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Bible: What Does Acts 9:32-10:33 Teach Us About the Apostle Peter's Ministry?
The Apostle Peter
The Raising of Tabitha
Acts 9:32-10:33-- Peter Heals Aeneas and Tabitha; Evangelizes the God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius
Peter Heals Aeneas
Luke, the physician, now resumes his account of Peter’s ministry that first involved the apostle in two extraordinary healings (vv. 32-43).
The first circumstance occurs in Lydda—Ryrie identifies this town as Lod, 11 miles SE of Joppa (New Testament Study Bible, 224)—where Jesus healed Aeneas, a paralyzed man bedridden for eight years.
This miracle leads to widespread conversions in that town and in Sharon, a region that extends fifty miles along the Mediterranean Sea (224) [vv. 33-35].
[As he had done earlier (cf. 3:12; 4:10), Peter announces again that Jesus, not he himself, is the source of the miraculous power.]
The Apostle Resuscites Dorcas
The second miracle involves the resuscitation of Tabitha (Aramaic for “gazelle”; her Greek appellation, Dorcas, also means gazelle), a woman who owned a sterling reputation for doing good works, but who had fallen ill and died (vv. 36-37a, 39a).
At the behest of certain disciples, Peter departs from Lydda to visit her in Joppa (v. 38).
While she is lying in an upper room, her friends having prepared her body for a viewing, Peter stops by and encounters several widows whose occupation it was to weep for her and show Dorcas’ handiwork (vv. 37b, 39b).
Suitably impressed by the commemorative display, the apostle nonetheless asks the women to leave (v. 40a).
[Luke’s diction may indicate that Peter used a little more firmness than normal; perhaps the widows were reluctant to abandon their post.]
After kneeling and praying, Peter calls the woman’s Aramaic name and commands her to rise (v. 40a).
Tabitha returns to life, and the apostle presents her to her friends (vv. 40b-41).
Another “revival” of sorts transpires, this time in Joppa, as the marvelous news makes its rounds (v. 42).
Peter abides many days in this town with a tanner (Simon) [v. 43].
Cornelius, the Centurion
Cornelius, the Proselyte
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God-Fearing Proselyte Cornelius
Next, the apostle Peter takes a major step into the Gentile world, ministering to Centurion Cornelius, a Roman officer in charge of one hundred soldiers in the Italian regiment (v. 1).
Luke records a detailed resume of Cornelius’s religious background: he is a devoted, God-fearing family man who gives alms generously and prays without ceasing (v. 2).
[Ryrie calls him a non-commissioned officer, and designates him “a semi-proselyte to Judaism, accepting Jewish beliefs and practices but stopping short of circumcision” (New Testament Study Bible, 225).]
One day in the middle of the afternoon the soldier receives a vision in which an angel informs him that God has “remembered” his “prayers and alms” (vv. 3-4).
[Cornelius was a very religious but still unsaved man. God had been drawing him to Himself, so Cornelius sent for someone (namely, Peter) to bring him the good news.]
The angel also explicitly directs Cornelius to dispatch men to Simon Peter (who is abiding with Simon the tanner in a beachfront home in Joppa), so that he might receive further instructions (vv. 5-6).
After the angel vanishes, Cornelius explains the vision to three trusted servants whom he subsequently sends to Joppa (vv. 7-8).
Significance of the Vision
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God prepares Peter for the unexpected visit from the three Gentile servants by sending him a vision while he was praying on Simon’s housetop shortly before the noon meal (vv. 9-10).
Luke records that Peter saw a huge, bound sheet carrying various mammals, reptiles and birds, coming down from heaven (vv. 11-12); the apostle also heard a Voice commanding him to kill and eat them (v. 13).
Perhaps thinking the vision a test of his obedience to the law against eating unclean animals, Peter refuses to heed the Voice (v. 14).
When the Voice speaks a second time, it explains that Peter will need to change his mind about the things God has now declared clean (v. 15).
To “drill home” this new concept, the Lord repeats the vision two more times before permanently retrieving the sheet (v. 16).
Despite these lessons, Peter still does not appear to understand the spiritual meaning of what he has seen (v. 17a).
[As Peter was soon to learn, God was applying a legal principle about unclean animals to a social convention about unclean people (that is, Gentiles)].
Peter Travels to Caesarea to Evangelize Cornelius
The key to the answer, however, now stands at the gate, asking for him (v. 18).
In obedience to the Spirit’s directive to accompany Cornelius’ three men, the apostle goes downstairs, identifies himself, and asks them the reason for their visit (vv. 19-21).
Their spokesman relates a succinct summary of Cornelius’ character, his vision, and Peter’s call to evangelize him (v. 22).
After hearing this report, the apostle understands his vision and invites the Gentiles into Simon’s home for the night—a violation of Jewish social customs.
He then leaves with them (and with six brethren from Joppa) on the following day (v. 23; cf. 11:12).
The band of ten men travels to Caesarea where Cornelius (along with friends and relatives) awaits them (v. 24).
Ignorant of Peter’s true nature as a “normal” man, Cornelius attempts to worship him—a mistake the former quickly and gently corrects (vv. 25-26).
Soon the apostle learns that many more people await him in the house (v. 27).
Informing them that he is breaking Jewish social law by associating with Gentiles, Peter nevertheless visits with them, having recently come to acknowledge that he must never again regard non-Jews as common or unclean (vv. 28-29a).
After communicating this new revelation to them, Peter asks Cornelius why he has sent for him (v. 29b).
[Is it not obvious, Peter?]
Cornelius rehearses the circumstances surrounding his vision—namely, it occurred four days ago at three o’clock in the afternoon while he was fasting—and then he repeats (almost verbatim) the message that he received from the angel (vv. 30-32).
[If God “heard” Cornelius’ prayer and “remembered” the centurion’s generosity, what was this man’s spiritual standing before Peter preached the gospel to him?
What connection do these pre-conversion “works” have with receiving a visit from a Christian evangelist?]
Having obeyed the vision’s directive to send for Peter, the centurion now thanks the apostle for coming, and awaits with his entire family to hear the word from God (v. 33).