Did Cornelius Learn the Mystery?

By Justin Johnson

A common mistake is to make Cornelius the pattern for the mystery of Christ since he was a Gentile. Yet, Cornelius was neither a result of Paul’s ministry nor the mystery message of Christ.

The Lord revealed the mystery of Christ first to Paul (1 Tim 1:16). Paul was saved in Acts 9. The story of Cornelius is in Acts 10, but Peter is the minister not Paul.

Peter goes to him after a vision from the Lord and ministers to him the gospel of the kingdom. Peter did not teach the mystery of Christ. Cornelius and his house became a sign to Israel that the Spirit was receiving repentant Gentiles into Peter’s remnant group.

Cornelius’ Obedience

Cornelius was not a pagan Gentile. He was one who walked in obedience to the God of Israel:

“A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.” – Acts 10:2

It was because of his obedience and faithfulness to God’s instructions that he received the vision.

“Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” – Acts 10:4

Cornelius would know that Israel was God’s people and were the chosen mediation between God and Gentiles. When Peter reluctantly arrived at this Gentile’s house, Cornelius quickly honored him knowing that he was a Jew. This was in accordance with Genesis 12:3.

“And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.” – Acts 10:25

Today, prayers and alms are not prequisites of Gentiles who are freely offered salvation through the direct mediation of Christ. What was hidden in time past was revealed in the mystery of Christ. Cornelius did not understand the mystery.

Peter’s Law Message

Peter did not teach the mystery of Christ to Cornelius. In Acts 10 Peter is still observing the law of commandments that Jesus bid him observe in Mat 23:1.

“Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation;” – Acts 10:28

The mystery of Christ teaches we are no longer under the law. Peter did not have a clue. He was told that he should not call any man unclean. A Gentile’s faith and righteous works were acceptable to God.

God does not respect persons as was explained by the law and the prophets (Deut 16:19, Prov 28:21).

God told Peter that Gentiles who worked righteousness could be accepted into the believing kingdom group.

“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” – Acts 10:35

Peter’s Pentecostal Message

So far we have seen Peter confirm a positional separation between Jew and Gentile, though neither should be respected in judgment of their good works.

Peter continues to explain the message which Jesus ministered to Israel:

“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel… which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;” – Acts 10:36-37

Clearly, Peter is teaching the same kingdom gospel that was taught by John, Jesus, and at Pentecost: repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, the kingdom is at hand.

Of course, he includes his unique Pentecostal addition to the kingdom gospel which was that Jesus was resurrected proving his position as the prophesied Messiah and the Judge. It is by the name of Jesus that their sins could be remitted by repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38, Acts 4:12).

It was at this time that the Spirit fell on these devout Gentiles who believed on the name of Jesus of Nazareth, sent unto Israel, slain by the Jews, and witnessed by Peter.

Nowhere do we find a hint of the mystery of Christ.

The Mystery still a Mystery

The only thing resembling the mystery ministry was that Cornelius was a Gentile, but Gentile believers were not a new or secret thing (Mat 15:28, Luke 7:3-8).

The mystery of Christ is not the blessing of Gentiles. It was long prophesied that the Gentiles would be blessed through Israel. It is the uniting of Jew and Gentile into one new thing (Eph 2:15). It is Christ in the Gentiles (Col 1:27); the blindness of Israel (Rom 11:25); the heavenly destiny (Phil 3:20); and the new means of glory in the cross (Gal 6:14), not the nation Israel.

The lesson taught to Peter by the Spirit in Acts 10 equipped him to later give the right hand of fellowship to Paul (Gal 2:9). Yet, Peter did not teach nor did Cornelius receive the mystery information about Christ. That the Gentiles possessed more faith than Israel was always a sign of Israel’s shameful rejection of God (Luke 7:9) . The book of Acts is about Israel’s rejection of God

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Published: February 9, 2011
Last Modified: October 22, 2016
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