Summary: Peter faced a challenge after he had preached the Gospel to Cornelius. This first section of Acts 11 gives his answer to the charges against him. Good things happened at the end, though!
Introduction: This first section of Acts 11, verses 1-18, describes Peter’s response to those who were upset he had eaten with Gentiles. This would certainly be Cornelius’ household in Caesarea (see Acts 10), but the Jews in Judea didn’t have all the facts. Peter gave a step by step account of what happened there, and what happened afterwards. The second section, verses 19 to the end of the chapter, describes the Church’s growth in several ways. This outline is for verses 1-18.
The accusation, verses 1-3
Text, Acts 11:1-3, KJV: 1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, 3 Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
--Word of what Peter did seems to have arrived before Peter himself arrived in Jerusalem. Who brought the news? What was this person’s or group’s intention?
--These Jewish-background believers (Messianic Jews) still appeared to unsettled by this news. What could, and probably should, have been a blessing instead became a burden or problem.
--They met Peter and “contended” with him. Just from the tone, this most likely means they were upset with what Peter had done. They accused him of eating food with Gentiles. I’ve searched several commentaries but haven’t found when this custom or tradition began.
--This implied Peter had committed some kind of sin and these folks were going to hold him accountable (an old expression is “take him to task”) for doing this.
The answer, verses 4-17:
What Peter saw, verses 4-6
Text, Acts 11:4, KJV: But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying, 5 I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: 6 Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
--Peter was in Joppa, near the Mediterranean coast when this took place. He was staying with Simon the tanner who lived in Joppa (Acts 10:6) near the sea.
--He saw “a great sheet (Luke adds “knit at the four corners” in Acts 10:11)” coming down from the sky (“heaven”, verse 5). This sheet, and what was in it, definitely caught his attention.
--He also saw a wide variety of animals. Remember that under the Law, some animals were “clean” and there was no problem with consuming the meat from these animals. The standard or criterion was the animal had to have cloven hoofs (“clovenfooted”, Lev. 11:3, KJV) and had to “chew the cud” or else the animal was “unclean”, not to be eaten.
What Peter heard, verses 7-10
Text, Acts 11:7, KJV: 7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. 8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
--Peter heard “a voice”, saying, “Get something to eat, Peter! It’s all right here (paraphrased).” We are not told whose voice this was. Whoever’s voice it was, Peter believed it and did not question the message or the messenger.
--Peter replied “No way!” Being an observant Jew, he claimed he had never eaten anything common or unclean. Did that mean other Jews were less observant or more “flexible”?
--Then Peter heard something he may not have understood at the time: “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” or as we might say, “If God made it clean, don’t make it unclean.” Peter may have forgotten that Jesus had already said it wasn’t what entered a man that defiled him but what came out of his mouth (Mark 7:14-23). We do not know Peter’s mind here.
--Peter heard the voice and the statement three times. Then, the sheet and the animals (“all”) were taken back or “drawn up again into heaven”.
What Peter found, verses 11-14
Text, Acts 11:11, KJV: 11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. 12 And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house: 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.