Equality

Peter’s trip to Caesarea (Acts 10:24-48), the headquarters for the Roman forces of occupation, could be described as a life altering experience. Peter’s attitude toward non-Jewish people caused him to isolate himself from anyone that did not share his religious beliefs. After he heard a voice saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15), Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to “Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). The 30 miles distance between Joppa and Caesarea probably seemed like a great distance to a man that had likely never traveled outside of his hometown before he met Jesus. Peter was a fisherman and may have wondered what the beautiful port city of Caesarea was like, but he never would have traveled there if it hadn’t been for the Holy Spirit’s instruction to go with the men that sought his help.

Cornelius, the man that sent for Peter, was described by Luke as a centurion, “a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews” (Acts 10:22). A centurion was a Roman soldier that commanded a military unit of at least 100 men. Centurions were carefully selected; all of them mentioned in the NT (New Testament) appear to have had noble qualities (e.g. Luke 7:5). The Roman centurions provided necessary stability to the entire Roman system” (note on Acts 10:1). After Cornelius told Peter about his angelic visit, Luke recorded, “then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Peter’s statement was an amazing testament to the impartiality of God. The Greek word translated accepted, dektos means approved (G1184) and refers to the status of everyone that receives salvation by Jesus’ propitiation of sin.

According to Peter, the equality of the Gentiles with the Jews was demonstrated when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Afterward, Peter asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48). Later, in his explanation to the Jews in Jerusalem of what had happened in Caesarea, Peter referred to Jesus’ teaching about baptism. He said, “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 Ghost” (Acts 11:16), and then he added for emphasis, “Forasmuch 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” (Acts 11:16-17). Peter’s endorsement of Gentile believers resulted in them being viewed as equals by the Jews in Jerusalem. Luke stated, “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

Breaking down barriers

One of the obstacles that prevented the gospel from spreading outside the borders of Jerusalem was the prejudices that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Centuries of isolation caused the Jews to view the nations around them as a threat to their identity and God-centered way of living. Several years after Jesus commanded his disciples to take the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19), the farthest anyone had traveled from Jerusalem to do so was about 30 miles (Philip’s and Peter’s Missionary Journeys, p. 1570). The Apostle Peter’s view of the outside world seemed to be skewed by a reluctance to accept the freedom from rituals that Jesus’ salvation by grace afforded him. Peter clung tightly to the rigorous rules of the Mosaic Law in spite of his experience of living in close fellowship with Jesus during his three-year ministry on Earth. In order to break down the racial barriers that were preventing the gospel from spreading further, God orchestrated a mission that caused Peter to step outside of his comfort zone and preach the gospel to a group of Gentiles.

Peter’s adventure began with a visit to the city of Joppa where he raised a woman from the dead (Acts 9:40). Afterward, Peter decided to stay in Joppa, the main seaport of Judea, which was located about 38 miles west of Jerusalem (Acts 9:43 and note on Acts 9:36). While Peter was there, a man named Cornelius, who was identified by Luke as a Roman centurion, had a vision in which an angel of God spoke to him these words, “Cornelius, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose¬† house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:3, 5-6). Cornelius’ home town of Cesarea was located 30 miles north of Joppa (note on Acts 10:1). In obedience to the message he received, Cornelius sent two of his household servants, and a devout soldier to Joppa, to bring Peter back to his home (Acts 10:7-8). Luke tells us:

On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the house to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)

Luke’s account of Peter’s experience suggests that he was in an altered state of consciousness. The phrase “fell into a trance” (Acts 10:10) describes “A state of mind God produced and used to communicate with Peter. It was not merely imagination or a dream. Peter’s consciousness was heightened to receive the vision from God” (note on Acts 10:10). Luke went on to say:

Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate, and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee: arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

Apparently, the supernatural vision Peter had while he was in a trance was used by God to overcome his resistance to interacting with Gentiles. Afterward, when Peter received instruction from the Holy Spirit to go with the men that Cornelius had sent to get him, Peter went away with them (Acts 10:23).