A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 10:9-23. Peter receives a vision.
On the *following day* after Cornelius’ vision, *at about noon* (i.e. twenty-one hours later), even as Cornelius’ men *were approaching the city* of Joppa, Peter *went up on the* flat roof of the tanner’s house *to pray*(9). *He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance* (10) and had an extraordinary vision. *He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to the earth by its four corners* (11). Some commentators have speculated that in his hunger-induced trance on the seaside rooftop what Peter really saw was not a sheet but the sail of a boat passing by. And certainly *othone* could be translated ‘sail-cloth’ (11, NEB). The main point of his vision, however, was what the sheet *contained*, namely *all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air* (12, NEB, ‘whatever walks or crawls or flies’), evidently a mixture of clean and unclean creatures calculated to disgust any orthodox Jew. Yet, having seen the vision, he now heard *a voice* which issued the shocking order: ‘*Get up, Peter. Kill and eat*’ (13). *’Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied*, as he had done twice during Jesus’ public ministry, (Mt.16:22; Jn.13:8), adding ‘*I have never eaten anything impure or unclean’* (14). So *the voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’* (15). After this it seems that the whole vision of the sheet was repeated *three times, immediately* after which *the sheet was taken back to heaven* (16).
The vision itself left Peter confused. But *while he was wondering (RSV, ‘inwardly perplexed’) about the meaning of the vision,* the delegation *sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate* (17). *they called out, asking if Simon who was know as Peter was staying there* (18). Then, *while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him* (in some direct, unmistakable way), ‘*Simon, three men are looking for you (19). So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I [the Spirit] have sent them’* (20). The key expression *meden diakrinomenos* in 10:20 and *meden diakrinanta* in (11:12), is usually translated ‘without hesitation’ (RSV) or ‘without misgiving’ (JBP, NEB), but it could mean ‘making no distinction’ (11:12, RSV), that is, ‘making no gratuitous, invidious distinction between Jew and Gentile’. Thus although the vision challenged the basic distinction between clean and unclean foods, which Peter had been brought up to make, the Spirit related this to the distinction between clean and unclean people, and told him to stop making it. That Peter grasped this is clear from his later statement: ‘God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean’ (28).
So *Peter went down and said to the men* who had come from Cornelius: ‘*I’m the one you are looking for. Why have you come?’* (21). *The men replied, ‘We are come from Cornelius, the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say* (22). At this *Peter invited the three men into the house to be his guests* (23a). This seems to mean that he gave them a night’s lodging’ (NEB), even though they were uncircumcised Gentiles.
We note how perfectly God dovetailed his working in Cornelius and in Peter. For while Peter was praying and seeing his vision, the men from Cornelius were approaching the city (9-16); while Peter was perplexed about the meaning of what he had seen, they arrived at his house (17-18); while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him that the men were looking for him and he must not hesitate to go with them (19-20); and when Peter went down and introduced himself to them, they explained to him the purpose of their visit (21-23).
Tomorrow: Acts 12:23b-48 4) Peter preaches to Cornelius’ household.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.