Why Did Cornelius Have To Hear Peter’s Preaching?
“Although Cornelius in Acts 10 is described as a devout man, why did he still need to hear what Peter had to say regarding Jesus Christ?”
What a fascinating question!
Yes, a Gentile, Cornelius was a “devout [religious] man” (Acts 10:2). He had some knowledge about the one true God. That knowledge motivated him to “pray to God alway.” He knew some of the Old Testament. Most of the Gentiles of that time did not have a clue as to what those Old Testament scrolls said. God had given His Word to Israel (Romans 3:1-2) and not to Gentiles (nations).
Romans chapter 2: “ Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,  And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;  And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,  An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.”
A Roman centurion (commander of 100 soldiers), Cornelius knew that he as a Gentile had to relate to the God of creation by blessing His nation, Israel. There was instruction and spiritual light to be received from Jews, since they had communication with Him. Cornelius understood the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:1-3. God would bless Gentiles who blessed Abraham’s seed, Israel:
Genesis 12:1-3 “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Notice what Cornelius’ servants told Peter in Acts 10:22: “And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.”
As Act 10:2 said, he “gave much alms [goods/money for the poor] to the people [Israel].” Cornelius blessed Israel. As Peter later learned and then preached to Cornelius, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). The reverence that Cornelius had toward Israel’s God was manifested in his “works of righteousness”—that is, in his blessing God’s nation Israel. At that time Gentiles still had to come to God through Israel and Israel’s program. Paul ‘mystery/ grace program’ had not yet been introduced.
As noted earlier, Cornelius was better off than most Gentiles at the time because, through Israel, he had access to the one true God. Yet, Cornelius’ spiritual knowledge was limited. He recognized that he was missing some truths. He prayed for that spiritual understanding to come to him (verse 2), and God responded by sending the Apostle Peter to impart that spiritual knowledge to him (Acts 10:22). More revelation had been given since the Abrahamic Covenant, and Cornelius needed to be made aware of it. Jesus Christ had already come as Israel’s Messiah and had already been rejected and resurrected. Peter preached that message to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-43. Peter came to tell Cornelius and his household how to be saved through Jesus Christ while Israel’s program was still intact. See Peter’s words in Acts 11:13-14. Peter was still “the apostle of the circumcision” (Gal 2:8 KJV).
There had been additional revelation from God and Peter was sent to tell Cornelius. Furthermore, Cornelius had not yet fully given up his pagan behavior. He fell down and wanted to worship Peter (Acts 10:25). By Peter preaching the truth to Cornelius, that additional spiritual light could help Cornelius purge himself of his remaining pagan/Satanic thoughts and actions.
What we can learn from this is that simply because people pray, that does not automatically mean they are saved unto eternal life. In fact, prayer itself does not make one a Christian. The Lord Jesus talked about “heathen” (pagan idolaters) who “pray” (Matthew 6:7).
In order to be delivered from Satan and our sins, we have to hear the Gospel for today. Prayer never saved anyone. Cornelius learned that and we must learn it. We have to believe the Gospel message later revealed by God to the Apostle Paul — “how that Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). When we trust that, that simple Message of God’s Grace alone, we need not be encumbered with vain repetitious prayers, water ceremonies, confessionals, almsgiving, and all the other burdens religious leaders attempt to tack onto Christ’s finished crosswork.
By the time of Acts chapter 10, it was not enough anymore for a Gentile just to bless Israel in order to have a relationship with the Creator God. Beginning with Cornelius, a Gentile then had to also believe in Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 10:43). All Gentile believers in Israel’s program have to personally believe in Jesus Christ. He is the central Person, whether in our mystery program or Israel’s prophetic program.
Whether in our program or Israel’s program, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the only means whereby we can approach the one true God. Cornelius’ salvation experience is a preview of how Gentile salvation will operate in Israel’s program in the future (“the ages to come” in the Tribulations period and Millennium). After our “Dispensation of the Grace of God” ends, Gentiles will be saved in a manner similar to Cornelius’ conversion, with redeemed Israel preaching to Gentiles (see Isaiah 60:1-3 and Zechariah 8:20-23).
What should be also noted is that Peter’s visit to Cornelius’ house was then useful for Peter in defending Paul’s Gentile apostleship (Acts 15:7-9). The Lord had Peter go to Cornelius’ home so Peter could come to Paul’s defense many years later as seen at the Council of Acts 15.
- As Adapted from Shawn Brasseaux