Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly


From the Persecution by the Sanhedrin to That by Herod Agrippa I. A. D. 33 To A. D. 44

Chapter 10

The Conversion of Cornelius and Its Effects


Paragraph 1. CORNELIUS’S VISION AT CAESAREA. Verses 1-8.

Now there was a man quartered in Caesarea, a Captain of the Italian regiment, named Cornelius. He was a religious man, one who with all his household feared God, who used to do charitable deeds to the people and always prayed to God. One afternoon about three o’clock he had a vision and distinctly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him,


He gazed at the angel in much alarm, and said,

“What is it, Sir?’

“Your prayers,” replied the angel, “and your deeds of charity have gone up for a memorial before God. Now, send men to Joppa for a certain Simon, who is surnamed Peter. He is stopping as guest of another Simon, a tanner, whose house is on the seashore.”

When the angel who spoke to him had gone he called two of his household slaves and a God-fearing soldier, of those who were in constant attendance upon him, and when he had told them everything he sent them to Joppa.  


Like Saul’s vision experience, this one is made very prominent, being referred to four times, that is, here and in verses 22, 30, and xi, 13. The name “Cornelius” was truly Roman and common at that time, but there were other than nominal characteristics of a very noble mind. It has been noticed that the centurions mentioned in the New Testament are without exception deeply religious men. Even the centurion who acted as the executioner of Jesus was quick to respond to the appeal of his victim’s personality and boldly confessed “truly this man was the Son of God.” Cornelius was not a proselyte or Peter could not have been criticized for eating with him (xi, 4). Both his family and some of his retainers shared in his pious tendencies. As always, “prayers and alms” are the sure tokens of a devout soul. Though a commander of others, he is quick to acknowledge the authority of a superior. Like Saul, when faced by his bright-shining Lord, he too replies, “What wilt Thou?” The selection of three men as messengers shows his social status and his appreciation of that of Peter.


Paragraph 2. PETER’S VISION AT JOPPA. Verses 9-16.
The next day while they were still on the road and were nearing the city, Peter went up about noon to pray on the roof. He was getting very hungry and wished something to eat, but while they were preparing it a trance came over him. He saw the sky opening and a kind of receptacle descending, like a great sheet let down by its four corners to the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds, and a voice came to him,

“Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”

But Peter said,

“By no means, Lord, for I have never yet eaten anything common or unclean.”

Again a second time the voice spoke to him:

“What God has cleansed you must not regard as common.”

This occurred three times, and the receptacle was at once lifted up into the sky.


  This experience of Peter about noon of the day following was equally necessary, just as in the case of Ananias at Damascus. The same Divine Spirit works in preparation on both sides. The committee of invitation is nearing Joppa when Peter goes to the housetop to pray. Christ’s three great visions and voices from heaven came to Him in moments of prayer. Peter is evidently in a peculiar state of mind. It is high noon and yet he goes to the top of the house. He is hungry and asks for food to be served him alone and apart from his host. He is weary and perplexed and falls into a state of trance. The vision is best interpreted just as Peter takes it. It is a symbol showing the divine contempt, not of distinctions between animals, but between men, as Paul so constantly taught after attaining the same conviction. “God is no respecter of persons.” What God is content to create and use in His service His ministers must in no wise despise. Three times this vivid picture passes before Peter and still the record asserts his deep perplexity.


This is the climax episode of Period B, that of transition from the Jewish to the Gentile focus of the great ellipse which formed the orbit of early Christianity. It is so similar to a like situation in the ministry of Jesus that we must press the comparison. He had formally and with real success, but not in any complete sense, presented His credentials and made His appeals to the teachers of the nation in Jerusalem. Officially He had been rejected, and Judea and Jerusalem never repented. He then proceeded to Samaria and there sowed seed which promised and produced at least thirty fold. He next gave special opportunity to the people of Nazareth, where “He had been brought up,” and was again rejected. Proceeding to Capernaum, the emporium of the province and real center of “Galilee of the nations,” He cured the son of a nobleman, whose faith exceeded that of any in Israel, called from imperial customs one of his foremost apostles and gathered in the earnest of ultimate world conquest. Making Capernaum “His own city,’ He did most of His mighty works there and thence projected His influence and teaching unto the uttermost parts of the earth. He made one tour through the maritime regions in which lay the great cities Ptolemais, Tyre, Sarepta, and Sidon, at least one across the Lebanons, and as far north as Caesarea Philippi and several into the Greek colonial cities known as the Decapoli (or Ten cities), although there were at that time at least a score of such towns on the eastern side of the Jordan. He found in all these extra Judean communities just what Philip and Peter and John and Paul were to find, many elect souls among the Gentiles, only waiting for the word of invitation and welcome into the true kingdom of God. They rarely appeared to need persuasion. They were only too conscious of their lost estate. The Holy Spirit had already prepared their hearts as good ground for the reception of the Word. There was no timidity nor hesitation on their part once the evangel and the evangelist proved to be what the Spirit had already led them to look for. The startling and heart-searching fact most frequently met with, not only in all the Scriptures but in all Christian history, is that the white and plentiful harvest always and everywhere awaits the consecrated and efficient harvester. The Acts of the Apostles is the true and permanent manual both as to theory and practice in the work of world evangelism.


Paragraph 3. THE INVITATION SENT BY CORNELIUS. Verses 17-23.

While Peter was greatly in doubt as to the meaning of the vision he had seen, just then the men sent by Cornelius had inquired for Simon’s house and stood at the gate, calling out to inquire if Simon, surnamed Peter, was being entertained there. Peter, however, was still thinking about the vision when the Spirit said to him:

“Come, there are three men asking for you. Rouse yourself and go down, and do not hesitate, for it is I who have sent them.”

So Peter went down to the men and said:

“I am the man you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?”

“Captain Cornelius,” they said, “an upright and God-fearing man, and one well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, has been instructed by a holy angel to send and bring you to his house, and to listen to what you had to say.”

Then he invited them in and entertained them.  


Now word is brought by the Spirit that he must immediately act on the principle laid down, that a committee awaits him below stairs, come to ask him to open the door of salvation to a Gentile centurion in the very center of the city and camp of the foreign enslavers of his own nation, at Caesarea. When assured that the God who sent the vision had also sent the visitors Peter descends and welcomes his guests, and at once is told that the centurion is both a very religious man and one highly reputed among “the whole Jewish nation.’ The spokesman also tells of his master’s heavenly vision and injunction to send for the Apostle. Peter can hesitate no longer. That the step is one of great moment is seen from Peter’s care to take along with him six witnesses, the wisdom of which precaution is abundantly seen in the next chapter.  

Paragraph 4. THE INVITATION ACCEPTED BY PETER. Verses 24-33.

The next day he arose and set out with them, some of the brothers from Joppa accompanying him, and on the day following they reached Caesarea. Now, Cornelius was looking for them, and had assembled his relatives and. intimate friends together. When Peter was entering the house Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. Peter, however, lifted him up.

“Stand up,” he said, “I myself also am only a man.”

Then talking with him Peter went in, and found a large company assembled, and he said to them:

“You very well understand how unlawful it is for a Jew to be on intimate or even visiting terms with a foreigner, but God has shown me that I should call no man common or unclean. It is for this reason that I came without making any objection when I was sent for. I wish therefore to inquire why you sent for me?”

“Three days ago, at this very hour,” replied Cornelius, “I was engaged in the afternoon prayers in my house when suddenly a man in shining raiment stood before me, and said:

‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your deeds of charity are remembered before God. Send, therefore, to Joppa and bring hither Simon, who is surnamed Peter; he is guest in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the seashore.’

“I therefore sent for you at once, and you have been most kind in coming. So now we are all here assembled before God to hear everything you have been enjoined by the Lord to say.”



Sufficient stress is not laid by the ordinary commentator upon the fine manners invariably displayed by the early Christians. There is a certain poise and quiet ease in circumstances where the normal functions of host and guest are exchanged that is only natural among the well bred, and there is an atmosphere of largeness and graciousness about the social situations involved, no matter how unexpected or extreme, that throws the actors in this most dramatic story into a most favorable light. Search the records from end to end, and it is not possible to find an instance where the manners of the early believers do not compare favorably with those of even the highest circles in which they move. The case of Peter in this chapter is by no means exceptional; here, as everywhere, the bearing of Christ’s ambassadors leaves nothing to be desired in the way of true courtesy or culture. The boldness so often remarked by those they come in contact with is not rudeness but a sort of self-command and high courage that does the disciples great credit. Adequacy of preparation and a certain air of leisurely deliberation in making new moves also speak for well-ordered social traditions. The entire scene so artistically drawn of the Apostle’s visit to Cęsarea does no less credit to Peter than to his most courteous host, the Roman centurion, Cornelius.


Paragraph 5. PETER’S SERMON AT CAESAREA. Verses 34-43

Then Peter opening his mouth began to speak.

“T now clearly see,” he said, “that God is no respecter of persons, but that he who reverences Him and does justly, in every nation, is acceptable to Him. The message which He sent to the Sons of Israel when He proclaimed the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (the one who is Lord of all) you surely know—at least you know how the report spread through the whole of Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power—how He went about doing good and curing every-one who was under the power of the devil, for God was with Him. And we are eyewitnesses of all that He did both in the country of Judea and in Jerusalem, and yet they put Him to death, hanging Him on a cross. That same Jesus God raised up on the third day and allowed Him to be openly seen, not by all the people, but by witnesses—men previously selected by God —namely, by us, who ate and drank with Him after His resurrection from the dead. Moreover, He enjoined us to preach to the people and to bear emphatic testimony that this was He whom God has appointed to be Judge of the living and the dead. All the Prophets bear witness to Him, and testify that remission of sins is received through His name by every-one who believes in Him.”  


In Peter’s sermon we see another proof of the sense of propriety and power of adaptability which mark the truly cultured man. Though his message is in no respect different from that given to the Jews at Jerusalem, it is stated in a way that peculiarly fits his listeners. He does not assume that they are ignorant of what has been going on in the hill-country of Galilee and Judea since the coming of the Baptist, and even to the shameful death of his Master by crucifixion. Quite the contrary; he presumes that it is all familiar to them, but so cleverly does he review it all that it gives just the background he desires for his testimony to the final resurrection and exaltation of the Christ and the duty enjoined upon him and his fellow disciples to proclaim redemption and remission of sins to all believing in His divinity and Saviour-hood. To his Gentile audience Peter does not cite writer and passage where this is promised in the Old Testament, but says in general terms that all the Prophets foretold both the humiliation and ultimate triumph of the Messiah not only of the Jewish race but also of every-one; for, “I now clearly see,” says Peter, “that God is no respecter of persons, but that he who reverences Him and does justly in every nation is acceptable to Him.”  

Paragraph 6. THE IMMEDIATE EFFECTS. Verses 44-48.

While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all those who were listening to the Word. And the Jewish believers who had come with Peter were astonished that on the Gentiles also the free gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.

Then Peter asked,

“Can any-one refuse water, or object to these people being baptized—men who have received the Holy Spirit just as we ourselves did?”

And he directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain with them for some days.  


No sooner had Peter covered this identical chain of events narrated in his Pentecostal sermon, than the same demonstration of divine favor was given the believing audience in the house of Cornelius. The Holy Spirit fell upon them and they began to speak with tongues and to magnify God. Here, just the reverse of the case on the day of Pentecost, it is the Christians who are astonished and the Gentiles who are filled with the Spirit. As in the case of Cornelius himself so it is with his friends and neighbors—they are more ready to receive this extension of divine grace than either Peter or his companions are to give it. But this is as great a day for Peter as for Cornelius, and he is not found wanting. He directs, as elsewhere, that formal baptism shall be administered in the name of Jesus Christ. And now he consistently carries out the command of the angel at Joppa and enters into closer communion with his Gentile friends by remaining as their guest and eating with them for some days. Of course it is possible that he spent part of this time in the house of Philip, as Paul and Luke did afterward, since, as we have already surmised, Philip was no doubt party to all that had transpired.