Cornelius was a Roman centurion who was stationed in Caesarea. Although Cornelius was a Gentile, he was a worshipper of God. Cornelius’ devotion to his religion is described by the historian who said of him that he was a “devout man and one that feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the poor and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Three miracles are recorded in the course of his conversion, but Cornelius was not saved by any of them.
The first miracle occurred when Cornelius was keeping the ninth hour of prayer and in a vision an angel came to him and addressed him. Cornelius was frightened and said, “What is it, Lord?” The angel said, “Thy prayers and thine alms are gone up for a memorial before God and now send men to Joppa and fetch one Simon who is surnamed Peter” (Acts 10:3-4). Peter, in a later rehearsal of the angel’s words to Cornelius, reported that the angel additionally said, “Who shall speak unto thee words whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house” (Acts 11:14).
The miraculous visit of the angel was to enable Cornelius to make contact with the person whom God had chosen to enlighten him about salvation. There was another person closer to Cornelius who could have told him what he needed to hear, Philip the evangelist who lived in the same city as Cornelius (Acts 8:40; 21:7-8). However, there was a reason why God didn’t tell Cornelius about Philip: Jesus had promised Peter that he would give to him “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). On Pentecost Peter had opened the kingdom of God to Jewish believers (Acts 2:37-38), and now he was about to do the same thing for Gentile believers. God had told Cornelius to get Peter from Joppa. Cornelius did as the angel instructed by sending two servants and a devout soldier to get him (Acts 10:7-8).
A second miracle occurred the next day. Cornelius’s messengers arrived in Joppa, searching for Simon the tanner with whom Peter was staying. It was noon and Peter was hungry. While the meal was being prepared, he went up on the house top and in a vision, saw the heavens open and a sheet let down by its four corners to him. In the sheet were all kinds of four-footed beasts, creeping things, and fowls of the air. Peter was perplexed as the sheet was lowered and he was startled when a voice said to him, “Arise, Peter, slay and eat”. Peter’s immediate response was, “Not so, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth”. Again, the voice spoke to him and said, “What I have cleansed, call thou not common or unclean”.
This was done three times and then taken back up into heaven. Peter was baffled; he did not understand the vision. Then he heard the voice again which said, “Three men are at the door seeking for thee. Get down and go with them, nothing doubting for I have sent them”. The three men were Cornelius’s messengers and Peter received them into the house and lodged them for the night. This miracle was the second one which would occur in the course of Cornelius’ conversion. However, this miracle did not save him. The purpose of this miracle was to prepare Peter to receive the Gentile people sent from their Gentile master. He then would go with them and enter that man’s house. This is something he otherwise would not have done. When Peter went with Cornelius’ messenger, he carried with him six Jewish brethren. These brethren would prove to be convincing witnesses for Peter when he was questioned by the brethren in Jerusalem as to why he had entered the house of an unclean Gentile.
The next day Peter, the six brethren from Joppa, and Cornelius’ messengers began their journey to Caesarea. It was a long journey, extending into the next day. When they arrived at the house of Cornelius, they found it filled with many people. Cornelius did not know what Peter would say, but he knew that whatever it was that Peter told him, it would be for his salvation. He had many friends and relatives who needed to be saved just as he did, and he invited them to come and listen to this messenger from God who was coming to him.
When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, Cornelius rushed to greet him and fell down at his feet to worship him. Immediately Peter raised him up saying, “Stand up: I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:26). Peter told Cornelius that he knew it was an unlawful thing for a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another nation: “And yet unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean: wherefore also I came without gainsaying, when I was sent for” (Acts 10:28-29). He asked Cornelius why he had sent for him and Cornelius rehearsed the angel’s visit and his instructions four days earlier. Peter had very likely already heard these things from the messengers, but perhaps wanted the six witnesses to hear from Cornelius’ mouth what had occurred. Cornelius did rehearse the angel’s visit, concluding by saying, “… thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord” (Acts 10:33). Peter responded, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
Peter then preached to Cornelius the same gospel he had preached several years before to the Jews. And, as we shall see, just as God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile in that both could share in the gospel, He also made no difference between Jew and Gentile in the conditions they must meet to be blessed by it.