Peter and Cornelius
1In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, who was the captain of a group of soldiers called “The Italian Unit.” 2Cornelius was a very religious man. He worshiped God, and so did everyone else who lived in his house. He had given a lot of money to the poor and was always praying to God.
3One afternoon at about three o'clock, Cornelius had a vision. He saw an angel from God coming to him and calling him by name. 4Cornelius was surprised and stared at the angel. Then he asked, “What is this all about?”
The angel answered, “God has heard your prayers and knows about your gifts to the poor. 5Now send some men to Joppa for a man named Simon Peter. 6He is staying with Simon the leather maker, who lives in a house near the sea.” 7After saying this, the angel left.
Cornelius called in two of his servants and one of his soldiers who worshiped God. 8He explained everything to them and sent them off to Joppa.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus had told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and give them power to fulfill the great commission, beginning first in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, and finally everywhere in the world.
Saul (Paul) has just been sent out informally to the Gentiles from Jerusalem. The narrative will return to him shortly.
But at this point in the narrative important theological questions arise. When the Gentiles hear the good news, how will they relate to God? Will they be considered different from Jewish believers?
God had made his covenant with his people Israel, and called upon them to be a light to the Gentiles. He was now clearly moving beyond Israel’s geographical boundaries, but how about the markers of inheritance and God’s covenantal promises?
Just as we saw God appear to Saul in a vision, we see that he now does so to an Italian centurion. As was the case with Saul, he is spoken to by name, Cornelius.
And what transpires is actually quite striking, not simply because Cornelius has been told exactly where Simon Peter is, but because God tells Cornelius to send men to summon Peter, one of the foremost among the apostles, rather than telling Cornelius to go to Peter himself.
Is God trying to convey something in this? Is he endorsing something about Cornelius, or teaching something to Peter? Is he suggesting that Cornelius’s authority as a Roman centurion will still have some temporal standing in his kingdom, or is he teaching Peter something about the equivalence of the Roman Gentile’s faith?
Cornelius, being the good soldier he is, obeys immediately, and as a tribute to his devout nature, we find that he sends similarly devout three men. This is not a duty for a mere soldier.
Lord of Hosts,
You rule not simply mankind, but command the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
We praise you that your spiritual army grows by the day in numbers and in power.
We thank you that for all our distinctions in rank, we have one commander, and one mission.
Encourage us to it today.