There is a prophecy to be found in the story of Cornelius. He was a Roman centurion living in Caesarea – a fortified city built along the shores of the Mediterranean about nine miles south of Mt. Carmel. It was a harbor for the great ships sailing the Mediterranean. The city was named after the Roman Caesar – Caesarea.
It was a military outpost for the dreaded Roman army and headquarters for Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in charge of the rebellious Jewish nation. It was thought to be the political center for the region. Among those administrators who came to Caesarea were Herod, Felix, and Festus.
Beginning of Gentile Christianity
The conversion of Cornelius marked the beginning of Gentile Christianity. Up until his conversion, all believers were Jews, and frankly many wanted it to stay that way.
But the prophets had declared that all nations would be drawn to the Messiah. Therefore, Cornelius became not only the fulfillment of Old Testament prophetic passages, but also became a prophetic picture of that which was to come.
First, the story. Cornelius was a centurion over a band of soldiers – at a time when the Roman army was considered to be a group of foreign cut-throats who held hostage the nation of Israel. In spite of Jewish hatred for the Romans, he was a good man and well respected among the people.
Prayers and Alms of Cornelius
Cornelius possessed two remarkable characteristics that moved heaven in his favor. The story is found in Acts 10:1-4:
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
“A devout man and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
“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.
“And 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.”
The angel came to proclaim, “God has heard your prayers,” and furthermore, “God has seen your giving.” As unpopular as these two religious exercises may seem to be, they nevertheless impressed the God of glory enough to send an angel to tell him that God will never forget. His prayers and alms giving ascended before the Lord as a memorial to the sincerity of his life.
It is amazing to me that though Cornelius was neither a Christian nor a Jew, the great Creator in heaven above was tremendously impressed with Cornelius.
First of all, God heard his prayers. It was generally thought among the rabbis that God would not hear the prayers of a sinner. However, here is an occasion where God not only heard, but was impressed by the prayers of a Gentile sinner.
If you miss everything else in this study, please understand the importance of prayer. If Cornelius could impress heaven with his praying, surely God will hear your prayers.
The strength of any Christian or any group of Christians can be determined by their prayers. There is a dynamic power source through prayer not available in any other religious exercise.
Dear Christian, learn to pray, for you can shake heaven with your prayers. The scriptural admonition, “Pray without ceasing,” penned by the apostle Paul came from a man experienced in the great blessings to be received from a consistent prayer life.
However insignificant you may seem to feel, God Almighty Himself can be impressed with your prayers. If God could hear the prayers of a wicked Roman, He will surely be pleased when you take time to pray.
Then second, the angel of the Lord told Cornelius that God was impressed with one other thing about his life. Cornelius had a generous heart.
“…thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.”
Cornelius was a man who reached down into his resources and gave to help relieve the suffering of others. Though an unsaved man, his generosity impressed the mighty God of heaven.
He sent an angel to say, “Cornelius, your alms giving has been noticed in the halls of heaven. Furthermore, God has established a memorial on your behalf. God will never, never, never forget what you have done for Him.” What greater thing could God say of a man than, “I will never forget what you have done on My behalf.”
Though as yet still a sinner having no knowledge of saving faith in Jesus Christ, God heard and saw the sincerity of the Roman, Cornelius. God heard his prayer and saw his giving.
What a lesson there is to be learned here! Be assured, dear friend, that your generosity impresses heaven. Though that may not be the motivation behind your giving, it nevertheless does not go unnoticed by the God who one day gave His greatest Gift for the salvation of the human race.
Do you give to meet the need of God’s great ministry of spreading the Gospel message? Do you help in a substantial way to take the message of God’s great Gift to the human race?
If the giving of an unsaved Roman made an eternal impression upon heaven, then surely your giving will not go unrewarded.
There are only two things about which God was impressed with Cornelius – his prayers and his giving. These are the two items which mark the sincerity of men If you really want to impress heaven, learn to pray and give.
Gospel to be Spread by Man
It is interesting to me that the angel did not tell Cornelius how he could be born again. He told him, instead, to go find one named Simon Peter, who could give him the message God wanted him to hear. God did not entrust His Gospel to the angel. He left the job of soul winning to men.
If we do not take the message of God’s saving grace to a lost humanity, then no one will. God has no other plan for the redemption of man. You and I have the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the prerogative of angels.
Meanwhile, Simon Peter was staying for a few days in the home of a friend in Joppa, a little town on the coastline of the Mediterranean where the modern city of Tel Aviv is located today. It was about 30 miles south of Caesarea.
He was at the home of Simon the Tanner and had gone up on the rooftop near noon – perhaps for a breath of fresh air to get away from the foul odor of the tannery and to await the preparation of the noon meal.
While there, he fell asleep and dreamed of the most unusual banquet he could ever hope to eat. He dreamed he saw a giant sheet let down from heaven by the four corners. Like a giant tablecloth spread before him, God presented all kinds of unclean animals and said, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.”
When Peter protested, the Lord said, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15).
By the way, since the giant sheet was let down by the four corners, it could well have been a giant talit – typical of the Old Testament Tabernacle.
The talit is a prayer cloth or mantle used by the Jews to this very day. Instructions for it were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It was a miniature replica of the tent which covered the Tabernacle built by Moses., It was the dwelling place of God among His people.
In effect, God was filling His Tabernacle – His place of worship – with all manner of unclean animals.
In the Mosaic Covenant God had forbidden the Jewish people to eat the flesh of certain animals considered unclean. But here God was saying, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.”
By the way, I do not believe this to be an endorsement for the eating habits of the human race. That was not the thrust of the message here. God was emphatically declaring the salvation of gentiles, and in the sight of God we are an altogether unclean thing. We are not deserving of God’s forgiveness and salvation.
The use of unclean animals points up the total depravity of the human race. Yet we are to be included in God’s Tabernacle of worship. We have been admitted into the house of God strictly by grace.
At the conclusion of his dream, Peter was awakened to find a delegation of Romans standing at the front gate asking for him. They told him about Cornelius and his encounter with an angel. Peter agreed to go with them.
When he arrived, he was received graciously by the centurion. Cornelius explained that an angel had appeared to him with a message to fetch Peter, who would tell him how he could find eternal life.
“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,
“And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
“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.”
This must have cone as a great revelation to the troubled Peter. He who was a devout Jew, realized for the first time that God intended to take the Gospel to Gentiles.
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”
Gentile Salvation Predicted
Though the salvation of Gentiles was not understood by the religious Jews, it was predicted throughout the Old Testament. For instance, in Isaiah 11:10, the prophet wrote:
“And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; and to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.”
In Isaiah 42:6 the Lord declared:
“I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.”
In Isaiah 62:2 the prophet wrote:
“And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.”
And in John 12:32, it was Jesus who declared:
“And I, if I be lifted up, will draw ALL men unto me,” (not just Israel).
The dispensation of Gentile Christianity was about to be begun. The first gentile was about to be saved. Peter was given the privilege of sharing the Gospel message with Cornelius and his household.
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.”
At that point Peter witnessed something he probably never expected to see – a Gentile who had never become a proselyte to the Jewish religion, who had never kept the Holy Days, who had never eaten kosher foods, was being gloriously born into the family of God by the Spirit of God.
“Gentilization” of Christianity
Cornelius was the first among what was to become the “gentilization” of New Testament Christianity.
As the Church Age moved into the second century, it began to lose its Jewishness. Christianity took on a distinctively Gentile nature. More and more Gentiles were being saved while fewer and fewer Jews were receiving Christ as their Messiah.
One day the dispensation of Gentile Christianity will come to an end. The last sinner will be saved, thus concluding this dispensation.
The question is – when will it come? Well, I believe the answer is found in Acts 15.
Some of the Pharisees who had believed were upset with the vast number of Gentiles who were coming into the church without observing the Jewish ordinances. Like any closed-minded group, they felt that Gentiles should live like they lived in order to be saved. Isn’t it amazing how preconceived ideas can create conflict within the church?
To settle the question, there was a council at Jerusalem. The apostle Paul was there, along with Barnabus, to tell of their gentile conversions in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, while Simon Peter told of the conversion of Cornelius at Caesarea.
Finally, James, the moderator of the meeting, stood to say:
“…Men and brethren, harken unto me:
“Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
“And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
“After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
“That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.”
What was begun in the house of Cornelius will come to an end someday when the Tabernacle of David is set up on the Temple Mountain in Jerusalem. James declared that Cornelius was just the beginning in the fulfillment of a great Bible prophecy. The Gospel of eternal life was to be taken to the Gentile nations of the world.
He declared that over the centuries the message of Calvary would lose its Jewish flavor as a great host of Gentiles would be born into the family of God. Down through the centuries that is exactly what has happened.
Today the Jewish people cannot understand what we Gentiles see in their ancient relative, Jesus Christ. But one day – perhaps soon – the Jewish people may find that most precious ancient artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, and return it to Jerusalem to be set up in a tent on Mt. Moriah, at a place believed to be just north of the Mosque of Omar. Then they will begin to understand.
When the Tabernacle of David is reestablished on the Temple Mountain, there will be a spiritual revival among the Jews around the world. But along with it – much to their amazement – there will also be a worldwide revival among Gentile Christianity. We will be as interested in the Jewish sanctuary as they will be. Millions of Gentile Christians from around the world will go to Jerusalem to see that restored Jewish Tabernacle and will worship the Lord.
And when will all of this take place? Perhaps very soon. In the October 9, 1983, edition of the Jerusalem Post newspaper there appeared an article entitled, “Target: Temple Mount.” The article points out both the interest of Jewish groups and the special interest of Gentile Christians in the attempt to establish a Jewish presence on the Temple Mountain:
“The Jewish groups make strange bedfellows with fundamentalist Christians from the U.S. – but nevertheless, the coalition exists, with each part of that coalition seeking its own purposes in an eventual Jewish takeover of the Mount.”