Cornelius Vision Part 2 of 4

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

A centurion of the band called the Italian band”
We know for certain that Cornelius was a Roman soldier. He may have been a patrician{1] or a plebeian{2]. There is no way to tell which class he belonged to. He was a centurion{3] serving under Herod Agrippa{4], the representative of Roman power in that district. He was stationed at Caesarea along with his cohort and served as Rome’s police force; putting down any rebellion or turmoil that may arise, and generally maintaining the peace. As a centurion, he was the equivalent of a noncommissioned officer in charge of 100 men. The “Italian band,” is documented as occupying Palestine after A.D. 69, and was made up of 600 soldiers who were freedmen from Italy, entirely outside the influence of Judaism. A cohort represented about one-tenth of a Roman legion.
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house,
There is nothing whatever here to suggest that this man Cornelius was a proselyte in the true sense of the word. There were full proselytes, and there were proselytes of the gate; and the distinction was a very real one. Full proselytes of Judaism were men who had submitted themselves entirely to all its rites and ordinances, were circumcised, and thus entered into all the privileges of the covenant people. Cornelius was not one of these. He may in all probability have been a proselyte of the gate, and as such, they would remain a Gentile in the thinking of the Hebrew. A proselyte of the gate was considered by the Hebrew as outside the covenant, outside the place of privilege; for he had not submitted to the ceremonial rites and ordinances, even though he professed sympathy with the grand idea of the Hebrew religion, that of the monotheistic philosophy. The phrase “one that feared God” is commonly held to be a description of Gentiles who had accepted the truth of the Jewish religion, a proselyte of the gate, as explained above. There were many “God-fearers” like Cornelius in the ancient world (Acts 13:16){21] and they proved to be a ready field for spiritual harvest.
He was a man of faith, faith in the one God, which he expressed by the life he lived before his family, his men, and all others. He was “devout” in all the full and rich sense of that word. That means his worship was rightly directed. He recognized his dependence upon that which is divine. Moreover, his godliness was such that his whole household was influenced for God. The fact that this man had a permanent residence in Caesarea and that his family lived there with him has led some to suggest that he may have been retired at this time.
One is immediately reminded of Jesus’ encounter with a centurion at Capernaum who was described as well respected by the Jewish community, much like Cornelius (see Luke 7:1-10). Centurions are generally depicted in a favorable light throughout the Gospels and Acts, and this may well be evidence of the success of the early Christian mission among the military.
Whether Cornelius is a saved man is open to question. Those who say he was referring to this verse and verse 35{22], where Peter says in obvious reference to Cornelius, that “whoever fears Him (God), and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” Those who teach Cornelius was not saved point to Acts 11:14{33], where the angel is quoted as promising him that Peter would tell him words whereby he might be saved.
Which gave much alms to the people.
His faith in God was seen in his gifts for he gave alms{5] to all the people. Cornelius was clearly a Gentile who worshipped God and supported the Jewish religious community. In fact, he was described as performing two of the three main acts of Jewish piety—prayer and almsgiving. (Only fasting is not mentioned; but in verse 30{19], he tells Peter that he was fasting when the angel came to him.). In fact, his devotion to God put him well on the way, preparing him for receiving the Gospel and for the full inclusion in God’s people that he could not have found in the synagogue.
The nation Israel has always laid great stress upon giving. God had taught them this in the Old Testament. We speak of the tithe, but it is obvious from the Mosaic system that they actually gave three-tenths. They gave for the running of the government (which was a theocracy at the beginning), they gave for the maintenance of the Temple, and they gave a tenth of all they produced. So, they have been a giving generous people.
And prayed to God always.
We know from verse 3 that Cornelius observed the Hebrew hours of prayer, for it says “He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day.” He had adopted the Hebrew methods of religious life and observed the ninth hour, one of the Hebrew hours of prayer. Nothing in his life expressed his faith in God better than his commitment to prayer, for he prayed alway. Cornelius was not permitted to offer sacrifices in the Temple, so he offered his prayers as his sacrifices (Ps. 141:1-2){12]. In every way he was a model of religious respectability—and yet he was not a saved man. Here then is a man who had risen above the idolatry that overshadowed the world at that time. He is a paradox and an enigma; in his earliest years, in all probability, he was influenced by Roman myth and emperor worship; himself a Roman, a centurion, officer of a Roman cohort, saturated with Roman ideas; and a man of faith in the one God, expressing his faith in the devotion of his life, in his almsgiving, and in his prayers. It seems that Cornelius was a Jew in every respect except circumcision. Like many pagans, he became interested in the religion of the Jews and followed those acts of piety permitted him in his uncircumcised state. It may be that Cornelius’ position in the Roman army prevented him from professing an open commitment to Judaism by being circumcised, or it could be that he just refused to be circumcised. There were many pagans who attended Jewish synagogues and worshipped God, but they did not become proselytes simply because they feared the rite of circumcision.
Prayer is a time for opening oneself up to God, thus enabling His leading.

3 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.
4 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.
5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
This was a very good man, but he had not passed into the fullness of life or of light. He also needed Christ, and he needed spiritual enduement{6]. That is the key to Cornelius’ situation. The most wonderful thing in this story is the wonderful character of Cornelius before he became a Christian. Just as Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7), not to a man who was a notorious sinner; but to Nicodemus, one of the highest products of Judaism, a man who was sincere, true, devout, and seeking truth; so also here, the very first Gentile to be admitted to the recognized fellowship of the Christian Church was a Gentile who had come as far as he could without knowing the Lord Jesus.
The Law of Moses was a wall between Jews and Gentiles, and this wall had been broken down at the cross (Eph. 2:14-18){15]. The Gentiles were considered aliens and strangers as far as the Jewish covenants and promises were concerned (Eph. 2:11-13){16]. But now, all of that would change, and God would declare that, as far as the Jew and Gentile were concerned, “There is no difference” either in condemnation (Rom. 3:22-23){17] or in salvation (Rom. 10:12-13){18].

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