BibleAsk Team

How did the story of Cornelius affect the early church?

In Jewish eyes Cornelius was a Gentile, for he was uncircumcised. Subsequently, his conversion (Acts 10) marked a new phase in the growth of the early church. The amazing, supernatural facet of his conversion was an important factor in helping the apostles accept the fact that a Gentile can become a Christian and accepted by God. However, it took the church some years later to completely understand that Gentiles should have exactly the same rights as circumcised Jews (Acts 15:1–31; Gal. 2:12).

Cornelius and the heavenly vision

Cornelius was a Roman citizen that lived in Caesarea. He was a centurion in the Italian Regiment of the Roman military (Acts 10:1). He was not fully a heathen, for he was “devout” man that “feared God” and gave alms to the people (v. 2). For this reason, the apostles in Jerusalem respected him (v. 22) and gave special consideration to his case (Acts 11:1–18).

One afternoon, while Cornelius was praying, an angel of God appeared to him in a vision and told him that his prayers were heard (Acts 10:30–31). The angel added that Cornelius needed to send for Peter, who was staying in Joppa at the house of Simon, a tanner by the sea (verse 32). Right away in obedience to the angel of God, Cornelius sent two of his men and a faithful soldier to Joppa to find Peter and bring him.

Peter’s vision

At the same time, the Lord was working on Peter’s heart that he may receive the Gentile visitors. So, Peter in a vision, “saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him” (Acts 10:11–12). And he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat” (verse 13). But Peter responded, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). But the voice replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (verse 15). This vision was repeated three times.

Peter wondered about the meaning of this vision. Then, the Holy Spirit told him to go with the three men without hesitation for God has sent them (v. 19, 20). The three men told Peter of the angels’ visit to Cornelius and asked him to come with them (v. 22). So, the next day Peter went to Caesarea to meet Cornelius and his family (verse 23).

The conversion of Cornelius

When Peter reached the house, Cornelius fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter said, stand up for I am also a man (v. 25, 26). And Peter added, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” Therefore, I came without hesitation (v. 28, 29). Peter understood that the unclean animals in the visions represented the gentiles that needed to hear the truth of God’s salvation.

Peter then said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34–35), and then he taught them the good news of the gospel. Therefore, the first major task of the church was to break the strong traditions of Judaism. And in the conversion of Cornelius the Holy Spirit led the infant church to take its first important step in that direction.

And, the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit, and they spoke in tongues, and were baptized (Acts 10:44–48). Then, Peter and the Jews glorified God and admitted: “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (verse 47). God’s love reaches all people. Thus, Cornelius and his family, filled with the Holy Spirit, were living evidence that no person might henceforth call the Gentiles “common or unclean.”

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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