How did the commission to make disciples from all ethnic groups unfold once Jesus returned to heaven? We see this in the Book of Acts, where Jesus says, “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 end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And this is exactly what transpires throughout Acts. Peter, John, Stephen, and others preached the gospel around Jerusalem (Acts 2–7). Philip went to Samaria, where he preached Christ and saw many come to faith (Acts 8:4–8). He was then sent by an angel to explain the gospel to a high-ranking Ethiopian court official, who was on his way back home after a visit to Jerusalem (Acts 8:26–38). He came to faith in Christ and continued his journey home, taking the gospel to Africa. From Acts 13 to the end of the book, we see Paul preaching the gospel to people of various ethnicities in the Roman world, from Antioch, through Asia Minor to Greece and Rome.
Peter had a more difficult time grasping what was so clear to Paul. Even though he had received the Great Commission directly from the lips of Jesus, and even though he was the chief of the apostles, he was still blind in some respects. Although he was comfortable taking the gospel to the Jewish people, it took a supernatural vision from God, followed by a supernatural confirmation, to free him from his blindness and prejudice toward the Gentiles. The story takes up the entire tenth chapter of Acts and is too long to quote here. But a brief summary will make the point: God sent an angel to a God-fearing Roman centurion, instructing him to send messengers to a house where Peter was visiting. Just before they arrived, God gave Peter an extraordinary vision, repeated three times, that completely changed his thinking about people from other ethnic groups. Immediately after this, the messengers arrived and invited him to the home of Cornelius to share whatever God had given him to say to them. Upon arrival, Peter said to Cornelius and those gathered with him: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:28–29). At Cornelius’s invitation, Peter began to preach the gospel, but
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:44– 48)
The admission of Gentiles into the church provoked considerable disturbance among the more legalistic members of the Jerusalem mother church, and Peter was called in to explain himself. Peter simply recounted what had happened, and “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). This was one of the most crucial breakthroughs in all church history. Without it, the Christian church would not have survived.
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