What does Acts chapter 10 mean?Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told the disciples they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). They spent several years establishing the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2—7), but increased persecution from the Sanhedrin, specifically at the hands of Saul, led several Jesus-followers to flee the city. Philip traveled north to Samaria. When the church leaders in Jerusalem heard he had baptized several Samaritans, they sent Peter and John to validate that Samaritans could be saved (Acts 8). Meanwhile, Saul traveled to Damascus to arrest Jesus-followers, but found salvation in Jesus, instead (Acts 9:1–31).
The fleeing Jesus-followers took the news about Jesus to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria; God is now ready for the church to spread the gospel to Gentiles. Peter is in Joppa where he raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36–43). About thirty-five miles north, in Caesarea Maritima, a God-following Roman centurion is praying. An angel appears and tells him God honors his worship and charity. He is to send men to Joppa and call Peter to visit him. Cornelius sends two servants and a soldier to Joppa, having told them of all that happened (Acts 10:1–8).
While praying in Joppa, and also while hungry and waiting on food to be prepared, Peter sees a vision of a sheet with many different types of animals—including birds of prey and reptiles that the Mosaic law prohibits consuming (Acts 11:6). A voice tells him to kill and eat; he refuses. The voice asserts, "What God has made clean, do not call common" (Acts 10:15). This happens three times before the sheet is taken into heaven (Acts 10:9–16).
Peter is contemplating what the vision might mean when the men from Caesarea arrive at the house where he is staying. The Holy Spirit tells Peter the men are looking for him and affirms that he should follow them, which he does the next day. The men tell Peter about Cornelius, stating that he is a centurion and "an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation." They explain that an angel told Cornelius to send for Peter to hear what he has to say. The men stay that night with Peter and then travel back to Caesarea with Peter and some other Jesus-followers (Acts 10:17–23).
Meanwhile, Cornelius gathers relatives and close friends. When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls at his feet and worships, but Peter tells him to stand up, saying that he, too, is only a man. Peter speaks with the gathered group, first mentioning how it is unlawful for Jews to associate with Gentiles, and then clarifying that God showed him "that I should not call any person common or unclean" and thus Peter came without objection (Acts 10:28). Cornelius shares about his experience in praying and what the angel had told him. He then invites Peter to share what God has commanded him to. Peter again affirms that God shows no partiality and that nationality does not dictate whether God is pleased with a person. He then shares the gospel, saying the people know of the events of Jesus' ministry and that He was anointed with power. Peter talks of Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection. He speaks of being chosen as a witness and commanded to testify that Jesus is appointed by God as judge of all people. Peter affirms that "all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43) (Acts 10:24–43).
While Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit indwells his Gentile audience. The Jesus-following Jews who had come with Peter are amazed at this. Similar to what happened on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles in this instance was evidenced, in part, by them speaking in tongues. Peter calls for the new believers to be baptized in water. They had received the Holy Spirit just as the believing Jews had, so who could deny them taking on the same identification of being a Jesus-follower? The group then asks Peter to remain with them for some days, which he evidently does (Acts 10:44–48).
This passage settles several theological issues for the young church. For the Jewish Jesus-followers, it reveals that God wants to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This will open the way for Paul's world-changing ministry which takes up most of the rest of the book of Acts. It also shows that although baptism and the laying on of hands is often associated with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 8:17; 19:5–6), it is not necessary. Cornelius' friends and family receive the Holy Spirit before Peter finishes his gospel presentation.
After Peter's stay in Caesarea, he returns to Jerusalem to witness to the fact that Gentiles can be saved (Acts 11:1–18). That's a good thing because some of the Jesus-followers who fled Jerusalem are teaching Gentiles far north in Antioch about Jesus (Acts 11:19–26). The testimony of Peter, the foremost of Jesus' apostles, opens the way for the ministry of Paul.