The Gospel being preached to Cornelius is probably Luke’s single most important record following Pentecost in Acts 2. At first it doesn’t seem so important a matter; after all, Cornelius is just one man, and we never hear of him again except by implication through Peter’s testimony in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. Yet, if we look deeper we shall see that he represents the people for whom Paul was set apart to preach the Gospel. Cornelius represents the descendents of Japheth—western civilization or more accurately in Biblical terms, the people to the north.
Japheth and Ham took their turns ruling over Israel (a descendent of Shem), and the record of their governing the Jews is found in Daniel 11, the account of the kings of the north and of the south. I believe it is interesting and telling that the Queen of the South, mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31, came from “the ends of the earth” to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Furthermore, in later times it was prophesied that the Lord would bring his children from “the ends of the earth” to come and worship him, and this was defined as coming from the north and the south (Isaiah 43:6)! If the “south” is Egypt or the descendents of Ham, and the north is Greece and Rome and the descendents of Japheth, then the Gospel going to the government officials in the persons of the Ethiopian eunuch through Philip in Acts 8 and to Cornelius through Peter in Acts 10 is highly significant. The accounts represent the Gospel spreading to the south and to the north or to “the ends of the earth”!
I thought about this for awhile, wondering why the north and south should be referred to in this manner. Perhaps it is nothing more than philosophical gibberish but as I wondered, I came to a logical conclusion. One could travel to the north and come to a place where he could go north no more. He had to go south if he took another step. It is a place where east and west do not exist—only one direction can be taken, and that is south. The same holds true if one continues to travel south. One would reach a point where he could go south no more and could only travel north. This is not so if one travels east or west. One could travel in either direction and never come to the end of his journey. East and west have no ending. So, it is logical to refer to the north and the south as the “ends” of the earth.
Therefore, when Paul wrote in Romans 10:18 that the word of God had gone to the “ends of the world”, he was stating a fact that would have been clearly understood by all his readers. We need to be careful concerning the meaning we apply to what the Bible says. We must not try to squeeze the meaning of Scripture into the definitions of our own modern culture. Just because we have the means today to preach through radio, television and the internet and engulf the entire globe with our words, doesn’t mean that this is what Paul meant by going to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Does this mean we don’t need to be faithful in our own time? No, I am not saying any such thing. However, I am saying that the idea that Scripture could not be fulfilled until modern times with our modern toys is a wrong outlook when it comes to fulfilling God’s word. The Lord is able to fulfill his will without using our modern gadgets to do so. The fact is: he has already done so in the 1st century CE. The Gospel going to the Ethiopian eunuch and to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, represents the beginning of the fulfillment of the Gospel going to the ends of the earth, which Paul testifies was completed in his day (Romans 10:18)! May God bless those who believe and submit to his word.