Peter: Openness

Explore the Bible Series

July 6, 2008


Background Passage: Acts 9:32-11:18

Lesson Passage: Acts 11:4-18




In this week’s lesson, we come to another critical juncture in the early historical development of the church.  The gospel, to this point, had been preached to Jews, Samaritans, and at least one Jewish proselyte (the Ethiopian treasurer); however, Gentiles had not yet received the Good News of Jesus.  As we observed last week, Paul would become the great apostle to the Gentiles, but God opened the gospel door to the nations through the ministry of Simon Peter. The conversion of Cornelius marks a critical turning point in Acts.  The apostles continued to preach to the House of Israel, but, increasingly, the harvest came from among non-Jews (note the pattern of Paul’s missionary journeys—often preached first in the synagogues and later to the Gentiles).


Dr. Curtis Vaughan, in Acts: Bible Study Commentary, draws four conclusions about the conversion of Cornelius.


  1. “We learn here that the gospel is intended for all people.  It follows then, that if God wants all people to hear, it is our duty to get it to them.”
  2. “We learn that Christian fellowship transcends all racial, social, and cultural differences. Those whom God receives, we should receive.”
  3. “We learn that the careful observance of religious duties is not enough to save one.  Cornelius, who prayed to God regularly and gave alms to the poor, was instructed to send for Peter who would declare to him words, ‘whereby thou shalt be saved’ (11:14).
  4. “We learn that when people act on the light which God has given, they may expect God to give them more light.”




Lesson Outline:


I.                   Peter’s Labors in Lydda and Joppa (9:32-43): These concluding verses of Chapter Nine act as an introduction to the conversion of Cornelius and the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.  Following the general route of Philip’s earlier labors (See, Acts 8:40) Peter preached the gospel along the Mediterranean coast.

A.    The healing of Aeneas (vv. 32-35): After Saul’s Jerusalem visit, Peter traveled to the city of Lydda, about twenty-three miles northeast of Jerusalem.  Perhaps Peter intended to visit the dispersed Christians who had left Jerusalem in the aftermath of Stephen’s murder; or, maybe he wanted to encourage new converts who came to Christ as a result of the ministry of Philip.  Among the believers, Peter found an infirmed man named Aeneas, paralyzed for eight years.  In the name of Jesus, Peter healed this man, and many people came to the Lord in the wake of this miraculous event.

B.     The raising of Tabitha (vv. 36-43): While Peter worked in Lydda, disciples in Joppa alerted the apostle that a woman named Tabitha (“Dorcas” in Greek) had grown ill and died.  Friends prepared the woman’s body for burial and placed her corpse in an upper room.  When Peter arrived, he asked the mourners to leave, and he prayed for Tabitha.  She arose, by the power of God, and many came to Christ as a result of this miracle.  The text indicates that Peter stayed in Joppa for some time (Vaughan thinks perhaps as long as a year), and he boarded in the home of Simon the tanner.  Tanners, because of their handling of animal hides, were regarded as unclean; indeed, Vaughan points out that Jewish culture regarded this occupation as grounds for divorce!  Some think Peter’s willingness to reside with a tanner may have signaled the apostle’s opening heart toward the Gentiles, those regarded as unclean by the Jews.


II.                The Conversion of Cornelius (10:1-48)

A.    The vision of Cornelius (vv. 1-8)

1.      his character (vv. 1-2): A God-fearing centurion named Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea, about thirty miles north of Joppa.  Centurions were the foundation of the Roman military presence in Palestine.  They served under a tribune and commanded one hundred infantrymen. Romans chose brave, stable, reliable men to serve as centurions. Furthermore, Cornelius was a devout, prayerful, generous man. 

2.      the appearance of the angel (vv. 3-8): About six o’clock in the afternoon an angel appeared to this devout God-fearer. The heavenly messenger commended Cornelius for his devotion and told the centurion to send for Simon Peter.    As soon as the angel departed, Cornelius sent three men to accompany Peter to Caesarea.

B.     The vision of Simon Peter (vv. 9-16): The next day, about three o’clock, Peter went to roof of the tanner’s home to pray.  As he prayed, Peter grew hungry and called for food, and, awaiting his meal, the apostle fell into a trance.  Peter saw a three-fold vision in this ecstatic state. A large sheet descended from the heavens, containing a host of animals, clean and unclean. A voice told Peter to kill and eat.  Of course, Peter’s Jewish upbringing recoiled from eating unclean animals, but the voice insisted that Peter kill and eat.  This vision clearly prepared Peter’s heart for the arrival of Cornelius’ messengers.

C.     The arrival of the messengers (vv. 17-23a): The vision of the animals confused Peter, but, as he pondered these things, the three messengers arrived in Joppa.  They told the apostle of the angel’s appearance to Cornelius and invited Peter to accompany them on their return journey to Caesarea.

D.    Peter’s ministry to the household of Cornelius (vv. 23b-48)

1.      Cornelius’ greeting (vv. 23b-33): Four days after the angel’s appearance to Cornelius, Peter arrived in Caesarea, and the centurion greeted the apostle warmly.  Also, Cornelius recounted the message of the angel and the mission of the servants sent to bring Peter to Caesarea.

2.      Peter’s sermon (vv. 34-43): This sermon follows a similar pattern to the preaching of the primitive church: Jesus’ Lordship, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, miraculous signs and wonders, crucifixion, and resurrection.  As before, Peter emphasized that he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses of all these wonderful events in the life of Jesus; then, the apostle concluded his message by promising forgiveness for all who believe in the Lord. 

3.      baptism of the Holy Spirit (vv. 44-48): Before Peter could complete his sermon, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the gospel.  Jewish Christians marveled that these Gentiles received the gift of the Spirit, but they consented because of the undeniable evidences they observed. 


III.             Controversy Over the Conversion of the Gentiles (11:1-18)

A.    Concern about Peter’s activities (vv. 1-3): News spread quickly of Peter’s ministry in Caesarea, and a group of Jewish Christians criticized the apostle’s work, especially the fact that he ate with Gentiles.  Some contemporary scholars have argued that James (the half-brother of Jesus) led an extremist group within the early church, and these Judiazers favored James over Peter. However, the text gives no indication of a personal power struggle between Peter and James.

B.     Peter’s defense (vv. 4-17): Peter defended the work of God, not his own activities.  This seems important to the text.  The unfair criticism of fellow believers did not embitter or anger Peter.  He did not defend himself; rather, he simply recounted what God had done, and left maters in God’s hands. 

C.     Resolution of the conflict (v. 18): Peter’s critics could not argue against the work of God.  Instead of perpetuating the debate, these folks rejoiced that the Lord had granted repentance to the Gentiles.