Peter's Vision of the Great Sheet

Compiled from a study by Pastor Harold Stough
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(Acts 10:9-16) On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to 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 spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

This is one of those passages which raises not only great theological problems, but also raises physical problems about those things which should not be eaten for reasons of health, not simply for religious observance. It is one of those illustrations where we have a profound truth, both of diet and conduct. It teaches that the Jews, and later the Christians, were not to keep themselves to themselves, but to go and preach the gospel to the whole world.

Peter, however, was jealous. He had the feeling that he did not want others to share in this message, but that it should be limited to Israel people only, just as Jonah disliked the idea of being a prophet to the Ninevites. He did not want them in the Kingdom of God, but his feelings were contrary to God's plan, and he was ordered to go to those people.

The case was made clear to Peter, that what God had cleansed was not to be termed common or unclean. He was shown this vision three times for emphasis. He was then ordered to go to the centurion, Cornelius, a member of the hated race of Roman oppressors. Peter did not want to go outside the Israel boundaries, for such was his upbringing and training, but he was convinced of his mission eventually.

There are many students of the Bible who maintain that this verse absolves us from keeping the ancient Food Laws in the new Dispensation. However, as we have just seen, it is an allegory, and wrong conclusions as to the dietary laws should not be drawn from it. The animals in Peter's time were the same as those which had been in existence when the Laws were given, so there were still clean and unclean animals. There was no excuse. God's Laws are perfect, and if He, who knows best, said that a certain thing should not be eaten, that law still stands.

Peter protested that he had never eaten anything which was unclean. I do not think that there is any justification to say that God has cleansed pigs, so that we may now eat their meat, neither may we take this as meaning that we may now eat anything else which is on the unclean list.

It was then that Peter realised that God was telling him something:

(Acts 10:19-22) While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.

Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.

Peter went as instructed, realising that God had used the vision of the sheet to illustrate the fact that although Peter was bound by his own laws, he was not to withhold the blessings of God from other races, as God had now opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. It was no longer strictly limited to Israel, but was an expanding revelation. John 3:16 and 17 says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

The Jews had been guilty of certain shortcomings, and God said:

(Matthew 21:43) Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

The Jews may not have valued the Kingdom, but they did not want any one else to have it. They resented the prodigal son's claim, and did not understand that:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

That is something we really must understand, that God is not limiting Himself to just one race or people. However, the Bible is the story of one people, Abraham and his descendants, so we must understand the role of Israel among the nations. Although God chose Israel out of many people, to do His will, He did not choose those people for their merit, but because their ancestor, Abraham believed God, and was a "friend of God". Their task, in return for God's guidance and blessing, was to provide an earthly home for the Messiah's first coming, and then to take the message of salvation to all the world. The Jews have not fulfilled this mission, having rejected their Saviour and Redeemer, but the Northern House of Israel, albeit imperfectly and in blindness, has done so.

The Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional, because Abraham believed God. It was confirmed with Isaac and Jacob, for Abraham offered up the heir of the Promise, even though he must have been terribly grieved, and did not understand the reason.

Jacob's son Isaac inherited the Promises, but not Esau, who had despised his Birthright. This was to be a grievance with his descendants until the end time, and they were always a thorn in Israel's side. They are still trying to this day to repossess the sovereignty which their ancestor sold for a meal. The Bible tells us of them:

(Revelation 2:9) I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

The Jews became mixed with people of Esau/Edom after their return from the Babylonian captivity. Jesus was scathing, for He said:

(John 8:44) Ye are of your father the devil,

Our Lord did not mince His words, He spoke out plainly and named them, so they then set out to have Him killed.

The Jews have claimed to be all Israel. They are in possession of the Promised Land, and they have said to the rest of Israel:

(Ezekiel 11:15) Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the Lord: unto us is this land given in possession.

They have been saying that ever since, and now they are saying it to the Arabs, but they have to be careful because they are outnumbered.

They are saying the same about the Covenants of God, claiming that they are Israel, and that all the blessings are theirs. The flaw in that argument is that they cannot prove their case. All they are able to prove is that their ancestors were taken captive to Babylon, and some may be able to prove that they are descended from those who returned with Ezra and Nehemiah, but they were a mere remnant, and a mixed multitude.

The Church nowadays believes that the Covenant blessings are transferred from the Jews, but that the Jews will suffer the curses. The Church is also misguided, and does not understand the message of the Scriptures in this respect.

John 1:1-15 summarises the situation for us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Henry Foxton said: "Christ is the image of the invisible God". What does that mean? He was the first-born of all creation, so Our Lord did not first become man when He was born in Bethlehem. He was the archetypal Man, and He existed from the beginning in the form of God. Before He came down to earth He was the Son of Man in Heaven. When He ascended up on high, He ascended to where He was before, and now He fills the universe with Himself:

(Ephesians 1:23) Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

This glory He shares with every member of His Body, which is the Church, of which He is the head. The Church throughout the ages is part of that same body, which is a sacred temple to the Lord.

(Ephesians 1:3-10) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

We have been predestinated, we have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. It is in Him that we live and move and have our being. We are in Christ and yet we read that Christ is in us. We are in Him because we are believers who shall not perish, but have everlasting life. We are the body of which he is the head, and we are part of the perfect Bridegroom, and have been since the foundation of the world.

I don't understand it, but I believe it. The only thing that I can think of to help us understand is that you should imagine that there is no Time. Time is something which has been injected into the Eternities.

We read in God's Word that Time shall be no more. A word for Time is Kronos (whence our word, chronology), and Kronos is another name for Satan. If Time shall be no more, Satan shall be no more, because we shall have entered Eternity.

Orange Street Congregational Church