Peter's Vision Part 2 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

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.

{1] Roofs were a commonplace 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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