Again Luke reminds us that God is the sovereign and active evangelist. He is the expansive God, dealing with a people of limited vision. In this case Peter, the foremost apostle to the Jews.
Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ words in Luke 24:47 has remained limited. At the beginning of Acts 10, he believes God’s intention is to bring the gospel not to peoples of all nations, but to the Jews of all nations.
God firstly prepares the Gentile, Cornelius (vv. 1–8). He is a devout, well-respected, God-fearing centurion who identifies with the synagogue and yet is uncircumcised. Though a God-fearer, he is still technically an unclean Gentile. Despite his morality and generosity, he is still in need of Christian conversion.
Luke reminds us that Peter was staying in the house of a tanner (see Acts 9:43; 10:6; 10:32). This occupation was considered unclean.
Having prepared Cornelius, God now prepares Peter (vv. 9–23). He is given a vision of clean and unclean food and told to eat it. Peter replies, “Surely not, Lord!” He has never eaten unclean food.
The lesson for Peter is that the distinction between clean and unclean no longer applies to food or to people (v. 15). This is what Jesus implied when He taught that it is not what enters a man from outside that makes him unclean, but what comes from within (see Mark 7:17–23). God is preparing Peter to leap an enormous barrier in his thinking. Just at the moment he is reflecting on the vision (v. 17), Peter is told that messengers from Cornelius have arrived and that he is to go with them.
God’s purpose is not only that Jews, but also non-Jews should hear the gospel and be saved. Peter needed to learn that old distinctions about what or with whom you eat no longer apply.
Do we believe that people need to earn the right to receive the gospel? How might this reflect itself in our evangelism? As fine a man as Cornelius was, he nevertheless needed the peace that comes through Jesus Christ. Are there people you are tempted to believe may not need to hear the gospel?