One of the conclusions at which I arrived in my four-part study, "God's covenant people" (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/09/gods-covenant-people-why-most-believing.html) is that the apostle Peter was called by God through the gospel (or "evangel") entrusted to him - i.e., the “evangel of the Circumcision” - to an expectation that is entirely distinct from the expectation that belongs to those who have been called by God through the evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations (i.e., the “evangel of the Uncircumcision”). I further argued that, as a member of God’s covenant people, Israel, Peter had (and continued to have) a covenant-based obligation to keep the law given by God to Israel, and that this covenant-based obligation was inseparable from his covenant-based expectation.
Concerning Peter’s covenant-based obligation, I quoted (and then provided some explanatory remarks on) Matthew 5:17-20 in part three of the aforementioned study. Here, again, is the passage; notice especially Christ’s words in the last two verses (which I’ve placed in bold):
“You should not infer that I came to demolish the law or the prophets. I came not to demolish, but to fulfill. For verily, I am saying to you, Till heaven and earth should be passing by, one iota or one serif may by no means be passing by from the law till all should be occurring. Whosoever, then, should be annulling one of the least of these precepts, and should be teaching men thus, the least in the kingdom of the heavens shall he be called. Yet whoever should be doing and teaching them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I am saying to you that, if ever your righteousness should not be super-abounding more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, by no means may you be entering into the kingdom of the heavens.”
In the context, the righteousness that Christ had in mind in v. 20 is undoubtedly connected with doing the precepts of the law. But what was so deficient about the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees in regard to “doing the precepts?” Christ made it pretty clear what their deficiency consisted in on several occasions during his earthly ministry, but perhaps the most obvious example can be found in Matthew 23:1-3, where we read the following:
Then Jesus speaks to the throngs and to His disciples, saying, “On Moses’ seat are seated the scribes and the Pharisees. All, then, whatever they should be saying to you, do and keep it. Yet according to their acts do not be doing, for they are saying and not doing.”
I don’t think Christ could’ve made it any more obvious to his disciples what was expected of them if they were to “be entering into the kingdom of the heavens” (which, as I’ve argued in "God's covenant people," is the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel at Christ’s return to earth). In order to enter this kingdom, the righteousness of Peter (and every other believing member of God’s covenant people) had to “super-abound” more than that of the scribes and Pharisees. And this meant actually keeping the law of Moses.
Now the apostles and the elders were gathered to see about this matter. Now, there coming to be much questioning, rising, Peter said to them, “Men! Brethren! You are versed in the fact that from the days at the beginning God chooses among you, that through my mouth the nations are to hear the word of the evangel and believe.”
How does this declaration by Peter square with the fact that it was Paul– and not Peter - who was made “the apostle of the nations” (Rom. 11:13)? We know that Peter was not talking about being chosen for an apostolic ministry to “the nations,” in general, for that would’ve meant being chosen to herald his evangel to idol-worshiping pagans (and there is absolutely no indication from Scripture that Peter ever did this). Rather, what Peter had in mind was a single incident that involved a man named Cornelius, and his house (who comprised the “nations” that Peter had in view in v. 7). It was these Gentiles to whom Peter had been chosen by God to herald the evangel with which he’d been entrusted, in accord with his “apostleship of the Circumcision.” And it was this important experience in Peter’s life that taught him something that would later enable him to say what he did at the Jerusalem conference in defense of the unique apostolic ministry of Paul.
It is important to note that Peter was the man to whom Christ had given the “keys of the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 16:19-20). As argued in “God’s covenant people,” the kingdom of the heavens of which Peter had been given the “keys” is the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel, and which is to be established on the earth after Christ’s return to the earth. In light of what we know concerning the authority given to Peter (symbolized by “keys”), it’s no surprise that it was through his apostolic agency that the kingdom of God was “unlocked” to these God-fearing Gentiles. It also needs to be noted that, although Cornelius was uncircumcised (and thus not a proselyte of Israel), he was by no means representative of most Gentiles living during the time of the Roman Empire. Cornelius was “devout and fearing God with his entire house, doing many alms to the people [Israel] and beseeching God continually…a man just and God-fearing, besides being attested by the whole nation of the Jews”(Acts 10: 2, 22). Cornelius and his house evidently recognized their place in subordination to the nation of Israel, and desired to worship the God of Israel via the mediation of Israel. Another example of a God-fearing Gentile like Cornelius would be the Roman centurion referred to in Luke 7:1-5.
What is (conveniently) overlooked by those who believe that only one evangel was being heralded during the apostolic era is the fact that, in the message heralded by Peter to Cornelius and his house (as recorded in Acts 10:34-43), there is no mention whatsoever of one of the essential elements of Paul’s “evangel of the Uncircumcision” (i.e., the fact that “Christ died for our sins”). Just as with the messages Peter had previously heralded to Israelites (as recorded in Acts 2 and 3), this truth is completely absent from what Peter declared to Cornelius and his house:
“Of the word He dispatches to the sons of Israel, bringing the evangel of peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all), you are aware, the declaration coming to be down the whole of Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John heralds: Jesus from Nazareth, as God anoints Him with holy spirit and power, Who passed through as a benefactor and healer of all those who are tyrannized over by the Adversary, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all that He does, both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem; Whom they assassinate also, hanging Him on a pole. This One God rouses the third day, and gives Him to become disclosed, not to the entire people, but to witnesses who have been selected before by God, to us who ate and drank together with Him after His rising from among the dead. And he [God] charges us to herald to the people and to certify that this One is he who is specified by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To this One are all the prophets testifying: Everyone who is believing in Him is to obtain the pardon of sins through His name” (Acts 10:36-43).
Peter’s declaring that Jesus of Nazareth had been anointed by God “with holy spirit and power” is simply another way of identifying Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (see Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34). Everything Peter said – including the facts concerning Jesus’ "assassination" and subsequent resurrection – served to support and further validate this central truth. To say that Jesus is “…he who is specified by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (which, again, was the truth that Peter said he and his co-laborers had been charged by God to herald) was simply another way of saying that Jesus is the Christ, for no other man had been, or would be, given this great authority from God (cf. John 5:21-29).
Why was the fact that Cornelius and his house feared God and acted righteously such a big deal to Peter (so much so that he would introduce his message by pointing out that anyone of any nation who's fearing God and acting righteously is acceptable to God)? We know that, in stark contrast to this, Paul couldn't have cared less about whether or not the Gentiles to whom he heralded his evangel feared God and acted righteously before he evangelized them; their ethical and religious status and behavior prior to hearing his evangel was a complete non-issue for Paul. But for Peter, it mattered greatly. Why? Answer: Because Peter's understanding was that "fearing God and acting righteously" was essential to his own salvation, as a member of God's covenant people.
On the other hand, Peter learned a great deal about what was possible for those of the nations in regard to qualifying for eonian life in this kingdom. By the time Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, he’d come to realize that any Gentile who was “fearing God and acting righteously” (i.e., by conducting themselves as Cornelius and his house did) could qualify for eonian life in the kingdom by obtaining the pardon of sins. Thus, Peter learned that Gentiles did not have to become members of God’s covenant people (by getting circumcised and keeping the law of Moses) in order to be saved; if they feared God and acted righteously, they were acceptable to God, and could be saved through faith in the evangel of the Circumcision, right along with believing Jews.
But by virtue of what could it be said that Cornelius was “fearing God and acting righteously?” What kind of conduct did Peter have in mind when he used these words in reference to Gentiles? Well, according to Acts 10:2, 22, Cornelius was “devout and fearing God with his entire house, doing many alms to the people [Israel] and beseeching God continually…a man just and God-fearing, besides being attested by the whole nation of the Jews” (Acts 10: 2, 22). We also read that a celestial messenger told Cornelius the following in Acts 10:31: “Cornelius, your prayer is hearkened to, and your alms are brought to remembrance in God’s sight.” To whom was Cornelius giving the alms which were “brought to remembrance in God’s sight?” Answer: he was giving alms to the poor among Israel (which is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why he was “attested by the whole nation of the Jews”). This God-fearing Gentile was, in other words, acceptable to God (and thus worthy to have the evangel of the Circumcision heralded to him) because he feared (i.e., took seriously) the God of Israel, and was blessing God’s covenant people, Israel.
This would make Cornelius a prime example (and “firstfruit” representative) of those who belonged to that category of Gentiles referred to as “the sheep” in Matthew 25:31-46 – a category of people who, because of their righteous treatment of God’s covenant people, will be judged worthy by Christ to receive eonian life in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel (for a more in-depth look at the identity of the “sheep” referred to in Matt. 25:31-46, see my seven-part study on this passage: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-judgment-of-sheep-and-goats-study_14.html). In light of the conditions specified in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:3), it can be reasonably inferred that Cornelius and his house were eligible for receiving blessing (i.e., eonian life in the kingdom of God) because they took the God of Israel seriously and were blessing his covenant people. Despite their uncircumcised status, Cornelius and his family would still be able to enjoy an allotment in the millennial kingdom of Israel.