Online Bible Commentary
A Memorial before God
Acts 10:1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!" 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?" So he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do." 7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa. (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 40. In this passage we are introduced to Cornelius, who, along with his household, became the first Gentiles to become Christians. Cornelius lived in Caesarea which was located on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea about seventy miles northwest of Jerusalem.
Caesarea was a thriving seaport, having been built by Herod the Great during the period of 22-10 BC. It later became the provincial capital of Roman Judea and was the official home of Herodian kings as well as Festus, Felix, and other Roman procurators of Judea. The city was destroyed during the Crusades.
In 1952, a Jewish town of Caesarea was established near the ruins of the old city. Now it is a suburban settlement with many residents commuting to work in Tel Aviv or Haifa. Today the ancient city is in ruins and is designated as a national park.
Cornelius was a Roman “centurion”, meaning that he commanded about a hundred men of what was called the “Italian Regiment” (v. 1). Cornelius is described as being “devout” and God fearing (v. 2a). He helped the poor and “prayed to God always” (v. 2b). He was not Jewish but appears to have practiced the Jewish religion.
One day, about three in the afternoon, Cornelius saw a vision of an angel (v. 3). Thinking the vision was of God he asked "What is it, lord" (v. 4a)? The angel responded "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God” (v. 4b). The Lord recognized that Cornelius had a seeker’s heart and was in need of more light.
The angel instructed Cornelius to send his men to retrieve Peter, who was ministering to the Jews in Joppa, about thirty miles south, down the coast from Caesarea (v. 5). The angel told the seeking Cornelius that Peter would “tell you what you must do" to find God (v. 6). In obedience, Cornelius sent two servants and a god fearing soldier to retrieve Peter (vv. 7-8).
Cornelius was an example of a seeker who was trying to find the true God. He was being obedient to the only light he had been given, the Jewish faith. He obviously had rejected the man made idols that other Gentiles worshiped.
Cornelius had the childlike open desire for truth that the Lord looks for in seekers. He saw Cornelius’ prayers as a crying out to God and answered them.
The Lord does not hear the prayers of unbelievers unless they are crying out to Him for salvation. Obviously, the Lord saw Cornelius’ prayers of responding to the only light he knew as a reaching out to Him.
The Lord is always listening for our cries for help. He is always listening for those who have a heart to know the true God. He always honors our efforts to find Him as “a memorial before God.”