At times we Christians seem to believe that, as one of the apostles, Peter enjoyed an authority unprecedented in Church history. The Roman Catholics even elevate Peter to the position of first pope and Vicar (human deputy or substitute) of Christ on earth. However, in thinking this way, we abandon the natural flow and meaning of what Luke tells us, especially in Acts 11. Peter was actually called on the carpet, so to speak, and interrogated over what he had done concerning Cornelius (Acts 11:1-3). One doesn’t do this to one’s lord or master.
Yet, the believing community at Jerusalem called Peter into question over his activities—which were, perhaps, comparable to burning the American flag today by one of our citizens. Peter had to defend himself and came to Jerusalem prepared with six witnesses to what the Lord had done through him (Acts 11:12; cp. 10:23). Peter rehearsed all that he experienced before his interrogators (Acts 11:4-17). This was the third time Luke recorded Peter’s vision and the third time he recorded the Cornelius incident as well, showing their importance to his theme and message of his work.
Although everything was done with human hands, it was God who dispensed his gifts, and what man could withstand God (Acts 11:17)? In other words we may interrogate one another, but is it proper to interrogate God? Who gets to do such a thing? Doesn’t he have the right to do as he pleases, or does he need our say so to permit him to act a certain way? I once heard a well respected Christian preacher say on the radio: “If God doesn’t judge homosexuality today, he needs to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!” Is this statement true? Does God need to apologize for anything after Calvary? Aren’t all debts paid there—assumed by God and paid by him in our stead? Do we have any rights before the Cross?
Upon hearing Peter’s testimony, even the most reluctant of believers concluded that God had freely granted the gentiles repentance (Acts 11:18) by falling upon them with his Spirit as Peter preached the Gospel in their presence. This seems to conclude the matter, but alas, the human heart is difficult to change, as we all (if we are honest with ourselves) could testify. This matter would not change for some time to come and in one way or another probably never changed. The believing Jewish community years later would try to undo the work of God through Paul (Acts 15), and the Church authorities from every corner had to meet together and iron out the problems. But even this wasn’t the end of the matter. In the centuries to come the gentile Church either persecuted the believing Jewish brethren or looked upon them with suspicion, if they kept the Law as part of their heritage in Christ. This was keeping circumcision in reverse. Now, circumcised brethren had to hide their circumcision in order to be accepted as true Christians. Yet, this is not what the Cornelius incident is about.
It would have been ludicrous to demand gentiles to observe the Jewish Holy Days, because these days celebrated God making the Jewish people into a nation. Circumcision demanded commemorating this via the annual Holy Days and the keeping of the kosher laws etc. It would be like Americans demanding everyone in the world to keep the Fourth of July and celebrate Washington’s Birthday in order to be recognized as good world citizens. It simply makes no sense. But, neither does it make any sense to deprive believing Jews of celebrating what makes them Jews in order to be recognized as good followers of the Messiah.