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Interesting Bible People: Cornelius

Updated on September 7, 2014

A Roman centurion becomes a christian

Cornelius is a minor character in the New Testament but he is nevertheless one of the interesting Bible people. This was a turning point in the early years of the christian church, a time when gentiles were seen to be acceptable as converts.

A Roman Centurion

Cornelius was an important man. He was a centurion in charge of many soldiers. so he was a man of standing. He had a large household consisting of his family and servants. At some point he had come to a point in his life when he decided to follow the God of the Jews.

His whole household also devoutly followed the Jewish God. At that time the Romans had many gods that they revered and also their Caesar was considered divine, so Cornelius's decision to follow God would have been quite an event in his life. He was also generous in giving money to the poor and prayed regularly.

One afternnon he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel who said his name. Cornelius was afraid but asked what the angel wanted. The angel told him that all his good deeds and prayers had been taken note of by God. He then told him to send some men to the town of Joppa, about 30 miles south of Caesarea where Conrnelius lived. They were to bring to him Simon Peter who was in the house of Simon the tanner beside the sea.

The angel left and Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier and sent them to Joppa.

Map showing Caesarea and Joppa

Events in Joppa

About noon the next day as the servants of Cornelius were on their journey, Peter was waiting for a meal and decided to take a nap on the flat roof of the house. Instead of sleep he fell into a trance. He saw heaven open and a huge sheet holding all sorts of animals and reptiles and birds, coming down to him. A voice said, "Peter, kill and eat." Peter was horrified because all the animals were ritually unclean and the sort that no Jew would eat. He protested that he had never eaten such food. Then the voice said, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

This happened three times and than the sheet was taken back into heaven. Peter was wondering what was the meaning of his dream when just at that moment the men from Cornelius arrived. They called out to know if Simon Peter was there. Peter was still thinking about the vision when the Holy Spirit said to him,"Three men are looking for you. Get up and go sown to them. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."

Peter went down and spoke with the men asking them why they had come.

They told him all about Cornelius and how he devoutly followed God. Then Peter did something unthinkable for a Jew, he invited them in for the meal. The vision had made a huge impression on him and he knew that God was accepting gentiles as well as Jews. The dramatic dream had had such an impact on him.

A Prompt Reaction

The next day Peter set out for Caesarea with Cornelius's men. He also took some of the other christians from Joppa with him. The next day Peter arrived at Cornelius's house to find he had gathered together his friends and household. As Peter came into the house Cornelius bowed down in reverence, but Peter told him not to do that because he, Peter was just a man. Peter explained that it was most unusual that he should be associating with gentiles but that God had told him not to call any person unclean again.

Cornelius explained how he had seen the angel that told him to send for Peter. He said that the crowd he had assembled were waiting to hear what God would tell them through Peter.

Peter's Sermon

Peter said that he had now come to realize that God did not show favouritism but that He accepted all people who reverenced him and do the right thing. He then began to recount the recent events of Jesus' life that he said Cornelius must know about. He knew about peace through Jesus Christ. As a centurion Cornelius would have known about these events of Jesus life and death. Peter explained how Jesus had died and how he had risen from the dead as Peter and many others were witnesses.

Peter said Jesus was the one appointed to be the judge of the living and the dead. Then he said, "All the prophets testify of him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

An Immediate Reaction

As Peter was preaching the Holy Spirit came on all the assembled company. The Jewish people who had come with Peter were amazed that the Holy spirit was poured out on these gentiles. All the new believers were than baptized in water.

This was a great happening as it was the first time since Pentecost that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on gentiles. This paved the way for the message of Jesus to be preached to all people.

Do you realize the Significance of This Story?

Do you see what this story means?

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