A verse by verse study of Peter’s own account of the Conversion of Cornelius. Through Peter’s eyes we get some extra insights.
Peter recounts his experience with Cornelius.
¶ "The apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. When Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were of the circumcision contended with him. They said, “You went in to uncircumcised men, and you ate with them.” "(Acts 11:1-3).
You went to uncircumcised men. Down on the coast, Peter had been enlightened. He'd come to understand that God treated all people, Jews and Gentiles, equally. But his Christian brothers back in Jerusalem still had their prejudices. They started a contention with Peter. He had mixed with non-Jews which they regarded as a wrong thing to do.
¶ "But Peter explained by relating the events in order from the beginning. He said, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. An object descended, like a great sheet let down from heaven by its four corners. It came right down to me. I gave it my undivided attention. I saw four-footed beasts of the earth, wild animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky.” "(Acts 11:4-6).
Peter explained. Peter didn't enter into an argument. He simply explained. That way, the Christian brothers he'd upset could judge for themselves and reconsider. He recounts the vision he'd seen while on the housetop in Joppa.
¶ "“I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter, kill and eat.' But I replied, 'No way Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered into my mouth.' But for the second time a voice came from heaven. It anwered me, 'You must not call common what God has made clean.' This was done three times; then all the creatures were drawn back up into heaven.” "(Acts 11:7-10).
Clean or unclean? Under Jewish law, many animals were declared unclean and were forbidden as food (eg Leviticus 11). Jesus Christ taught that food goes into the stomach and passes through the body and out into the toilet, thus taking away what is bad. Food therefore cannot defile a person because it is purified by this process (Mark 7:18-20). Jesus taught Paul that all foods are clean (Romans 14:14, Colossians 2:16-17). Like Peter, people want to argue on this point, but God’s statement to Peter is plain: the creatures in the sheet which Peter recognized as unclean had now been made clean. "What God has cleansed, do not call unholy"(Acts 10:12-15). But this was not really a lesson about food.
The real lesson. Peter had confessed what the vision taught him: “It is thought unlawful for a Jewish man to visit or associate with one of another nation. But God has shown me that I shouldn't call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10:28-29). That was the real lesson of the vision. The bag of creatures symbolized the many nations of human beings. God shuns nobody who fears him and does what is right. So now Peter has learned that he should associate with Gentiles not just with Jews. God loves the whole wide world (John 3:16, 1John 2:2). Will Peter’s Christian brothers in Jerusalem take that on board?
¶ "“At that moment, three men stood outside the house where I was. They'd been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with them and have no doubts about it. I was also accompanied by these six brothers. When we entered the man’s house, he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying to him, 'Send to Joppa, and get Simon, whose surname is Peter, who will speak to you words by which you will be saved, you and all your house.'”"(Acts 11:11-14).
Peter’s witnesses. Peter now adds other testimony to his own story. If these Christian brothers in Jerusalem doubt Peter, let them hear what others said.
The Holy Spirit. Peter says, “The Spirit told me”. The brethren in Jerusalem had no doubt that Peter, as an apostle, was guided by the Holy Spirit. To deny that the Spirit had spoken to Peter would be unthinkable to them.
Six brothers. Peter says, “I was also accompanied by these six brothers”. These were Jewish brothers apparently, so the brethren in Jerusalem had not Peter’s word alone, but six of their own brethren to confirm much of the story.
Cornelius and the angel. Peter says, “Cornelius told me how he had seen an angel”. Cornelius was a Gentile, but a God fearer, not a pagan. He had the respect of the Jewish community in Joppa. He was a most upright man. Why should anyone not believe him?
¶ "“I had not long begun my speech when the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he did on us at the beginning. I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.' So if, when they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, God gave to them the same gift as he gave to us, who was I that I could forbid God?”"(Acts 11:15-17).
The Greatest Testimony. Now Peter, having given the background and supported it with testimony, comes to the clincher. The Holy Spirit confirmed the matter with a miracle that truly amazed everyone. The Spirit did to Cornelius and his household what he had done to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). After Pentecost, miraculous gifts, such as speaking in tongues, were passed to others "by the laying on of the apostles’ hands"(Acts 8:14-19). But Peter had not laid hands on the household of Cornelius. They were given a baptism of the Holy Spirit directly from God. There is no record of such an event since Pentecost until that time, and Peter implies that none had occurred.
¶ "When they heard Peter’s account, they took back their objections, and glorified God. They said, “Then God has indeed granted repentance for life to the Gentiles also!” "(Acts 11:18).
Objection withdrawn! Being honest and reasonable men, they withdrew their objection. However we need to understand that it was much more than a mere objection they withdrew. It was an ingrained belief which they had been brought up with, and had practised their whole lives. They were giving up a law they had conscientiously lived by. They were giving up a prejudice that friends, family, and associates outside the church would still hold to. They were giving up a foundation of their culture. We have to admire their courage and integrity; and their readiness to so invert their thinking and their lives for the sake of the gospel of Christ.