There lived in the city of Caesarea a centurion named Cornelius, who was a Gentile. Normally Jews did not associate with Gentiles because there was a great deal of hatred between the two groups. But Cornelius was a good man, and even the Jews liked him. He and his family believed in God, prayed, and helped the poor.
One day Cornelius had a vision in which an angel called him by name. He told Cornelius that God knew of his faith, his prayers, and his good deeds. “Send men to Joppa,” the angel said, “and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
“He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.”
When the angel left, Cornelius sent for two of his servants and one of his soldiers. He told them about the angel and sent them to Joppa.
In Joppa Peter went onto a housetop to pray while he waited for the people downstairs to finish preparing the meal. Peter was overcome by the Spirit and was shown a vision. He saw the heavens open and a great sheet being lowered to the earth. On this sheet were all kinds of animals and birds that Peter had been taught not to eat. According to the law given to Moses, the Jews were commanded not to eat common, or “unclean,” meat. Peter had always obeyed that law. Now, however, a voice said, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.”
Peter protested, saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.”
Again the voice spoke to Peter: “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
The vision was repeated three times, and then the sheet filled with animals was raised back into heaven. Peter did not understand what the vision meant. He was still wondering about it when the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men seek thee.
“Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.”
Peter went downstairs to greet the men. “Behold, I am he whom ye seek,” he said; “what is the cause wherefore ye are come?”
The men told Peter about Cornelius. They explained that he was a good man who loved God and that all the Jews admired him, even though he was a Gentile. They also explained about the angel advising Cornelius to listen to Peter’s words. Peter invited the men inside, and they were fed and given a place to rest.
The next morning Peter and some of the brethren from Joppa left with the three men to go to Caesarea. Cornelius had been waiting anxiously for Peter to come, and he had gathered his relatives and close friends. He knew Peter’s message was important, and he wanted to share it with those who were close to him.
When Peter came in, Cornelius fell down at his feet to worship him. Because Peter knew that men should worship only God, he said to Cornelius, “Stand up; I myself also am a man.”
Looking at the group of Gentiles who were with Cornelius, Peter realized what the vision he had seen meant. “Ye know … that it is an unlawful thing for a … Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation,” he explained, “but God hath [shown] me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
“Therefore came I unto you … as soon as I was sent for.”
Jesus had preached the gospel among the Jews, but after His resurrection He told the Apostles to take the gospel to all the world. Peter and some of the Apostles had not fully understood before what they were to do, but now the meaning of Peter’s vision and of Jesus’ words was clear. The gospel was for all men everywhere. It was time for the people of other nations to hear its message. Just as the Jews did not eat certain meats because they had been thought of as common or unclean, the Jews did not associate with Gentiles and looked upon them in the same way. But God did not want them called common or unclean any longer. The Church of Jesus Christ was to be for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews.
Peter turned to Cornelius and asked why the centurion had sent for him. Cornelius told Peter about the angel’s visit and explained that he and his friends and relatives were waiting to hear the word of God.
With love for these people whom the Jews had hated, Peter bore his testimony of Jesus’ existence and of the truthfulness of the gospel. He told Cornelius and his friends that all men who believe in Jesus can be forgiven of their sins and be blessed.
As Peter spoke, the Holy Ghost fell upon all those present. This surprised the Jews who had come with Peter. They had thought that only faithful Jews could receive the Holy Ghost.
“Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” asked Peter. Then Peter commanded that Cornelius and his friends be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.