The Holy Spirit came upon them. 10:44-48
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 probably 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 and was still administered even though the Gentiles had received the Spirit. One doesn't supersede the other.
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, 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. In this way the convert is immersed ("baptized" figuratively) into the truth of 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").
That little extra
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 we are lost.
There are still those who argue that water baptism is an essential element for eternal blessing - the important extra. Yet, most Christians hold that it is baptism in Jesus, in the sense of identification with the truth of Jesus in the gospel, that saves.
There are many other extras. Some demand the baptism of the Holy Spirit, evidenced in the speaking of tongues through the laying on of hands. In the presence of someone who pushes this extra we can end up feeling like a second-grade Christian. Of course, such a view fails to understand the theology of the book of Acts. The dawning of the kingdom, with it's 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, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The replay of the miracle of Pentecost for Cornelius and his friends does not serve to support "second-blessing" theology, but rather serves to remind all believers of the blessing we already possess 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 the danger of "extras" to the gospel.
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