Cornelius had been given a trance vision to tell him to send men to Peter (10:1-3), and Peter was given one (v. 9, 10) to prepare him to receive them. Peter’s hunger (v. 10) was symbolic in the same way the Lord’s hunger was (Mark 11:11-14). The fig tree was a symbol of Israel, and the Lord hungered for spiritual fruit in Israel, and He was doubtless praying for it as well, since He was a man of prayer.
And Peter’s hunger was symbolic of his hunger for fruit in Israel, and for fruit among the Gentiles. Remember, the Lord sent him to the Gentiles (Mt. 28:19) but told him Israel had to be reached first (Lu. 24:47) so God could use Peter and all saved Jews to reach the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6). When Israel rejected Christ instead, Peter hungered for fruit among the Gentiles as well as the Jews. After all, he was in Joppa “by the sea” (10:5-8), and the sea was symbolic of the Gentiles (Isa. 60:5). And he was no doubt praying for it too.
Peter was probably thinking of how he got to Joppa in the first place. He was called there to raise a Jewish damsel from the dead (9:36-38). She deserved it because of her “good works,” making her a type of Jews who were saved by faith plus works. God brought Peter to Joppa to assure him that despite Israel’s rejection of Christ the Gentiles will still be reached when saved Jews are raised from the dead and Gentiles come to them for salvation (Isa. 60:5). Being in Joppa also reminded Peter of this, for that’s where a Gentile brought Solomon riches for the temple (I Chron. 2:1-16). That’s what will also happen after saved Jews are raised (Isa. 60:5).
But God also brought Peter to Joppa to teach him how He planned to reach the Gentiles in the meantime. You see, He just saved Saul in Acts 9, and sent him to the Gentiles (Acts 16:16, 17). And here in Acts 10, God is preparing to introduce Peter to Paul’s new ministry among the Gentiles by sending him to a Gentile named Cornelius.
Of course, Peter didn’t want to go to a Gentile—and neither did Paul. When he headed for the Jews in Jerusalem instead, God put him in a trance to straighten him out (Acts 22:17-21). His hunger in Acts 9:9 was symbolic of his hunger for spiritual fruit in Israel (cf. Rom. 10:1). But he also didn’t want to go to the Gentiles because he knew God’s plan was to use saved Israel to reach them (Acts 13:47). So he was standing on God’s Word in his refusal to go to the Gentiles—just like Jonah! Jonah wanted God to punish the Ninevite Gentiles who had slaughtered Jews, not save them, according to God’s Word in Genesis 12:3. That’s because if you messed with Israel you messed with God (Zech. 2:8 cf. Acts 9:4)
Peter is also going to stand on God’s Word in his refusal to go to the unclean Gentiles, as symbolized when he stood on it to refuse to eat unclean animals (Acts 10:11-14). He was “very” hungry (v. 10) but he used God’s Word in Leviticus 11 to resist the temptation to eat unclean things. When you’re tempted to be sinfully unclean, you should do the same. God’s Word to you says that He sees you as a new man who cannot sin (Col. 3:9, 10). Live like He sees you!
Since Peter knew that God told the Jews that certain meats were unclean to remind them that the Gentiles were unclean, he knew that this vision meant they were no longer unclean (Acts 10:27, 28).
The past tense word “hath” (Acts 10:15) means God cleansed meats and Gentiles back in Acts 9 when He saved Saul. Peter was just learning about this in Acts 10. But he’s a bit thick-headed, so God gave him the vision three times (10:16) just as the Lord had to call him three times to follow Him
But the main reason the vision was repeated three times was that Cornelius had sent Peter three Gentiles (10:7, 8), and the Lord wanted Peter to make the connection and get the message that Gentiles were no longer unclean. The law required two or three witnesses to settle things (cf. Deut. 19:15), so the Lord witnessed the vision to him thrice.
Peter wasn’t being a Jewish racist, nor were the other Jews who preached only to Jews (Acts 11:19). They rejoiced when they heard God sent Peter to Gentiles (11:18). They just knew Israel was supposed to get saved first.
Video of this sermon is available on YouTube: The Answer to Peter’s Prayer – Acts 10:9-16