In Acts 11:14 Peter recaps what an angel had told Cornelius, that Peter “will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”
But in the previous chapter Cornelius was described as a “devout and God-fearing” man, who “prayed to God regularly,” “gave generously to those in need,” and was “respected by all the Jewish people,” so what salvation did Cornelius yet need, or need to know about, when he was already a good man in God’s eyes (Acts 10:4)?
Well, Acts 11 is a great chapter for anyone wondering what salvation means, because the gospel message is being introduced to Gentiles who had no clue as yet what salvation was, or the need for it. So the Holy Spirit sets up this episode with Peter and Cornelius to boil it down for them, that salvation was about “belief in the Lord Jesus Christ,” verse 17.
So when the angel told Cornelius that “you and all your household will be saved,” Peter understood that to mean the Holy Spirit was about to give these Gentiles the same gift the Jews had received (verse 17). From now on, therefore, Gentiles could experience “belief in the Lord Jesus Christ” too.
But why was it so important to believe in Jesus as Lord and Christ? Because, as Peter explained back in Acts 10:38, the reason Jesus was both Lord and Christ was to save and rescue humanity from “the power of the devil.”
And that was the message the Holy Spirit wanted Cornelius to know, that life was more than being a good man, because humans being good, or human goodness at its best, had never been enough to combat the devil’s power. The Old Testament made that clear, because it’s the long and sad story of Israel never being able to resist the devil’s deceptions and distractions – and the terrible damage it had done to their hearts, minds and motives.
Gentile history had been no different either, of course, because it too was a horrible mess. So both Jews and Gentiles shared the same helpless inability to combat and heal the damage the devil’s rule had done to them. And nothing has changed in our day either, because here we are now, still facing the same devilish deceptions and distractions. Confusion about what’s right and wrong is rampant, and solutions either fall totally flat or make things worse, like dividing people into camps so we war against each other. Never in my lifetime have I felt such intense pressure from the world squeezing the life out of me, and weighing me down.
But Acts 11 has good news for us, because verse 20 tells us that “men from Cyprus and Cyrene” had already been explaining to the Gentile Greeks in Antioch “the good news about the Lord Jesus.” The Holy Spirit, in other words, was very much at work behind the scenes providing people with the key message of salvation, that the greater power of the “Lord Jesus” was now available to them to heal, see through, and resist the devil’s deceptions and distractions.
What a promise it was, then, when Cornelius heard that he and his household “will be saved,” because it meant they too would experience “the Lord’s hand being with them,” verse 21, in whatever overwhelming pressures and temptations they would be facing in their devilish world.
And when that message was preached “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord,” verse 21, because who else could they turn to for relief and hope? And we’re facing the same helplessness in our world too. We’re being shown again and again, as we humans careen from one crisis to another with no solutions agreed to by all, that we’re being swayed and controlled by powers way more powerful than us.
Paul agrees, because he wrote in Ephesians 6:12 thatour “struggle is not against flesh and blood,” it’s against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But the good news is, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” 1 John 3:8. And ironically the Holy Spirit chose a powerful Gentile soldier brought up in the evil ways of Rome to get that point across to us, because if a man like that can be saved from the devil’s work, so can we.