Cornelius the Centurion. Acts 10, 1-48.

The vision of Cornelius: V.1. There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, v.2. a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. V.3. He saw in a vision, evidently about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. V.4. Anti when he looked on him, he was afraid and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. v.5. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter; v.6. he lodgeth with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside; he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. V.7. And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; v.8. and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. While Saul, in his own city of Tarsus, was awaiting the time when the Lord would assign definite work among the Gentiles to him, or, as some think, was bringing the Gospel to the province of Cilicia, God was Himself stirring the hearts of some few people outside of the chosen nation. A certain man there lived in Caesarea by the seaside, the residence of the Roman governors of Judea, whose name was Cornelius. This man was a heathen by birth, as his Latin name seems to indicate. His official position was that of centurion of the company known as the Italic cohort, the tenth part of a Roman legion, which was stationed at Caesarea. The Italic cohorts were made up of volunteer Roman citizens born in Italy, and are shown by history to have existed in several eastern provinces. Cornelius was not only good and generous, but devout, pious, a God-fearing proselyte, a man who with his family, and probably his servants as well, had come to know the true God, much like the centurion of Capernaum, Matt. 8, 5. From the Jews, among whom he lived for so many years, Cornelius had heard of the coming Messiah, by whose coming and work the true righteousness before God would be his: this faith had taken hold of his heart and gave sufficient, evidence of its presence in his many alms and in his continual prayers to God.36) Thus Cornelius was not merely an upright, honorable man of the world, but a believer in the Messiah, whose coming he, however, with many of the devout Jews, put into the future, not knowing that all the prophecies had been fulfilled in and through Jesus of Nazareth. But the Lord knew the condition of his heart and determined to give him and his entire house the full revelation of the New Testament. Accordingly, God arranged it so that Cornelius, about the ninth hour of the day, about the time of the evening sacrifice in the Temple, one of the hours of prayer, saw in a vision distinctly, manifestly, plainly, making an illusion impossible, an angel of the Lord coming in to him with a message. The heavenly messenger, first of all, called him by name, in itself a distinction, Is. 43, 1. But Cornelius instinctively shrank back, as sinful men are liable to do in the presence of a sinless being. His eyes were fixed upon the angel and he was filled with fear, as he said, “What is it, Lord?” for he recognized the messenger from God. But the angel’s calm words reassured him. His prayers had been heard by God, and his works of mercy had come to the attention of God; they were credited to him in the memory of the Lord. The eyes of God are ever watching those that fear Him, whose hearts trust in Him by faith, and whose hands are willing to serve Him. He hears their prayers and remembers all their works. But the angel now told Cornelius that he should send some men to Joppa as his messengers, to fetch one Simon, distinguished from other men of the same name by his surname Peter. His place of lodging was with Simon, the tanner, who lived near the sea, outside of the city proper, on account of the nature of his business. This Peter would be able and willing to give him such information as he needed at this time. For while Cornelius was a true believer according to Old Testament standards, cp. John 1, 47, he lacked the knowledge of the Messiah that had appeared, and this should be supplied by Peter. Note: Although the angel might well have given Cornelius a full understanding of the Gospel, the Lord does not commission him to that end, but directs the centurion to one of His preachers of salvation. Through His holy Word, as proclaimed by the mouth of men, God calls men to salvation. 37) No sooner had the angel delivered his message than Cornelius proceeded to act upon the command which he had received. Though it was now late in the afternoon, he summoned two of his own domestic servants and a soldier who, like himself, was devout and God-fearing, one who belonged to the smaller guard of sentries whom he could trust implicitly, since they were truly devoted to him. To these three messengers Cornelius explained the entire matter in all confidence, withholding nothing from them which might serve for the understanding of the situation, and then sent them off to Joppa, which was located almost due south of Caesarea, at a distance of some thirty miles. Note: The relation between Cornelius and those employed by him and under his jurisdiction, as here pictured, might serve as an example to all employers and servants alike. If such conditions of mutual respect and confidence, based upon the fear of the same God, obtain, there will hardly be a servant problem or a dissatisfaction of labor.

The vision of Peter: V.9. On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour; v.10. and he became very hungry, and would have eaten; but while they made ready, he fell in to a trance, v.11. and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great she e t knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth, v.12. wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. V.13. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. V.14. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. V.15. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. V.16. This was done thrice; and the vessel was received up again in to heaven. The journey from Caesarea to Joppa may well have taken some nine to ten hours, thus bringing the three messengers into the neighborhood of the southern seaport about noon of the next day. But it was necessary, meanwhile, for the Lord to prepare Peter for the coming visit, lest he draw back in horror at the thought of being the guest of a Gentile. While the men were pursuing their journey, walking their way, therefore, and nearing the city of Joppa, about noon, Peter went up to the flat roof of the house where he was lodging, for the purpose of praying, since this was one of the hours of prayer observed by the devout Jews. But while he was engaged in this service of worship, he became intensely hungry, unusually eager for food, for which reason he intended to have lunch, probably stating his wishes to that effect to the people of the house at once. But while they were preparing the meal downstairs, a trance, a condition of ecstasy, came upon Peter. Not that he was unconscious, but his mind and spirit were detached from ordinary thinking and feeling, and he was enabled to hear and see things which the normal person could not have perceived. In this condition he beheld the heaven opened and descending out of the opening a vessel, or container, shaped like a large sheet, whose four ends or corners were tied in order to hold the contents together, and to enable it to be lowered down. In the container thus held before Peter’s spiritualized eyes there were all kinds of four footed animals and reptiles and fowls, the unclean mixed with the clean in a conglomerate mass, without regard to Levitical division or distinction. Cp. Lev. 11, 9; Deut. 14, 9. And at this moment a voice came to him inviting him to rise, to slaughter, and to eat. But the impetuous Peter, still held by the tradition of the legal distinctions concerning animal food, rejected the invitation with great emphasis: By no means, Lord, for never have I eaten anything common or unclean. At first blush he may have regarded the entire vision as a temptation to evil. But the voice rebuked him, correcting his position, by speaking to him again the second time: What God has rendered clean do not thou render profane. By the act of offering them to Peter, God had revoked the Levitical command, and cleansed the animals formerly regarded as unclean. Three times the Lord had this vision appear, three times the container was held before Peter, three times the invitation came to him, before the vessel was finally taken up to heaven again. By means of this vision God clearly indicated that the barrier between Jews and Gentiles had now been removed, that the Gentiles also should be admitted to the kingdom of God and of Christ. This lesson is necessary even today, when race prejudices sometimes seriously threaten to interfere with missionary efforts.

The arrival of the messengers: V.17. Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate, v.18. and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. V.19. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. V.20. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them. V.21. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius, and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek; what is the cause wherefore ye are come? V.22. And they said, Cornelius, the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. V.23a. Then called he them in and lodged them. The vision which God had sent to Peter troubled, perplexed him, it made him uneasy, uncertain as to what to do next. The general drift of the intended communication he observed, but its application was not clear to him. Did it mean only the abolishing of the ceremonial part of the Old Testament revelation, or was even more than this included? And to what special case did the Lord have reference? But these doubts and perplexities were quickly removed, for in the mean time the messengers of Cornelius had reached the city; they had made inquiry as to the location of the house to which they were directed; they had found the right place and were even now standing at the gate below. The vaulted passageway which, in Oriental houses, led from the street to the inner court was closed on the outside by a heavy folding gate with a small wicket kept by a porter. At this gate the messengers were standing, calling out, either to the porter or to some of the other servants in their inquiry, whether Simon, with the surname Peter, were lodging there. Peter, who knew nothing of all this commotion, was informed concerning it by the Spirit. While he was still pondering about the vision, trying to recognize the purpose of God clearly, the Spirit told him that the men were seeking him, and bade him arise, go down, and make the trip with the men, without any doubt or hesitation, since He, God Himself, had sent the men. Here Peter had the solution of the puzzling question. He was not to shrink back in horror from the idea of accompanying the strangers, but was to go willingly and gladly. Peter still did not know what special message the men were bringing, but he followed the bidding of the Spirit. Going down to the men, who seem still to have been standing at the gate or in the passageway, he informed them as to his identity, and inquired as to the reason for their presence. And the three faithful messengers made good use of the confidence which their master had placed in them, incidentally showing their love and respect for Cornelius. They refer to him as a just man, unblamable in his relations to his fellow-men according to Jewish standards, and also as a God-fearing man, one that had accepted the God of the Jews and no longer put his trust in idols. Moreover, he had a good report, was well spoken of by the entire people of the Jews; all men had the highest regard for his integrity. Of this master they report that he had been warned of God, that he had received a message from a holy angel as the messenger of the Lord, to fetch Peter into his house, in order to hear words from him. “Connecting this message, sent by the order of a ‘holy angel,’ with the vision, and with the command of the Spirit to go with the men, nothing doubting, Peter now in an instant sees that he is called by divine authority, through the angel, through the vision, through the Spirit, to do what he had always before thought sinful, to go into the house of a Gentile, and to speak to him the Word of the Lord. Nothing less than an unmistakable divine call could have induced him to do this; but now he has no alternative unless he would withstand God.” 38) The first result of this clear grasp of the situation was that Peter invited the messengers in, made them his guests, and provided proper lodging for them. Peter now understood that God was not only the God of the Jews, but of the Gentiles as well, since He wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. In the whole story the hand of the Lord is evident. And so the entire course of every person's life is in the hand of God, all circumstances being ordered by God, even the so-called chance happenings. And God ever renews evidence of the fact that He wants people to come near to the Word, and wants to bring the Word near to the people.

The meeting of Peter and Cornelius : V.23b. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. V.24. And the morrow after they entered in to Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends. V.25. And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshiped him. V.26. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. V.27. And as he talked with him, he went in and found many that were come together. V.28. And he said unto ' them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. V.29. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for. I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me. It was not possible for Peter to leave Joppa at once, principally because he wanted some of the brethren from Joppa to accompany him on this trip. But the next morning the messengers set out with Peter, and some of the members of the congregation at Joppa went with them. Since they did not travel quite so fast as the servants with the soldier had in coming down, they were on the road all day and did not reach Caesarea until the next morning. But Cornelius, versed in military matters, had figured out with considerable exactness when be might look for them. He was confidently expecting them on that morning, and had therefore called together his relatives and his intimate friends, such upon whose discretion he could depend, and who were probably of a like mind with him concerning the worship of the true God. The state of mind in which Cornelius found himself on this morning may be pictured from his behavior when Peter finally entered his house. Acting upon the idea, no doubt, that the servant and messenger of the Lord, whose very coming was directed by an angel, must be worthy of extraordinary reverence, he advanced to meet Peter and fell down at his feet to worship him, to honor God in him. But Peter wanted nothing of such worship. He lifted Cornelius to his feet, gently chiding him meanwhile, by bidding him get up, since he himself was only a man. Note: This plain statement of Peter ought to discourage every idea of saint worship; for if he refuses to accept such adoration while he could hear the prayers that might be directed to him, how much more must it be considered foolish and harmful to address prayers to him now that he is removed from the presence of the Christian congregation! Immediately after this greeting the two men started a conversation and, while they were conversing together, entered into the inner room, the atrium, where Peter found many people assembled, all waiting, in interested expectation, for the words which Peter was to speak to them. The apostle first of all addressed a few words to the assembly to make the situation clear; for they were very well aware how “unlawful,” how much at variance with the Law as understood by the Jews, his behavior must be, since he, a Jew, was here coming to, and intermingling with, Gentiles, people of a foreign race, in any way becoming intimate with them. Note the tact of Peter in using the word “of foreign race” instead of the harsher “heathen.” There was no express prohibition of such behavior by Moses, but the traditions of the rabbis carried the principle of separation to such a n extreme. But Peter here declares, not only that God had told him, but that He had distinctly and unmistakably shown him, that he should not speak of nor call any person common and unclean. The men present in the house of Cornelius may not have been members of the Jewish Church by virtue of circumcision, but they belonged to the people for whose sake the Messiah had come, and were therefore entitled to the preaching of the Gospel. Knowing this, Peter had come to them without contradiction or resistance, in simple obedience to the word of the Lord, when they had‘ sent for him. And now his question was for what purpose they had sent for him, what object they had in making him travel this distance and appear before them.

The explanation of Cornelius: V.30. And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing v.31. and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. V.32. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon, a tanner, by the seaside; who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. V.33. Immediately therefore I Sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God. It was doubtless with deepest emotion that Peter entered into the door of a Gentile’s house, and Cornelius was no less deeply moved at the evident hearing of his prayer by the Lord and by the prospect which was thereby opened up to him. The two had probably agreed that it would be best for the sake of all those present to rehearse the connection of events once more, in order that the minds of all might be clear on the matter. Cornelius therefore repeats the story of the events leading up to the present moment: that four days ago, on the fourth day before, he had been engaged in prayer in his house, at the ninth hour; that a man had stood before him in a shining vestment, his humble description of the angel that had appeared to him; that this messenger had informed him of the hearing of his prayer and of the remembering of his alms before God (both his prayers and his alms had been sacrifices by which he had brought himself into God’s remembrance); that he had commanded him to send to Joppa and call thence Simon with the surname Peter, who was lodging in the house of one Simon, a tanner, by the sea; that this Peter, having come, would speak to him, bring him a very important message. All these words of Cornelius, presenting a very vivid picture, were addressed as much to his relatives and friends as to Peter. But now he turns to the apostle with a characteristic, humble, beautiful statement: Immediately, at once, without delay, I sent to thee, and thou hast done well in coming; now we all here before God are present to hear all that thou hast been charged with by the Lord to proclaim to us. There are two points of deep significance in this statement: that the entire assembly was conscious of the presence of God, and that they were all convinced that it was a message from God which Peter was charged with proclaiming. Peter therefore surely spoke under ideal circumstances, and could expect that his audience would attend with the proper diligence and reverence.

The first part of Peter’s sermon: V.34. Then Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; v.35. but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him. V.36. the Word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all:) v.37. that Word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; v.38. how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. Under such ideal conditions, with an attentive, eager audience, it must have been an unusual pleasure to preach the Gospel. And Peter made the most of the occasion. Solemnly he began his address by stating that he now of a truth comprehended and understood fully that God is not a respecter of persons, literally, that He does not look upon the face of people. The outward face, form, and bearing of people do not influence the judgment of the Lord. In every nation of the world he that truly fears the Lord, that has his heart turned to Him in confident faith, and performs righteousness, shows by his entire manner of living that the fear of the Lord actuates him in all his doings, he is acceptable to God. This inclusive statement swept aside the confining bonds of the Mosaic covenant, and proved to be the keynote of the entire mission-work of the Church from that time forth. The reception of the salvation merited by Jesus Christ is no longer conditioned by nationality, but by the condition of the heart. The call to redemption is extended to all men, regardless of color, race, and language. After this great introductory, fundamental truth had been stated, Peter could launch forth into his favorite subject, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told his hearers that they already knew three facts. They knew the Word which had been sent to the children of Israel as a Gospel-message from God, bringing the good and glorious news of peace through Jesus Christ. The latter Peter, in a parenthesis, distinguishes from the ordinary prophets and apostles, the servants of the Word, as the Lord over all, thus declaring His deity. They furthermore knew, he tells them, the historical fact that the Word concerning Jesus was made known, published, by Himself, in His prophetical ministry, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached. And they finally knew about the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, namely, that God Himself anointed Him with the Holy Ghost and with power, who then traveled through the country doing good, performing miracles as the Benefactor of mankind, and healing all those that were kept in subjection by the devil, as the Lord and Master, before whom the spirits of darkness must bow; for God was with Him. These facts, with which his hearers were familiar in whole or in part, Peter impresses upon them as facts whose knowledge is necessary for salvation. Note that Peter emphasizes the deity of Jesus also in the last statement, which says that the two unchanged natures are united in the person of Christ. 39)

The last part of Peter's sermon: V.39. And We are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree. V.40. Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly, v.41. not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. V.42. And He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. V.43. To Him give all the prophets witness that through His name, whosoever believeth in Him, shall receive remission of sins. To the facts which these men of Caesarea knew, and which they had always viewed in a somewhat detached, objective way, as concerning the Jews only, Peter now adds the weight of his personal testimony, together with that of the other apostles. Witnesses they are of all the things which Jesus did in the land of the Jews, in Palestine in general and in Jerusalem; witnesses they are also of the fact that the Jews became HIS murderers by suspending Him on the cross. But this same Jesus God had raised up from the dead, and had granted that He should be revealed as the living Christ. But this revelation was purposely not made to all the people; the personal prophetic ministry of Jesus was brought to a close with His death. Only to those men was the living Christ revealed, to those witnesses, that had been expressly chosen by God before, and who had both eaten and drunk with Christ after His resurrection from the dead. By being made apostles, these men were also delegated as witnesses, and they were making no haphazard, dark assertions as to something which they themselves knew only at second hand, but their testimony was based upon personal experience. In addition the apostles had received the charge to act as His heralds to all the people, in proclaiming the Gospel as well as in bearing witness to the fact that Jesus has been ordained, definitely appointed, by God as the Judge of the living and of the dead, John 5, 22. Peter had now stated as a basic truth the fact that race and nationality debars no one from the blessings of God; he had reminded his hearers of the Gospel history which they had heard of and had viewed in a disinterested way; he had added his personal testimony as to the great facts in the working of salvation. And now he comes to the climax of his sermon, the application of the truths just proclaimed to his own present audience, placing full emphasis upon the fact that this wonderful message was not confined to the children of Israel, but concerned every one present in a most vital way. For to Jesus, he called out, all the prophets gave witness that every one that believes on Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name. Only by accepting the great truths of the Gospel as meant especially for them would they become partakers of the peace and joy which they contained for every believer. That is the summary of Gospel-preaching. “He could not have spoken more clearly than when he says: through His name, and adds: all that believe on Him. Therefore we receive forgiveness of sins through the name of Christ, that is, for Christ’s sake, not for the sake of our merit or works, and that is done when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.” 40) “This He wants preached and believed in all the world, and thereby sets aside all boasting of the Jews and of all work-saints [self-righteous men], that they should know that they cannot, receive the grace of God through the Law and their own works, but can receive forgiveness of sins only in the name of this Christ by faith.” 41)

The effect of the sermon: V.44. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word. V.45. 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. V.46. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then answered Peter, v.47. Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? V.48. And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. The Lord, in this instance, had evidently planned to give an unusual demonstration of His power. For as Peter was still uttering the last impressive words of his discourse, the Holy Spirit fell upon, and filled, all those that were listening to the preaching of the Word. They had been believers in the coming Messiah before, in the Christ that was to bring redemption to the Jews; they were now believers in the Christ that had died for them on Calvary, whose full salvation had been earned for them. And the Holy Spirit was imparted to them in extraordinary measure, in such a way, in fact, as to cause the greatest astonishment in all the Jews that were present, in Peter as well as in the members of the congregation at Joppa. Here they had visible evidence of the fact that the Gentiles were indeed acceptable to the Lord, for the Spirit even gave them the gift of tongues, thus enabling them to praise and magnify the God of their salvation in languages which had been unknown to them before that day. Cp chap. 11, 17. It was not mere jubilant ecstatic praising of God which Luke here records, but a repetition of the Pentecost miracle, although probably not on so great a scale. Peter, at any rate, was fully convinced. He voiced his feelings in the emphatic rhetorical question: Surely no one present would want to hinder the water that these men might not be baptized! There could be no possible reason for refusing to accept these men into the Christian Church in whose case the Lord had so plainly indicated that the Gentiles also should find admission into the kingdom of Christ. All difference between Jews and Gentiles has been removed by the death of Jesus. Full salvation and all the gifts of the Holy Ghost are ready for all the world, for all that will but accept these blessings with the hand of faith. And so Peter, who, in this instance, did not baptize himself, now gave the order, entrusting its execution probably to Philip the Evangelist, whose labors extended to this city, that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and thus be sealed with all the heavenly blessings which the Savior has gained and appropriates through the water of Baptism. No wonder that Cornelius and his friends, after this experience, earnestly begged Peter to remain with them a little longer, to spend some time with them, at least a number of days. They were anxious to hear more of the wonderful testimony concerning Jesus the Savior.

Summary. Peter, having been called to Caesarea by Cornelius and prepared for the visit by a special vision from heaven, preaches the Gospel to the Gentiles, who thereupon receive the Holy Ghost and are baptized.