“And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.” (Acts 10:45–46, AV)
One evening while I was serving in the Army, I was in the field. It was late at night and I had to find a bathroom. So, I got out of my small tent and decided to go there. It was pitch dark and we were in a tactical posture, which meant we could not use our flashlights. I walked around for a while trying to find the latrine. However, when I finally arrived at what I thought was the latrine, I saw some barbed-wire and a sign that said “Danger, No Smoking.” Seeing the sign, I reasoned that I had accidentally stumbled into the ammunition area, a place where I was not supposed to be. I promptly turned about and, somehow, found my tent again. Certain signs will change our mind about things.
This is what we see in this passage. Remember that the first Christians were Jews who believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah who died on the cross to pay the penalty of their sin and then rose again. As Jews, they considered that Jesus and salvation was exclusively for the Jews and that the Gentiles were excluded. Yet here, something happened that they would never have anticipated.
Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and other Gentiles who were with him. The text states that what they saw caused them to be astonished. What did they see? They saw and heard the Gentiles speaking in “tongues,” just as they had experienced on the Day of Pentecost. This, manifestation of the Spirit, was an unmistakable sign to them that salvation had come to the Gentiles.
What was this speaking of tongues? It was that these Gentiles were speaking in real languages that they formerly did not speak, just like happened on the Day of Pentecost.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2:4–6, AV)
The sign the Jews received was unmistakable. It was vital for the Jews to understand. There was likely no other sign that would have had the same influence on changing the Jewish believer’s minds to believe that salvation was also for the Gentiles.
When Peter went up to Jerusalem, he discovered that the Jews there did not believe that the Gentiles had been saved. In fact, those of the circumcision, Jews, criticized him (11:1-3). Peter had to explain to them about his vision of the sheet coming down with unclean food and the Lord’s words regarding this. He then explained what happened to the Gentiles that heard the word.
“Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:15–18, AV)
The Jews needed a sign that was specific and that could not be mimicked in order to have such a drastic change of mind towards the Gentiles. Today, we do not need such a sign as we know something that the Jews then did not. We know that salvation is both for the Jew and Gentile who believe in Jesus.