Jesus declared all foods clean by stating that the food you eat cannot defile you, but there's one big problem: Leviticus actually does teach that certain foods are unclean (Lev. 11). When Jesus declares all foods to be clean, isn't Jesus the one setting aside the Law of God? Isn't Jesus doing exactly what He condemned the Pharisees for doing? Absolutely not. Jesus is differentiating between ceremonial purity and spiritual purity, and He's also announcing the transformation of the Old Covenant dietary laws in the New Covenant.
We first have to understand that the primary purpose of the dietary laws was to separate Jews from Gentiles and to mark out the people of Israel as a distinct and holy nation. Unclean animals represented the unclean nations.
Lev. 20:24-25 -- "I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean..."
Deut. 14:2-3 (the whole chapter is about dietary restrictions) -- "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who on the face of the earth. 3 "You shall not eat any detestable thing."
There is interesting symbolic significance to why only certain foods were clean and not others, but the main point was to separate Israel from the pagan peoples of the world. The requirement to follow a strict diet created a very distinct culture, which made it much more difficult for Jews to mingle with non-Jewish peoples.
There is nothing wrong or dirty or unhealthy or sinful about the animals that were unclean under the Old Covenant. If those animals were sinful or bad for our health, then why would God let us eat them now? No, God was using the dietary laws to mark out Israel as His distinct, holy people and to remind Israel of their place in His promise to bless all that families of the earth through them (Gen. 12:1-3). The Old Covenant dietary restrictions are done away with in the New Covenant precisely because Jesus has fulfilled Israel's mission and has broken down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile in His Body, the church (Eph. 2:14-22; Col. 2:11-3:11). This is why Peter's withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles was an affront to the gospel itself (Gal. 2:11-21).
In addition to Jesus' comments in Mark 7, Peter's vision in Acts 10 is one of the most important events in which God explains the inclusion of Gentiles into the New Covenant people of God. Because Jew and Gentile are united together and formed into one people in the New Covenant, it is no longer needful or appropriate to place restrictions on any food. In the vision, the Lord commanded Peter three times to kill and eat all sorts of unclean animals. Eating is a form of incorporating the food into yourself (a symbol of hospitality and mutual fellowship), which is explained by Peter's visit to the home of Cornelius. The fact that a Gentile household received the same outpouring of the Spirit that the Jews had received on the day of Pentecost proved that the Gentiles were being incorporated into the church as equals and co-heirs of God's blessings.
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