of which only He could have known the full significance.

Jesus said that the hour had come for the Son of Man - Himself - to be glorified - speaking of His death.
He said, AAnd I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto Me@ (Jn 12:32).

ALifted up@ is a euphemism for crucifixion. Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus would
provide the redemption by which men could be reconciled to God. And Jesus indicated that redemption
was for all men - not just Jews, but Gentiles, such as the ones who were there that day, listening to His
mysterious, yet powerful words.

The time had come for those words to no longer be a mystery to the Gentiles. And it would be those who
initially heard and believed the truth concerning Jesus - the Jews - whom the Lord would use to reveal that
mystery to the Gentiles. But first, the believing Jews had to get past their old thinking concerning the
Gentiles, which had been handed down from generation to generation, through the traditions of their

That thinking was based on a perversion of what God had originally done to separate His nation from the
other nations, through the Law. The Law was intended to consecrate the nation of Israel unto God, through
His Christ - whom the Law pictured. That consecration would keep the nation racially pure, so as to
preserve them, so that they might bring forth the Christ.

But the nation had taken what God intended as a consecration, to separate His nation unto Himself, and
instead used it as a means to exclude the Gentiles - something the LORD never intended. Israel had come to
regard the privileges that the LORD had given to them as the evidence that they were superior to the other
nations. But the LORD had no such regard. Turn to Deuteronomy chapter 7.

[Deuteronomy 7:6-8] The LORD did not choose Israel because they were a great nation - they started out as
just one man whom God called out of idolatry - Abraham.

The LORD chose Israel because He loved them - for He sees them in their completion, as sons of glory - and
the LORD chose Israel because of His faithfulness to the forefathers of the nation, with whom He had made a
covenant - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had believed in Him for His Christ, the One whom He would
send. The LORD chose Israel, because He is God - foreknowing that He will one day have, in Israel, a
nation of men who will believe in Him.

But meanwhile, the LORD had, in Israel, a nation of religious men, who thought of themselves as better than
the Gentile nations. In fact, they regarded the Gentiles with the utmost contempt, as godless men, unclean
and defiled. But wasn=t that exactly what the men of Israel were, as well? Yes.
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Now some of the Jews had responded to the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ - and in doing so, they had
been made clean, through the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. And that was
the desire of the Lord for all men - that all could be drawn to Himself, through His glorious work on the
cross. But overcoming the stronghold in the Jewish mind concerning the Gentiles would take a great effort
- in fact, a supernatural effort.

With God, nothing is impossible. Through supernatural means, the Lord would create a bridge from the
Jewish world to the Gentiles, through which the separation which existed between them could be removed.
And who would be the first one to cross that bridge? Peter - who would find a centurion in Caesarea,
waiting on the other side of it.

Now, the Lord had already prepared the man who would be His apostle to the Gentiles - Paul. And the
Lord had already sent His disciple, Philip, to Caesarea, where he had preached the gospel (Acts 8:40). But
to Peter had been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:19); that is, it would be for Peter to open
up the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles, just as he had to the Jews on the day of Pentecost - the key, being
the preaching of the gospel.

Why Peter? Because Peter was the acknowledged leader of the apostles. Once Peter became convinced
that God was granting eternal life to the Gentiles, as He had to the Jews, he would be in the ideal position
to convince others, who would tend to respect his leading, and therefore give this radical idea a fair hearing.

But first, the Lord had to create that supernatural bridge between the worlds of Jew and Gentile - and then,
the Lord had to get Peter to cross it - by faith. Now, the Lord had already introduced Peter to His plans for
that bridge while He was still on the earth. And quite recently, Peter may have caught a glimpse of the
Lord=s plans when he healed first Aeneas, and then Tabitha, which resulted in many conversions as the
news penetrated deep into Gentile territory.

Now the time had come for the Lord to actually build His bridge - and, having been prepared, when Peter
was then enabled to see it clearly, he would readily cross it. First, we will see the Lord working on the
Gentile side - through a vision to a man who already had begun to see God.

v. 1-2 Luke introduces a man to the reader named Cornelius. Luke uses the term, Aa certain man@,
which, from the context in the past, has been used to describe unbelievers (Acts 3:2, 5:1, 9:33). Cornelius
was a man who had not received the Life that is the Light of men (Jn 1:4); but he was being drawn to the

The name Cornelius means Apertaining to a horn@. In Scripture, horns speak of power. Cornelius was a
soldier of the powerful Roman Empire; the force that currently dominated much of the Mediterranean
world, including Israel.

The name Cornelius was a particularly common name, Latin in derivation. The origin of the name shows
that Cornelius was not merely a member of the Roman Empire; he was a Roman; a true Gentile.

Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman army. This means that he was a low-ranking military officer,
equivalent to a captain in modern terms. A centurion commanded one hundred men. He was one of sixty
officers in a Roman legion, which was composed of 60 units, 100 men each. Cornelius= men were part of
the band, or cohort, known as the Italian regiment - emphasizing that these were soldiers from Rome - foot
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Centurions were generally soldiers who had worked their way up through the ranks. They were often
career officers, enlisted in the Roman army for a period of at least twenty years. Centurions were
considered to be the backbone of the Roman army. They were expected to be good leaders, steady and
prudent; to stand fast when pressed; and if necessary, to die at their post (Polybius). This was a soldier=s

Cornelius was stationed at Caesarea. Caesarea was essentially a Roman city. It was the seat of the Roman
government of Judea, the governor having his residence there, and it held a regular Roman garrison - half a
legion was stationed at Caesarea, and half at Jerusalem. You may remember that the name Caesarea means
Asevered@ - a fitting name for the place where God would reach out to the Gentile nations who had so long
ago severed themselves from Him (Gen 11:1-9).

The fact that a Roman garrison was stationed at Caesarea provides us with the ability to estimate the time of
this incident. After AD 41, Agrippa the First, from the Herodian family line, had his own troops in
Caesarea. This would mean that this incident took place before AD 41, maybe seven to ten years after
Jesus returned to heaven.

Luke gives us some insight into the character of Cornelius. He is described as devout, a term that means
reverent or pious. The same term was used to describe the Jewish pilgrims who had come up to Jerusalem
for the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:5). The term refers to someone who is religious; who, out of reverence
for God, desires to keep His commandments.

Apparently, Cornelius had learned of the true and Living God - no doubt through his station in the
governing city of Judea, the land of the Jews; and as he began to be enlightened to God, he was drawn to
Him, desiring to worship Him. Like many religious men, Cornelius had a reverence of God; but as of yet,
no personal knowledge of Him.

Luke also records that Cornelius was one that feared God. This term, God-fearer, was used for Gentiles
who had attached themselves to the Judaism; they had abandoned their pagan religion in favor of
worshiping Jehovah God. They were distinguished from proselytes in that proselytes had gone further, and
received the Jewish rite of circumcision, becoming full converts of Judaism.

Either Cornelius had not yet reached that stage - of becoming a proselyte - or he had purposely stopped
short of it. Did he see in it a mere religious rite, which was unnecessary in his worship of the true and
Living God? We don=t know.

We do know that the devotion of Cornelius had a profound effect upon his household. Luke mentions two
attributes of Cornelius, which highlighted this. He gave charitably to the Jewish people - very charitably -
he gave much alms. And he did so, on a soldier=s pay. This charitable giving showed that Cornelius
recognized the Jews as the people of God, and that their God was his God. It is likely because of his
generous giving that Cornelius had renown among the Jews, as we will read later (Acts 10:22).

In addition to this, Cornelius prayed - continually, consistently. He sought communion with the God of the
Jews; he made his requests to Him; he sought His will. These attributes demonstrated to the household the
reality of the God that Cornelius followed.
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Now, you would expect that the household of Cornelius meant his family; but Roman military personnel
were not permitted to marry. It was not uncommon for soldiers to have illegal concubines, which were
overlooked by their supervisors. But centurions were moved around, with frequency; and because of this,
they did not often have concubines. The term Ahousehold@ can be used to include servants; so it is most
likely that the household of Cornelius consisted of his servants, as well as perhaps some soldiers from his
unit (v. 7).

It was during one of his frequent occasions of prayer that Cornelius received a vision.

v. 3-6 Cornelius was praying around the ninth hour of the day (Acts 10:30) - about 3 PM, which was the
time of evening prayer for the Jews, when sacrifices were being offered at the temple. As Cornelius
prayed, he clearly saw (Aevidently@) a vision. The term Avision@ is used for a supernatural appearance.
What appeared to Cornelius was an angel from God, whom he will later describe as a man, standing before
him in dazzling clothing.

Naturally, Cornelius was terrified at the radiant figure before him; but being a steady, resilient soldier, he
quickly recovered his senses. I=m sure Cornelius understood this to be a heavenly being, and he addressed
him with a term of respect - ALord@, here meaning something more like Asir@. The question of Cornelius
shows his comprehension of the superiority of this being to himself - for he indicated his readiness to take
orders and obey - AWhat is it, Sir?@ You can see that Cornelius was a good soldier.

The angel responded that the prayers and charity of Cornelius had ascended as a memorial before God.
This is the language of sacrifice. The term Amemorial@ was used of the portion of the meal offering which
was placed into the fire on the altar. The smoke of it ascended to the heavens, a sweet-savor offering unto
the LORD (Lev 2:2). And what was that sweet savor? Christ, whom the offering pictured; the perfect Son of

The angel spoke of the prayers and charity of Cornelius as being like an offering, rising up before God.
What would the Lord notice about Cornelius= offering? That something was missing; Christ. But this was
not an intentional omission, was it? No, it was one of ignorance. So the Lord would send a member of His
Body to Cornelius, that he might have a perfect sacrifice, well-pleasing to the Lord; and then the offerer
could be accepted, through the Offering.

So as Cornelius had drawn near to God, God would now draw near to Cornelius (James 4:8). The angel
instructed Cornelius to send some of his men to Joppa, and gave directions as to where he might find Peter.
The angel concluded that Peter would tell Cornelius what he needed to do.

When Luke recounts this later through Peter=s words to the brethren at Jerusalem, he writes that Peter
Ashall tell you words whereby you and all your house shall be saved@ (Acts 11:14). We can surmise that,
among the prayers of Cornelius, he had inquired what he needed to do to be saved. The Lord would send
His answer.

This was a little test for Cornelius - would he be willing to humble himself, to send his men to beg the favor
of the presence and instruction of a Jew - and a lowly one at that, staying at a tanner=s house? As a Roman
officer, Cornelius might have yielded to the contempt that the Romans tended to feel towards their subjects
- but this was not even a thought for Cornelius.
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v. 7-8 When the angel had delivered his message, he departed; it would seem that this was not merely a
vision in the mind of Cornelius, by the way that is phrased. For Cornelius, there was no doubt about what
he saw, and no question as to what he would do - he couldn=t wait to find this man named Peter, who
would tell him how he could be saved.

Cornelius immediately called two of the servants of his household, as well as a soldier under his command
who had begun to follow the God of Israel, as Cornelius did. This soldier was one of Athem that waited on
[Cornelius] continually@ (v. 7) - that is, they cleaved faithfully to him, choosing to stay close to him. The
sense is that Cornelius had some of his soldiers living with him, and that they were devoted to him, and
greatly respected him.

Now, a master does not have to provide his slaves with the details behind what it is they are supposed to
do; and a commander does not have to communicate with his soldiers the reasons why they are to do what
he says. Nonetheless, Cornelius related to his servants and his subordinate all that the angel had said to
him. We have the sense that, although Cornelius was their superior, he treated those under him as equals -
those who followed the God of Israel, like he did.

In the next verse, we learn that the men approached Joppa around the sixth hour, which is twelve noon.
Now, Caesarea is about 30 miles from Joppa. Cornelius had his vision at about 3 PM. In order to arrive by
noon the next day, the men must have left during the night, or left right away, and traveled part of the night.
By this, we can see that Cornelius wasted no time dispatching the men on their mission; he most urgently
wanted to hear what Peter had to say.

v. 9 The day after Cornelius had his vision in Caesarea while praying, the Lord sent Peter a vision (v. 17)
in Joppa - while he was in prayer. The Lord was now working to build the other side of the bridge between
Jew and Gentile. Notice that the Lord sent the vision to correspond with the time that the servants of
Cornelius were due to arrive at Simon the tanner=s home. The Lord=s timing is always perfect.

Peter had gone up to the housetop to pray. The roofs of houses in the ancient Middle East were flat.
People would frequent their roofs to escape the heat of the house, and even slept there at times. A low wall
commonly enclosed the roof, which concealed a person from public view. Sometimes sections of these
rooftops were even shaded by vines. This was an ideal place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily
life to pray.

The Jews customarily offered prayer both morning and evening, to correspond to the morning and evening
sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. Although noon was not a regular hour of prayer, many devout Jews
would pray at midday.

But perhaps the idea here is that Peter was not praying at a customary time - for he had surely come to
realize that, when you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you can talk to Him anytime. And now, the
freedom that Peter had begun to experience in his relationship with the Lord was about to take a startling
new turn.

v. 10 While Peter was up on the roof praying around noontime, he became hungry. Now, the Jews
ordinarily ate two meals a day, one in late morning, and the other in the early evening. Noon was the
normal time for a meal in Rome.
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Joppa was largely Gentilic, and it would seem that the custom there, and even in Simon the tanner=s house,
was to eat as the Romans did, at noon - otherwise, Peter wouldn=t have been so hungry, and the household
wouldn=t have been preparing a meal. Once again, we see the strong influence of the Gentiles in Joppa.

While in his state of hunger, Peter fell into a trance. This refers to a state of mind in which the attention is
completely absorbed in a particular train of thought, so that the external senses are partially or entirely
suspended. In the case of Peter, there was a supernatural vision - a spiritual reality - that drew his attention
away from the physical reality.

v. 11-12 Peter saw a vision. As he gazed upward, the heavens appeared to open, and Peter saw a vessel -
some type of container - descending towards him. As it came closer, Peter got a better look at the nature of
this container. The KJV translates that it was like a great sheet; in the Greek, a vast cloth of fine white
linen - that is not what it was, but only what it was like.

This cloth was knit at its four corners - that is, the corners were collected, as would be natural for the
purpose of using a cloth such as this to contain anything. And what were the four corners held by? That
was not visible to Peter. It was all held by the Invisible.

The cloth continued to descend until it was let down to the earth. At that point, Peter observed what the
cloth contained: animals. There were four-footed beasts, referring to domesticated beasts, and there were
wild beasts, and creeping things, which refers mainly to reptiles, and there were fowls of the air - birds - all
mixed up, in the cloth. While Peter was observing these animals, he heard a voice.

v. 13-16 Peter saw the vision, and then he heard a voice - a voice that he knew. It was the Lord; and He
gave Peter a most startling command: ARise, Peter; kill, and eat@. Well, the Lord knew that Peter was
hungry; so what was wrong with this command? Was this not the Lord=s provision?

The problem is that this would have been a violation of the Law, for a Jew. When the LORD had given the
Law to Moses, He had said that the children of Israel were to be holy as He is holy, and must therefore not
defile themselves by eating any unclean animals (Lev 11:44). The LORD had specified to Aaron and Moses
which animals were clean, and which were unclean (Lev 11:1-47, Deut 14:3-20). The animals in the great
cloth were of both kinds.

So couldn=t Peter have just selected clean animals, and killed and eaten them, and so fulfilled the Lord=s
command? Not in his mind - for a Jew would consider the clean animals ceremonially unclean, because
they had come in contact with the unclean animals - it was an unholy mixture.

This was an abhorrent thought for any Jew - to knowingly, deliberately eat a food which was unclean, and
so render themselves ceremonially unclean, defiled - and Peter responded from the depths of his soul, ANot
so, Lord@ - by no means. Peter stated that he had never eaten anything that was profane or defiled. He
implied he was not going to start doing so now. Hungry he was, but he wasn=t that hungry! Such was the
impetuous Peter=s response - in the trance.

So the Lord was commanding Peter to do something that he was prohibited to do - or was he? Was Peter
any longer a Jew? No - he had been called out of Judaism, into the kingdom of the Son of God=s love (Col
1:13). He was a member of the Body of Christ. Those dietary restrictions no longer applied to him - for
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they were just pictures, by which a man could see that he must have a clean walk before a holy God - he
must be righteous.
Peter=s Lord had provided him with that clean walk - in fact, He had walked it for Peter. Jesus, who knew
no sin, became sin for Peter, that Peter might be made the righteousness of God - in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). In
Christ, all the Law was fulfilled, making Peter free from the Law (Gal 3:24-25).

So even though Peter didn=t yet realize it, he was free to eat anything, as a Christ One. But that was
peripheral to the central lesson that this vision was to teach Peter, which we find in the Lord=s response to
Peter. The key lesson was not that Peter was free to eat any animal, clean or unclean. The key lesson was
that God had made the unclean animals clean - by cleansing them. And what God had cleansed, Peter was
not to call unclean - common - profane.

This vision, and its accompanying dialogue, was repeated three times. Then the cloth was received back up
again into heaven - from where it had originally come.

What did it all mean? We will see next time that Peter was thoroughly perplexed; he did not understand
what it meant, when the vision came; but the Holy Spirit would teach Peter all things (Jn 14:26), as
circumstances unfold that shed light on the vision.

We, also, have the Spirit to lead us into the truth, and we additionally have the full body of Scripture. We
also know the end of this story - that Peter is to open up the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles, through the
preaching of the gospel. For us, it is much clearer to see the meaning of Peter=s vision, than it was for
Peter himself, at the time.

The heavens opened, and a vessel descended toward Peter - a great cloth made of fine white linen. The
cloth was let down to the earth, and would later return to the heavens. Now, symbols in Scripture always
represent the same things.

Do you remember, from our study of the tabernacle, the fine white linen, that surrounded the whole
tabernacle and court? The tabernacle was a picture of the Christ in His first coming to the earth. Fine
white linen represented His perfect righteousness. That fine white linen cloth in Peter=s vision was also a
picture of the perfect righteousness of Christ.

It was a great cloth - with four corners. What does the number four signify, in Scripture? The earth - Athe
four corners of the earth@. The righteousness of Christ is vast - it reaches to the uttermost parts of the
The corners of the cloth were knit - they were gathered together - so that the cloth functioned as a vessel,
within which things could be contained. What was holding the corners together? What had lowered it
from heaven to the earth, and back to the heavens again? That is the unseen hand of the Father,
implementing His plans, which are realized through His Christ.

And what was contained, within the cloth? Animals - animals of all kinds - of which four kinds are named.
These represent the inhabitants of the earth - men. Some of the animals were considered clean, by the
Law; others were considered unclean. The four-footed beasts of the earth allude to domesticated animals.
These are a picture of true sons of Israel, who are kept by the Law of God (there was really only One who

The wild beasts picture the lawless Gentiles; the creeping things, Gentiles again, as sinners, ruled over by
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their low passions; the fowl of the air, those who are susceptible to the spiritual influence of Satan -
emphasizing Gentiles once more, walking according to the course of this world. Notice that many more
Gentiles were represented in the animals than Jews.

Turn to Ephesians chapter 2. Paul was writing to this predominantly Gentile assembly of their former
manner of life.

[Ephesians 2:1-3] prince of the power of the air - fowls of the air; conduct in lusts - creeping things;
children of wrath - wild beasts.

[Return to Acts 10]

So we see animals, clean and unclean - a mixture of both. Where are all these animals? They are
contained in the fine white linen cloth. They are all wrapped up within the righteousness of Christ. These
are they who have believed into Jesus, and received Him as their Lord and Savior - the members of
Christ=s Body, the church, who have been saved, not by works of righteousness that they have done, but by
the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). These have all been made
clean, both Jew and Gentile.

What was the origin of the great white linen cloth, and its contents? Heaven. And its destiny? Heaven.
The origin of the church was in heaven; the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8),
and the church was chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). The destiny of the church is
heaven, as well (1 Pet 1:3-5) - an eternal destiny - and we=ll all get to go up together (1 Th 4:15-17).

This church, which God has cleansed in the blood of His Son, no man may call profane. The blood of
Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7), past, present and future.

The Lord had presented this vision of the church to Peter so that he might see that in Christ, there is no
longer Jew nor Gentile - all have been made one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). Peter must see that there is no
difference between the Jew and the Gentile; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him
(Rm 10:12). He will see that the Gentiles will be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His
promise in Christ - by the gospel (Eph 3:6).

Turn to Romans chapter 10. Paul has made the point to this assembly in Rome that whosoever calls on the
name of the Lord shall be saved (Rm 10:13).

[Romans 10:14-15] Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rm 10:17). What the Lord
needed from Peter was to put feet to his faith, and cross that bridge into the Gentile world, to preach the
glad tidings of the gospel of peace to those who had never heard - so that they could believe, and be saved.

Peter didn=t yet understand the meaning of his vision, but the Holy Spirit would guide Peter into all truth
(Jn 16:13) - through the next set of circumstances he will encounter, as the Gentiles come calling at the
completion of his vision.