First-century Jews disliked Samaritans, but their hostility was even stronger toward Gentiles. Jewish people would not enter the home of a Gentile (whom they considered “unclean dogs”), let alone share a meal with them. In the mind of most faithful Jews, God’s love was for Jews, not Gentiles.
That makes today’s chapter all the more remarkable, as the lives of Peter the Jew and Cornelius the Gentile became intertwined. The God-fearing centurion Cornelius received a divine message to send for Peter. Meanwhile, Peter received a vision, which was repeated three times, about clean and unclean animals. In that vision, Peter was commanded to eat the unclean food. Despite Peter’s refusal, God insisted: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (v. 15). What did Peter’s vision about food have to do with Cornelius? The rest of the chapter unfolds the meaning.
When Cornelius’s men arrived, Peter received them even though they were “unclean” Gentiles. The next day, he went with them to the Cornelius’s house, already beginning to understand God’s acceptance of Gentiles. Peter not only entered their house, but explained: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (v. 28). Then, in his sermon Peter noted, “God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (vv. 34–35). “Everyone,” said Peter, “who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins” (v. 43).
The message of Christ was not just for Jews, but for the whole world, Gentiles included. As Peter proclaimed the truth of God’s unbiased love, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his believing household, giving further evidence of God’s acceptance of all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike.