In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said. Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel. And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.” As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.Acts 10:1-8
Remember who it is we are talking about. Cornelius was a Roman soldier. He was not a Jew, he was one of the occupying forces and he was a Gentile. This man’s story occupies the best past of two chapters in the Word of God. There has to be a major reason for that. In these first eight verses of chapter 10 we are introduced to this man. Luke tells us his name due to his attention to detail and a tendency to give us specific references to the history of events he tells us about. This man was a centurion, [a hekatontarch]. He was a serving soldier in the Roman occupying forces in Palestine and based in Caesarea on the coast. He was a Roman citizen and an officer in the Roman army. Luke tells us he was a centurion, one in charge of a hundred soldiers stationed in Caesarea. As a Centurion Cornelius was under a Tribune who was the commander over 600 soldiers who were part of a Roman Legion consisting of 6,000 soldiers divided into 10 Cohorts or Regiments consisting of 600 men. We are told that Cornelius was serving in the Italian Regiment. The Italian Regiment is likely to be the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum stationed in Palestine in this time up until A.D. 69. The term Civium tells us this was a unit of civil servants of the Roman Empire who were freedmen and chose to serve in the infantry for the Emperor. As a Centurion he commanded respect of Romans and Jews alike. This man was important and had authority.
But notice what else Luke tells us about him. “He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God.” He was devout and God-fearing. This is a very Lukan way of describing a Gentile who has accepted the truth of the Jewish religion and was an adherent at the local synagogue. If Cornelius was sufficiently far along in the process of “conversion” it would have meant that he would have to have been circumcised to take part fully in the synagogue. By the description, Cornelius had embraced Judaism totally and had influenced his household to do the same. That does not just mean his immediate family but all who were associated with the household – I e. all those around him. His servants, his live-in staff and his personal attendants, military and non-military. Cornelius prayed regularly and gave alms regularly too and worshipped the God of the Hebrews – YHWH.
One day at three o’clock (the ninth hour), when Cornelius was praying he had an angelic visitation. Three o’clock in the afternoon was the time of the offering of sacrifice at the temple. Devout Jews observed an hour of prayer at this time. It is most likely that this God-fearer was observing the hour of prayer too, at home. Neither the Jew nor the proselyte needed to attend the temple. The hour of prayer could be observed at home at the time the sacrifice was made by the priest at the temple. While Cornelius is in prayer to YHWH he saw an angel of God come to him and address him by name. Not only does Luke know his name but even more importantly God knows his name. This was not a dream, Cornelius was fully awake praying and he sees an angel come to him. The term use to describe this is [horama]. The recipient was awake but granted the opportunity to see into the realm of God. He fixed his eyes on the angel before him and fully takes in the moment granted to him. The angel addresses him by name, which means that God knows his name. The Jews believers would pray regularly, “God remember me”. This encounter with the angel of God is a highly significant moment. Not only was Cornelius granted an angelic visitation but the angel was sent to him specifically, knowing to whom he was sent to deliver the message. The significance of this indicates Cornelius was specifically chosen by God as a participant in this event.
Was Cornelius afraid as such or does the use of [emphobos] just simply mean he feared in the sense of being God fearing – paying due reverence in the situation? It is hard to tell, it could mean either. Either way Cornelius fully comprehends the situation. It is recorded in the NLT that he responded with “What is it Sir?” but the term could also be “What is it Lord?” This doesn’t necessarily have to mean LORD but rather Lord. Whatever the case Cornelius was aware that he was experiencing an angelic visitation and the angel was coming with a message for him personally. “God has heard your prayers and noted your alms giving”. Because of that He wants you to send men to Simon’s house in Joppa and ask a man named Peter to come to your home.” To a Jew in this situation that would be a strange thing to ask. An angel is telling him that he is to summon a man who is unclean by virtue of what he does. The man he is told to send for a tanner. Tanners were regarded as unclean and forced to live at least fifty cubits from any town. No doubt Simon lived close by the sea because his trade require the water to wash the stinking hides as they cured. But it is not such an issue for Gentiles, who don’t live by such a strict code of clean and unclean.
As soon as the angel disappeared (was gone) Cornelius wants to fulfil that which he has been told to do. So he calls two household servants and one of his personal aids, a soldier who also believes in YHWH along with the rest of the household. We have already been told that the household are all God-fearers. The repetition of the fact in the case of his personal aid is for emphasis. These three who go to fetch Peter are believers. The strength of the text here indicates that all of this was with urgency. Cornelius is keen to fulfil what the angel has told him as soon as possible. So the men are dispatched after all this has taken place following the hour of prayer. Likely they left certainly after 4 pm in the afternoon with darkness coming quickly.
- One reader has asked, “Did all this happen quickly? It confuses me that it all seems so urgent yet there are numbers of next day . . . next day and Peter invites them in to stay the night.
- Why didn’t they just head back straight away?
- How far is it between Caesarea and Joppa? It doesn’t seem that it’s too far.
- What’s going on here Ian? I am hoping you will explain this.”
Before I explain it I will share this reader’s dilemma with all of you. What do you think?
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.Theodore Roosevelt
To be much like Christ, be much WITH Christ.Charles H. Surgeon
In life, we become like the ones we spend time with.Sidney Mohede
Your only limitation is your past achievement!Ian Vail