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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: What Happened When the Gentiles First Received the Holy Spirit?

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What Happened When the Gentiles First Received the Holy Spirit? (Acts 10)

Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Question 21

For the first few years of the church’s existence, only Jews believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior. But Jesus had promised that His message would go out to the entire world. Indeed, immediately before He ascended into heaven He told His disciples the following.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8 NET).

This promise was for the gospel of Christ to reach all people. It would include Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans.

The Persecution Began in Jerusalem

As we read the Book of Acts which records the beginning and development of the Christian church, we find that the disciples of Jesus were persecuted in the city of Jerusalem. Consequently they were scattered. In the Book of Acts it is explained as follows.

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:1-8 ESV).

As Jesus promised, His message went out to the Samaritans. They too believed in Jesus as the Christ. The stage was then set for the gospel to reach the next group of people– the Gentiles.

The Gentiles Were Viewed as Pagans

To the Jews, the Gentiles were unclean pagans. Because they were seen as pagans they were shut out from the blessings of the nation of Israel. They were also compared to dogs. We find an illustration of this in an episode of Jesus with a Gentile woman.

He [Jesus] answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:24-26 NRSV).

While Jesus used the common designation as “dogs,” He did not use the Greek word which represented wild dogs or scavengers; the usual designation for Gentiles. Instead, Jesus’ term was more endearing. It meant house dogs or puppies. Still, the Gentiles were seen as “outsiders.”

Peter’s Vision of Unclean Animals

Since the Gentiles were viewed as “unclean” as far as the Jews were concerned, the Lord gave Simon Peter a vision that set the stage for the entrance of the Gentiles in the church. In this vision he saw a number of unclean animals.

He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing the meal, a trance came over him. He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!” But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!” The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven (Acts 10:10-16 NET).

The Lord was preparing Peter to preach the good news to the unclean Gentiles. It was important for Peter to be the one to open the door to the Gentiles. Jesus said that he would be given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Matthew records Jesus saying the following.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19 CSB).

Peter was given special privileges by the Lord. Indeed, he opened the door of the gospel message to the Jews and Gentiles as well as being the one who laid hands upon the Samaritans when they first believed in Christ.

The Gentiles Come into the Church

In Acts 10, we find that the Gentiles (non-Jews) received the Holy Spirit. The first Gentile believers were Cornelius and his family. Simon Peter preached the word to them.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:44-47 NIV).

The Gentiles were now part of the New Testament church. No longer were they seen as “outsiders” to those who believed in Jesus Christ.

The Sign of Tongues Convinced Peter

There is another issue that must be addressed here. Some people point to this passage as an indication that the gift, or sign, of speaking in tongues as evidence of someone receiving the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is the supernatural gift of speaking in languages which a person had never before learned. It is sometimes argued that speaking in tongues is a sign that a person has received the power, or the baptism, with the Holy Spirit.

But this is not the case. In this instance, the tongue speaking of the Gentiles convinced Peter and the other Jews which were with him that Gentiles were now part of the Christian church. Because the Gentiles exhibited the same supernatural ability to speak in tongues, as the Jews did on the Day of Pentecost, it was clear that they too had received the Holy Spirit.

When Peter later recounted the story, we find that the Jewish believers rejoiced to hear the news. We read.

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18 ESV).

The sign of tongues in this case, then, was to believing Jews to show them that God also had granted forgiveness of sins to Gentiles as well as to Jews.

There Was No Delay in the Reception of the Holy Spirit

Some attempt to argue that these Gentiles were previously converted and what happened in this episode was their “baptism with the Spirit” after their initial salvation experience. However, there is no indication in this passage that there was some delay in the Gentiles reception of the Holy Spirit. While it is clear they were baptized with the Holy Spirit on this occasion the baptism is linked to their conversion. The passage makes this very clear.

And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way? (Acts 11:13-17 ESV).

It states explicitly that the message from Simon Peter would be for their salvation – not any second experience with the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Holy Spirit came upon them showed Peter that these people were now saved. They too had become Christians; part of the body of Christ. Consequently, this passage gives no evidence of any delayed reception of the Holy Spirit.

Summary – Question 21
What Happened When the Gentiles First Received the Holy Spirit? (Acts 10)

The gospel of Jesus Christ went first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans who were half-Jew, half-Gentile. Jesus also promised that it would go the non-Jews, or Gentiles.

The Gentiles were considered as heathens – they were cut off from the blessings of Israel. Consequently, the Lord prepared Peter to preach the message of salvation to the Gentiles by showing him a vision of unclean animals. In this vision the Lord showed Peter than whatever God had cleansed should not be considered unclean. Peter would soon learn that this meant the “unclean” Gentiles would now be considered worthy to believe in Jesus Christ.

When Peter spoke to the Gentile Cornelius, and those at his house, they believed the message of Jesus Christ. These people began to speak in tongues; languages which they had never before learned. The fact they were able to do this convinced Peter that the Gentiles had received the sign of their salvation – the Holy Spirit. It was the same miracle that these Jews experienced on the Day of Pentecost.

It is also clear from this passage that this was their initial salvation experience. There was no second blessing for Cornelius and his household – this was when they became saved.

Thus, this passage gives no evidence of any second work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer which gives them power for ministry. Instead, it illustrated that Jesus’ promise was indeed fulfilled. The good news of forgiveness of sin went out to the Gentiles as it had to the Jews and the Samaritans.

Did Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul, Receive the Holy Spirit after His Conversion? ← Prior Section
Why Did the Apostle Paul Ask Certain Disciples If They Received the Holy Spirit upon Believing? Next Section →
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