New Heart New Spirit

Ezekiel

Peter's Vision of the Sheet from Heaven

Taking an honest look at Acts 10-11, along with its implications

Preface

For centuries, the Church has taught that God commanded Peter not to call any food "unclean" because God (supposedly) made all foods clean contrary to His previous commandments in the Torah (first five books of the Bible). The Church has taught, thus, that we are at liberty to now eat anything our hearts desire - even including things which God has called abominations. For an in-depth study on the dietary commandments of the Bible, please see our article titled Be Holy: Does God Care What We Eat?

Commentary

Chapter Ten

Acts 10:1-2 “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always."


What Luke’s Saying: There was a certain man who lived in Caesarea whose name was Cornelius. Cornelius was a centurion (soldier) in the Italian Regiment of the Romans army. Cornelius was a devoutly religious man – he and his household* feared the God of Israel. Cornelius generously gave alms to the people and he continuously prayed to God.”


* An ancient “household” included one’s nuclear family along with any servants the family owned. See Acts 10:7 to see that Cornelius did, in fact, have at least two servants.


Summary: Cornelius was a soldier in the Roman army. He was righteous and he and his family feared God.




Acts 10:3-8 “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.”


What Luke’s Saying: About 3:00pm* Cornelius saw a vivid vision of an angel of God. The angel called to him, saying “Cornelius!” And when Cornelius observed the angel he was afraid** and said “What is it, lord?” So the angel said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now, send men to the city of Joppa to find a man named Shimon (Simon) whose last name is Kefa (Peter). Shimon Kefa is temporarily living in Simon the Tanner’s house which is by the sea. This same man, Simon Peter, will tell you what you must do.” Then, when the angel of God departed from him, Cornelius called for two of his servants and a loyal soldier that was under his command. He then proceeded to explain everything they needed to know for their journey and then sent them to Joppa.


* In calculating Biblical time, begin at six o’clock in the morning (the time when the sun comes up) and add the hour of the day to get the number of hours of daylight. For example, “the ninth hour” is 3:00pm (15:00) because you begin at 6:00am (6:00) and count nine hours – this will result in adding 6 + 9 thus resulting in 3pm (or 15:00 in military time). When Luke says “about the ninth hour of the day” he is referring to the ninth hour of daylight. Thus, if the sun came up at around 6am (6:00) then the ninth hour of daylight would be about 3pm (15:00).

Another thing to take notice of is the fact that it says that Cornelius "prayed to God always" and then mentions the ninth hour (3pm). There is an ancient Jewish time of afternoon prayer called the Mincha (pron. "min-kha") and this prayer time is in the afternoon. Also interestingly noteworthy, we will find that Peter also prayed during this time (Acts 10:9).


** Angels are terrifying fire-spirits (Psalm 104:4, Matthew 28:4, Hebrews 1:7 & 1:14, Revelation 22:8)


Summary: An angel then appears to Cornelius in a vision and commands Cornelius to send some men to fetch Simon Peter from the city of Joppa. When the angel leaves, Cornelius gets three of his men to go find Peter.




Acts 10:9 “The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour."


What Luke’s Saying: Around lunchtime (noon, 12:00), Cornelius’ men were drawing near to the city of Joppa. During that same hour, Peter went up to the roof to pray*.


* Have you ever thought that going up to the roof to pray is a weird thing for Peter to do? Couldn’t he have fallen off and died? Ancient roofs were flat on top and were not angled like modern Western roofs, thus the roof acted almost as another room of the house. However, some modern builders have carried on the flat roof design into modern architecture. Praying on one’s rooftop was ancient practice by the time of the early church and was practiced by both pagans and Israelites (Zephaniah 1:5). It is very possible that Peter was even facing the Holy Temple as he prayed because facing toward the Temple is/was a common practice observed by both ancient and modern Jews (1 Kings 8:44 & 8:48, 2 Chronicles 6:34, Psalm 5:7, Psalm 138:2, Daniel 6:10, Jonah 2:4). For more information regarding facing the Temple during prayer, including in modern times, click here.

Modern Israeli roofs with solar panels

A flat roof in North Carolina, USA

Summary: At around noon (12:00) Cornelius’ men neared Joppa and Peter went up to the roof to pray.




Acts 10:10 “Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance”


What Luke’s Saying: Then Peter became very hungry and wanted to eat, but while his friends were downstairs preparing lunch, Peter fell into a trance.


Summary: Peter was hungry and had a vision about food while his friends were downstairs making lunch.




Acts 10:10-11 “Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet knit at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth."


What Luke’s Saying: Please see our article titled What is the Sheet in Peter’s Vision? for more information about this passage.

Commentary: The sheet which descended from heaven was possibly a Jewish prayer shawl. Theoretically, it could symbolize “putting on Christ” and “being in Christ” (Romans 8:1, Romans 13:14, 2 Corinthians 5:17). 1 Corinthians 1:30 says that “you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, that is, our righteousness” Thus, we are in Christ Jesus, and if Christ himself is righteousness, then we are in righteousness, correct? This is confirmed in Revelation 19:8 when it says “And to her [the saints] was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” Something very similar is said in Isaiah 61:10 “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Jesus himself even says in Luke 24:49 “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but wait in the city of Jerusalem, until you are clothed with power from on high.” 

So “fine linen” is a metaphor for the “righteousness of the saints” and as we learn from Isaiah, God will give the saints “robes of righteousness” and “garments of salvation.” If Christ is our righteousness and we are to be in him, then we are to be in righteousness. If righteousness is represented metaphorically by fine linens, robes, and garments, then we are literally being clothed with Christ and the Spirit – Christ is our righteousness and our salvation. We put on and wear Christ just as we would put on and wear a robe. We are in Christ just as we are in our clothes.




Acts 10:12-16 “In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.”


What Luke’s Saying: In the tallit gadol (great sheet) were all kinds of four-footed animals (i.e. wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air). Then a voice said to him “Hey Peter! Get up, kill, and eat!” But Peter said “But Lord, I can’t do that! You decreed that these things are abominations to us according to Your words in Leviticus 11! This is why I have never eaten anything common or unclean because I know that it is better to obey God than men (Acts 5:29). And a voice spoke to Peter a second time, saying “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” This was done three times. Then the object was taken back up into heaven.


Commentary: Interestingly enough, there are at least two other cases in the Bible when righteous men are offered unclean substances to eat and they refuse (similar to when Peter says "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." This in fact soundns extremely close to Ezekiel's response). What’s also interesting is that God always offers them a way around it – giving them clean things to eat instead. Here are the two passages:


  • Daniel Chapter 1, especially 1:8-17 which say “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself16 Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”


  • Ezekiel Chapter 4, especially verse 4:14 which says “So I said, “Ah, Lord Yehowah! Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth even till now; I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth.””

Summary: A great sheet containing abominations comes down from heaven. A voice tells Peter to “Rise, kill, and eat.” Peter refuses because he has never eaten anything unclean in his entire life and he’s definitely not going to start now. However, the voice says “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” This event happens a few times until the sheet is taken back up into heaven.




Acts 10:17 “Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant”


Commentary: Notice, here, that Peter has no clue what his vision was about. It even says “Peter wondered within himself what this vision… meant.” The meaning of the vision was not obvious to him. If you think that by reading the story of the vision that you can interpret it better than Peter himself, you are sadly and arrogantly mistaken. Peter experienced this vision first-hand and experienced things which were probably not recorded in the Book of Acts. What did Peter feel? Could he smell the animals? What did the voice sound like? Exactly how large was the “large sheet”? How long did the vision last? There are many things that we just don’t know, so we must trust Peter’s conclusions regarding the vision especially because he himself explains the meaning of the vision later on in the passage. Think about it, which is more reliable: the interpretation of the event by Peter himself or the interpretation of the story by pastors, priests, and theologians who are separated from Peter by both time and culture? We must trust Peter’s interpretation because not only was he an eye-witness to the event, but because he remember Jesus’ words and thus understood the meaning of the vision (Acts 11:16).


Summary: Peter wondered what the vision meant. He did not immediately know the meaning.




Acts 10:17-20 “Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. 19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you.20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”


What Luke’s Saying: Now while Peter was trying to figure out what the vision he saw had meant, Cornelius’ men had been searching for Simon the Tanner’s house and they eventually found it, so they decided to wait outside at the front door. They shouted and asked “Is Simon Peter lodging here?” While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Look outside, three men are looking for you. Therefore, get up, go downstairs, and go with them. Doubt nothing because I’m the one who sent them.”


Commentary: Notice what happens here: Peter's vision ends and three Gentile men come and ask Peter to go with them. God says to Peter "arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” This "arise, go down, and go with them" phrase mirrors the language of the previous few verses where God says to Peter "Arise, kill and eat." This happens three times in the vision. Notice how this phrase is repeated three times in the vision and there just so happen to be three men who meet Peter at the front door. The fact that they are men is not extraordinary, but rather the fact that they are Gentile men is what is interesting. Also, in the vision God tells Peter to “arise” so that he can kill and eat – similar language to when the Spirit tells Peter “arise, go down, and go with them.” We will cover more similarities like these further along in the article.


Summary: As Peter was trying to figure out what the vision meant, Cornelius’ men found the Tanner’s house and called out “Is Simon Peter in there?” The Holy Spirit bids Peter to go with them without hesitation. The Spirit tells Peter to go without doubt, without hesitation or reluctance, because it was socially unacceptable for a Jewish man to hang out with Gentiles. This would normally cause a Jewish man to doubt whether or not he should go with the Gentiles, but God tells him not to doubt, but rather go.




Acts 10:21-23 “Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” 22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” 23 Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”


What Luke’s Saying: Then Peter obeyed the Holy Spirit and went downstairs to meet the men who were sent by Cornelius. He said to them, “Hi, I’m the guy you’re looking for. What are you doing here?” And they said “Our boss is Cornelius the centurion. He is a just man who fears God and has a good reputation among all the Jews. He was instructed by a holy angel to ask you to come to his house so that you two can talk together.” So after Peter and the men sent by Cornelius talked for a bit, Peter invited them inside and they spent the night there. On the next day, Peter and Cornelius’ men began their journey back to Cornelius’ house. However, some Jesus-loving brethren from Joppa accompanied them.


Commentary: Essentially, Peter comes down and says “What’s up, guys?” The men respond, “A righteous man named Cornelius, a man who fears God and has a good reputation among the Jews, was commanded by God to send for you so that you can come over to his house and teach us.” The first point of interest here is that these Gentile men would make an effort to tell Peter that Cornelius was of good report among the Jews. This means that Cornelius was well-known and well liked among the Jewish community. Secondly, they call him a righteous man who feared God. In Old Testamental lingo, Cornelius would be considered either a proselyte or a God-fearer. A proselyte is a Gentile who has decided to formally convert to Judaism. A God-fearer is one who believes in the God of the Bible and tries to live in accordance with many (or even most) of His commandments, yet does not decide to formally convert to Judaism (conversion usually required circumcision). Also see the Wikipedia articles on Hellenistic Judaism, the Circumcision Controversy in Early Christianity, and the debate regarding mandatory circumcision in early Judaism.


Summary: So Peter obeyed the Holy Spirit when the Spirit told him to go with Cornelius’ men back to Cornelius’ house.




Acts 10:24-26 “And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped* him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”


What Luke’s Saying: And the following day Peter, Peter’s companions, Cornelilus’ men, entered Caesarea. Now, at this time, Cornelius was waiting for Peter and the men and he had called together his relatives and close friends in preparation for the time when Peter would arrive. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped* him. But Peter pulled Cornelius to his feet, saying “Get up! I’m just a man like you.”


* When Luke writes that Cornelius worshipped Peter, do not get the impression that Cornelius thought that Peter was somehow divine. In the ancient world, worship was not solely reserved for God. Kings, dignitaries, and people of honor would be “worshipped.” The Greek word that is used here is “proskuneó” where “pros” means "towards" and “kyneo” (pron. “koo-nay-oh”) means "to kiss." Thus, proskuneó means: “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior; to worship, ready to fall down/prostrate oneself to adore on one's knees; to do obeisance.” This is what Cornelius was doing in front of Peter.


We find other examples of similar situations throughout the Bible. For example, in Matthew 2:2 the magi come to Herod and ask “Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” The magi were not expecting a god-man to be born in Israel, rather they were expecting a human baby to be born that would one day become a king over Israel.


Another example can be found in 1 Chronicles 29:20 (KJV) where it says “And David said to all the congregation, “Now bless Yehowah your God.” And all the congregation blessed Yehowah, [the] God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped Yehowah and the king.


We’ll conclude with one more example: In Revelation 19:10 John says about an angel, “I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God [instead]!” We see here that although angels are not to be worshipped, John still did. Why? Because angels are terrifying fire-spirits and John probably thought that the angel deserved to be honored. However, as the text says, angels and humans are fellow servants to Jesus. Angels are “of our brethren who have the testimony of Jesus” and appear to be members of the church alongside human beings. Interestingly enough, Cornelius seems to worship Peter similarly to how John worships the angel, and both Cornelius and John get the same response – “don’t worship me! I’m just like you and we’re equals!”


Summary: Cornelius gathers his family and friends to his house so that they could all meet Peter when he and the others arrived. Cornelius began to worship Peter but Peter stops him, saying that his worship is unjustified since Cornelius and Peter are both just “Average Joes”.




Acts 10:27-29aAnd as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful** it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for.”


What Luke’s Saying: And as Peter talked with Cornelius, Peter went in and found many who had assembled together*. Then Peter said to the group, “You know how it’s illegal according to our customs** for a Jewish man to keep company with Gentiles, or to journey to meet with a Gentile (like Cornelius). However, God has shown me that I should call no man common or unclean. Therefore, I came to meet with Cornelius without objecting to the request of his servants and without delay – I left as soon as possible.


Commentary: What Peter says in Acts 10:28b is perhaps the most important part of the whole chapter: “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” He goes on to say in Acts 10:34-35 that “God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” When does God teach Peter this? The answer can be found in the following chapter, in Acts 11:1-17.


* When Luke says that may people came together, this may be referring to two things. Perhaps Cornelius had a habit of assembling his family and friends together for worship and study (essentially, a house-church). Another alternative is that Cornelius brought everyone together specifically to hear Peter, as the presence of an apostle was a big deal and was something everyone would want to experience. I believe it is more likely that Cornelius assembled the group specifically to meet Peter and that the assembly was not a usual occurrence. However, I also believe both are possibilities.


** The typical word for “lawless” in Greek is the word “anomia” meaning, literally, “without law” or “absence of law.” However, this is not the word used here nor is it related to the word used here. Rather Luke uses the word “athémitos” (an adjective, derived from “a” meaning "not" and “themis” meaning "a custom.” “Themis” literally means “what is acceptable because accepted" – in other words, something has occurred for so long that it becomes ingrained in the psyche of the people and is eventually just acceptable as a social norm. Thus, the Greek word “athémitos” means “not acceptable based on the prevailing custom or ordinary practice.” This custom is nowhere to be found in the Bible because it is a Pharisaical tradition that developed centuries after the Law had been given at Sinai. In fact, it was a custom which the Jewish religious authorities imposed on people to help protect them from even getting close to disobeying the actual Torah commandments. If the Torah is a fence that helps keep people from wandering into sin, the Pharisees built an extra fence inside the Torah fence so that you would never even get close to violating the commandment (i.e. getting close to the Torah fence). However, God forbids people from adding to the Law (Deuteronomy 4:2) and Jesus even rebuked the Pharisees for transgressing God’s Law in favor of upholding their own traditions (Matthew 15:3). By imposing the tradition of prohibiting Jews from associating with Gentiles, the Pharisees were breaking God’s Torah commandments and thus the were acting lawlessly.


Imagine a medieval castle with an exterior wall and an interior wall – these are technically called the “outer curtain” and the “inner curtain” respectively. To stay safe from attacks from the enemy, residents were advised to stay within the castle walls. However, they were not confined to just the inner ward. They were at liberty to walk around the space between the inner and outer curtain (the inner and outer walls). However, suppose the king dies and a new king comes to power. The new king loves his people and cares about them very much – thus he passes a royal edict prohibiting people from even getting close to the outer curtain. The new king claims that this prohibition is meant to protect people from the harm caused by leaving the castle and being subject to enemy attacks. The people, who are not skilled in military strategy, go along with the plan. 

“Our dear leaders only have our best interest in mind and they’re only looking out for us, right?” Although it is true that the ruler does have the interests of the people in mind, he is not the one who is lawfully allowed to pass such an edict prohibiting people from walking around in the area between the outer and inner curtains. You see, this kingdom has a constitutional charter which prohibits kings from adding or subtracting from the rules of the kingdom. If a king passed a law that added or subtracted from the constitution of the kingdom, this act would be deemed rebellion against the King of the Kingdom. It is this same King of the Kingdom who rules over the king of the castle. In fact the King of the Kingdom rules over many castles and many kings. Because of this, he was also called the King of the kings.

This scenario corresponds to God and the Pharisees, the King of the Kingdom being God and the kings of the castles being the Pharisees. God gave the “constitution of the Kingdom” (the Torah) to Israel and the divers crowd of Gentiles that accompanied them. From the analogy, each castle represents each geographical area in which the Torah was practiced within the Kingdom, and the Kingdom corresponds to the “kingdom of God.” However, when the Jews came back from Babylon, a sect developed among them that desired to live ultra-holy lives (i.e. ha P’rushim, “the separated ones,” the Pharisees). This was so that the Israelites would never again fall into idolatry and thus never again have to be exiled. To ensure that transgression of the Torah would never happen, the Pharisees invented extra rules that would stop them from even getting close to violating the actual Torah. This set of extra rules was called the “Oral Torah” and they were designed to be safeguards against transgression – just like how the inner curtain was a safeguard against breaching the outer curtain of a castle. In the beginning, the King built only an outer curtain to the castle – this corresponds to God giving only the Written Torah (i.e. the “five books of Moses”). After that however, the Pharisees came along and built an inner curtain – this corresponds to the “Oral Law” or “Oral Torah.” In God’s sight, it is perfectly acceptable to breach the inner curtain and walk up to the outer curtain, but it is not acceptable to breach the outer curtain because this is a safeguard against attacks from the enemy. Likewise, it is acceptable in God’s eyes for us to transgress the “Oral Law” (because He never gave these rules to begin with, and they’re not His rules) but it is not acceptable to transgress the Written Law (because God did give these rules). Just as the outer wall of the castle protected people from the enemy outside the wall, the Law of God (the Written Torah) protects people from the Enemy (the Devil, Satan).


However, when Jesus came, he changed the status quo: Ephesians 2:15 says “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of God (Written Torah), but rather he came to free people from the bondage they were under to the Oral Law of the Pharisees. The Greek word used for “ordinances” here is "dógma" which means "public decree" or “ordinance” and the root word of "dógma" is "dokéō" (Strong's G1380). It means: “properly, suppose (what "seems to be"), forming an opinion (a personal judgment, estimate).” According to Strong's Greek Lexicon, dokéō “directly reflects the personal perspective (values) of the person making the subjective judgment call, i.e. showing what they esteem (or not) as an individual.” Both "dokéō" and "dógma" stress "the subjective mental estimate or opinion about a matter." Are the commandments contained within the Torah (Written Law) "subjective mental estimates or opinions"? No! They are directly from God and are not the inventions of opinionated legislators or lawyers - the "dokéō" and "dógma" are the traditions and doctrines of man that are contrary to the Torah (Matthew 15:2-3)! These traditions and legal rulings are compiled into what is now known as the Mishnah and the Gemara.


Summary: Peter is introduced to Cornelius’ family and friends. Peter then explains that although it was against his culture to meet with Gentiles, God showed him that he should not call any man common or unclean. This, in fact, refers back to the vision which Peter had just fifteen verses earlier. Remember how Peter didn’t immediately understand the meaning of the vision? Remember how the meaning was not obvious to him? After thinking about it, he realized that when God had said “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:14) this translated to “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). God used the unclean animals in the vision as a metaphor to represent the spiritual uncleanness of the Gentile. However, as Peter eventually remembered, God had promised to pour out His spirit on all flesh – even the Gentiles (Acts 11:16-17) – thus cleansing them by His Spirit.




Acts 10:29-33 “Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?” 30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”


What Luke’s Saying: And Peter said “Therefore, I came here without hesitation as soon as I was sent for. But now I must ask, ‘for what reason have you asked me to come here?’” So Cornelius said “Four days ago, about this time of day, I was fasting. At about 3pm (15:00) I prayed in my house and I beheld a man standing before me in bright clothing. He said to me “Cornelius, you prayer has been heard and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Therefore, send messengers to Joppa to call for a man named Simon whose last name is Peter. He is lodging in the house by the sea – it is the house of Simon the Tanner. When Peter comes, he will speak to you.” So I sent messengers to bid you to come here immediately, and it is good that you have indeed come. Therefore, now, we are all present in front of God and we are ready to hear all the things which God has commanded you.”


Summary & Commentary: And so Peter came as soon as he was bid by Cornelius’ men. Cornelius tells him about his vision of the angel and explains to him that he and his house desires to all the things which God has commanded Peter. In other words, one could interpret this as Cornelius saying “Therefore, we are now all present before God and we are ready to hear all of God’s commandments to you. This may be referring to personal commandments (orders which God gave specifically to Peter) or perhaps “all the things commanded you by God” refers to the Torah commandments. Taking into consideration the context, however, I believe that Cornelius is referring to personal orders which God gave to Peter because God came to Peter in a vision and told him not to call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28) – and thus it was Peter’s job to go to Cornelius’ house and preach to him and his family that Gentiles could be saved too because he was told by God that no person should be called common or unclean. This is what Peter was ordered to tell Cornelius. The vision of the sheet from heaven had nothing to do with food but rather God was teaching Peter something soon before he would have to leave and teach the same thing to Cornelius himself. God promised the apostles that they wouldn’t have to prepare what they would say beforehand because He would give them the words to speak (Exodus 4:12, Luke 12:12, Luke 21:15).




Acts 10:34-3534 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”


What Luke’s Saying: Then Peter opened his mouth and said “I’m telling you the truth: God does not show partiality, but every person (regardless of the nation he or she lives in) who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. This is related to Ecclesiastes 12:13 which says “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of mankind.”


Summary: The Peter told them: “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. If you fear God and work righteousness, then you will be accepted by Him.




Acts 10:36-38 “The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— 37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”


What Luke’s Saying: To the children of Israel, God sent His word and He preached peace to them through Jesus the Messiah (who is master over all). You know that word, the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, starting in Galilee after the baptism which John preached. You know how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and you know about him going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil. He was only able to do these miracles because God was with him and God’s Spirit was on him (Mark 1:9-10, John 4:34, John 5:30, John 14:10).


Summary: God preached His word to Israel through Jesus Christ. God did miracles through Jesus such as doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the Devil.




Acts 10:39-41 “And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”


What Luke’s Saying: And we [the apostles] are witnesses of all these miraculous things which God did through Jesus, both in the land of the Jews* and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree.** God raised Jesus up on the third day (Acts 2:32, Acts 5:30) – after being in the grave for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:38-40) – and God showed Jesus openly, not to all the people but only to witnesses chosen beforehand by God (namely to us who ate and drank with Jesus after he arose from the dead).


* “the land of the Jews” is likely referring to Judea or even the entire realm of Israel. This would have included the city of Jerusalem. The meaning appears to be “these miraculous things which God did through Jesus both inside Jerusalem and outside Jerusalem among the Jewish people.


** Was Jesus hanged on a cross or a tree? The Greek word that is being used in Acts 10:39 is “xulon” (pron. "khoo-lown") which means “a staff, a cross, anything made of wood, a piece of wood, a club, a staff; the trunk of a tree, used to support the cross-bar of a cross in crucifixion.” However, the Greek word for “cross” that is used in the Gospels is usually “stauros" (pron, "stow-rawss" where the "stow" part rhymes with the English word "cow").


Summary: The apostles are witnesses to what Jesus did in the land of the Jews and Jerusalem. Those in Jerusalem killed Jesus on a tree. However, God raised up Jesus after three days and nights (on the third day) and Jesus appeared to a select few.



Acts 10:42-43 “And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”


What Luke’s Saying: And Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to bear witness that it is he who was ordained by God to be the judge of both the living and the dead. All the prophets witness that through Jesus’ name*, whoever believes in him will receive remission of sins.


* “name” here refers not only to what a person is called, but also to the person’s reputation, renown, and fame. Since Peter was a Jew himself, he may have spoken the Hebrew name of Jesus Christ – Yeshua haMashiach. Or perhaps since he was speaking to Greeks he spoke the Greek version of his name – Iesous Xristos.


Summary: And Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to bear witness that it is he who was ordained by God to be the judge of both the living and the dead. All the prophets witness that through Jesus’ name*, whoever believes in him will receive remission of sins.




Acts 10:44-48 “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.”


What Luke’s Saying: While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit descended upon all those who heard Peter’s words. All the Messianic Jews* who journeyed with Peter (Acts 10:23) were astonished! They were surprised because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles! And the Gentiles were even speaking in tongues and magnifying God! Then Peter exclaimed “Is anyone stopping us from getting water? Is anyone preventing these folks from getting baptized? For they too have received the Holy Spirit just as we did and they ought to receive baptism!” So Peter instructed them to be baptized in the name of the Master. Then the household of Cornelius asked Peter to stay with them a few more days.


* When Luke writes “all those of the circumcision who believed” he is referring to Jews who were fellow believers in Messiah. This may refer to regular Messianic Jews or perhaps even to Messianic Pharisees (Pharisees who believed in Jesus). They were companions of Peter and likely had fellowship with him, seeing as they were all Jews and all believed in Jesus (or Yeshua, in Hebrew) as the promised Messiah.


Summary: While Peter was still talking, the Holy Spirit came down on the Gentiles and caused them to speak in tongues and magnify God. Peter exclaims, “Is anyone stopping us from baptizing you guys?!” Peter then proceeds to baptize Cornelius’ household. They ask Peter to stay a few more days with them.




Chapter Eleven

Acts 11:1-4 "Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him,3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” 4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning.”


What Luke’s Saying: After some time had passed, the news got out to the Judean apostles and brethren that the Gentiles had also received the word of God*. When Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision** contended with him, saying “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them contrary to our traditions!” But Peter explained what had happened, in chronological order, from the beginning.”


* As odd as it might sound, “the word of God” might actually be referring to the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit. See 2 Samuel 23:2, John 6:63, John 6:68, Ephesians 6:17 and Revelation 19:10. Perhaps some of the strongest evidence comes from Ephesians 5:26 and 1 Corinthians 6:11 – one verse says we are washed by the Spirit yet the other verse claims we are washed by the word of God. Which one is it? Well, there’s a possibility that they may be identical in this context. Thus when the Gentiles “received the word of God” Peter might be saying that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. 


** When Luke writes “those of the circumcision” he is referring to Jews who were fellow believers in Messiah. This phrase may refer to regular Messianic Jews or even Messianic Pharisees (Pharisees who believed in Jesus). In this particular context, “those of the circumcision” are likely Jesus-believing Pharisees and members of the Jerusalem Church. They are possibly even the same Messianic Pharisees of Acts 15 and Galatians 3. However, absolute certainty about the identity of “those of the circumcision” is impossible.


Summary: Eventually, news got out that Peter was hanging out with Gentiles, and that the Gentiles had received the word of God. “Those of the circumcision” were shocked when they found this out but Peter tried to pacify them by telling them how the whole event occurred.




Acts 11:4-5 “But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 


What Luke’s Saying: Please see our article titled What is the Sheet in Peter’s Vision? for more information about this passage. Please also see our commentary on Acts 10:10-11.


Summary: Peter had a vision and saw a great sheet let down from heaven by its four corners.




Acts 11:6-16 “When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 


Commentary: See what we have here? God tells Peter three times to “Rise, kill and eat.” Then three Gentiles appear at Peter’s front door – men whom the Jewish religious authorities called “unclean” because they were Gentiles. Peter then “arose” and “ate” with the Gentiles. God then pours out the Holy Spirit and opens Peter’s mind regarding the interpretation of the vision. Then Peter explains his vision again in Acts 15:7-8 where it says “And when there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them, “Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made a choice among you that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us” God has cleansed those Gentiles who fear and obey Him by giving them the Holy Spirit (this is even specifically confirmed in 1 Corinthians 6:11). This is why the voice from heaven says “What God has made clean, you shall not call common.” Since God has cleansed the Gentiles (and will cleanse more Gentiles) with the spiritually cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, we are not allowed to call the Gentiles “unclean” or “unholy” anymore – at least those Gentiles which fear and obey God. (As a side note, the reason why I say “unclean or unholy” here is because the word translated as “common” can also mean “unholy” and I think, in context, the word “unholy” makes more spiritual sense).


Summary: Peter then summarizes his experience with the vision of the sheet, Cornelius’ men, his journey to Cornelius’ house, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the Gentiles. Peter explains (again) that when the voice from heaven says “What God has cleansed you must not call common” the voice was speaking in a spiritual sense and was not literally talking about food. Rather, the voice was talking about not calling any man unclean or common/unholy (Acts 10:28).




Acts 11:17-18 “If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” 18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.””


What Luke’s Saying: Therefore, if God gave the Gentiles the same gift that He also gave us when we ourselves believed on the Master (Jesus Christ)… who was I that I could withstand the will of God and defy it?” When the assembly heard these things they became silent but they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted eternal life (resulting from repentance) also to the Gentiles.”


Summary: Peter says “If God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles too, then I’d be crazy to oppose God’s will!” This silenced the assembly, but they eventually glorified God, admitting that the Gentile can be saved too (so long as they repent).


Summary

Cornelius was a soldier in the Roman army. He was righteous and he and his family feared God. An angel then appears to Cornelius in a vision and commands Cornelius to send some men to fetch Simon Peter from the city of Joppa. When the angel leaves, Cornelius gets three of his men to go find Peter. At around noon (12:00) Cornelius’ men neared Joppa and Peter went up to the roof to pray. Peter was hungry and had a vision about food while his friends were downstairs making lunch. Then Peter got hungry and wanted to eat but while his friends prepared lunch, he fell into a trance and saw a giant sheet descend to earth from heaven. A great sheet containing abominations comes down from heaven. A voice tells Peter to “Rise, kill, and eat.” Peter refuses because he has never eaten anything unclean in his entire life and he’s definitely not going to start now. However, the voice says “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” This event happens a few times until the sheet is taken back up into heaven. Peter wondered what the vision meant. He did not immediately know the meaning.


As Peter was trying to figure out what the vision meant, Cornelius’ men found the Tanner’s house and called out “Is Simon Peter in there?” The Holy Spirit bids Peter to go with them without hesitation. The Spirit tells Peter to go without doubt, without hesitation or reluctance, because it was socially unacceptable for a Jewish man to hang out with Gentiles. This would normally cause a Jewish man to doubt whether or not he should go with the Gentiles, but God tells him not to doubt, but rather go. So Peter obeyed the Holy Spirit when the Spirit told him to go with Cornelius’ men back to Cornelius’ house. Cornelius gathers his family and friends to his house so that they could all meet Peter when he and the others arrived. Cornelius began to worship Peter but Peter stops him, saying that his worship is unjustified since Cornelius and Peter are both just "Average Joes." Peter is introduced to Cornelius’ family and friends. Peter then explains that although it was against his culture to meet with Gentiles, God showed him that he should not call any man common or unclean. This, in fact, refers back to the vision which Peter had just fifteen verses earlier. Remember how Peter didn’t immediately understand the meaning of the vision? Remember how the meaning was not obvious to him? After thinking about it, he realized that when God had said “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:14) this translated to “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). God used the unclean animals in the vision as a metaphor to represent the spiritual uncleanness of the Gentile. However, as Peter eventually remembered, God had promised to pour out His spirit on all flesh – even the Gentiles (Acts 11:16-17) – thus cleansing them by His Spirit.


And so Peter came as soon as he was bid by Cornelius’ men. Cornelius tells him about his vision of the angel and explains to him that he and his house desires to all the things which God has commanded Peter. In other words, one could interpret this as Cornelius saying “Therefore, we are now all present before God and we are ready to hear all of God’s commandments to you. This may be referring to personal commandments (orders which God gave specifically to Peter) or perhaps “all the things commanded you by God” refers to the Torah commandments. Taking into consideration the context, however, I believe that Cornelius is referring to personal orders which God gave to Peter because God came to Peter in a vision and told him not to call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28) – and thus it was Peter’s job to go to Cornelius’ house and preach to him and his family that Gentiles could be saved too because he was told by God that no person should be called common or unclean. This is what Peter was ordered to tell Cornelius. The vision of the sheet from heaven had nothing to do with food but rather God was teaching Peter something soon before he would have to leave and teach the same thing to Cornelius himself. God promised the apostles that they wouldn’t have to prepare what they would say beforehand because He would give them the words to speak (Exodus 4:12, Luke 12:12, Luke 21:15).


The Peter told them: “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. If you fear God and work righteousness, then you will be accepted by Him. God preached His word to Israel through Jesus Christ. God did miracles through Jesus such as doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the Devil. The apostles are witnesses to what Jesus did in the land of the Jews and Jerusalem. Those in Jerusalem killed Jesus on a tree. However, God raised up Jesus after three days and nights (on the third day) and Jesus appeared to a select few. 

While Peter was still talking, the Holy Spirit came down on the Gentiles and caused them to speak in tongues and magnify God. Peter exclaims, “Is anyone stopping us from baptizing you guys?!” Peter then proceeds to baptize Cornelius’ household. They ask Peter to stay a few more days with them. Eventually, news got out that Peter was hanging out with Gentiles, and that the Gentiles had received the word of God. “Those of the circumcision” were shocked when they found this out but Peter tried to pacify them by telling them how the whole event occurred. Peter recounts the story of the vision he had of the great sheet let down from heaven by its four corners. Peter then summarizes his experience with the vision of the sheet, Cornelius’ men, his journey to Cornelius’ house, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the Gentiles. Peter explains (again) that when the voice from heaven says “What God has cleansed you must not call common” the voice was speaking in a spiritual sense and was not literally talking about food. Rather, the voice was talking about not calling any man unclean or common/unholy (Acts 10:28). And Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to bear witness that it is he who was ordained by God to be the judge of both the living and the dead. All the prophets witness that through Jesus’ name*, whoever believes in him will receive remission of sins.  Peter says “If God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles too, then I’d be crazy to oppose God’s will!” This silenced the assembly, but they eventually glorified God, admitting that the Gentile can be saved too (so long as they repent).


Conclusion

Congratulations! You now know (almost) everything there is to know about Acts 10-11 and Peter's vision! We hoped to have sufficiently covered in detail why Peter's vision actually has nothing to do with clean and unclean foods, but rather has everything to do with "clean" and "unclean" people. We covered the basics regarding the difference between the Written Law of God versus the Oral Law of the Pharisees and the implications of both. It is our sincerest hope that your views on the subject of the dietary instructions of God have been challenged and move you to reexamine this subject in your life. Now knowing that Peter's vision has nothing to do with allowing us to eat things like pork, lobster, crab, etc. how will you incorporate this knowledge into your life? We suggest giving God's commandments regarding food a try. Try going one month without eating anything that is classified in Leviticus 11 as "unclean." If you can go that long without eating those things, you deserve a round of applause! Detoxing from the world's culinary plan can sometime be difficult and following God's Torah commandments can be difficult sometimes. Don't give up. Remember, all things are possible in Christ who strengthens you!