1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"
4Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked.
The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea."
7When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa."
Cornelius Received a Vision
FYI - This town Caesarea, sometimes called Palestinian Caesarea, was located on the coast of the Mediterranean, 32 miles north of Joppa. The largest and most important port city on the Mediterranean, it served as the capital of the Roman province of Judea. This was the 1st city to have Gentile Chrisitans and a non-Jewish church.
Cornelius was a centurion in what was called the Italian cohort. A cohort was a regiment of between 600-1,000 Italian men, (Cornelius was an officier responsible for 100 soldiers,) although he was stationed in Caesarea, he would probably return soon to Rome, where he would spread the gospel to the empire's capital city.
Cornelius wasn't a believer in Christ, but he was seeking God, and he was reverent and generous. He is an example that God 'rewards those who earnestly seek him' (Hebrews 11:6.) God answers the sincere prayers of those who seek him by sending the right person or the right information at the right time. . . God's time!!
v. 4 The angel said to him, "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God." Like the rising smoke of sacrifice, Cornelius' prayers and deeds of charity had ascended into the presence of God. Now the angel, a messenger of God, told him to send some men to Joppa to find Simon/Peter. Notice the angel did not tell Cornelius what to do to be saved, but repeatedly throughout the conversions in the New Testament we will see how God gave the Great Commission to men, not to angels. By this method, God divinely brings the preacher and the sinner together.
Peter's words in 15:7 seem conclusive that God chose him to preach to the Gentiles for the first time, he was given the keys of the kingdom in Mat. 16:19.