One of the obstacles that prevented the gospel from spreading outside the borders of Jerusalem was the prejudices that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Centuries of isolation caused the Jews to view the nations around them as a threat to their identity and God-centered way of living. Several years after Jesus commanded his disciples to take the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19), the farthest anyone had traveled from Jerusalem to do so was about 30 miles (Philip’s and Peter’s Missionary Journeys, p. 1570). The Apostle Peter’s view of the outside world seemed to be skewed by a reluctance to accept the freedom from rituals that Jesus’ salvation by grace afforded him. Peter clung tightly to the rigorous rules of the Mosaic Law in spite of his experience of living in close fellowship with Jesus during his three-year ministry on Earth. In order to break down the racial barriers that were preventing the gospel from spreading further, God orchestrated a mission that caused Peter to step outside of his comfort zone and preach the gospel to a group of Gentiles.
Peter’s adventure began with a visit to the city of Joppa where he raised a woman from the dead (Acts 9:40). Afterward, Peter decided to stay in Joppa, the main seaport of Judea, which was located about 38 miles west of Jerusalem (Acts 9:43 and note on Acts 9:36). While Peter was there, a man named Cornelius, who was identified by Luke as a Roman centurion, had a vision in which an angel of God spoke to him these words, “Cornelius, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:3, 5-6). Cornelius’ home town of Cesarea was located 30 miles north of Joppa (note on Acts 10:1). In obedience to the message he received, Cornelius sent two of his household servants, and a devout soldier to Joppa, to bring Peter back to his home (Acts 10:7-8). Luke tells us:
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the house to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 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: wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)
Luke’s account of Peter’s experience suggests that he was in an altered state of consciousness. The phrase “fell into a trance” (Acts 10:10) describes “A state of mind God produced and used to communicate with Peter. It was not merely imagination or a dream. Peter’s consciousness was heightened to receive the vision from God” (note on Acts 10:10). Luke went on to say:
Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate, and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee: arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
Apparently, the supernatural vision Peter had while he was in a trance was used by God to overcome his resistance to interacting with Gentiles. Afterward, when Peter received instruction from the Holy Spirit to go with the men that Cornelius had sent to get him, Peter went away with them (Acts 10:23).