Acts 9:32-10:8 by Robert Dean
Follow the geographical route taken to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that through him all nations will be blessed. In these cities Peter makes it clear he is healing in the power of Jesus Christ. Peter is establishing his credentials with the same sorts of commands Jesus used to heal. The result was, “Many believed in the Lord.” Must you also ask Jesus into your heart? Does the fact that Peter is staying with Simon the Tanner reveal anything about Peter that shows he is accepting changes that are moving away from Jewish ritual? Meet Cornelius: his occupation, his home, his spiritual status, and his response to the angel he encounters.

Who Opened the Door and Let in all the Goy. Acts 10:1-8


Chapter nine focuses on the salvation of Saul of Tarsus, and he is three years in Damascus. That three-year period comes between chapter eight and chapter ten so that as we get into chapter ten we are about four and a half to five years after the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So this is about AD 38, and the church has grown and prospered, and Christianity has permeated Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle and Judea in the south, and small pockets of Christians and churches—all Jewish—now dot the landscape. Peter seems to be following up on Philip's ministry and so he is going around in a circuit ministering to different congregations as an apostle. The miracles that are mentioned are reminiscent of the miracles of Jesus Christ. He makes it very clear that he is not healing the sick or raising Tabitha from the dead in his power, he is doing it in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. The focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is this continuity that comes between what he is doing and the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ. This establishes his credentials as a prelude to what happened with Cornelius in this next section.

The key lesson that we should always associate with Joppa: God's grace to the Gentiles. That is what chapters ten and eleven are all about. God has always been gracious to the Gentiles. Remember the promise to Abraham was that through Abraham all nations would be blessed. God didn't wait until Jesus came along to start having the gospel go out to the Gentiles. We get glimpses of the gospel ministry to Gentiles in the Old Testament but the purpose of the Old Testament isn't to highlight God's grace to the Gentiles but to illustrate what God is doing in the history of the Jewish people. It is here in the New Testament, though, that we see a continuation and an expansion of God's grace to the Gentiles.

The healing of Aeneas and restoring life to Tabitha (Dorcas) is done for a purpose. These are not random miracles. Miracles in the Bible are not random. Jesus never performed random miracles; there is a significance to all of them. They were to establish credentials. When Peter shows up in Lydda he hears about Aeneas who has been paralysed for about eight years. That means he would have become paralysed in AD 30. What was going on in 30 AD? Jesus was there, but Jesus didn't heal Aeneas. It wasn't the right time or the right place. God has a right time and a right place for everything, so Aeneas was never healed while Jesus was walking on the earth, his purpose was to be bed-ridden for eight years until Peter came along. But there were many others who were paralysed who never saw an apostle or Jesus come and heal them because that is not God's purpose. This flies in the face of much pop-evangelical, charismatic doctrine of healing that God wants us to be healed, and if you are not healed it is because you lack faith. That is one of the most guilt-producing false doctrines. There were only a limited few that were healed and they were chosen by God for a purpose. Matthew 9:6; John 5:8 give other examples of where Jesus healed those who were paralysed in the Old Testament dispensation.

There is one interesting episode that shows that in the original we pick up on some little nuances that show these kinds of parallels. In Acts 9:40 Peter is addressing Tabitha. "He said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up." If he spoke in Aramaic as Jesus did in Mark 5:41 when He is taking the child of Jairus—He said, "Talitha kum!" Talitha and Tabitha differ in only one letter in the Aramaic –we see that there is an interesting parallel between these two episodes. And that didn't happen by chance. The woman that died, named Tabitha, a name that is only one letter different from the command that Jesus used in Mark 5:41—Talitha, meaning little girl.

Another thing to point out about healing is that this was a sign that this was a sign of the apostles. When the believers in Joppa needed someone to come and to restore life to Tabitha they didn't think that it was their job to do it. They are not praying to God to heal her,l they knew that only an apostle or an associate of an apostle had the ability to perform this kind of miracle. Paul said later on that this was a sign of an apostle. The only ones who are said to have performed signs and wonders other than the apostles were Stephen and Philip. No one else in the New Testament performed signs and wonders, because it is an indication of their credentials as an apostle. It wasn't because they lacked faith. How do we know that? Because they understood the Word of God and believed it, and so they went and got Peter who was an apostle. They didn't lack faith, they had faith that God was true to His Word and that He would heal through an apostle. They are not weak in faith; they are strong in faith.

As a result of this there is a great witness, evidence that goes out all around and it became known throughout all of Joppa and many believed on the Lord. They didn't walk an aisle, they didn't commit themselves to Jesus, they didn't invite Jesus into their heart. The biblical terminology as we see here and will see again when we get to Acts 10:43 in Peter's message to Cornelius, "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." Believe is the key word. This means we have to accept as true that Jesus is who He claimed to be: the promised prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament. 

It is extremely interesting that Peter is staying with Simon the tanner, because a tanner was not a well respected occupation among the observant Jews. A tanner was someone who dealt with the dead, with the skin of dead animals, and he was constantly in contact withy the dead and with that which had been in contact with the dead, and this was prohibited and rendered a person ritually unclean. He would be unclean until nightfall. That would mean that he would not be unclean all the time but during the day Simon the tanner was ritually unclean. This is stated in the Torah in Leviticus 11:39, 40 NASB "Also if one of the animals dies which you have for food, the one who touches its carcass …" You can't skin an animal without touching it. Is it a sin to touch it? Absolutely not, because you can wear the clothes; you are supposed to wear the clothes. God did this in the garden. It didn't make Him ceremonially unclean because the Law wasn't in effect then. It wasn't a universal absolute; it was part of the Mosaic ritual system. "… becomes unclean until evening [not overnight, but just until evening]. He too, who eats some of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening, and the one who picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening." In Jewish culture, therefore, tanning was an unclean occupation because the tanner was constantly in contact with the dead bodies of animals and it rendered them ritually impure. Tanners usually worked very close to their homes which because of the ritual uncleanness and the odour it was required that the homes be at least 25 yards outside the border of a city or town. They couldn't live in the city limits. They were socially unacceptable and were ranked alongside some of the socially unacceptable careers as prostitution, dung collecting, donkey drivers and gamblers. So an orthodox Jew would never accept the hospitality of a tanner. But Peter is, and so that indicates that Peter is already shifting his thinking. He still has problems, however. It took him a while to really implement the lesson.

Now we are introduced to the next individual who is Cornelius, a centurion. Acts 10:1 NASB "Now {there was} a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort." Caesarea is also mentioned in Acts 8:40; 21:8, 9; 12:19-24; 9:30; 18:22; 21:8-16; 23:37. It was the most significant port in the western Mediterranean. This is where Paul would have met with Festus and also with Herod Agrippa II. It was originally a Phoenician site that was a small fortified harbour and it was built in the third century BC. In the 2nd century BC it was conquered by the Hasmonean leader Alexander Jannaeus and made a part of Judah. At that time Jews began to live there. There was a strong, thriving Jewish community there during the first century but it was primarily a Gentile town. When the Roman general Pompey conquered Judea in 63 BC the city became a non-Jewish city (or, Gentile) again. Augustus gave the city to King Herod the Great (37-4 BC) and he rebuilt the city between 22-10 BC. He renamed the city Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus. By 40 AD this was the seat of the government of Herod Agrippa I, and one of the significant thing here is that Pontius Pilate would have gone there, this was his seat, and he just went to Jerusalem for Passover. An inscription has been discovered there referring to Pontius Pilate that documents and validates the biblical record that he was indeed the procurator of Judea.

The legions that were stationed in Caesarea proclaimed Vespasian to be emperor after Nero died, during the time of the Jewish revolt, and he conferred the status of a colony upon the city. Then in 70 AD Titus forced 2500 POWs to fight wild animals in the Colosseum. The Bar Kochba revolt is related to this. It occurred in 132-135 AD. Caesarea became a major supply port for the Romans. During and after the revolt was over some 700-800,000 Jews were killed by the Romans. Afterwards rabbi Kiva who was the spiritual leader of the revolt was executed here in Caesarea. It was later the home to church fathers Origen and Eusebius, and they taught at a Christian school in Caesarea and developed a world famous Christian library there. By AD 195 an ecclesiastical council met in Caesarea and this was where they made the decision to observe Easter on a Sunday every year instead of three days after Passover. Origen lived there are translated a Bible called the Hexapla, because it had six columns, six different versions. Eusebius became the Bishop of Caesarea and wrote a book called Ecclesiastical History which is a source of understanding church history in the first three centuries of Christianity.

Its great heyday came in the fourth to the sixth centuries during the Byzantine period. It continued to decline through the Muslim period and then during the Crusader period it was captured by the Crusader king Baldwin. He massacred all of the inhabitants. Saladin recaptured the city in 1187 and he killed or enslaved all of the Christians who lived there.

Cornelius must have been a remarkable individual. He was a non-commissioned officer in the Roman army, a centurion. A centurion was in command of 100 soldiers. It would take a centurion about fifteen years to advance up through the ranks to achieve his position. He was considered to be an excellent leader. The Roman Army was composed of a core unit which was the centuries, 100 soldiers, and six centuries combined to form a cohort (600 men), and a cohort was commanded by a tribune. A Roman legion then had ten cohorts commanded by an imperial legate. Caesarea had five cohorts station there—3000 men.

Cornelius is described in this chapter as a devout worshipper of God. Acts 10:2 NASB "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the {Jewish} people and prayed to God continually." The word for "devout" is eusebeia [e)usebeia]. But he is not a believer, and Old Testament saint. He becomes a believer only in this chapter. He fears God though, he has great positive volition and he is very kind and good. He "gave many alms to the people," i.e. he supported the poor and the sick among the Jewish people and he prayed to God. He was a God fearer, not a proselyte. He is an uncircumcised Gentile who had not submitted himself to the Mosaic Law or to Jewish customs.

Acts 10:3 NASB "About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had {just} come in and said to him, 'Cornelius!'" This would be three o'clock in the afternoon, the time of the afternoon prayers according to the Jewish daily ritual calendar. This is the first scene. There are five scenes in this chapter if we think about it as a dramatic play. He is not in what we think of today as a mystical state. The difference between a vision and a dream is that a dream occurs at night when asleep, and a vision occurs in the daytime when wide awake. But they are the same dynamic, the same thing happens.  

Acts 10:4 NASB "And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, 'What is it, Lord?'…'" He was afraid—emphobeo [e)mfobew], meaning he was startled, a little bit terrified. It really shook him up because he has truly had a vision. He responds, "What is it, Lord [kurie/kurie]?" Is he recognising the Lordship of the angel? Cf. Acts 9:5 NASB "And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?'" And people who are into Lordship salvation, like John MacArthur and many others, want to impose upon the use of the word kurios here the recognition of Jesus' deity and of Jesus' authority.  But the word kurie is used in many social contexts in the ancient world which were similar to our word "sir." It is just a polite term of address for someone in authority. It is suggested that if Paul is saying "Who are you Lord?" and that means he is recognising the deity and Lordship of Jesus, then what in the world are we going to do with Cornelius shows up and he says, "What is it, Lord"? Same word. Cornelius isn't recognising the Lordship, the deity, the sovereignty of the angel. He is simply addressing someone he obviously recognises as superior. He addresses with the appropriate term because he is a soldier. "And he said to him, 'Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.'" This is the way under the Mosiac Law and under Judaism that Cornelius is expressing his positive volition. He is not saved yet. He wants to be and is curious. He is going to the synagogue, learning about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; he knows that is the truth, but he hasn't become saved yet. He hasn't understood the gospel in the Old Testament sense or in the New Testament sense but because he has engaged in this activity God has taken notice.  


He is given a directive. Acts 10:5 NASB "Now dispatch {some} men to Joppa and send for a man {named} Simon, who is also called Peter." There were two Simons living in the same house, Simon the tanner and Simon Peter. [6] "he is staying with a tanner {named} Simon, whose house is by the sea. [7] When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, [8] and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa."

In God's timing God doesn't give Peter the vision at the same time. He waits until the next day when this delegation is just about there and then Peter is going to have a vision. Notice: Acts 10:10 NASB "But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance." He is still hungry but God gives him a vision. Peter doesn't have the means to kill and he gets all caught up in the theological conundrum. Three times God has to tell him to kill and eat and he won't do it, and the table cloth is taken to heaven. Peter is so entranced by what he has seen that he is trying to figure it all out, but he forgets that he is hungry. Then somebody knocks at the door. When does Peter eat?