April 21, 2014

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

Lesson III.D.4: Peter's Vision (10:9-16)

 

Scripture (Acts 10:9-16)

 

9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:

10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,

11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:

12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

 

 

Introduction

The prejudices of Peter against Gentiles, would have prevented him from going to Cornelius, unless the Lord had prepared him for this mission. To tell a Jew that God had declared those animals clean, which were up till then considered unclean, was in effect saying, the Law of Moses was obsolete. Peter would come to realize that. God knows what services are before us, and He knows how to prepare us to be successful servants.


Commentary


9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:

Joppa was about thirty miles to the south of Caesarea. Having set out the same day as Cornelius vision or early the next morning, the attendants approached Joppa about noon the next day. Peter in the meantime had gone up to the flat roof of Simon’s house in order to pray{1]. The “sixth hour” was noon; the Jewish day began at 6 a.m. (the first hour).

We can assume that Peter prayed morning and evening, for those were the normal times of prayer for the faithful Jews. In addition, Peter prayed at noon. Prayer three times a day was not commanded in the Scriptures, but Peter followed the examples of pious men before him . . .

·         [David] Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.

·         [Daniel] Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

It is absolutely necessary for God to prepare Peter for the task ahead of him. You see, Simon Peter did not have the breadth (non-judgmental attitude) that the Apostle Paul had. Although he didn’t have the background or training that Paul had, God can still use him to initiate what is definitely the most profound change in the history of the Church. I believe it is a tremendous mistake to think that every person has to be poured into the same mold for God to use him.

 

10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,

 

Hungry and waiting for a meal to be prepared, he fell into a trance. Noon was not the usual weekday meal time. The custom was to have a light midmorning meal and a more substantial meal in the late afternoon. If Peter had missed his midmorning breakfast, it would explain his drowsiness on this occasion. Roofs were often covered with awnings to provide protection from the heat of the sun. Perhaps those awnings or the glimpse of a distant sail at sea provided the stimulus for the vision Peter had.

The word translated here as “trance” means “a condition of ecstasy,” or “rapture from the contemplation of divine things.” God produced the vision while he was in a state of ecstasy

 

11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:

He saw a large vessel or container like a large sheet descending from heaven held by its four corners. Some interpreters suggest a symbolic meaning here, the four corners representing the four corners of the earth in a vision, the ultimate meaning of which points to the worldwide mission in which all men are fit for salvation.

 

12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

The sheet contained representatives of all the animals of the earth—four-footed animals, reptiles of the land, birds of the air, and all kinds of bugs. Therefore, it symbolized the entire animal world and included clean as well as unclean animals. In general, unclean animals were those that showed some peculiarity with reference to their species as a whole. Thus fish without the usual fish scales were unclean. Four-footed beasts were considered normal if they had cloven hooves and chewed the cud. Pigs do not chew the cud and were therefore unclean (See Leviticus 11).

 

13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

A voice from heaven commanded Peter to rise, kill from among the animals within the sheet, and satisfy his hunger.

 

14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

While Peter is scratching his head and wondering what this means, a voice speaks to him. Isn’t it interesting that he calls Him, “Lord,” but he doesn’t obey and do what the Lord tells him to do? Peter was certainly baffled by the vision, which is evident from his vigorous protest. What the voice requested was strictly against the Law{2]. Never had he eaten anything defiled or unclean{3]. This is the third time in Peter’s life that he refused to comply with God’s will; the other times were . . .

·         [Matthew 16:22-23] Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

·         [John 13:8] "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

A blunt translation of Peter’s reply is, “Lord, by no means!” His reply is part of this vision. He is the same man we knew in the Gospels, the man who said: "Never, Lord! (Matt. 6:22),”  "No, you shall never wash my feet (John 13:8)."

Someone may ask, “Couldn’t he have killed and eaten the clean animals and left the unclean ones?” Probably Peter understood the Lord’s command to include the unclean animals or possibly the large sheet contained only unclean animals.

Now, I don’t want you to miss this. Here is a man who is on this side of the Day of Pentecost. He is living in this day of grace where it makes no difference whether we eat meat or whether we don’t eat meat. However, Peter is still abiding by the Mosaic system and he is not eating anything that is ceremonially unclean. He is sincere and honest about it. Someone may say that we ought to be broad-minded and eat everything. But, you see, the Lord is teaching him that he is no longer under the Mosaic system and is free to eat anything. Today the big problem is that some people decide that they no longer want to eat meat and then they try to put everyone else under that same system. My friend, under grace you can eat meat or not eat meat. That is your business. Eating certain things may give you indigestion, but it certainly will not change your relationship with the Lord.

 

15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

The voice ignored Peter’s protest, reissuing the command and adding, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” This rebuttal gives Mark 7:14-23{6] more meaning. It is generally understood that Mark wrote down Peter’s words. In retrospect Peter must have recognized that Jesus as the Messiah cleansed all food from ceremonial defilement. Paul told his friend Timothy, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

Notice that the voice did not say, “What God hath cleansed that call not thou common;” but “make thou not common,” which is a far stronger word. The idea conveyed was that of the cleansing of all, and therefore the putting away forever of those ceremonial limitations which had cursed the Hebrew religion. Do not make common, do not defile by your attitude toward it that which God has cleansed. So far as the commandments against certain forms of animal life were concerned, they are swept away; but so far as they were laws of health, they stand. It should, however, be remembered that the laws of health in that land and time may be different from our current laws, since we have refrigeration and regulations regarding sanitation. The general health law of Hebraism is the same as that of Christianity; that the body must be cared for because it is the property of God, and nothing should be eaten or drunk which would harm it, or make it unfit for the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Law of clean/unclean animals has passed away forever; but the law of health still stands. This is what astonished Peter. He had no right to call them unclean, because they had been cleansed. Something had taken place in the history of religion that revolutionized all the habits and methods of religion. From now on men were not to make anything profane which God had now taken into the circle of that which is sacred.

My friend, what God has made clean, don’t you call unclean. You can eat anything because God has said so.

16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

The command came three times; each time Peter objected and fell into confusion. Someone may ask why Peter refused three times to eat the unclean foods. For one thing, this indicated emphasis. But more than that it revealed certainty and truth. Here was one place where Peter was being scrupulous beyond the will of God. His intentions were good, but he was being disobedient. Also, could there be some link here with Peter’s threefold denial (John 18:17, 25-27){7] and with his three affirmations of his love for the Lord? (John 21:15-17){8]

As we end our study, Peter is still scratching his head and wondering what it was all about.


Additional Comments:

Some scholars believe that Peter’s vision dealt more with food laws than with interaction with Gentiles. This overlooks the fact that the two are inextricably related. In Leviticus 20:24b-26 the laws of clean and unclean are linked precisely to Israel’s separation from the rest of the nations: “I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those which I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”

The priestly dietary laws, adopted by the Jews after the Exile, contributed tremendously to the exclusive nature of the Jewish religion. The Gentiles who ate some of the unclean animals listed in Leviticus 11 were unfit for social interaction with the Jews. The Separatist party in Jerusalem became so strict that oil, bread, milk, and meat could not be purchased from Gentiles. To eat pagan food was an abomination, but to dine in the house of a pagan was much worse. The Jewish food laws presented a real problem for Jewish Christians in the outreach to Gentiles. One simply could not dine in a Gentile home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e., ritually, proper fashion (Acts 15:20{4]). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (See Mark 7:14-23). In Mark 7:19b Mark added the parenthetical comment that Jesus’ saying ultimately declared all foods clean. This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean{5]. In Mark 7 Jesus teaching on clean/unclean was immediately followed by His ministry to a Gentile woman (See Mark 7:24-30), just as Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile. It is simply not possible to accept someone with whom you are not willing to share in the intimacy of table fellowship. The early church had to solve the problem of kosher food laws in order to launch a mission to the Gentiles.


scripture reference and special notes:

{1] Roofs were a common place of prayer and worship. Zephaniah 1:5 describes the worship of false gods by “those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molech.”

{2] Although no evidence suggests that clean animals were defiled by contact with unclean animals, one would assume Peter’s reaction was provoked by his sheer disgust at so many unclean animals making any further distinction impossible. Possibly, only unclean animals were in the sheet. (See Leviticus 11:2-47; Deuteronomy 14:3-21)

{3] Some interpreters argue that the two terms “common” and “unclean” should be further classified as something defiled by association and something inherently unclean—thus making the application to the Gentile mission more precise—unclean Gentiles and Jewish Christians defiled by association with them.

{4] (Acts 15:20) Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

{5] Some see a “new creation” theme in Peter’s vision. The animals represented all those of God’s original creation. God declared them all clean, thus establishing a new community in Christ in which all people are acceptable. Augustine had an interesting interpretation of this passage; He applied the vision of Peter directly to the mission of the church. The church is to “kill and eat,” to kill the sins of the godless and digest them into the life of the church.

{6] (Mark 7:14-23) Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' “After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "

{7] (John 18:17, 25-27) "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, "I am not." . . . As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it, saying, "I am not." One of the high priest's servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, "Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

{8] (John 21:15-17) When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.

 

Praise God! This Bible study has convicted me that I should pray three times a day as Peter, Daniel, and David; and any time the Spirit calls me to prayer. 

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