Acts 10 – an Italian Band?
Act 10:1 “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,…” (KJV)
This most likely is not the band that comes to mind when we read this verse. Cornelius was the (Greek) hekatontarchēs or captain of a hundred so in a sense he was the “band” director.
He was a devout or eusebēs man; one who took his responsibilities seriously. He was also a strong follower and believer in God (the Father), as in the God of Judaism even though he was Greek. He gave alms; prayed often but had not heard about The Way or Jesus. Now he needs to learn that Jesus is the “resurrection and the life” so God gave him a vision and an angel to explain his need for instruction per salvation.
Cornelius’ everyday living in respect of God were about to be rewarded by God.
Acts 10:4 (ERV) “God has heard your prayers and has seen your gifts to the poor. He remembers you and all you have done…”
There is a two-fold scenario or situation in chapter 10. We have the Greek-Roman-Italian centurion and a skeptical Peter who needs a better understanding of Jesus who came into this world in hopes that ALL may be saved; not just the Jews. Recall from previous articles that Paul welcomed the Greek (non-Jew) but Peter seemed to think Judaism practices juxtaposed with the New Testament salvation message. This is how both scenarios play out then become one.
Centurion: He was a faith-believer. He practiced his belief in God daily. He did not yet know about Jesus and the salvation message as he was still old school. This comes later in chapter 10 and the reason Peter gets involved. But first, God needs to deal with Peter’s prejudices and narrow sightedness of for just whom did Jesus come to redeem.
The centurion has a close household and apparently some faithful troops under his command. We read this later on in chapter 10. His Godliness is not hidden from either his family or his troops. In verses 5 – 8 Cornelius encounters an angel. What a moment that must have been for him; an angel in front of him and seemingly out of nowhere. No wonder he trembled.
Peter: Beginning with verse 9b, Peter now enters this chapter commentary. As those sent from Cornelius neared the city of Joppa where Simon Peter is lodging, Peter is going up on the roof top to pray. It is amazing. Many times in life people have begun to pray about something and the answer is just around the corner; i.e. already on the way. The danger is thankfulness or the lack of it; the answer brushed off as simply a welcomed coincidence. This chapter is a great one for dealing with things we too often chalk off as chance. This is also why scripture tells us in I Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”. Peter is about to learn a big lesson and it is about to knock at the gate of where he is then residing.
Peter is hungry. He is praying and focusing on the God above. He personally knew Jesus but was a traitor of sorts at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. We might call this moment Peter’s prayer closet on the roof of a house. Does he feel closer to God up on the roof or might it be the lack of distractions? Whatever it is, this is where we find him.
He falls into a concentration level called a trance in scripture. The word trance is ekstasis in the Greek. It means “a throwing of the mind out of its normal state.” This could be daydreaming or a total blanking out of one’s immediate surroundings. All of one’s five senses are overridden and open to some internal or external stimuli. It is when one turns within him or herself to concentrate deeply on but one thing. In Peter’s (prayer) situation, he is open to the guidance and voice of the Holy Spirit. So should we when praying.
This Peter-moment in Acts 10 takes us back to Exodus 3 and Moses confronting the fiery bush that did not burn up. It did not burn but was on fire. It probably did not produce heat either. We aren’t told but it was God’s fire; not the type we sense around a fireplace, camp fire or forest fire. Moses was totally involved with this mystery when God tells him to remove his shoes for not only is this Holy Ground, but a Holy Moment. Peter is in a similar situation in Acts 10:11.
JIV NOTE: When hungry one cannot think much about other issues in life. Peter being hungry was looking internally to his physical needs. God was about to help him look within himself and his real spiritual need to understand how the cross and resurrection made a change in the culture of Judaism and any other worship of God.
A sheet (vessel in some translations) of four legged animals, crawling, flying, and wild beasts descended from heaven…three different times. God told Peter to kill and eat. He refused each time as his traditional/customary practice of rejecting certain foods per the Law of Moses trumped his hunger. Some of the creatures of food he saw were what had traditionally been called unclean. We cannot question Peter’s devotion but we can question his traditional practice of a man-made law through Moses, even though at that time it was ordained of God.
Simple aha moment asks, can God change his mind? Obviously it is yes. What was once ordained of him per unclean foods is no longer the point. The real issue was Peter’s attitude about keeping Jewish customs a part of The Way since the cross of Calvary. In Hebrew tradtion, since Peter was one, it is a matter of Minhag versus Halacha; i.e. customs versus law. The rejection of unclean foods was more of a MINHAG (Jewish custom) versus HALACHA (God’s law). We could go into the Apostolic Age and the Council in Jerusalem around 50 A.D. per this discussion but his would be a distraction…for nowJ
Peter is told by a voice out of heaven to kill, prepare and eat of this food; any of the creatures within the sheet that descended from heaven. It is a challenge to his devotion to customs versus a new standard. In short, God is teaching Peter that there is no difference between Jewish souls and Gentile souls when it comes to faith, worship, group participation and/or customs once applicable to only the Israelites. This very same Jesus that Peter professes and teaches about is nonpartisan. This is in preparation for what he was about to be commanded to do when he shortly meets with Captain Cornelius; a gentile believer.
One of the key and insightful verses is Acts 10:17
Peter wondered what this vision meant. (at the same time) The men Cornelius sent had found Simon’s house. They were standing at the door (seeking Peter).
While Peter was still trying to figure out what had just happened, coincidently (doubtful) or by the hand of God the men sent by Captain Cornelius arrive at the house where Peter is staying. Then the Spirit (capital “S”) tells Peter that there are three men there looking for him. Do as they request.
It is a bit odd that the voice from above that told him to eat of the animals in the vessel/sheet from heaven and while Peter is still without food and without explanation of his vision, the voice from heaven tells him to go with the three visitors without question. He does.
Acts 10:24 is another key verse. When this entourage from Joppa, the three sent by Cornelius, Peter and a few other believers from Joppa arrived at the home of Cornelius, not only is he there waiting but so is his family and others. Peter almost immediately points out that it is against Jewish Judaism custom and law to go into the home of a non-Jew.
It is then that he states why the vision he had on the roof top of what was customarily considered as unclean or common foods not fit for the Jews to eat but its implication and message was to Jew and Gentile. Cornelius explains why he sent for Peter and now wants to hear the message God deemed necessary for him to gain knowledge and understand.
In Acts 10:35 through the end of the chapter, Peter finally gets it and expresses that fact. Jesus came for all and is not exclusive to some and not others. This should address some of today’s “Christian denominations” who think exclusivity of being the elect is to them and not all mankind. Cornelius gets the entire salvation message through Peter from crucifixion to resurrection.
Acts 10:42 and 43 explains something else per the end time. Peter tells Cornelius that this very same Jesus will one time judge both the living and the dead; i.e. the Bema Seat Judgment of believers and the Great White Throne Judgment of nonbelievers. This is the living and the dead; no exceptions.
The final instruction of Peter to this group in Caesarea but given to those disciples who accompanied Peter out of Joppa:
V48: Peter told them to baptize Cornelius and his relatives and friends in the name of Jesus Christ.