pivotal pointActs 10 marks a pivotal point of change in the Lord’s church. Let’s talk about Peter’s rooftop vision and what it meant to the church.

The mindset of the Jews

Since the days of Abraham, the people of Israel had come to see the covenants God made with them to be what separated them from the rest of the world. This covenant made them special, chosen, and an elite people. There were a number of parts to the covenants that made them different from the rest of the world. They had a special diet that other nations didn’t adhere to, they were not to mingle with the people of other nations, as those not of their nation were considered to be unclean or common, they had the covenant of the flesh called circumcision that set them apart from all those around them, and they were taught that it was because of, and through them, that all the world would be blessed. That is a lot of responsibility for one small nation to shoulder, considering the size of the nations that surrounded Israel, like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.

The special nature of belonging to Israel wasn’t just that it was a covenant that set them apart. It was also a family affair. Almost all of them were descendants of the same man. Most everyone in their country were family in the literal sense of the word. For more than a thousand years they huddled together through thick and thin, struggling as an extended family through wars, famine, times of plenty, and years of captivity and domination from other countries. But through it all, they were family, and just as importantly they were the ones God chose from among all the people of the earth to make His covenants with. The one and only true God was their soul domain and possession. No other people could claim the relationship they had with Him.

Muddying the waters

When Jesus preached to the remaining Israelites called the Jews, he divided the people. All the prophets had testified that one man would come and do the things Jesus did. But the Jews had been so many centuries without any prophets, and had changed so many parts of the law Moses gave them, many of them didn’t recognize Jesus for the spiritual liberator he was.

Even with all of the divisiveness of his ministry, Jesus still lived by the law of Moses, but as it was intended to be, not what the Jews had turned it into. This was part of what caused the hatred of the leaders, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, etc. Over the prophetless centuries these groups had created a type of caste system with themselves at the top of the social ladder. Jesus and John the Baptist called them to repentance, something they could not accept as a group. They saw Jesus converting people and gaining a large following, and they determined that only his death would rid them of the scourge they knew as Jesus.

But even the death of Jesus couldn’t bring them peace. Now they had to deal with the disciples claiming that Jesus rose from the grave and was eternal. There were many who witnessed of his resurrection, and according to the law of witnesses, this many people who saw the same thing made their story credible, whether the Pharisees liked it or not. That was the law and their custom.

Mindset of the Apostles

The custom of the Jews was to remain among Jews. Unless you had business that had to be done with those outside of your faith, you kept within your own social circle, which meant being among the Jews. That didn’t change whether you were in Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch, or any of the Greek city states that dotted the Mediterranean. The Greeks were the most dominant culture, even if they were part of the Roman empire. The Romans adopted the Greek pantheon of Gods by renaming them with Roman names (hence Zeus became Jupiter, Hermes became Mercury, etc.), they adopted the Greek philosophies and practices in many instances. The influence of the Greek culture permeated the entire empire of the Romans. Wherever the disciples of Jesus went and taught, it was to the Jews in that city that they preached.

From synagogue to synagogue, the Jews who were converted to Christ went and taught other Jews about Jesus. They never deliberately taught a gentile of any kind, because Jews kept to themselves. They were the covenant people, and God only revealed Himself to them. I honestly have no idea what they thought about where they believed all the gentiles of the world would go in the next life. According to the scriptures, it appears to me that they were only concerned about making sure they kept themselves pure from the taint brought by just being from another faith. It didn’t matter which faith. All faiths were corrupt if it wasn’t the worship of the one true God. And only the Jews had access to Him.

This was the upbringing Peter had. There was a real diligence exerted among the Jews to keep themselves separate from anything that was from the gentiles around them. God wanted them to be separate so they could remain pure and grow as a people being faithful to His covenant with them. They didn’t proselyte gentiles. The law of Moses allowed for gentiles to become Israelites, but the Israelites didn’t go looking for converts, ever.

The setup

The Lord had a lesson for the whole church to learn. He started with His prophet, Peter. Cornelius was a gentile who evidently had heard something about Jesus. Without having received any official instruction about Jesus, since Jesus didn’t deal with gentiles, only the Jews, he remained faithful to what he had learned. He prayed always to God, and he was generous to others, giving frequent alms to the poor. This pleased the Lord. One day about three in the afternoon (the ninth hour) an angel appeared to Cornelius and gave him instructions. He was to send for Peter in the city of Joppa. When Peter came he would tell Cornelius what he should do. In Act 11:13-14 Peter reported that Cornelius told him the angel promised that Peter would tell Cornelius how he and his household could be saved.

13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

It was the next day, just as the men were approaching the house Peter was staying in, when the Lord gave Peter the famous vision of the unclean vs. the clean.


For whatever reason Peter was in the city of Joppa, living with a man who was a tanner by trade. He was on the rooftop, which was a common place to escape to at different times of the day. Peter was hungry and would have eaten, but before he could get his food he fell into a trance and had a vision. He originally went to the rooftop to be alone so he could pray. Here is the account of his vision in Acts 10:10-16.

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 cleansedthat call not thou common.

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

There seems to be a thing between Jesus and Peter with the number three. When Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus later asked Peter three times if Peter loved him. Peter answered in the affirmative three times. In this vision the Lord gives Peter a direct order three times to arise, kill, and eat. But these were things the law of Moses forbade. Being the good Jew, Peter affirms that at no time had he ever allowed something unclean to pass his lips.

It makes you wonder what was going through Peter’s mind. Why was Jesus telling him to eat something that was so explicitly forbidden in the law of Moses? What was God trying to say to him? Each time he received the instruction to arise, kill, and eat he acted like this was some kind of test as to whether he would succumb to an order to do something wicked.

The vision closed, and still Peter didn’t understand why the Lord had been so insistent that he do that which had always been unclean to do. It was just then that there was a knock at the door downstairs. To Peter’s surprise there were men that had traveled a long way just to see him, and they were gentiles, those people who were considered unclean. But they had a message that an angel had instructed their master to send for him to come to his home to teach him how to be saved.

Imagine the puzzlement that was Peter’s. Really? God wants me to go to the home of a gentile, someone who is unclean, and teach them the gospel? How does this fit with what just happened on the rooftop? Surely they were connected. Peter had a whole day’s travel the next day to get to the house of Cornelius in the gentile city of Caesarea. Peter had lots of time to think about how these two things might be connected. Since the Lord apparently had sent for Peter to come to the house of Cornelius, He must not feel too badly about Paul being made unclean by entering in and dining with these gentiles. What could God possibly mean by this strange turn of events?

Jesus had taught that he came to fulfill the law of Moses, yet the apostles were still having a difficult time wrapping their heads around what life beyond that law was supposed to be like. As usual, the Lord stepped them through the process one realization at a time. Moses had declared anyone not of Israel to be unclean. Now, with the law of Moses fulfilled and no longer useful, Jesus was teaching his church that everyone willing to keep the commandments was acceptable to him.

The conversion

When Peter met Cornelius he told him “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” This comment shows us that Peter had already connected this event with the vision the Lord had given him.

28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

29 Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?

Cornelius recounted to Peter his instructions from the angel and tells Peter he awaits to hear what God wants him to know.

33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.

Peter, seeing more clearly that Jesus really had sent him here to preach to these gentiles, used what he learned from his vision to make this statement.

34 ¶ Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:

35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

Peter then testifies of Christ, and to his surprise, and to the surprise of six men Peter had brought with him, the Holy Ghost fell upon all the gentiles in the household. It was like the day of Pentecost all over again. This was the final witness Peter needed. Suddenly the Spirit reminded him that Jesus had taught them to go to every nation. He had assumed Jesus meant they were to go to the Jews of every nation. Now he realized Jesus was being literal. He meant they were to teach every soul in every nation. The work they had been called to do just got a lot bigger. Peter couldn’t explain this event away or deny it, because here were gentiles speaking in tongues and demonstrating the same faith as the Jews who were members of the church on the day of Pentecost.

The pivot

This experience changed the direction of the church from that day forward. Peter and his six witnesses went back to Jerusalem and quelled the uproar of those who were still thinking like traditional Israelites. He showed them that the Lord was opening the gospel to the gentiles, because the Jews had rejected Him. They still taught the Jews in every city first, because they were the covenant people, and the covenant was supposed to go from them to the whole world. But when the Jews rejected Christ’s message, which they usually did, the apostles turned to the gentiles, who accepted their message in droves. This is where the growth of the church came in the early years after Christ’s ascension.

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The Importance of Peter’s Vision