1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” 7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Chapter 10 begins with the story of a Gentile centurion named Cornelius, a God-fearing man. His conversion marked a new era in Christian missions whereby Gentiles were incorporated into the body of Christ. The issue in this chapter was whether God accepted Gentiles into the body of Christ, the church. Were they to remain “unclean” Gentiles, or would they fellowship in the church on equal terms? Peter would have to jump a massive hurdle for him personally to resolve this question.
Luke recounted the story of Peter and Cornelius three times (Acts 10; 11; 15:6-9). Both received visions preparing them to connect with each other. This connection prepared Christian Jews to accept Christian Gentiles in the church. The effect was two different cultures coming together as one (Eph 2:11-22). Up to this point, the church was Jewish, with few exceptions.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment,
Caesarea was a major port on the Mediterranean Sea and a military base for the Romans. It was the residence of the Roman governor, and its dominant population was Gentile. Herod the Great rebuilt Caesarea with a harbor, theater, amphitheater, temple, aqueduct, and hippodrome, all dedicated to Caesar Augustus. It was the city where Pilate lived. A significant Jewish community lived there as well. Joppa lay about 30 miles to the south of Caesarea.
A centurion oversaw 100 soldiers. The Italian Regiment or cohort consisted of 600 soldiers.
a devout man and one who feared God with all his household,
Luke described Cornelius as “devout” and someone who “feared God.” He and his family were God-fearing Gentiles, yet they were not Christian (Acts 11:14).
who gave alms generously to the people,
Cornelius gave alms to the Jews and probably through the synagogue.
and prayed to God always.
Cornelius was faithful in his prayers. Although he was pious, he needed the gospel message from Peter, whom God would sovereignly put in his life. This centurion was not a Christian but someone who lived up to the light he knew at this time. God always gives further light to those with positive volition.
About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly [distinctly] in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
This centurion had a vision from an angel of God in the afternoon at about three o’clock, the customary time for Jewish daily prayer. He “clearly” saw an angel who called Cornelius by name. He was not asleep but awake at this time of the day. The vision consisted of divine guidance.
And when he observed him, he was afraid [reverent awe], and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.
The angel reminded Cornelius of his piety and that it came up for a memorial before God. God received his piety as favorable (Acts 10:2, 4, 22, 35).
Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.
The angel told Cornelius to send a delegation for Peter in Joppa. Joppa was about 30 miles (50km) from Caesarea.
He is lodging with Simon [Peter], a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.”
Evidently, God prepared Peter to open the gospel to the Gentiles by staying with a Gentile tanner (considered unclean by Jews).
And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually.
After the angel left, Cornelius called three men to fetch Peter. Two were household servants and one a military aide, who was also “devout.” He carefully chose trustworthy people to go to Joppa to find Peter.
So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Cornelius related his vision to his men and then dispatched them to Joppa.
The purpose of visions is divine guidance.
Acts 9 and 10 contain four visions: Saul and Ananias in chapter 9 and Cornelius and Peter in chapter 10. These two chapters are the visionary portions of the book of Acts. The reason for visions in these two chapters was divine guidance. Especially in chapter 10, a vision was necessary to break through the early church’s attitude toward Gentiles (non-Jews). The conversion of the Ethiopian does not apply because of the content of Acts 10. The early church consisted primarily of converted Jews with a strong bias against Gentiles; Peter, the apostle to the circumcised, resisted attempts to evangelize them (Acts 10:14, 28; 11:2, 3, 8). However, God sovereignly opened the door to reach Gentiles for Christ (Acts 10:3, 11-16; 11:5-10, 13, 15-17). Ironically, the apostle to the Jews was the one who opened the door to Gentiles (Acts 10:23, 34-43; 11:15-17). God granted Gentiles entrance into the church (Acts 11:18).