Cornelius was a centurion living in Caesarea, a Roman colony outpost in the land of Israel. A centurion was a Roman officer who commanded a group of one hundred soldiers, and only certain men were qualified for this. The Roman historian Polybius described centurions as natural leaders known for their steadiness and dependability on the field of battle.
Cornelius was such a man. He was disciplined, responsible, and courageous. He also would have been taught to worship the gods of Rome, mostly taken from Greece, which Rome had conquered. Cornelius even would have been taught to worship Caesar as God.
Being around Jewish people, Cornelius may have thought, “I believe they are worshiping the true God.” He gave money to the poor and prayed to the God of Israel. Even though Cornelius was a non-Jew, he called out to God. And because Cornelius was truly seeking God, God sent an angel who instructed him to send for Peter, who would give him the answer to his question.
But why didn’t that angel simply cut to the chase and share the gospel with Cornelius? It is because the job of angels is not to preach the gospel; it is to do their work, the bidding of the Lord, behind the scenes.
The primary way God reaches people is through people. As Romans 10:14 says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Peter was the man whom God wanted to use to reach Cornelius. So Peter preached, Cornelius came to faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all those who listened to Peter, and the gospel came to the Gentile world.