And opening his mouth, Peter said: “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. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (10:34–43)
In contrast to his indicting sermons on the Day of Pentecost and at Solomon’s portico, and his bold defenses before the Sanhedrin, Peter here is led by the Spirit to give a simple gospel presentation. Some situations call for a detailed apologetic and historic presentation before the hearers can understand the gospel message. Others, with divinely plowed hearts, require only the simple truths of the gospel. Cornelius and the other Gentiles gathered with him were such divinely prepared individuals.
The phrase opening his mouth is a colloquial Greek expression marking the speech that follows as important. Looking around at his improbable audience, Peter began by shattering what remained of the barrier separating the two groups with his fresh insight: “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.” With one stroke, Peter cuts to the heart of the issue and rivets their attention on him.
Saying … . understand is an admission that this is really new for him, and that only now, at long last, was he beginning to understand that the church was to include men from every nation. The truth of Jesus’ words “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold” (John 10:16) was dawning. The meaning of the vision was clear. Actually, because this was not new truth, Peter and his Jewish companions should have already known that God is not one to show partiality. That is clearly taught in the Old Testament (Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19).
Paul elaborated on that truth. To the Romans he wrote, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one” (Rom. 3:29–30; cf. 2:11; Eph. 6:9).
Peter then expanded that thought, explaining that in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. Some have misunderstood this verse to be teaching universalism, that God accepts all who are sincere on the basis of their works. That view is obviously inconsistent with biblical teaching and absurd. If Cornelius and the others were already saved, what was Peter doing there preaching that only through the name of Jesus can souls be saved (v. 43)? Further, that they were not yet saved is clearly stated in Acts 11:14. There are some who would deny that there is any pre-salvation work on the part of the sinner, leading to salvation. This, too, is absurd, since the text clearly states that salvation comes to those who fear God and do what is right. Is this salvation by works? Of course not. Peter is simply expressing the reality that there is a Spirit work in the heart of the sinner (cf. John 16:8–11; Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). That work produces a person who fears or reverences God and does what is right, and who is welcome or acceptable (dektos) to God. That word means “marked by a favorable manifestation of the divine pleasure,” as used in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “ ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you’; behold, now is ‘the acceptable time’, behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’ ” This text shows that the welcome or acceptable time is the time of salvation. No matter what the age, race, sex, or social strata, when the heart hungers for God and for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), it is the welcome time for salvation. Commenting on this verse, Everett Harrison remarks, “The meaning is not that such persons are thereby saved (cf. Acts 11:14) but rather that they are suitable candidates for salvation. Such preparation betokens a spiritual earnestness that will result in faith as the gospel is heard and received (Interpreting Acts: The Expanding Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 182).
Cornelius responded to the work of God in his soul, yet it must not be thought that he did that on his own, apart from the grace of God. The truth is that no one, whether Gentile (cf. Rom. 1:18ff.) or Jew (cf. Rom. 2:1ff.) does that (Rom. 3:10–18). God had worked in Cornelius’s heart so that he sought to know and obey God, and when he heard the saving truth of the gospel, he eagerly responded.
Peter introduced his message by assuring them that salvation was available to the prepared heart. Yet it was not enough for them merely to know of its availability; they needed to know how to appropriate the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from judgment. Peter turns, then, to the main theme of the gospel, namely that salvation comes through Jesus Christ to anyone from any nation. In the words of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation,” the church is
Elect from ev’ry nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth.
The word of God containing the message of salvation came first to the sons of Israel (cf. Rom. 1:16). It was the glorious message of peace through Jesus Christ. All people are fallen and are enemies who are at war with God (cf. Rom. 5:10). The sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ ended that hostility and brought peace between man and God by paying the price for sin. In the words of the apostle Paul, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19), and has “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Salvation is offered to all because Jesus is Lord of all.
As already noted, Caesarea was the seat of the Roman government in Judea. Consequently, Peter can affirm to Cornelius and the others that you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. They were aware of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him.
The baptism which John proclaimed was a baptism signifying an attitude of repentance and longing for the reign of righteousness. It prepared the nation for the Messiah, who was Jesus of Nazareth. As He began His ministry, God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power (cf. Matt. 3:13–17; Luke 3:21–22). Peter describes that ministry as going about doing good, then lists as an example His healing of all who were oppressed by the devil. That phrase encompasses the whole gamut of human ailments, from direct demon oppression to disease to spiritual darkness. “The Son of God,” wrote the apostle John, “appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus Christ’s complete overpowering of Satan and his demons left no doubt that God was with Him.
All they had heard about Jesus’ ministry was true, Peter affirms. He adds the apostolic corroboration that we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, and then comes quickly to the significant event saying, And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. That religious men would lead the effort to put to death the One who went about doing good and overruling the work of Satan illustrates the depths of human depravity—even when it is masked with religion. God, however, overturned the world and hell, vindicating Jesus by raising Him up on the third day.
The significance of Peter’s statement that Jesus became visible should not be overlooked. Countless heretics, from apostolic times to the present, have denied the truth of Christ’s physical resurrection. That fact is central to Christianity, however. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 the serious consequences of denying the resurrection. If “Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is worthless; [we] are still in [our] sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Those who deny Christ’s literal resurrection destroy the only bridge spanning the gulf separating them from God. For the record, Paul has left us the inspired fact that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, then the Twelve, more than 500 believers at one time, then to James, all the apostles, and finally to himself (1 Cor. 15:5–8).
Not everyone had the privilege of witnessing the resurrected Christ, however. He appeared, Peter declares, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. God chose only a few to bear testimony to the world that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, and all of them were believers. Peter’s reference to those who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead offers further proof of His bodily resurrection, since in Jewish thought spirit beings were incapable of such actions.
Verse 42 relates the warning that was essential to the apostolic witness. They were ordered (Commanded) to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead (cf. John 5:21–29; Acts 17:30–31; 2 Thess. 1:7–10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 19:11ff.). Jesus Christ will be to every person either deliverer or judge.
The apostles were not the only witnesses of Jesus Christ; so also were the prophets. They bore witness that through His name (By His power and authority) everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. Isaiah (Isa. 53:11), Jeremiah (Jer. 31:34), and Zechariah (Zech. 13:1) were among those who spoke of the forgiveness Messiah would bring. All that Jesus is and did is the culmination of divine promises made centuries earlier. The last recorded line of Peter’s message, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins, is essential. Every component is critical to the gospel. Everyone indicates the universal offer of saving grace (cf. Acts 2:39; 13:39; Rom. 9:33; 10:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Rev. 22:17). Who believes in Him indicates the means of receiving saving grace—by faith in Christ alone (Acts 9:42; 11:17; 13:39; 14:23; 15:9; 16:31; 19:4; cf. John 3:14–17; 6:69; Rom. 10:11; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:8–9). Receives forgiveness of sins indicates the marvelous, unspeakable privilege conferred by saving grace (Acts 2:38; 13:38–39; cf. Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).
34–35 The sermon is prefaced by the words “opening his mouth, Peter said” (anoixas de Petros to stoma eipen). This was one way to introduce a weighty utterance (cf. Mt 5:2; 13:35 [quoting Ps 78:2]; Ac 8:35). In Luke’s eyes, what Peter was about to say was indeed momentous in sweeping away centuries of racial prejudice. It begins by Peter’s statement that God does not show “favoritism” or “partiality” (prosōpolēmptēs [GK 4720], which appears only here in the NT but whose synonym prosōpolēmpsia is found in Ro 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; Jas 2:1; 1 Pe 1:17), “but accepts [people] from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” While some consciousness of this may be implicit in Israel’s history and at times have been expressed by her prophets (cf. Am 9:7; Mic 6:8), it was only by means of a revelational clarification—i.e., a “pesher” interpretation of what was earlier considered to be a highly enigmatic “mystery” (cf. Eph 3:4–6)—that Peter came to appreciate the racial challenge of the gospel.
10:34–35. Luke understood the enormous impact of what he was about to write. In a few short sentences this brash disciple from Galilee, now a respected apostle from Jerusalem, would sweep away centuries of religious and racial prejudice. No longer was God only for the Jews, and no longer was Jesus only a Jewish Messiah. Here comes a new theology of remnant Christians from all nations of the world. The word for favoritism (prosopolemptes) appears only here in the New Testament, but synonyms show up in Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, and James 2:1.
We talked earlier about Mark writing Peter’s version of the life of Christ. Here we have a mini-summary of the Gospel of Mark, a revolutionary message indicating that salvation does not rest in the works of some religious group. It forms the racial challenge of the gospel—God does not distinguish faces. The body of Christ reaches worldwide. Its members come from every ethnic group where the gospel has been preached (Rom. 2:11; Eph. 2:11–22; Col. 3:25; Jas. 2:1; 1 Pet. 1:17).
Like the Ethiopian treasurer before him, Cornelius followed what light God had given and now became the recipient of more light, the full light of the message of Jesus and the gospel.
- Peter said: “I truly understand that God shows no favoritism.”
This is Peter’s first address to a Gentile audience. As a representative of the Christian church, he is fully aware of the uniqueness of this situation. He realizes the significance of his vision in Joppa and knows that he is doing God’s will. He says, “I truly understand that God shows no favoritism.” The Jews of Peter’s day lived by the doctrine that God had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants and that they were God’s chosen people. They despised the Gentiles because, according to the Jews, God had rejected the Gentiles and had withheld his blessings from them.
The Jews also knew that God had told Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). So, then, believers of all nations would claim Abraham as their spiritual father. Interestingly, in his sermon at Solomon’s Colonnade Peter had quoted the words God had spoken to Abraham: “And through your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed” (3:25). But at that time, Peter had not fully fathomed the depth of this divine saying. Now, however, Peter sees the fulfillment of God’s word to Abraham. The Roman centurion, the members of Cornelius’s household, and all his invited relatives and guests receive God’s blessing.
Peter appeals to the Scriptures when he says that God shows no favoritism. For instance, Moses tells the Israelites in the desert, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes bribes” (Deut. 10:17, NIV).41
God does not look at a person’s external appearance, nationality, wealth, social status, and achievements. In the light of God’s teaching given in a vision, Peter sets aside his ingrained bias against the Gentiles and, as he states, truthfully accepts the doctrine of God’s impartiality. He is convinced that salvation belongs to all nations and not merely to Israel. He knows that his earlier view of God was defective.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
—Frederick W. Faber
- “But in every nation, the man who fears him and does what is right is accepted by God.”
The expression in every nation stands first in the sentence for emphasis. God excludes no country on the face of this earth but accepts believers from every nation into the church. God has removed the barrier between the nation Israel and the Gentiles. Nevertheless, God accepts a Gentile only when such a person fears him and obediently does his will. God accepts no sinner on his own merit; everybody, be he Jew or Gentile, must be saved through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. If Cornelius were acceptable on the basis of his own moral purity and personal religiosity, Peter would not have to preach Christ’s gospel in the officer’s home.
What is the meaning of Peter’s remark that God accepts a man who fears God and does what is right? Peter is saying that a person who seeks God and strives to keep his law is, on that account, eager to hear the good news of salvation. In Acts, Luke shows that God-fearers who earnestly do what is right readily place their trust in Jesus. When the apostles preach the gospel to them, they believe (see 16:14–15; 17:4, 12; 18:7–8). God receives people from every race, tribe, or tongue, not on the basis of their reverence for God and their striving after righteousness, but because they put their faith in Jesus. Thus, Peter reminds his audience of their knowledge of the Christ.
10:34, 35 Peter prefaced his message with a frank admission. Up to now he had believed that God’s favor was limited to the nation of Israel. Now he realized that God did not respect a man’s person because of his nationality, but was interested in an honest, contrite heart, whether in a Jew or a Gentile. “In every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”
There are two principal interpretations of verse 35:
- Some think that if one truly repents and seeks after God, he is saved even if he has never heard about the Lord Jesus. The argument is that although the man himself might not know about Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, yet God knows about it and saves the man on the basis of that sacrifice. He reckons the value of the work of Christ to the man whenever He finds true faith.
- The other view is that even if a man fears God and works righteousness, he is not thereby saved. Salvation is only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But when God finds a man who has lived up to the light he has received about the Lord, He makes sure that the man hears the gospel and thus has the opportunity to be saved.
We believe that the second view is the proper interpretation.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (pp. 298–302). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 880). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Gangel, K. O. (1998). Acts (Vol. 5, pp. 163–164). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 391–392). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1613–1614). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.