“On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.”
This was one of those days which illustrated the perfect timing of God. God’s timing is perfect which is a part of Romans 8:28, God works all things together for good. Peter went up on the housetop to pray about [approaching] the sixth hour [in Jewish time is twelve noon].” A trance is a bona fide means of communication of doctrine before the Canon of Scripture was completed. This trance is different from a vision in that a trance includes ecstatics. The Greek word for trance is “ekstasis” from which the word "ecstasy" is derived and denotes the state of one who is "out of himself." Such were the trances of Peter and Paul; they were ecstasies, "a preternatural, absorbed state of mind preparing for the reception of the vision.” (Acts 10:10, 11:5 ; 22:17; II Corinthians 12:1-4)
In verses 11-16 we have the content of the vision.
Verses 11-12, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.” We have to remember that at this Peter had overcome some legalism. He is living in the house of Simon the tanner. It was taboo to associate with tanners and yet Peter is violating the background of Judaism, because he was a believer, because Simon was a believer, he was living with him. But even though he had overcome this part of legalism Peter always had a terrible time with other types of legalism. There is one type of legalism which he had not overcome and will not overcome for some time, as indicated by this vision, and that is his attitude toward Gentiles. The word for vessel isn’t a vessel at all. This was a food storage container or a food locker. It is a very interesting one because it isn’t like anything we have today. This was written in a time when Peter could understand. This food locker was “as a great sheet,” actually a great linen cloth, a great table cloth, “tied up at the four corners,” which meant it contained certain things and they couldn’t get out, and lowered to the earth to the place where Peter was located.
Suddenly the four corners part and the cloth is standing, as it were, just above Peter’s eye level and on it are some interesting things. Everything on this sheet was forbidden by the Mosaic Law. The dietary laws were very interesting and they were very protective. They forbade certain things which could not be properly prepared in the ancient world and would be detrimental to health, and therefore these were things which were forbidden.
Verse 13, A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” is a command from God. What kind of a man was Peter? It was a command from God contrary to the Mosaic Law. God tells Peter to do something that is contrary to his training, and Peter says no just like a lot of believers who have been trained in certain areas of legalism cannot break away from it when they face the biblical doctrine of grace.
Verse 14, But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Peter was now living in the Church Age but had learned grace orientation. God told him to do it but it was contrary to his Jewish traditional concepts. Traditional concepts keep many believers from living the Christian Life; they want to operate under legalism and human good instead of grace. It is very difficult for a religious person to understand grace, which was the same problem that Peter faced. However, Peter will eventually get away from his legalism. It is going to take him a few years but he finally makes it, and only doctrine can do it. So we see God teaching Peter the doctrine of grace.
Verse 15, Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” There is a principle behind this section of the vision: legalism always defiles what God has cleansed. This has always been true. Legalism is the great defiler. In other words, the Mosaic Law had been superseded by a new dispensation, by a new principle, and a principle which is much more advanced. This was to teach Peter that “the wall of partition” which kept the Gentiles out of the Temple had now been broken down. Peter was defiling by his mental attitude something that God had cleansed. Mental attitude is therefore the most dangerous form of defilement, even as mental attitude sins are always the worst sins — the envy, the jealousy, the hatred, the vindictiveness, fear, anxiety, and so on. In this case, when Peter says, I have never touched anything common, in a sense he is judging God as if God doesn’t know what to do.
Verse 16, This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” Why three times? Because people learn by repetition. Peter didn’t get it the first time because he was shocked. He didn’t get it the second time because he was standing on his tradition and background. And the third time was the first time that he really caught on as to what was being communicated to him through the vision. This is generally true of any type of truth which is grace truth. You have to hear it about three times before you really hear it the first time.
Peter had been commanded to eat “unclean animals” in violation of the Mosaic Law. God had cleansed Gentile believers without those Gentile believers becoming Jews. God had cleansed those Gentile believers in the same manner that Jewish believers were cleansed and He was pointing this out to Peter because Peter was about to have contact with a Roman Gentile officer. So Peter was taught this doctrine three times and he still didn’t understand it. Legalism frustrates orientation to grace. Peter remained unconvinced even by God’s words. This is often true of believers. They have to learn the hard way, the “knot on the head system.” Remember we’re talking about a hard-headed, stubborn believer who even defied Jesus on occasion – Peter.
So, there was a problem among the newly formed Church because it began with Jews only and it looked as though it would be a Jewish monopoly. In order to demonstrate that this was not true and in order to demonstrate that the Church is made up of Jews and Gentiles, there had to have a “Gentile Pentecost” and this is the story of Acts chapter 10.
Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?”They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.”
Verse 17, “Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be.” Peter wasn’t doubting the vision which came from God, he knew that the Lord talked to him so it wasn’t a question of doubt, it was a matter of being confused or greatly perplexed. God told him three times to eat something which was unclean and all of his life he knew that the Mosaic Law was God’s Word. So God tells him one thing, but Old Testament tells him something else, and this keeps on going through his mind. He doesn’t know what to make of this vision, it is obviously a part of God’s Word, verbal at this time, and he doesn’t know which way to turn. The content of the vision is not troubling him it was the implication of the vision. It was the application of Bible doctrine that was bothering him.
Here now we have “the patrol” sent 30 miles from Caesarea. They remained overnight and then came in the next day and the next day went from house to house inquiring as to where they might find Simon Peter who is supposed to reside at the house of Simon the Tanner. God’s timing here was perfect. God gave the vision to Peter at such a time as he knew that Peter would receive the vision. Peter would run this vision through his mind while he was still on the roof top. In the meantime the patrol got up at immediately the right time, finished their journey into Joppa at the right time, and arrived at the house of Simon the Tanner just as lunch was ready. Peter was thoroughly confused though clear on the content of the vision. So there will be a meeting of Peter and Simon with the three-man patrol, and you now have one of the strangest lunches ever recorded in the Word of God. One Roman soldier, two servants who were probably Greek [Caesarea was a Greek city], and ostracized Jew [Simon the Tanner] and an apostle are all going to sit down to lunch together. In fact it became such a wonderful lunch that it turns into a dinner party and that night other Jews from Joppa will actually join them from dinner. All of them that night will have such a wonderful time that the whole party will go to Caesarea and to the house of Cornelius the next day. These people were so intrigued with what the Roman soldier told them and the patrol that there would be accompanying Peter a lot of saved Jews from Joppa. So eventually we see Peter and Jewish believers plus the patrol at Cornelius,’ and they are going to have a wonderful time together, not only in the home of Simon the Tanner but at Caesarea where they will meet Cornelius; and then there will be the preaching of Peter.
Verse 22, They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” Righteous man means that Cornelius had positive volition in human good, and that is all. It means that he was operating under very pleasant human good, and he also had positive volition at the point of God-consciousness. This had led him to a life of human good in contrast with many of his fellow officers. Human good is not acceptable to God according to Isaiah 64:6. His appearance was that of a just man but the basis of that fact was that at the point of God-consciousness he became positive.
God-fearing means “one standing in awe of God,” again, a manifestation of positive volition. Well- spoken of means he was a good person. This good was from the human good of his sin nature which is not acceptable to God for salvation. What he needed was Christ and when he accepted Christ as Savior he became a believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and able to produce divine good which is acceptable to God. He had Gospel hearing from Peter and his positive volition expressed itself by faith in Christ.
Well-spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews means here was a Roman officer whose life was so excellent that it was acceptable by the standards of the Jews, by the standards of the Mosaic Law. This was fantastic. This man was unique in every way humanly speaking. He was not only an aristocrat and a Roman officer but he was different from the officer corps of the Roman army in that he had a very pure life, a life which was absolutely acceptable by the standards of the Mosaic Law.
Peter was the source of Gospel information, God being the ultimate source of that information. The Greek is very careful to distinguish between the two. Peter was the immediate source but the message he gave was God’s message, so the ultimate source is God. This was God’s Word to people who were ready to hear it in Caesarea, the Roman capital for this particular province, the province of Judea.
Verse 23, Simon the Tanner’s greatest day. Here is a man ostracized socially by the Jews because he was a tanner. A tanner dealt with dead bodies, the touching of dead bodies made one ceremonially unclean under the Mosaic Law, therefore he was ostracized by the Jews. The Jews recognized the need for the existence of tanners but they still had to ostracize them on the basis of the Mosaic Law.
So he (Simon) invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. Simon invited the patrol in. Simon the Tanner, ostracized by society, saved by the grace of God, now exercised the gift of hospitality to one Roman soldier and two Greek servants. Remember the meal was already prepared. Peter, you will remember, had already smelled the aroma of food. The food was now served. And they not only stayed for lunch, they stayed for dinner and they spent the night. This was one of the greatest days that Simon ever had. Under the one roof barriers and prejudices are broken down. Christian hospitality and fellowship can be one of the great blessings of life if you’re dining and fellowshipping with like-minded believers with a common purpose.
They were impressed by the Roman soldier, an unbeliever, he wasn’t like the average Roman soldier. Romans soldiers frequently maltreated Jews in the province of Judea, but here was a Roman soldier who was courteous, who was pleasant. Here were two Greek servants and the Greeks always attacked the Jews every time they had a chance. The histories of Josephus are filled with stories of Roman and Greek maltreatment of the Jews, but here was the opposite.
The night before these believers who dropped in to Simon’s to chat with Peter, to talk with the patrol and have fellowship with them realized that something great was in the air. Hence, they decided to go with Peter to Caesarea. So we have the alertness of believers and this would indicate that the believers of Joppa who accompanied were those who knew Bible doctrine and they had enough Bible doctrine in their souls to realize they were going to witness something great (the Gentile Pentecost). Therefore, the next day they just dropped their business and whatever they were doing and made the 30-mile trip with Peter. What happens next will be a fantastic lesson of grace for all these believers.