“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
1) The Receiving of the Holy Spirit at Cornelius’ House (Tom Edwards)
The Receiving of the Holy Spirit at Cornelius’ House
The receiving of the Holy Spirit by Cornelius and his household is thought by some as an indication that one can be saved without the need to first be baptized. For Cornelius and his household miraculously spoke in tongues, which implies they had been given the Holy Spirit, prior to their being immersed in water (cf. Acts 10:44-47).
But were they really saved at that point or was there some other reason for this unique case? Let us give it some thought.
In time’s past, the Lord miraculously conveyed His message to others. The Hebrew writer begins his letter by saying, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and IN MANY WAYS, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2, emphasis mine).
What were these “MANY WAYS” that the Lord had imparted His message in the long ago? Sometimes it was through prophecy (cf. Acts 3:21; 1 Cor. 13:2), or through dreams (1 Kings 3:5; Matt. 1:20; 2:12-13), or through visions (cf. Gen. 15:1; 46:2; Num. 12:6; Ezek. 1:1), or through audible utterances (cf. Num. 7:8-9; Deut. 4:12; Deut. 5:22-24; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:5); or through angels (cf. Jdgs. 6:12; 13:3; Gen. 16:7-10; Gen. 22:11-12), etc.
Speaking of those dreams, God gave some important, prophetic dreams to Pharaoh when Joseph was in the land of Egypt and interpreted the ruler’s dreams as pertaining to seven years of plenty, which would be followed by seven years of a severe famine (cf. Gen. 41:1-8). But does that indicate that Pharaoh must have been a faithful child of God, in a right relationship with Him, since the Lord had imparted these dreams to him of conditions yet to come?
The same can also be said about King Nebuchadnezzar to whom God gave a prophetic dream (cf. Dan. 2:1-2), which Daniel then gave the meaning of (vv. 37-45) and proved the accuracy of the interpretation by first telling the king what his dream was (vv. 31-36). In chapter 4, the king is also given another prophetic dream, which Daniel interprets for him. Was King Nebuchadnezzar a true worshiper of God, a loyal follower, to receive such dreams? To the contrary, Nebuchadnezzar believed in many gods (v. 47). In chapter three, the king had a golden image that was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide that all people were to “fall down and worship” as soon as they heard the various instruments playing music. So Nebuchadnezzar was commanding these to be idolaters! And those who would not comply were to be thrown into the fiery furnace! In seeing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego miraculously protected from those flames, Nebuchadnezzar came to acknowledge the true and living God, but also still believed in various false gods (cf. Dan. 3:27-30). The point, however, is that Nebuchadnezzar was not a faithful follower of the Lord, yet God still gave this king of Babylon prophetic dreams.
Furthermore, according to Number 22:27-33, God enabled even Balaam’s donkey to speak! But that certainly doesn’t indicate that this animal was some type of faithful servant of the Lord in “righteous” standing with God — and as opposed to a donkey that might be in “unrighteous” standing! The donkey spoke because the Lord wanted it to in response to Balaam.
In John 11:49-53, Caiaphas declares, “…it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” This high priest, who was the son-in-law of Annas and appointed by the procurator Valerius Gratus, was one in favor of killing Jesus (Matt. 26:3-5). But what Caiaphas had not realized was that “he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
And what about those who had miracles worked upon them in spite of their unbelief? According to John 9:25, the blind man did not even know if Jesus was a sinner or not when He healed him! Does one truly believe in the Lord if He is regarded as a sinner or possibly one? It was after the blind man was healed that Jesus later returned to him and asked in verse 35, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And the one who could now see replied, “…’Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.’ And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him” (vv. 36-38).
Elymas the magician, also known as “Bar-Jesus,” was a Jewish false prophet who was perverting the right ways of the Lord and sought to turn Sergius Paulus away from the teaching of the apostle Paul. But Paul, after rebuking Elymas, commanded him to become blind for a while – and it was done (Acts 13:6-11)! Did that miracle happen to Elymas because he believed it would? Does it indicate he had been a Christian who had faith in the power of God? Is being made blind something that Elymas even wanted to happen to himself? Yet, it was accomplished!
So these examples of God, miraculously enabling or imparting to those that were not His faithful people, show that it could be done; and that it does not, therefore, necessarily imply that they were in a saved or right relationship with the Lord.
So why did God give the Holy Spirit to Cornelius and his household — prior to their being baptized? This miracle at Cornelius’ house was preceded by one that Peter experienced while at the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa and on the rooftop (Acts 10). For there, Peter “fell into a trance” (v. 10) and saw a large sheet coming down that contained some creatures that were “unclean” and unlawful to eat during the Mosaical Age; and Peter heard a voice telling him to “Get up, Peter, kill and eat” (v. 13); but he had always refrained from eating anything “unholy and unclean” (vv. 11-14). The voice then came to him the second time, saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (v. 15) “This happened three times…” (v. 16).
While Peter wondered as to the meaning of that vision, the three whom Cornelius had sent had arrived at Simon’s house and asked for Peter. These were sent because an angel of the Lord had told Cornelius to do so (v. 22). And the Spirit then told Peter, “Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself” (vv. 19-20).
Why did the Spirit say, “accompany them without misgivings”? It was because, up to this time, Jews had little or no dealings with the Gentiles. For on his arrival at Cornelius’ house, Peter declared, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for…” (vv. 28-29). Yes, Peter learned a great lesson! He acknowledged, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (vv. 34-35).
Keep in mind, too, that this event at Cornelius’ house took place about 10 years after the church was established; and Cornelius and his household became the first Gentile converts to Christ. They had not been proselytes to Judaism in previous years, like “Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,” who later became one of the seven (Acts 6:5). Rather, Cornelius and his household were Gentiles who were now coming to Christ to become Christians. And to witness that wonderful event, there were also six Jewish Christians that Peter had brought with him (vv. 23, 45; 11:12).
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his household was God’s way of showing that Gentiles need to also be reached with the gospel. For the Lord wants them to be saved, just as much as He wants the Jews to be, by submitting to His plan of salvation. So this miraculous event at Cornelius’ house indicated that the door of redemption was open for the non-Jews as well — and all the Jewish Christians needed to not only realize that, but also accept it.
That this was something that the Jewish Christians had to learn, with regard to the Gentiles, is also inferred from the fact that Paul had referred to it as “the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:4-6).
Peter had actually preached on the day the church was established that the blessings which the Holy Spirit promised were not only for “you and your children,” which would be the Jews converted to Christ, but also for “all who are far off [the Gentiles], as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39). But it appears that Peter, though he spoke this by the inspiration of the Lord, did not understand all of what was meant in that statement. For he is also the very one that God, about a decade later, had to give the vision to that signified the Lord’s approval toward preaching to and converting the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:9-16).
Note, too, that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not an every-day occurrence nor something that would happen to every person who was converted, as some wrongly assume today. For rather than likening it to some similar event a week before, or a month before, or several months before, Peter, in seeing what these Gentiles were doing, reflects back about 10 years to liken it to that time when God had given him and the other apostles the Holy Spirit on that day that the church was established (Acts 10:47; Acts 2). He then also repeats that likeness when relating the account to the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 11:15-18).
That makes sense because the baptism of the Holy Spirit that the apostles received (Acts 2; 11:16) and now this outpouring of the Spirit upon those at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10,11) are the only two examples in the New Testament of receiving the Holy Spirit in that manner, which was directly from God. All others, in the early church who had miraculously received the Holy Spirit, did so through the laying on of the hands of an apostle — and only the apostles had the ability to do that (cf. Acts 8:5-6, 12-18; Acts 19:5-7).
So just as that day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was a special day of the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit and the church being established, this outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Cornelius’ house also made it a special day for the Gentiles! For the way of salvation through Christ was now offered to them and would continue to be for any Gentile who would want to enter upon that pathway to glory by meeting the same conditions any other person would have to, in order to be forgiven, to become a Christian, and to continue in living for the Lord.
When Peter had later journeyed to the church in Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians “took issue with him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them’” (Acts 11:2-3). But after Peter explained to them all that had happened and how God had even given the Holy Spirit to those Gentiles, the Jewish Christians then “…glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life’” (v. 18).
You see, that was the reason God gave the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles and had them speak in tongues — even before they were saved from their past sins — so that all could know that God’s desire to save is not just toward the Jews, but towards all people! And all those who were Jewish Christians needed to adjust their thinking and acceptance toward that fact!
Therefore, God’s giving of the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles was not an indication that they had already been saved; but to show they could be, and that the Lord makes no distinction between them or the Jews when it comes to salvation. As Paul also writes: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:26-29). And this was also true for those at Cornelius’ house who had their sins forgiven, after they obeyed the command to be baptized in water (Acts 10:47-48).
For those who understand the purpose for water baptism, it is easy to see that Cornelius and his household could not have been saved prior to their being baptized. So after those Jews who had come with Peter had witnessed with amazement the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and heard these Gentiles speak in tongues, Peter then declared, “’Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” (Acts 10:47-48).
Baptism is always seen as that last step that leads to being put into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), that one may obtain the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Rom. 8:1), rise up to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12-13), and be saved from past sins (1 Pet. 3:21). So these verses make it clear that it was not when or before their speaking in tongues by the Spirit that these Gentiles were forgiven and became Christians; but, rather, it was after they were then baptized in water for the remission of sins. And their having received the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues prior was a unique case to serve as a sign to all that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
(All Scriptures are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated.)
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917
http://thomastedwards.com/go (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990)
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