The vision Peter sees in Acts 10 is a groundbreaking event in the New Testament. Previously, the gospel message was solely delivered to Jewish audiences. The transition occurs when God gives Peter a simple object lesson in a vision: the unfurling of a sheet with all kinds of animals descending from it—including animals Peter considered unclean. God then tells him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (v15). From this point forward, Gentiles are included and even targeted in the apostles’ teaching.
What is remarkable is the way in which God chose to convey this message to Peter. Nowhere does God simply say to Peter, “the Gentiles can be my people now.” God didn’t communicate His will through a second set of the Ten Commandments. God chose to convey His message through means other than a specific and direct command. Two important principles for understanding and applying God’s word are shown in this text.
First, Peter had to think about what God said. The meaning of the vision was not immediately clear to Peter. In v17 Luke records, “Peter was greatly perplexed.” V19 records that “Peter was reflecting on the vision.” Many are uncomfortable with the fact that the New Testament does not contain a “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” for everything God expects of us. But God gave man the ability to think and He expects us to use that when we read His word. This does not mean that God’s word is unclear or inconclusive. God gives us a clear picture of what He expects.
Second, when Peter understood God’s word, he immediately applied it. “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality” (v34). Peter grew up learning that Jews were God’s chosen people and Gentiles were not. It was no doubt an uncomfortable realization to learn that this was no longer true. However, when Peter recognized what God was saying, he immediately changed his tune. Peter was willing to set aside all his preconceived notions, biases, and orthodoxy when He understood that God wanted something different.
This truly was a groundbreaking vision. May we all emulate Peter’s example of giving thought and consideration to what God says. And when we come to understanding of God’s Word, may we have the courage and strength of will of act on it.