Cornelius: not a Jew
Soldier sends for Peter1 A Roman officer named Cornelius commanded a company of about 100 soldiers. They were part of the Italian battalion. Cornelius lived in Caesarea. 2 He was a deeply religious man who respected God. His family did, too. Cornelius donated money for the poor—and he wasn’t stingy about it. He talked to God in prayer every day, off and on all day long. 3 He had a vision one afternoon, about three o’clock. One of God’s angels came over to him and said, “Cornelius.” 4 Terrified, the soldier just stared at him for a bit. Then Cornelius said, “What, sir?” The angel answered, “Your prayers and acts of kindness toward others have reached heaven. God accepted them as cherished gifts. 5 Send messengers to Joppa. Tell them to find a man named Simon, also known as Peter. 6 He’s staying at the home of Simon, a tanner who lives by the sea.” 7 When the angel left, Cornelius called in two of his household slaves. He also called in a soldier who took care of personal matters for him. This solider was devoted to God. 8 He told the three men what had just happened. Then he sent them to Joppa.
Peter’s odd vision during a trance9 They arrived about noon the next day. As they approached the city, Peter went to the housetop to pray. 10 Peter got hungry while he was up there. Downstairs, folks were fixing a meal. As Peter waited, he slipped into a trance. 11 In this dreamlike trance, he saw the sky open up and something coming down. It looked like a huge bedsheet, descending from all four corners. It landed on the ground. 12 Inside this massive sheet were all kinds of critters: some four-footed, some reptiles, some birds, too. 13 A voice spoke: “Get up, Peter. Go butcher something and eat it.” 14 “No way, sir. These animals aren’t kosher. I’ve never eaten anything but kosher food.” 15 The voice spoke again. “What God has cleaned is kosher. So don’t think it’s not.” 16 This scene played out three times during Peter’s trance. Then the sheet and animals ascended and disappeared into the sky. 17 Peter had no idea what the vision meant. He was still trying to figure it out when Cornelius’ messengers arrived. They had asked some locals where Simon lived, and they stood outside the gate onto Simon’s property. 18 They called out to the household, asking if Simon who was also known as Peter was staying there. 19 Peter was still on the housetop, trying to solve the puzzle of that vision, when the Spirit spoke to him. “Look, three men are trying to find you. 20 Get up and get yourself downstairs. I sent these men to you. Go with them right now.” 21 Peter went downstairs and called out to the men, “Hey, I’m the guy you’re looking for. What’s going on? Why are you here?” 22 They said, “Cornelius sent us here to bring you back to his house. An angel told him to send for you and hear what you have to say. Cornelius commands a company of 100 Roman soldiers. He’s a good man who respects God. Jews in town speak highly of him.” 23 Peter invited the men inside and put them up for the night. The next day he left with them. Some believers in town went, too.
Peter’s road trip to see Cornelius24 The group traveled all day and arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was ready for them. He had called together his entire family and his best friends. 25 When Peter came into the house, Cornelius dropped to his knees in reverence. 26 Peter said, “Hey, don’t do that. I’m just a man, like you.” 27 Peter talked with him a bit and found the house full of people. 28 Peter told the group, “You know I’m breaking the law here. Jewish law forbids Jews from associating with non-Jews. But relax, God showed me that I shouldn’t think of any person as non-kosher and ritually unclean—unfit to associate with. 29 That’s why I’m here. When I got the message to come, I didn’t object. So tell me, what’s going on? Why did you call me here?” 30 Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was praying here in the house. It was about this very time, 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Then suddenly, wow, a man wearing bright and shining clothes appeared. He stood right in front of me. 31 He said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and he remembers what you’ve done to help people in need. 32 Send word to Joppa, with an invitation to Simon, who’s called Peter. He’s staying at the home of Simon, a tanner who lives by the sea.' 33 So right away I sent for you. It was so good of you to come. Your visit is the reason we’re all here today. We’re standing right here in front of God, waiting to hear what he told you to tell us.
Peter’s living room sermon34 Peter said, “I’ll tell you the truth. I’ve come to understand that God is not someone who favors some people over others. 35 It doesn’t matter what country we live in. Anyone anywhere who respects God and who lives like it—by doing what they know is right—God will accept them. 36 We all know that when God sent the good news that we can find peace through Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, he sent it to the people of Israel. 37 But we also know that God’s good news spread all over the territory of Judea. It started up in Galilee, after John the Baptist’s ministry of baptizing people. 38 When John preached to people, he told them that God appointed Jesus to deliver his message—and that God also gave Jesus power through the Holy Spirit. Jesus used that power to do good things, such as healing all the people who came to him suffering because of the devil. Jesus could do this because God was with him. 39 Like all the other apostles, I’m an eyewitness of everything Jesus did throughout the Jewish land. I also saw what happened in the city of Jerusalem, where the people crucified him by hanging him on a wooden cross. 40 God raised him from the dead on the third day after the execution. God made sure that people saw him, too. 41 Not everyone got to see the resurrected Jesus. God picked those who got to see him—the people who would become witnesses. We ate and drank with Jesus after he came back to life. 42 Jesus gave us a job to do. He told us to spread his story everywhere. We’re to tell the world that God appointed Jesus to judge everyone who’s alive and everyone whoever lived. 43 All the prophets talked about him. They said everyone who believes in him will be forgiven of their sins. That’s the weight his name carries.”
Holy Spirit fills non-Jews44 Peter was still talking when the Holy Spirit interrupted. The Spirit entered everyone in the house who was listening to Peter’s words. 45 Jewish believers who made the road trip with Peter where shocked to see that even non-Jews could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on them. 46 The Jews heard them talking in other languages and saying wonderful things about God. Peter said, 47 “Who on earth doesn’t want to see these people baptized? They received the Holy Spirit just as we did. Didn’t they?” 48 Peter gave the order to baptize the people in the name of Jesus Christ. Cornelius invited Peter to stay with them for several days.
Cornelius’ title was “centurion,” as in “century” for 100. He commanded a company of around 80-100 men.
Literally a “cohort,” roughly 500 men.
Caesarea was a port city that King Herod the Great built on the Mediterranean coast about 30 miles (48 km) north of what is now Tel Aviv. He designed it after Roman cities and named it after Caesar because he knew who was really the boss. Romans used Caesarea as their capital in the Middle East for 600 years.
Jesus renamed Simon as Peter, a word that means “Rock.” (John 1:42).
Joppa was about 35 miles (56 km) south of Caesarea. That’s a hard day’s travel by foot. Typically, a day trip on foot would max out at about 20 miles (32 km). Cornelius may have sent his messengers on horseback.
Most houses had a flat roof with a short wall built around the edges—to keep people from falling off. Folks used the housetop like people today use patios or porches: to relax, do chores, send text messages. Well, two of the three.
The laws of Moses outlined what kind of animals Jews could and couldn’t eat. Cows and sheep, yes. Pigs and lobsters, no. (Leviticus 11).
Judea was a stretch of territory in the central part of what is now Israel and the West Bank. Jerusalem was the main city in this region. Caesarea was there, too, along the northern border, near Jesus’ homeland region of Galilee.
The writer doesn’t say if the people talked in known “languages of earth” or the unfamiliar language “of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1 NLT). Many Christians in Pentecostal churches say that when the Holy Spirit fills someone, the person speaks in an unfamiliar language that can sound like gibberish to most people. The Apostle Paul described it this way: “You will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:2 NLT). Paul also warned that this gift could disrupt worship services. So he advised people not to talk in these languages “unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened” (1 Corinthians 14:5 NLT).
“In the name of Jesus” invokes the power and the authority of Jesus. It can be a bit like saying, “I’m freeing this slave in the name of the king.”
When Jewish followers of Jesus heard the story of Cornelius, a non-Jewish Roman officer, seeing an angel in a vision, what do you think would make them skeptical about that?
It might seem odd that a soldier in an army occupying a foreign country would embrace the faith of the people he had to police. What about the Jewish faith do you think would attract people who weren’t born Jews?
What is it about Peter’s vision, beginning in 10:9, that could make even Christians squirm a bit and feel uncomfortable—maybe even skeptical?
How should we explain the fact that the Bible says God gave Moses the Jewish laws, including laws about what kind of foods to eat (Leviticus 11), but some 1400 years later God essentially tells Peter, “Never mind.” It sounds like a flip flop. Should we admit that God changed his mind? Or what about the possibility that God realized the time was right to take the next step in freeing the world from the harm that sin causes?
Peter preached an incredible story: “We ate and drank with Jesus after he came back to life” (10:41). Why do you think people would believe something like that?
When you read this story about what happened at Cornelius’ house, does it sound like there’s a protocol to becoming a Christian?
- Hear the message about Jesus.
- Receive the Holy Spirit.
- Speak in another language.
- Get baptized.
Baptism seemed important to the first generation of Christians. Why do you think it was so important then? And why do you think it doesn’t seem as important today, for many Christians?
LIFE APPLICATION. Do you think God still comes to people in dreams and visions, to give them direction, encouragement, or comfort?
LIFE APPLICATION. Many people today are skeptics when it comes to the story of Jesus—and especially the story of him rising from the dead. What do you think it takes to convince a skeptic that Jesus lived and died and rose again?