“Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.”
This passage is going to deal with problems pertaining to the beginning of the Church Age. The Church Age actually began on the Day of Pentecost. There was no Church in the Old Testament. We know this from three different doctrines in the Scriptures.
The first reason we know there was no church in the Old Testament is the doctrine of the mystery which is stated in Ephesians 3:1-6; Colossians 1:25,26; Romans 16:25,26. The word “mystery” itself means information which was totally hidden from the past. In the period of the Old Testament no Church truth was revealed. Not only was there no church but there was no information about the Church. For example, the baptism of the Spirit is never mentioned, the universal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the fact that Christ indwells believers, the fact that every believer is in union with Christ, the fact of the Rapture of the Church, all of these things were not revealed. In the Old Testament we have the death of Christ, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, all revealed prophetically. We have all of the events of the Tribulation revealed prophetically. We have the Second Coming of Christ revealed prophetically plus His Millennial reign and the eternal state, but with regard to Church truth there is absolutely none mentioned in any way in the Old Testament.
The second reason is the fact of the future tense in Matthew 16 — “I will build my church.” The fact that the Church was still future was revealed by Matthew 16:13-18, by one phrase where Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” The Greek word build, “oikodomeo,” is future tense. In other words, the Church did not exist at the time that Christ spoke in Matthew 16. Technically, this is very important theologically because there are false systems of theology which say they find the Church in the Old Testament, but they confuse Israel and the Church. This false doctrine is called Covenant Theology.
The third reason is the baptizing ministry of the Spirit. The Church is formed by the baptism of the Spirit and the baptism of the Spirit first began on the Day of Pentecost in 30 AD. The fact that the baptism of the Spirit was future: Jesus Christ, just before He ascended in Acts 1:5, said, “I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” In other words, it hadn’t occurred as yet, it was still future. The mechanics of the baptism of the Spirit are given in I Corinthians 12:13. It is not an experience; it is the Holy Spirit entering everyone into union with Christ. The concept of the Church, as to when it began, is given in Ephesians 4:3-12.
The termination of the Church Age is the Rapture of the Church when the Church will be removed according to I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Then there will be the period of the Tribulation during which time the Church is in Heaven. When the Church is in Heaven three things happen. The Church receives a resurrection body; the Church loses the sin nature (ultimate sanctification); all human good is judged. The Church on earth is called the body of Christ but in Heaven it is called the bride of Christ — the Church is the bride being prepared. Then the Second Coming of Christ occurs and the Church comes back with Christ. Then in the Millennium the Church and Israel will be together. As the cornerstone Christ is the ruler of Israel as David’s greater Son, and as the cornerstone He is head over the Church.
There are eight unique features of the Church Age:
Now, as to the problem attached to the newly formed Church which never existed before. As we have studied with regard to Samaritans we have the same issue being addressed in these verses – Gentile salvation. Remember that there was genuine hatred of the Gentiles by the Jews, generally. Jews had apparently been taught that they alone had the exclusive right to eternal life and no Gentile or half-Gentile could be saved. So God had to teach the newly formed church made up of Jews that the Gospel and salvation were for all mankind regardless of race.
Verse 1 - Caesarea was the home of a Roman regiment. Herod the Great who ruled the Jews was a man of great genius. He was one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. He built many of the temples in Greece, Asia, and Rome. He built some of the most beautiful homes in the ancient world. His wealth was fantastic. He became tired of simply building buildings and started building cities. He built the most beautiful seaport city and called after his friend Julius Caesar: Caesarea. It was the greatest port of the ancient world. Because it was such a beautiful city, when the Romans took over Palestine they made it their headquarters and it was a city despised by the Jews because it represented everything that heathenism represented. It was a place of Greek culture, paganism and the place of the Roman headquarters.
Cornelius was a Roman soldier stationed at Caesarea. We know something about Cornelius. From his name we know that he was a Roman aristocrat from the family, Corneli, which was one of the outstanding families of ancient Rome. He was a Roman of the Romans. He had chosen as his career the army. Every aristocrat had to choose as his career either the army or Roman administration. He was also a centurion and in a headquarters organization at Caesarea. His regiment was called the Italian Cohort, and it referred to a regiment of six-hundred men. The members of this regiment all had to prove Roman birth, not just Roman citizenship. So he was an outstanding aristocrat in every sense of the word.
The amazing thing about this Roman aristocrat was that at the point of God-consciousness he became positive. He was not a saved man. He is said to be devout; he is said to fear God, he is said to have given alms to the people, the Jewish people - an unheard of thing for a Roman aristocrat. He is said to pray to God constantly. All of these things are recorded in verse 2. What do they mean? The answer is found in the five points of heathenism.
The principle of God-consciousness simply says this: If any member of the human race - regardless of any geographical location, regardless of an linguistic barrier or isolation, at the point of God-consciousness desires relationship with God, God will provide information for that individual. This is taught in John 7:17; Acts 17:27; Jeremiah 29:13; Romans 1:20-21. The only exception is the person who is mentally unable to reach God- consciousness or dies before they reach the point of God-consciousness. They are automatically saved because they never reach God-consciousness.
At God-consciousness we have volition. Volition has a positive and a negative pole and when a person reaches God-consciousness if he goes on negative signals God has no further responsibility. Negative signals at God-consciousness create a vacuum in the mind. Into that vacuum is drawn religion, as per Romans l:20, and with religion this person will constantly reject the truth all of his life. If a person goes on positive signals then God is responsible to provide information. That information is provided at a second point called Gospel hearing. If a person goes on positive signals at God-consciousness then God will provide the Gospel and positive volition at Gospel hearing is faith in Christ.
Cornelius became positive at the point of God-consciousness. Verse 2 expresses these positive signals. The word devout is “eusebes” in Greek. It is used in several ways. Sometimes it is translated “devout” and sometimes it is translated “godliness." It can be used as a designation for spirituality in a believer, which is the use which Paul gives it in the pastoral epistles; but when used by Luke it is always used for an unbeliever who at the point of God-consciousness goes on positive signals. That is the concept of it here.
Positive volition at the point of God-consciousness is revealed by, one who feared God. The word “fear” means to be in awe of or to have respect for. He had great respect for God. This again confirms positive volition at the point of God-consciousness. And that isn’t all; he gave alms to the people for whom the Romans had little regard, the Jews. Then finally we have the fact that he prays to God, which again indicates positive volition at the point of God-consciousness. Cornelius’ household were positive as well and they were going to be used to demonstrate the fact that when a Gentile believes in Christ he has the same privileges as a Jew who believes in Christ, that Jew and Gentile are no longer Jew and Gentile when they believe in Christ but they are members of the body of Christ.
Verse 3 - the ninth hour happens to be the Jewish time for prayer, 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It is rather surprising that a Roman aristocrat would follow a Jewish custom. He had positive volition and Judaism was what he had observed so he was apparently following what he had been observing. He was alarmed at the vision of Jesus Christ (what is it Lord) speaking to him but didn’t run away, he stood there and he talked.
Verse 4 - your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God, represent positive volition at the point of God-consciousness. Therefore God is now responding to the positive volition of Cornelius, as per His essence: righteousness and justice. Positive volition of an unbeliever in the human race always means receiving the Gospel message and responding to it in faith. God hears the prayer of the unbeliever when that pray is regarding salvation. Remember that God-consciousness simply means to be aware of the existence of God; it has nothing to do with information regarding Jesus Christ.
Verse 5 - now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea, When Cornelius reached God-consciousness he desired a relationship with God. Therefore God had already obligated Himself to provide information for Cornelius. And He was about to do this because God had a man ready who could give him the information he needed. Peter was living 30 miles away in Joppa with Simon the tanner.
Verse 7 - he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. He was a military man, he recognized orders from a higher authority, and immediately we see him going into action. The soldier under Cornelius had also demonstrated positive volition at the point of God-consciousness. So he called a devout soldier, which means at the point of positive volition this Roman soldier had also desired relationship with God and he would be involved in what some call the Gentile Pentecost.