Through Peter’s preaching of the gospel in Caesarea, God saved a Gentile centurion and his entire household (Acts11:14). When Peter’s ministering to them was later called into question by some in Jerusalem (11:2), he defended himself by relating how God had given the Gentiles the Spirit on that occasion, as He had also done previously for Peter and others “at the beginning” (11:15).
Peter then recalled how on that occasion he had remembered the Lord’s teaching about how the apostles would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (11:16). Based on that statement and how the experience of the Gentiles matched that of the apostles (11:17a), he asserted through a question that he was in no position to oppose what God was doing (11:17b).
Hearing these things, those who had objected earlier were satisfied, “and glorified God, saying, ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18). Saying this, they acknowledged that those Gentiles had been saved by God’s granting them that repentance.
When, however, the preceding account of what happened in Caesarea (10:1-48), including Peter’s message, is examined, we find no specific statements about what these Gentiles had to repent of so that they would be saved. Despite this lack of information, we can reasonably infer many likely aspects of their repentance by analyzing carefully the information given about them and about what Peter preached to them.
Information provided about Cornelius and those who were with him
Cornelius was a Roman centurion who was devout, feared God with his entire household, gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always (10:2). He was also a just man who had a good reputation among the entire nation of the Jews (10:22).
Furthermore, Cornelius and those who were with him when Peter preached to them had heard about the word that was “published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached” (10:37). He thus had familiarity with the ministry of John and what had taken place throughout that entire Judean region after his ministry. This statement also informs us that they had some prior information about Jesus because John preached about Him when he preached his baptism of repentance (cf. Luke 3:1-18).
Cornelius’ having a good reputation among all the Jews suggests that he was not one who had openly differed with them in his perspectives about what he had heard about Jesus. Otherwise, we would hardly expect the Jews to have spoken well of him.
Hostile Jewish views about Jesus versus Peter’s preaching about Jesus
Many of Peter’s statements in his message directly controverted key aspects of hostile Jewish’ perspectives about Jesus:
The Jews did not believe that Jesus was Lord of all, but Peter preached that He was (10:36).
The Jews blasphemed the Spirit by saying that Jesus cast out demons by Satan’s power. In stark contrast to their assessment of Jesus, Peter preached that God had anointed Jesus with the Spirit and with power, and that He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil, because God was with Him (10:38). He thus trumpeted that Jesus did all that He did and triumphed over the devil through the Spirit and the power that God had given Him.
The Jews believed that Jesus was a lawbreaker and a deceiver, but Peter preached that Jesus went about doing “good” (10:38).
The Jews did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. They said that the disciples came and stole the body. Peter, however, preached that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead and attested to that by testifying that he and others had seen Him, and eaten and drunk with Him after His resurrection (10:40-41).
The Jews condemned Jesus for His asserting that they would see Him coming one day in the clouds of heaven, which signified to them that He was claiming to be the Danielic Son of Man who would come and judge the world. In contrast, Peter declared the same essential truth that Jesus did when he testified that the God-raised Jesus had commanded them to proclaim that God has appointed Him to be the Judge of the living and the dead (10:42).
The Jews did not believe Jesus’ claims that He was the Messiah whom the prophets had spoken of that would come, but Peter asserted that He was that Christ (10:36, 38) of whom all the prophets are still testifying (10:43).
The Jews condemned Jesus for saying to people that their sins were forgiven and that He had authority on earth to forgive sins. Peter, however, triumphantly declared (10:43) that the Jesus whom he had been preaching (10:36-42) was the promised One spoken of by the prophets through Whose name all who would believe in Him would receive forgiveness of sins.
These seven points show that Peter’s message forced Cornelius and all who were with him to repent of their holding any of these false Jewish perspectives about Jesus.
Eternal life through repentance of false views about Jesus
Repenting of any of these false views of Jesus that they had previously held, Cornelius and the ones who were with him would now have to believe what Peter preached to them about each point in order to be saved. They were saved in that manner because God granted such repentance unto them (11:18)!
Their repentance was a God-given “repentance unto life” (11:18). Because this statement pertained obviously to people who were already physically alive, we understand that they were granted repentance unto eternal life!
Appreciating fully the universal value of what Peter preached for bringing about repentance unto eternal life
This analysis has argued that Peter’s message pointedly called his hearers to repent of any false Jewish views that they held about Jesus concerning at least seven key truths about Him:
- He is Lord of all.
- He did all that He did through the Spirit and the power that God gave Him.
- All that He did was good.
- God raised Him bodily from the dead.
- God has appointed Him to be the Judge of the living and the dead.
- He is the Messiah about whom all the prophets are still testifying.
- He is the promised One through Whose name anyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.
These are all key truths that Peter preached about Jesus to the Gentiles; through their reception of these truths as well as the other key truths that he preached (e.g., the crucifixion; 10:39), God granted them repentance unto eternal life. His people later glorified Him for doing so!
We would do well to proclaim all of these truths to every Gentile whom we desire to be saved through their receiving the same “repentance unto life” (11:18). Through such proclamation from us, may God be glorified through His bringing many Gentiles to Himself!