What can we know of this man who received a vision from God? First of all, Luke tells us he is a God-fearer (Acts 10:2a). This means he worshiped with the Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but had not committed himself to the whole Law. That is, he didn’t practice circumcision with all that this means, including keeping kosher. God-fearers were gentiles who found comfort in worshiping the God of the Jews. They recognized the wisdom of believing in only one God, creator of all there is. Luke also tells us that he gave much alms to the Jews who were poor and never ceased to pray to the one true God; that is, Cornelius worshiped only the God of the Jews and prayed to him alone, not to other gods (Acts 10:2b).
The church at this time was largely a Jewish movement. Luke shows in Acts 8 that Philip had begun preaching to gentiles in Samaria, the descendents of Shem, and to the Ethiopian eunuch, showing the Gospel going to the descendents of Ham. Now God turns to the descendents of Japheth, but in the vision Cornelius is told to send for Peter. Why, since Philip lived in Caesarea, just as Cornelius? God used Philip to open the doors to the descendents of Shem and Ham, why not Japheth? I think the reason for this has to do with the church authorities headquartered in Jerusalem and the Gospel that was to be preached by Paul to western civilization or Japheth’s descendents.
Cornelius was, no doubt, attached to the armies of the procurator of Judea who had his headquarters there. Also, we need to remember that these events took place during the time when Petronius, the governor of Syria, waited with his legions just north of Caesarea at Ptolemias for a reply from Caligula who had ordered him to place a statue of himself (Caesar) within the Temple compound. The Jews had staged a peaceful demonstration before Petronius and his armies and succeeded in getting him to petition Caesar to reconsider his command. So, Cornelius, no doubt was aware of the tense situation and may have even been one who prayed for a peaceful settlement regarding the Jews’ interests (Acts 10:4), which, if matters heated up into warfare, he would be reluctantly obliged to kill the very people with whom he worshiped God. This had to have been a very disturbing thought for him, and it is concerning this thought, I believe, that the angel spoke when he told Cornelius to send for Peter, and he would tell him what to **do** (Acts 10:6)!
Cornelius obeyed what he was commanded to do in the vision and sent some trusted men to Joppa to request Peter to come to him in Caesarea (Acts 10:7-8). So, the men went to Joppa and searched for the home of Simon the tanner and inquired as to whether Peter still lodged with him (Acts 10:17-18).
Therefore, we can know that Cornelius was a man who worshiped the true God, but did not know Jesus, at least enough to place his trust in him. He was a submissive man as far as his faith was concerned, but one who commanded respect from those who served him. He was honest and just toward others, aware of the tense development between Rome and Jerusalem, but most likely praying for its peaceful resolution. Nevertheless, he wondered, or so it would seem, what the Lord required him to do. In other words, if war broke out, he had divided loyalties, and perhaps it was not a foregone conclusion that he would support Rome. Hence, his prayer and God’s reply to send for Peter.