Cornelius Vision Part 3 of 4

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming into him.
The vision that Cornelius saw was an observable vision, a definite and actual visitation. The angel came to this man about the ninth hour while he was meditating. There were three traditional times of prayer; “the ninth hour” being the afternoon hour of 3 p.m. was the time for the evening Tamid (daily sacrifice) in the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus we assume that since he was not able to go to Jerusalem to participate in the prayers at the Tamid, he had his own private prayer at the accustomed Jewish time. Frequently in Luke and Acts, God used prayer time as the opportunity for leading to new avenues of ministry{7]. The thing of supreme importance here is not the presence of the angel, but what he said. The message brought to this man by the heavenly messenger contained elements from everything that had happened before, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. Here the truth of a later statement that “God is no respecter of persons,” is made manifest. The angel came to an uncircumcised Gentile who had no part in the fleshly covenant, with no privileges within Hebraism. It was an object lesson not only for Peter, but for all people and all time. In the words of the angel, there was a recognition of the past, no word of blame, no word that charged him with sin, but a recognition of the fact that he had been true to the light he had received. Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
Visions occur frequently in Acts as a vehicle of divine leading, which illustrates that the major advances in the Christian witness are all under divine direction. In no case is that clearer than in the present instance. Cornelius and Peter took no initiative in what transpired. Their mutual visions illustrate that all was under God’s direction.
And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord?
Cornelius’ response to the heavenly epiphany is understandable. It was a response of awe and reverence, not of cowering fear. Much like Paul, Cornelius greeted his heavenly visitor with a respectful “Lord.” Perhaps “Lord” here means “Sir.” There is, however, another opinion which teaches that being a Gentile, he was not as aware of the ministry of angels as a Jew would be, and so he was afraid and mistook the angel for the Lord. The angel responded by noting that God was aware of his piety. Later Cornelius called this angel, “a man in shining clothes” (Acts 10:30){19].
The difference between Cornelius and religious people today is this: He knew that his religious devotion was not sufficient to save him. Many religious people today are satisfied that their character and good works will get them to heaven, and they have no concept either of their own sin or God’s grace. In his prayers, Cornelius was asking God to show him the way to salvation (Acts 11:13-14){13].
And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
There is no suggestion that in the mind of the Spirit, and very soon in the mind of the Christian Apostle, or in the minds of those early church thinkers, that Cornelius was all he might be. Had there been no Christ, no gospel, had he never heard the message, then he would have been judged by the light he had, and his obedience to it; but he needed the fuller light, and his obedience to the earlier light was the condition upon which the angel came to him and said: “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon.” He shall tell thee what to do; the other things waiting for thee, and the larger life opening its doors before thee. The term “memorial” literally “remembrance,” is Old Testament sacrificial language. Cornelius prayers and works of charity had risen like the sweet savor of a sincerely offered sacrifice, well pleasing to God (Phil. 4:18){8]. The importance of Cornelius piety is reiterated throughout the narrative (vv. 2, 4, 22, 35). Please don’t miss this—there are certain things that do count before God. These are things which in no way can merit salvation, but they are things which God notes. The prayers of Cornelius and his alms had come up for a memorial before God, and God brought the Gospel to him. Wherever there is a man who seeks after God as Cornelius did, that man is going to hear the Gospel of the grace of God. God will see that he gets it.
The angel brought not only recognition, but instruction. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the seaside: In the words of the angel we have insight into what the thinking of Cornelius may have been at this time. He shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. That surely implies that Cornelius was anxious, was enquiring, that he had come to some place of bewilderment in his life. It might have been that he was undecided as to whether he should become a proselyte and totally commit to the Hebrew religion; for he had discovered that the God of the Hebrew was a mighty God. It may also have been that he had come under the influence of Philip, and the wonderful preaching that had made its way through Judah and Samaria. It may be that he was wondering if he could enter into fellowship with that Christ Whom Philip had preached; and if he could do it through Judaism. Many Hebrews were also wrestling with these same issues, and they were confronting the Church and wanting answers about this new religion that boasted of a living Savior. Be all that as it may, the fact remains that to Cornelius, sincere and inquiring, the angel came, recognizing his sincerity, and providing him with instruction on how he is to proceed.
I would like to know the content of Cornelius’ prayer. Could he possibly have requested his full acceptance by God, his full inclusion with God’s people? At this point, the angel revealed nothing to him about his ultimate purpose for him, simply that he was to send to Joppa for a certain man named Simon Peter. But why send for Peter, who was thirty miles away in Joppa, when Philip the evangelist was already in Caesarea? (Acts 8:40){14]. Because it was Peter, not Philip who had been given the “keys.” God not only works at the right time, but He also works through the right servant: and both are essential.
In our previous study, we had left Peter in the house of Simon the tanner, and that in itself is evidence of the fact that prejudice is being broken down. Prior to his coming to Christ, and his baptism of the Spirit, Peter, the Hebrew, would not have lodged in the house of Simon the tanner. The trade of tanner was held in such supreme contempt that if a girl was engaged to a tanner without knowing he followed that profession, the engagement would be canceled. A tanner had to build his house 50 cubits outside the city. But this man’s prejudices were so far broken down that he was content to lodge in the house of Simon a tanner; most certainly, the house of a man who loved Christ, a fellow-disciple. The first signs of prejudice were gone; and yet it was still in his heart. He still thought of Hebraism as so divine that its rites must be adhered to by those coming into the Christian fellowship from the Gentile world. It was necessary that He and those associated with him discover the fact that the old ways of Judaism had been swept away by the prophecy fulfilled by Christ; and that now, without rites, ceremony, or Hebrew ordinance, men might come into a living, growing relationship with Christ. In using Peter (and also Paul), God had used perhaps the most prejudiced and religious bigot, the greatest extremist of the day. Obviously, the Holy Spirit had directed every move in getting the Gospel to the Gentiles. My friend, all genuine Christian work is directed by the Holy Spirit. No other works amount to anything. The Holy Spirit had to work in the heart of the gentile; the Holy Spirit had to work in the heart of the Jew. The Holy Spirit directed the bringing of the Gospel to the Gentile world.

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