Acts 10:44-48 reveals a critical moment in the early church’s history. It was the first time that the gospel was being preached to uncircumcised Gentiles by one of the apostles. Unlike the Hellenistic believers, the apostles and other Judean believers were not ready to receive Gentiles in the church.
Since Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, they thought that the gospel was to be shared only with Jews from near and far. The Gentiles would first have to be converted to Judaism and then be accepted into the community of faith. In other words, before Gentiles could become Christians, they first had to become Jews. That was the thinking that needed to be changed among these early Jewish believers.
The gift of tongues given to Cornelius and his household was added as a clear, observable sign that such a concept was mistaken, that God has no favorites, and that in terms of salvation both Jews and Gentiles stand on equal footing before Him.
Read Acts 11:1-18. How did the church in Jerusalem react to Peter’s experience at Caesarea?
The long-established Jewish prejudice concerning Gentiles led the believers in Jerusalem to criticize Peter for having eaten with uncircumcised people. It seems that they were more concerned with Jewish ceremonial scruples than with the salvation of Cornelius and his family. They might have feared that if the church broke with such practices it would represent a denial of Israel’s faith; they would lose God’s favor, and become liable themselves to the same accusations—from their fellow Jews—that had led to Stephen’s death.
“The time had come for an entirely new phase of work to be entered upon by the church of Christ. The door that many of the Jewish converts had closed against the Gentiles was now to be thrown open. And the Gentiles who accepted the gospel were to be regarded as on an equality with the Jewish disciples, without the necessity of observing the rite of circumcision.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 136.
As at Pentecost, here, too, they spoke in languages previously unknown to them, rather than in ecstatic or heavenly languages. Only the purpose was different: while for the apostles the gift aimed at the church’s world mission, for Cornelius it functioned as a confirmation that God’s grace was operating even among the Gentiles.
Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons