Luke provided an account of the early church, describing the shift that had occurred in salvation history with the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 provided the backdrop for grasping Paul’s zeal to advance in Judaism and later his zeal to advance Christianity. Peter’s vision of unclean animals and the subsequent conversion of the Gentiles likewise served to advance God’s purpose of drawing all peoples to Himself. Both Paul and Peter understood that Scripture’s storyline needed to be viewed in light of Jesus.
(1) In Acts 9:1-4, Paul zealously defended his beliefs by killing Christians—echoing the zeal of Phinehas to kill those who violated the law. Aaron’s grandson Phinehas exhibited zeal for the Lord when Israelite men worshipped Baal and slept with Midianite women (Num 25:1-6). Numbers 25:7 says, “When Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he got up from the assembly, took a stake in his hand, followed the Israelite man into the tent and drove it through both the Israelite man and the woman.” After Phinehas’ bold act, the Lord’s wrath upon Israel ceased so that only 24,000 died for their idolatry and immorality (Num 25:10-13). Following the conquest, Phinehas exhibited zeal for the law by inquiring why Rueben, Gad, and East Manasseh built an altar on the far side of the Jordan (Josh 22:13, 30-33). Paul may have seen himself as one like Phinehas, ready to confront the idolatry of those who worshipped the man Jesus. Once Jesus revealed Himself to Paul and Paul connected with the disciples in Damascus, “Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: ‘He is the son of God’” (Acts 9:20).
(2) In Acts 10:9-15, Peter had a vision in which he was commanded to eat foods that were unclean according to the standards of the law. In Acts 10, Luke recorded that Cornelius, a devout and God-fearing resident of the port city of Caesarea, was told in a vision that he should call for Peter (Acts 10:1-8). In accord with the vision given to Cornelius, Peter too received a vision (Acts 10:9-16). Peter was shown “all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky” (Acts 10:12). According to Old Testament food laws (Lev 11:1-23, 41-47; Deut 4:15-20; 14:1-21), these animals were forbidden. These laws called for Israel to abstain from the sinful practices of the nations that inhabited Canaan in the days of the conquest (Deut 4:1-9). When a voice thus told Peter, “Get up…kill and eat!” (Acts 10:13), Peter refused, saying, “No, Lord…For I have never eaten anything common and unclean!” (Acts 10:14). Being assured again and again and again that God had called these foods clean, Peter saw the animals being taken back up to heaven. The following day when Peter arrived at Caesarea with the delegation from Cornelius, Peter said, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner. But God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean…In truth, I understand that God doesn’t show favoritism” (Acts 10:28, 34). Peter summarized for the devout Gentile and his household that God had sent to them in order to proclaim to Israel the good news of peace through Jesus Christ. Peter said, “He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). While Peter was expounding that Jesus was both Judge and Savior of all men, the Spirit came down on the crowd. Luke commented, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:45).