Acts 9:32-12:25 covers the beginning of Gentile Christianity and focuses mainly on the ministry of Peter. The story of Cornelius, 10:1-11:18, illustrates the movement of the gospel from Israel to the Gentiles. The gospel has already touched the Samaritans, now it moves to God-fearers (Gentiles associated with the Jewish faith), to Cornelius to his Gentile family and friends. This is a highly significant theological move. "The Gentiles also had received the Word of God", 11:1. Peter is able to declare that "the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning", 11:15. The sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit (our passage for study, 10:44-48), demonstrates, beyond all doubt, that the "seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" are for Gentiles as well as Jews, 3:19.
v44. Peter is still in the middle of his gospel presentation when the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit. The reception is similar to that of the apostles - sudden and unexpected. This was a significant occurrence and was without the usual exhortation, "repent and be baptized in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." "All who heard the message" received the gift."
v45-46. The significance of the event is not wasted on the Jewish believers who accompanied Peter. They were "astonished", for the Spirit came on the Gentiles in exactly the same way as He had come on the apostles at Pentecost; they "heard them speaking in tongues and praising God", cf. 2:11. The phrase "praising God" literally means "magnifying God", which probably aligns with the description given on the day of Pentecost, "speaking.... the mighty acts of God." The Spirit's coming on the Gentiles, in exactly the same way as on the apostles, removes any doubt that the doors of the kingdom are now open for Gentiles as well as Jews. In fact, this sign further evidenced the presence of the kingdom, cf. Zech.8:23. Again, we are unsure what "speaking in tongues" was like. Clearly there is language content to the experience in that the onlookers heard them "glorifying God." In fact, the experience may have paralleled Pentecost where "each one heard them speaking in their own language."
v47-48. Peter obviously senses the importance of the occasion and that by baptizing these Gentile believers he is moving into new territory. Still, who could argue against baptism? Cornelius and his friends had just received the Spirit. The normal order of events entail: the preaching of the gospel, a response of repentance and belief, water baptism for the remission of sins (a sign of repentance and its consequence, the washing of forgiveness), and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Laying on of hands (a sign of prayer) may precede the gift of the Spirit, but was obviously not an essential element. Clearly, repentance and belief were present, although not stated here, cf. 11:17, 15:7-9. Water baptism was the only event out of order, but it was still administered, even though the Gentiles had already received the Spirit.
The baptism was administered "in the name of Jesus Christ", cf. 2:38. This could just mean that Jesus' name, his divine character, is declared over the person to be baptized, although it is more likely that "baptizing them in the name" carries the idea of instruction in gospel truth along with water baptism, cf. Matt.28:19. The person doing the baptizing, in this case "the circumcised believers who came with Peter", would most likely seek the ground of the converts repentance, confirm its truth, and restate it where necessary, prior to water baptism. In this way the convert is immersed ("baptized" figuratively) into the truth about Jesus, into the "name", as well as immersed in water as an outward expression of their repentance ("a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins").
The Billy Graham tract, illustrating the cross spanning the gulf of hell, left itself open to a bit of reworking. It is very easy to draw a little segment on the end of the cross representing the necessary extra that enables a complete crossing from this world to heaven. Without that little extra our Christian life will always be flawed, if not lost forever. When I was involved with a group of counselors for a Billy Graham crusade we all identified the little extra that marked out our particular denomination. We Anglicans / Episcopalians had confirmation, the Church of Christ and Baptists had believer's baptism, Pentecostals had speaking in tongues, Adventists had the Sabbath, Puritans had the Law, and so on. It was all good fun and served to remind us of the danger of the little extra.
There are still those who argue for the little extra, yet in the end it is our identification with the truth of Jesus in the gospel that fully saves. In the presence of someone who pushes the little extra we can end up feeling like a second-grade Christian missing that little extra benefit that could so easily be our. Of course, those who push the little extra fail to understand the theology of the book of Acts. The dawning of the kingdom, with its blessing of the "promised Holy Spirit" (God's indwelling presence in those who believe), is poured out on all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike. All who believe in Jesus receive in full the promised blessings of new life in Christ .
The replay of the miracle of Pentecost for the Gentile Cornelius and his friends reminds us that all believers possess the fullness of new life in Christ through faith.
1. What is the point of the phrase "even on the Gentiles", v45?
2. Why does modern tongue-speaking bear no relationship with "tongues" in Acts?
3. Discuss how the gospel is damaged by the little extra.