It humbled Peter to learn that God would save the Gentiles. To Peter, they were only unclean, unholy, and, as he should not eat any unclean thing, he should not have anything to do with Gentiles. He was a Jew, one of God’s special people.
But while he was in a trance, God opened heaven and let down a sheet full of all kinds of unclean beasts. God then spoke and said, “Rise Peter, kill and eat.” Peter refused. He would not kill and eat the unclean animals. But God taught him an important lesson. “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common or unclean” (Acts 10:15, 28).
Later, Peter related this account to prove that God would indeed save the Gentiles. Peter defended the Gospel that he and Paul preached. He said, the Spirit of God “put no difference between us and them [Gentiles], purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). God purifies our hearts by faith when He points us to Christ’s cleansing blood as the cleansing of all our sins (Heb. 9:12-14). Peter learned the lesson well.
But most of the nation of Israel never learned this lesson. When Christ sent the apostles to preach the Gospel, He sent them first to the Jews. But most in Israel rejected the Gospel. For two thousand years they worshipped idols, killed God’s prophets, and finally killed God’s own Son, His Messiah. When the Lord Jesus sent His messengers to them with the Gospel, as a people, they stubbornly held to their own righteousness in proud unbelief (Rom. 9:31-33; 10:1-3). Therefore, something horrible happened. God destroyed that nation. Ever since they hated, envied and conspired against Joseph their brother, some two thousand years, ever since they were a people, they despised and rejected Christ (Isa. 53:3). What happened? The Gospel was taken from them and given to the Gentiles. As a nation, they were blinded (Rom. 11:8-10).
God cast away that nation. Never again would the nation of Israel occupy a purpose in God’s salvation to the world. The Gospel was taken from them (Matt. 21:43). That nation was destroyed in 70 AD. What a horrible tragedy! They brought their own blood upon themselves (Matt. 23:33-39; Isa. 6:11; Acts 18:6).
But in mercy, in great mercy to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God said He would always have an elect remnant in that nation. Throughout time, throughout this world from among the Jews and in the Gentile nations of this world, God always had an elect people; he never cast away His people which He foreknew (Rom. 11:2; Matt. 7:23). In the end, “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:25). No, not all in the nation of earthly, political Israel: not the physical descendants of Abraham. It could not be that all of the physical descendants of Abraham shall be saved. Why? Because “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom. 9:8). Only the children of promise are counted for “the seed.” Only the elect of God are Christ’s. And only believers, God’s elect, redeemed people are as Abraham’s true seed (Gal. 3:16, 19, 26, 29).
But the rest in the nation of Israel, those many unbelieving in Israel, are no different than the rest of the unbelieving Gentile world. All of God’s elect shall be saved. Only God’s elect shall be saved; none but God’s elect will be saved. And all of God’s elect are saved by grace, free grace that is God’s sovereign prerogative (Rom. 9:15). God has mercy on whom He will. Salvation is "not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (Rom. 9:16). So much for man’s free will and man’s work. God has mercy on whom He will and the rest are left to receive the due reward of their deeds. Is there unrighteousness with God in this (Rom. 9:13)? No. How is it unfair for God to save the ill-deserving and undeserving, even to save them by the blood and righteousness of Christ? How is that unjust? And how is it unjust for God to give men what they want: their own heart’s lust? Would men consider that unjust? How is it unjust for God to then bring upon sinners the due reward of their deeds, since they believe God owes them something and want God to reward them for their good works?
As a nation, Israel is no different than all the nations of the world. Salvation is no different for those in Israel than it is for those outside of Israel. God will save His people by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Peter declares. He learned his lesson well. He was so humbled that he rejoiced to pillow his head in the grace of Christ. Peter did not say that “The Gentiles shall be saved as us Jews.” Knowing in himself that as a nation he and all Israel had sinned against God from their beginnings, knowing he and all Israel deserved to be cast off because they rejected God in idolatry, killed their prophets and though God repeatedly delivered them from their enemies -- most notably from Egypt -- and knowing his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his own people, Peter joined the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 6:5). He confessed his own sin. His hair stood up on the back of his neck in fear and with rejoicing to know and confess, “We believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved even as they” (Acts 15:11). “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:9).
If we who are sinners among the Gentiles, do not share the attitude of the Apostle Peter about ourselves and the saving grace of God: that we are only saved by the electing grace of God our Father, the redeeming grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the regenerating grace of the Spirit of God, then how much more shall we receive our reward with the wicked!
Not all in the nation of Israel shall be saved. But the elect in all nations shall be. From the beginning and until the end of time, there is and forever shall be salvation only in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Gen. 6:8). We must be humbled to know we are no better than others (Rom. 3:9; Acts 15:9; 1 Cor. 4:7). God makes the difference. He makes that difference in Christ. It is not a difference made in Adam. It is not a difference made in Israel. It is a difference made only in Christ.