Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."


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The Holy Spirit and Cornelius

The promise of being baptised with the Holy Spirit was, as we have studied previously, was never meant for Christians in general or for an ‘elite’ class of Christians (Outreach, June 4 & 11 2017). The Bible shows us too that the apostles of Jesus Christ were the ones who received the Holy Spirit on the first day of Pentecost after the Resurrection.

Besides the apostles, were there others who received this baptizing with the Holy Spirit? Indeed, there were. There is a remarkable incident recorded in the tenth chapter of Acts.

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, 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 (Acts 10:1-6).”

Cornelius wasted no time in sending men to invite Peter. The apostle, meanwhile, had a vision where three times he was told to eat creatures which were unclean under the Mosaic Law. Each time he refused, saying that he had never eaten anything that was common or unclean, he was told “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” The vision left Peter wondering what it could have meant (cf. Acts 10:9-16).

The men sent from Cornelius duly arrived at Joppa and sought Peter out. He was told by the Spirit to go with them. When he entered Cornelius’ house, he finally understood the meaning of the vision.

“And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28).”

After Cornelius shared his vision with Peter, the apostle began to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who were gathered there. Right then the remarkable incident took place.

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God… (Acts 10:44-46)”

First of all, we must note the significant fact that Cornelius and his household were Gentiles. Up until that time the gospel was preached among the Jews only (cf. Acts 11:19) and by Philip to the Samaritans in Acts 8. The Holy Spirit falling upon a Gentile household was a watershed event in the history of the church.

A second significant fact was that this was the one and only incident when the Holy Spirit fell on people other than the apostles. Peter later explained to an assembly of Jewish Christians, which included his fellow apostles, who had chosen to remain in Jerusalem when the persecution began (cf. Acts 8:1; 11:1).

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God (Acts 11:15-17)?”

“…the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning…Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us…” It is striking that Peter had to make reference to the event that happened years ago on Pentecost. Why did he have to do that if the promise of being baptised with the Holy Spirit was meant for Christians in general for all time?

The first person plural pronoun ‘us’ quite probably refers to the apostles. Peter recalled the time when the Lord told them to remain in Jerusalem to “wait for the promise of the Father (cf. Acts 1:4)” and reminded them of John’s prophecy.

“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence (Acts 1:5).”

Who was Jesus talking to back then? The context of Acts 1:1-13 unmistakably identifies the apostles. It was this event to which Peter made reference to in Acts 11.

“…the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” This can only refer to the event of Acts 2:1-4, which we have previously discussed and concluded, happened only to the apostles. (Outreach, June 4 & 11 2017)

In commanding the apostles that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, the Lord made reference to the prophecy of John. Likewise, Peter made reference to the prophecy of John when explaining what happened to Cornelius and his household.

Apparently, these were the only two incidents where the prophecy of John was fulfilled, once again reiterating the fact that the promise of being baptised with the Holy Spirit is specific and not generic, i.e., for Christians in general.

The promise was specific not only in persons but also in purposes.

Back when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost in fulfillment of the promise by the Lord (cf. John 14:16-17, 26; Act 1:2-5), the objective was clearly the establishment of the church (Acts 2:1-47).

What about Cornelius? We began to see the purpose in Peter’s vision and his later understanding that “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28).” When the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, it brought on quite a reaction from the Jews who traveled there with Peter.

“And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days (Acts 10:45-48).”

What was the purpose for this second time the Holy Spirit fell on people according to John’s prophecy? It was to establish the fact undeniably and unarguably that the gospel message was not exclusive for Jews; it was meant for non-Jews as well.

Not everyone understood the purpose at first.

“And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them (Acts 11:1-3).”

Peter recounted what happened, beginning with his vision at Joppa, and concluding with the remarks we have quoted from verses 15-17. What happened then? The assembly realised and understood the purpose.

“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:18).”

The promise of being baptised with the Holy Spirit was specific in terms of persons and purposes. It was never meant for Christians in general or for an ‘elite’ class of Christians. Anyone today claiming to be baptised with the Holy Spirit must prove otherwise from the New Testament. Anyone today claiming to be baptised with the Holy Spirit is claiming miraculous power, at least the power to speak in a foreign human language without having learnt it (cf. Outreach, June 18).

Let us be “rightly handling the word of truth” and be approved unto God (cf. 1Ti 2:15).