Cornelius is a rather mysterious character. He appears and disappears in the same Bible chapter, Acts 10. Cornelius was a Roman soldier who served under Herod Agrippa. He was a centurion (one hundred men under his command). Cornelius was the first Gentile to be admitted to the Christian Church, yet he is typical of thousands around the world; This Gentile soldier’s marvellous moral character, and his noble influence, even among Jews, is well established. He was a worshipper of the one, true God. His life was characterized by piety. He prayed consistently and was generous to the poor. Moreover, the centurion was a force in his family, leading them in spiritual values.
Careful study of this passage yields a great deal of information about the centurion.
First, the officer referred to “God,” not gods. As stated above, Cornelius was a monotheist. As a rule, Gentiles subscribed to the notion that there were many “gods”
Second, Cornelius believed that God was an observer of human activity and interested therein. He confessed: “we are all here in the sight of God.” The phrase not only suggests that Heaven was aware of this meeting, but approved of it.
Third, the Gentile officer was aware that saving truth was embodied in an objective revelation which would issue from a man who had been appointed by God to instruct him. The group therefore was assembled to “hear” the things, i.e., “words,” to be spoken by Peter. Cornelius knew he had received no special message from the angel, detailing the content of what he must do in order to enjoy salvation.
Fourth, this centurion acknowledged the sovereignty of Almighty God. He confessed that the Lord had “commanded” certain things to which human beings were amenable, and he was anxious to humbly submit. There are several interesting matters here. “Commanded” translates the Greek term prostasso, literally “to arrange toward,” hence denotes to prescribe, order, or command something. Next, the verb is a passive voice form, suggesting that God is the giver of commands, and we humans are the receivers. We are not allowed in the driver’s seat! The term is also in the perfect tense—reflecting an action that has occurred already but the results are abiding. The effect is this: God had commanded, and his will was to remain inviolate. There would be no disputing it. This was truly an amazing concept for this Gentile to have perceived.
Fifth, Cornelius recognized that he could not selectively obey the Lord. “All” was the goal. He said they were present to receive “all things” the Lord had commanded Peter to convey.
Sixth, the centurion conceded the authority of Peter, an apostle, as a spokesman for deity. He suggested that he and his family were there to hear from Peter the things that God commanded his apostle to tell them. Peter’s words would carry as much weight as if the Lord had spoken to them personally.
The story of Cornelius in the Bible shows us how God responds to us, strategically expands his kingdom, and cares about bringing the gospel to the nations. Knowing these aspects of Cornelius’s story changes our approach to life today.
Cornelius’ understanding and disposition, as reflected in this solitary sentence, is stunning indeed. It truly reveals something of the depth of his soul. Are we willing to listen as he teaches us?