Peter's Vision of a Sheet
What Is Our Spiritual Food?
And he beholdeth the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending, as it were a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth:
Wherein were all manner of four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
And the voice spoke to him again the second time, What God has cleansed, that call not you common.
This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
Peter was in the Spirit and had a vision about animal flesh. How should we interpret Peter's dream? Actually, God gives spiritual dreams and visions, and He gives the interpretation. Joseph and Daniel, among others, were given the spiritual gift of interpreting dreams, but they all credited God's word. Peter, under the inspiration of the Spirit, said the following: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 2 Peter 1:20. So, we need to search scripture to understand this vision.
In the vision, Peter saw a sheet descending from heaven. The garment was bound closed and tied at the four corners forming a clean vessel. See Numbers 19:15. The Lord told Peter, who was hungry, to kill and eat all manner of unclean animals and common flesh. Within the sheet were rodents, reptiles, leopards, lions, buzzards, calves, eagles, serpents, bats, scorpions and other creeping things. Peter vehemently objected. He was then told that what God had cleansed, Peter should not call common. This happened three times and Peter objected three times. Suddenly, the sheet was taken up and ascended again into heaven. A casual reader could assume these verses to be literal, but Peter certainly knew the vision was not literal. The very next verse says that Peter wondered what the vision meant.
How could Peter be so bold as to refuse? Peter knew the Lord well. For three and a half years, he traveled, slept, talked and supped with our Lord. Peter knew spiritual gifts from above. He knew Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and forever. Hebrews 13:8. We see clearly here that the Lord kept the levitical dietary laws when He walked the Earth and never taught otherwise, or Peter would not have objected. Instead, Peter is striving to understand God's revelation.
This trance is similar to another vision given to the prophet Ezekiel while he was a captive of the idolatrous Gentiles. In Ezekiel 4:12-13, God told him to bake his bread over a fire of human excrement. Ezekiel's objections were nearly identical to Peter's : "From my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dies of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth." Ezekiel 4:14 Ezekiel was of the tribe of Levi and priestly sons of Aaron. He never ate any unclean animal or any clean animal that had been strangled, died of itself, came into contact with an unclean animal or any other impure thing, and this remained so. God taught a spiritual lesson based on a temporal example.
To Christians, the dietary laws of God are a call to holiness and righteousness of mind, body and character. They are emblematic of our abstention from the unclean flesh pots of spiritual Egypt. Through the process of sanctification, we are washing our robes in the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus. In Peter's first epistle, he relates the following:
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy. 1 Peter 1:13-16 (emphasis provided)When Peter says "It is written", he is pointing to Old Testament scripture making that subject New Testament gospel. We can cast more light on Peter's passage by examining that verse closely. Here is the scripture to which Peter refers:
I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves in the water and every creature that moves about on the ground. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten. Leviticus 11:45-47 (emphasis provided)
Peter did not need to remind those early followers of Jesus to eat only clean meat. They were very familiar with this passage. He did, however, remind them to likewise distinguish between clean and unclean spiritual food and to persevere in obtaining holiness. As Christians, we are called to edify both body and spirit day by day. This is the process of sanctification.
Meaning of Peter's Vision
What is Meat?
The definition of meat has evolved over time. Historically, the term "meat" was used in a broader sense than just clean animal flesh. The word meat was used for bread and edible food in general which included flesh that has been sanctified by the word (levitical dietary specifications). Whenever meat is used to describe edible flesh anywhere in the Bible, clean animals are expressly implied. Unclean animals were not considered to be meat at all. Gentiles and gentile nations were often likened to unclean animals.
What is Meat Spiritually?
To understand this vision, we must read the full chapter context. Peter's dream is about flesh with specific reference to the dietary laws of God. The Bible correctly tells us we cannot eat unclean flesh nor can we drink blood. However, visions are given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we need to use a spiritual interpretation by rightly dividing the word.
First of all, we are not talking about temporal food here. Acts 10:10 says Peter's temporal food was being prepared below. We can be assured nothing unclean was being prepared below. Peter went to the roof to partake of spiritual meat from above. We are talking about food which comes down from heaven. To the point, this vision is talking about the body and blood of Christ which is the good news of eternal life given to the the four corners of the whole world.
We need to understand the purpose of God's two witnesses (old and new testaments). These are given for one purpose - to restore us to the tree of life. Witnesses must agree. God shows us exactly how He restores us to eternal life:
Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. John 6:54
Peter's vision is not new. Jesus had already told Peter and the other disciples in direct words the meaning of this dream, but Peter did not fully understand at the time. Indeed, these words are hard to understand, and many are offended by them and turn away. Peter only saw dimly their meaning as though scales covered his eyes.
About the time of Passover, after Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves by feeding the multitude, He gave a sermon on the Sabbath and talked about the food which came down from heaven. This sermon of the Bible is a key and is recorded in John chapter 6: See right column for full verse text.
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Now, what vessel of flesh and blood from heaven do we think our Father is calling clean in Peter's vision? Do we imagine that God is referring to the flesh and blood of an unclean pig, serpent or scorpion such as Peter saw? Is this the spiritual food our Father gives us when we seek him?
And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Instead of drawing us away from the Mosaic law, God is drawing our attention to those ordinances. He wants us to comprehend some underlying principles.
For example, in the vision, Peter made a distinction between common and unclean meat. These are somewhat separate subjects. Some creatures, like pigs and vultures, are inherently unclean and can never be cleansed for holy use. Other creatures are intrinsically clean, but may be rendered temporarily unclean by way of contact with the impure. If available, some remedy must be applied to restore the common from a condition of uncleanliness to cleanliness. In general, the Jews considered Gentiles to be intrinsically unclean and incapable of being restored.
Everyday in our walk through this sinful world, there are pitfalls that may stain even a clean man's feet and render him impure as a result of contact. For instance, when David absented himself from dining at the king's table during a new moon festival, Saul, the king, assumed David had become ceremoniously unclean that day for some reason. See Samuel 20:24-26 Click to listen. To even touch the corpse of an animal or creeper would render a man unclean. He must bathe and wash his clothes and remain unclean until evening. Saul fully expected David to be present on the morrow because something unique took place every evening that purified an unclean man who had bathed and washed his robes.
Peter was boarding with an animal skin tanner when he had his vision. Avoiding contact with the impure carcasses would have been forefront in his thoughts.
Of course, eating the unclean flesh of a man and drinking his blood is highly forbidden in a temporal sense, but eating His flesh and drinking His blood is an absolute requirement in a spiritual sense. The body of Christ and His blood brings us to the last supper which itself is drawn from the heavenly table of shewbread shown to Moses.
And you shall set on the table show bread before me always.
And you shall make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same. Exodus 25:30-31
Whenever we come to the Lord in the Spirit, any time of day, we are partaking of Christ's flesh and drinking of His Spirit. When God tabernacled with the children of Israel, the table of the presence was always before Him. On that table were twelve loaves of unleavened bread arranged in two piles. Leaven represents sin and malice. There is no leavening contention or strife as to who is greater here. God is no respecter of persons. The bread was eaten by the Levite priests without malice.
Just before the Sabbath, new bread was made by the Kohathites (Kohath means assembly). A fragrant resin was over the bread. Each Saturday, the new bread was placed on the table as the well-preserved old was removed and eaten. Drink offerings were poured out here as well. The drink was offered to God and the bread was digested in communion by the priests each week on the Lords day.
The table of shewbread was on the northern side of the Holy Place. The seven-branched candlestick was directly behind to the South. When we are eating God's word at this table, our light comes from the candlestick behind us. From here, the word of God speaks with a trumpet blast of thunder and cuts with the lightning flash of a sharp two-edged sword. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12.
Embroidered on the ceiling and nearby veils were ministering angels. When we dine on spiritual food, unseen angels are encamped around about and are dispatched to our service on flashes of lightning.
The veils are an important aspect of the sanctuary. This is the door and access-way to God's throne as well as God's access-way to our hearts through His Holy Spirit. We need this communion daily, both morning and evening, to thrive and live abundantly. This is the charge of the Lord.
And they burn to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense: the show bread also set they in order on the pure table; and the candlestick of gold with the lamps thereof, to burn every evening: for we keep the charge of the LORD our God; but you have forsaken him.
Body of Christ
Times were set aside each day especially for communion. In the morning, at the third hour, and at evening, about the ninth hour, a trumpet sounded from the south, and the people were called to the oblation. The candlestick and showbread were located in the Holy compartment of the temple (sanctuary). The Holy and Most Holy compartments represented heaven. Under the old covenant, the people could only eat at the table of shewbread by proxy of the Levite priests. A common man could only enter into the courtyard with his sacrifice. The court represented the Earth. However, the prayers and sacrifices of those present were carried into the Holy compartment by the priests who represented a clean man. The people still had full access to heaven through the flesh and blood of the various sacrifices, drink offerings and oblations.
By observing the sun, at the appropriate time of day, one could lay aside his work and retire to his place of worship to partake of spiritual food. Some retired to their chambers. Others found a place in nature. Abraham built an alter, Peter went up to the roof. John the Beloved, while on Patmos, chose the seaside. No matter where circumstances carry us, we all eat side by side from this pure table. Throughout the land, wherever people were scattered, the body of Christ ate the heavenly manna together.
Some, like Daniel and Peter, hungered and thirsted for more. They included noon and ate from this spiritual table three times a day. In fact, Acts 10 specifically mentions that Peter had his vision about the sixth hour. This would have been the sixth hour of daylight. Ancient ways of reckoning divided the daylight into "suns". There were two rising suns (dawn and mid-morning) and two setting suns (mid-afternoon and sunset). Noon was neither rising nor setting.Rise, Kill and Eat
Think how perfectly Christ fulfilled the levitical oblation. He was hung on the cross about the third hour and taken down about the ninth hour. From the sixth hour until the ninth, a dense veil of darkness cloaked the agony of Christ. Between the setting suns (ninth hour until sunset), the paschal lamb was killed. After sundown, the lamb's flesh was eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
Food for Thought
On Patmos, the disciple John was seated at the table of shewbread when Jesus gave him the Revelation. We must know about levitical laws and the tabernacle in order to understand Revelation and all prophecy. How do we know John was feasting from this table when he was in the Spirit?
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet. Revelation 1:10
And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks. Revelation 1:1-17 Click to listen.
Here was John eating at the table of shewbread - the Lord's supper. More than this, he was eating on the day that new bread was set on the table. Even more, he was eating at the time of the oblation. Behind him, the High Priest was filling the bowls of the candlestick with new olive oil and restoring the wicks. In the priestly service, or daily as it is known, this is done twice per day between the suns.
Now, under the levitical order, only the sons of Aaron who were established priests were permitted to be inside the Holy Place to eat from the golden table. Christ was the Lion of the tribe of Judah. John and Peter were not Levi priests. So, why do we see them eating the flesh and blood of the communion table in the presence of the Fathers throne? The answer is that Christ is not a high priest of the Levite order in the heavenly tabernacle pitched by God. Jesus is the High Priest in heaven of the order of Melchizedek. See Hebrews 7. If Jesus is the High Priest of this order, who are the common priests? John tells us very plainly in Revelation 1:6 - And [He] hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father.
Melchizedek was the king priest of ancient Salem. After Abraham was given a victory, he had a fascinating encounter with Melchizedek in the King's Valley.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him tithes of all. Genesis 14:18-20 (emphasis provided)
The communion table is our fellowship with our neighbor. We are our brother's keeper. God is no respecter of persons, but there is a hierarchy at the communion table. The order may seem unusual. He who is least is greatest. Whoever is the best servant and shepherd is regarded highest. A good shepherd feeds his flock. This is true in both a spiritual and temporal sense.
John was feeding his flock in Asia Minor by written letter from isolation on that lonely island. It was as though John was saying, "I am eating supper with King Jesus. He and these seven ministering angels by the throne extend their greetings. Jesus has some light here He wants to shine on you." See Revelation 1:4. John was a good shepherd.
Abraham was a good shepherd. He gave tithes for the poor. These things come into remembrance as a memorial before the Lord. Moses was a good shepherd. The Bible says he was the humblest man alive. David was a good shepherd, but who was a greater shepherd than David? Of course, Christ is seated at the head of the communion table.
The opening passages of Acts 10 introduce us to a Roman centurion named Cornelius. A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
Now, the Jews considered the Gentiles to be unclean not just because they ate unclean temporal food and drank blood, but because they ate unclean spiritual food as well. Many of the heathen practices would shock us today. The fruit of those pagan gods were gluttony, disease and depravity. Jews would never enter the house of a Gentile let alone sit at a table with one. This attitude was ingrained in Peter. What is more, the Jews especially disliked the iron yoke of the Romans. However, Peter was unaware that when he went up to the roof at the times of communion each day and was seated at the Lord's table, Cornelius and his family were already sidled up right next to him.
He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying to him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said to him, Your prayers and your alms are come up for a memorial before God. Acts 10:3-4
Cornelius had been fasting from temporal food and feasting on spiritual food from heaven. Fasts are cleansing. We fast when we are petitioning the Lord to cast more light on a subject, or we are otherwise requesting a clear answer in some matter. At about the ninth hour, when our High Priest was tending the lamps, here was Cornelius dining at the table in front of Him. A ministering angel was dispatched to his service on a flicker of light.
From Bible accounts, it is sometimes terrifying to be face to face with an angel. Cornelius revealed why when he related a detail he found significant. He told Peter, "A man stood before me in bright clothing."
Spiritually, clean, bright clothes are synonymous with a righteous character. This type of brightness contrasts with our sinful nature of filthy rags. When the light of holiness reveals deep-seated flaws in our character, our comeliness vaporizes and our nakedness is exposed. This is terrifying. Click for examples.. We get the sense, however, that Cornelius wanted a similar set of clothing. So, in answer to his prayer, God sent him the light of seven ministers from Joppa including Peter. See Acts 11:12. Click to listen.
Joppa and Caesarea
Caesarea was the major port for Jerusalem, Judea and trade routes to the east. The city was named after Augustus Caesar. It was also a strategic military stronghold symbolic of the domination of the Gentiles during that era.
Joppa (Jaffa) is south of Caesarea. The root of this word means beautiful brightness (Strong's H3305 and H3302 ). The evidence is unmistakeably clear that while Cornelius was eating at the table of shewbread, Jesus was pouring on the oil in the seven branched candlestick to his south.
Do all ministers of light come to us in sevens from the South? No, not in a temporal sense, but Acts chapters 10 and 11 are a revelation of the real truth. All light ministered to us comes from the lamp to the South. The South represents a man. In heaven, the man is Jesus. In the North, the Spirit of the Eagle flies. To our West is the alter, the calf, the beast of service, the cherubim. To the East is the door, the way of the Prince and the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Three Men at the Gate Door
The number three refers to spiritual things and had special applications to Peter. After the Lord's supper, Jesus told Peter that before the rooster crowed twice, he would deny his Lord thrice. The three days Christ lay in the tomb were especially bitter for Peter. When the resurrected Jesus revealed himself by the lake to the seven hungry disciples, the Lord told Peter three times: "Feed my sheep." See John 21:10-19. Click to listen.
Because these words were repeated three times, they cut Peter to the marrow like a sword. After his dream, he certainly remembered the words of Christ:
"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." John 10:1-16. Click to listen.
When Peter rose up from his vision, he saw the three men waiting to enter. Behind them was the great sea of peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. Peter's ears have been opened now, and the scales removed from his eyes. For the first time in his life, Peter invited Gentiles to the table of clean food prepared inside and lodged them.
In Acts 10:26, Peter told Cornelius that he was only a man, and this was certainly so. Peter had to be reminded again later about eating the Lord's supper with those that others considered unclean. see Galatians 2:11-18. Click to listen. Peter was a clean man and a pillar in the church, but not a perfect man. Some stains in our garments are firmly fixed and may take years to purge white and bright. Only God can do this work and He does all things in His timing. In the end, Peter gave up his life gloriously in the very seat of the Gentiles.
Our Example eats at the table with any man who diligently desires to eat of His flesh and drink His blood. His flesh and blood are clean indeed. The tenth chapter of Acts is a good read regarding communion and God's gift of the Holy Spirit when we seat ourselves at His table.
Jesus hungers and thirsts. He hungers for our companionship whether we are Jew or Samaritan. This is the will of the Father. The discourse with the woman by the well is a poignant revelation of the hunger and thirst of Jesus. Why not read the encounter with this woman again during a season of worship?
As the creatures in the sheet, we all come to God unclean and tarnished by sin each day - both Jew and Gentile. If we do not realize our needs, we do not desire to be cleansed. However, if we sense our need to be cleansed, receive baptism and have faith in our Lord, we are justified. The father sees only the righteous robes of Christ, and that is plenty good enough. We are covered and hidden in that clean garment vessel sent down from heaven.
Justification, however, is only the beginning. Remember, we are called to holiness ourselves as well. Daily soul searching is involved here. When God shines a light on a particular character defect, and we see the suffering that is a result, we will desire desperately to have that leprosy cleansed from our lives. No one should enter God's temple with the stains of the day on his feet who wants to remain unclean. When the King of Righteousness laid aside His royal robes, girded the cloth and stooped down to wash Peter's feet at the last supper, He told him, "Whoever has bathed is entirely clean. He doesn't need to wash himself further, except for his feet. And you men are clean, though not all of you." See See John 13:1-10. Click to listen.
We need to acquire the habit of daily worship at set times. The world is round and the table of His presence is ever available. Our time of prayer may be anytime we choose. If we are not accustomed to eating at God's table, we may feel awkward at first, but we need to persist. Cornelius was becoming a righteous man because he showed up every single day to eat and be washed by Jesus. This is our ticket to eternal life. When Jesus sounds the trumpet from the candlestick and calls out our name from the attendance roll written in the book of life, He wants to sup with us at at His table. Let Him hear our words in reply say, "here am I, Lord."
When we come to worship, we need to consider whether we have wronged our neighbor. If so, why not go fix things right away? This is difficult sometimes, but this is what God means by His body. The body of Christ has members from every nation, kindred, people and tongue. Like the branches of the candlestick, we are all grafted into the true vine to make one unit.
God orchestrates so many things in concert on our behalf. One member of the body may have a need over here, and Jesus has already perfectly positioned another member to assist over there. God brings the two together and acquaints them. If we could see how many times God has moved mountains on our behalf already, we would be stunned and awed. The more we respond to His instructions, the more we desire to know Him. The more we know Him, the more we want to be with Him. This is eating His body and drinking His blood. And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:2-4
God instructs us not to forsake gathering at His table. Hebrews 10:25.The table of shewbread is where mysteries are revealed to us. Here, Christ is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. He speaks to us with a still small voice and a heavenly tongue by the winds and breath of the Holy Spirit. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21. Where does Jesus lead us on this pathay? See Psalm 23. Click to listen.
We do not need levitical priests or papal priests or any human agent to confess our sins. We have a high priest in heaven who "ever liveth to make intercession" for us. If we confess our sins to Him, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." When we follow His word each day, His voice waxes louder and louder as the final trump on that great day of the resurrection - the first day of forever.
Yes, the table of shewbread is where we wrestle with God to conquer bad habits and overcome thorns of the flesh. God gives us the same victories that He gave to Abraham. When we come to sup with Jesus during our worship and Bible study, we are being changed literally. God's Spirit is searching us, changing us, healing us and most of all, cleansing us. What God has cleansed, that call not you common.
And he said to them, You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come to one of another nation; but God has showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Acts 10:28 (emphasis provided)
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20 (emphasis provided)