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Cornelius in the Bible: God’s Mission & 3 Essential Lessons

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Cornelius in the Bible was a true trailblazer, boldly opening the gates of faith to all by bravely embracing Christianity. His selfless act has enabled countless individuals from different backgrounds and beliefs to unite and be part of a connected Christian community.

The Story of Cornelius in the Bible

Cornelius was at the heart of a Biblical mission that changed religious history! In Acts 10:1-48, Cornelius is introduced as someone who plays a unique role in opening up Christianity to all believers. The story Luke tells us reveals God’s plan for extending grace and mercy far beyond Israel.

Cornelius may sound like a minor character from the Bible, but his story is incredibly powerful! He was an Italian military commander who lived in Caesarea and, by God’s will, became part of His plan to open the church doors for not just Jews (Acts 2) and Samaritans (Acts 8) but also Gentiles.

Even Peter – one of Jesus’ apostles- witnessed this momentous event unfold at Cornelius’ household, as recorded in Acts 10.

Cornelius was a Roman that devotedly worshipped God – even so much as to earn the respect of the Jewish community. He prayed regularly and gave generously to charity, but one afternoon Cornelius had an especially remarkable experience while praying – he saw an angel from God in his prayers!

The angel told him Peter could be found at Simon’s tannery in Joppa, and without delay, two servants plus one loyal soldier were sent off on the mission.

image of Roman soldier with the text Cornelius and Peter: their story, God's mission and lessons to learn for the post on Cornelius in the Bible

a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.

Acts 10:2 (ESV)

And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”

Acts 10:22 (ESV)

And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.

Acts 10:30-31 (ESV)

Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’

Acts 10:32 (ESV)

Meanwhile, God was preparing Peter’s heart to minister to his coming Gentile visitors. God gave Peter a vision of an assortment of clean and unclean animals. Peter heard a voice saying, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

Peter resisted this command, having never eaten unclean food before, “And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (verse 15).

This vision was repeated three times, and then Peter heard the Spirit saying that three men were looking for him and that he should go with them immediately. Peter found Cornelius’s two servants and the soldier, and they told Peter of Cornelius’s visitation by an angel and asked him to come and speak to Cornelius.

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Peter invited the men to be his guests, and the next day Peter went with them back to Caesarea.

and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.

Acts 10:11-12 (ESV)

And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

Acts 10:13 (ESV)

But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

Acts 10:14 (ESV)

And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”

Acts 10:19-20 (ESV)

And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

Acts 10:22-23 (ESV)

When Peter entered Cornelius’s home, the centurion fell at Peter’s feet in reverence, but Peter lifted him up, saying, 

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

Acts 10:25–26 (ESV)

Peter had to remind Cornelius that it was forbidden for him, as a Jew, to associate with Gentiles. However, Peter’s vision from God revealed differently – no one should be seen as unclean, and the animals in his dream represented this new mission of sharing the gospel with all people. After hearing how an angel told Cornelius to seek out Peter, they both saw clearly that our Creator had orchestrated their meeting.

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

Acts 10:28-29 (ESV)

Then Peter said,

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Acts 10:34–35 (ESV)

Peter had the incredible privilege of bringing God’s message to those who have not heard it. As he spoke, the Holy Spirit filled the room, and these Gentiles suddenly began speaking in tongues – an awe-inspiring sign that something monumental was taking place before their eyes! It marked the beginning of what would be revealed as part of this remarkable new work God Himself was doing.

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Acts 10:47 (ESV) 

The “mini-Pentecost” in Cornelius’s house proved that the gospel was for all people, not just Jews. (Luke 2:10; Matthew 28:19)

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

We may not know the exact date of Cornelius’s conversion, but we know that Peter baptized him in Caesarea.

The story of Cornelius teaches us an important lesson – that religious devotion isn’t enough to save a person. God recognized the faithfulness and sincerity in Cornelius’ worship, but even then, He knew he still needed to hear about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for his soul to be saved. So, God sent Peter with this ultimate message of salvation in His perfect timing so Cornelius and his household could receive it! 

It was through trusting in the gospel alone that they were filled with Holy Spirit – ultimately seeking new life from what had been dead before. 

And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear,

Acts 10:39–40 (ESV)

To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”Acts 10:43 (ESV)

Cornelius the Centurion was a revolutionary figure in Christianity. He is known for being the first gentile to convert, thus opening up Christianity’s doors to people of all faiths and denominations – an unheard-of concept before his baptism, as previously only Jews converted to Christianity.

God’s Plan Through Cornelius in the Bible

God clearly had a plan in mind when He included the story of Cornelius in Acts – and it serves as an incredible reminder that God responds to us, is committed to expanding his kingdom even beyond our expectations, and ultimately cares about every nation. So let’s take a closer look at what this story reveals to us.

God Responds to Us, but We Must Respond to Him

God had a particular plan for Cornelius–he was to be the first gentile to get the news of Jesus’ gospel. So He sent Peter as His messenger, making it clear that all people were welcome in God’s Kingdom.

Have you ever wondered why God chooses certain people to work through? Exploring the stories of Abram, Jacob, and Paul provides us with special insight into His purpose. Each story helps us gain a better understanding of God’s heart!

In Acts 10, we get a glimpse into how God works – He had all kinds of people to choose from, yet picked Cornelius as one who would receive the extraordinary news about Jesus. What made him so special? 

It was no coincidence that God chose Cornelius in the Bible to experience His divine grace. But, instead, he had been devoutly devoted in his piety.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

Have you ever noticed that God showers blessings on those who take the time to seek Him? But His greatest reward is something much more treasured than money or material possessions: an intimate relationship with Him.

Jeremiah explained this further:

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” 

Jeremiah 29:12–14 (ESV)

God’s love for humanity is so incredibly profound that even the most broken of us can find redemption when we seek him with our entire being. He never fails to provide grace if only we look for it.

God listened and answered as His faithful followers raised their voices in prayer. We find evidence of this when we look at Cornelius’ story – a testament to the power of seeking out our Lord.

God saw that Cornelius was incredibly giving, so He selected him to be someone special in his plans. His acts of kindness extended beyond the walls of his own home—even charity towards those less fortunate deserved God’s attention.

The words of the angel reveal this:

“And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 

Acts 10:4–6 (ESV)

Cornelius was a remarkable man – devout, righteous, and God-fearing. But it wasn’t just his faith that set him apart; he took action too. In return, God responded in kind with extraordinary grace.

God answered Cornelius’ humble prayers and kind gifts to those less fortunate – that’s why He chose him for this crucial piece of Acts. His impact on history was genuinely remarkable.

Cornelius’s story reminds us that God is paying attention – he hears our prayers and sees all our actions in search of Him. Moreover, he values this pursuit so much that He grants grace to those who genuinely strive for Him. So don’t be fooled into thinking your efforts are insignificant; truthfully, what matters most to God is when you seek Him and His truth.

Picture describing that the Cornelius kneels down in front of Peter, vintage line drawing or engraving illustration for the post on Cornelius in the Bible

God Works Strategically to Expand His Kingdom

In Cornelius’ story, God reveals a glorious strategy to extend his mission beyond the Jews. Plus, he uses Joppa in this narrative which would resonate with the Jews from the story of Jonah. 

Refusing to accept God’s command, Jonah ran away and boarded a boat in Joppa. He thought he could find refuge on the sea – though little did he know that God had different plans for him.

God made an incredible example of redemption by selecting Joppa as the place to signify His love for all nations – even those away from his mission. This is where He picked up a story and established it with purpose, symbolizing what divine grace looks like.

God had a grand plan for the non-Jewish world, and to launch it, He used an unlikely agent – Cornelius and his house. Not only did God’s plan extend salvation beyond Jews through this mission outpost, but it is important enough that Peter retells the story in both Acts 10 and 11. 

God wants our hearts, not just our outward obedience

Our everyday decisions give insight into where our hearts are headed – according to God, this path matters most.

With a keen eye, he examines the heart of everyone before him. He doesn’t discriminate based on how people look or give preferential treatment; instead, only compassion and understanding exist in his judgment.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,

Acts 10:34 (ESV)

It’s easy to put on a show and fool people, but our underlying motivations are revealed through how we consistently act.

If you strive to live a virtuous life, never forget that God appreciates your efforts and listens carefully when you pray. Jesus taught us that our acts of righteousness would be honored if they came from the right place in our hearts.

God’s Plan Includes Spreading the Gospel to the Nations

In Acts 10, a major takeaway is God’s mission to share His gospel with the world.

According to the Gospels and Acts, Jesus is much more than just a good teacher – he’s an Anointed saving king! He came to save us from our sins. Of course, the gospel includes so many things beyond that, but it all boils down to this incredible message of salvation.

We see the gospel message clearly in Peter’s preaching to Cornelius.

“As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),” 

Acts 10:36 (ESV)

After all was said and done, Peter courageously spread the good news of Jesus. It’s a huge part of God’s mission – ensuring his love reaches every corner of the world!

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Lessons from Cornelius in the Bible

The story of Cornelius in the Bible is an inspiring reminder of how God works with us to spread his kingdom and bring the good news of His gospel across nations. It also reveals how much He cares about us.

We must take action and wait for God to respond

Our choices can shape our lives in profound ways. God encourages us to take the initiative and not wait for things to happen. God is not just a passive bystander in our lives. Instead, he rewards us for taking action, encouraging us to make moves and get things done!

We should always remember that even the most minor decisions can lead down powerful paths.

We must help in fulfilling God’s mission

God’s mission is being achieved through His church’s strategic work, and we are responsible for joining Him in this effort by using our own God-given strategies.

God’s mission is STILL bringing the gospel to the nations

Our interconnected world has opened up exciting new pathways to connecting with cultures near and far to share the gospel. The possibilities are endless—from engaging in face-to-face dialogue on our doorstep, embracing social media connections across the globe, or joining forces for global change initiatives.

You don’t have to be a missionary to join in on God’s great mission! We can all support and encourage those that are sent, whether through prayer or finances. Just like the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 demonstrates – when we act with generous hearts for His kingdom work, He will bless us beyond measure. 

Cornelius was a God-fearing man who Roman soldiers entrusted with an important position in the empire. He had a prayerful, humble spirit and was quick to obey when he heard from God. As a result of his faithfulness, Cornelius received guidance and boldness to take action on God’s behalf. Through him, many people came to know Jesus Christ. From Cornelius’ story, we learn that obedience is key to being used by God.

You may enjoy the video about the story of Peter and Cornelius in the Bible:

Or one of these recommended resources for further study:

Acts: The Spread of the Gospel (MacArthur Bible Studies) by John F. MacArthur

Acts: The Birth of the Church (Jeremiah Bible Study Series) by Dr. David Jeremiah

When we pray and ask for His will to be done in our lives, we must also be willing to follow through with whatever He asks us to do – even if it seems impossible or scary. What other lessons do you see in the story of Cornelius in the Bible?

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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