It is fairly general knowledge that the late Apostle Peter was crucified in Rome upside down. It is also known that he was crucified this way at his own request. The next question would be, why? Some sources say that Peter requested this type of death, as he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus, but is this accurate? I purpose that there was something much deeper to this choice of crucifixion. We know that Jesus prophesied over Peter concerning his death:
“I assure you: When you were young, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go. He said this to signify by what kind of death he would glorify God.” ~ John 21:18-19
We learn that Peter’s death would glorify God. How then is being crucified upside down glorifying God? There are many mysteries that can be uncovered in pursuit of this answer. There seems to be a pattern in scripture where the Lord turns things upside down:
“And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down.” ~ 2 Kings 21:13
“The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.” ~ Psalm 146:9
“Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.” ~ Isaiah 24:1
“Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” ~ Isaiah 29:16
The followers of Yeshua seemed to do the same:
“And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” ~ Acts 17:6
What is it with these references of God turning things upside down? I think we may find out in studying the death of Peter. Jesus in His ministry was furious with the Pharisees for denying the people the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in.” ~ Matthew 23:13
Jesus at one point in His ministry told Peter that he would give him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Take note of the fact, that in using a key, you insert the key into the lock, and you turn it upside down. Again we have this reference to upside down. To investigate this thoroughly, it is best to go to the actual record of Peter’s death. Peter’s death is recorded in a book that was left out of the Canon- the “Acts of Peter.” This is a fascinating book describing the days and weeks before the death of Peter, his journey to Rome, and his dealings with a famous apostate sorcerer, Simon. At the end of this book, we find the testimony of Peter’s death, his upside down crucifixion. Let’s take a look. To begin let’s examine the Acts of Peter, verse 36. Peter begins by calming a crowd who does not desire to see him suffer death:
“And Peter when he came unto the place stilled the people and said: Ye men that are soldiers of Christ! ye men that hope in Christ! remember the signs and wonders which ye have seen wrought through me, remember the compassion of God, how many cures he hath wrought for you. Wait for him that cometh and shall reward every man according to his doings. And now be ye not bitter against Agrippa; for he is the minister of his father’s working. And this cometh to pass at all events, for the Lord hath manifested unto me that which befalleth. But why delay I and draw not near unto the cross?” ~ Acts of Peter 36
Agrippa was the ruler under the Emperor Nero who wanted Peter dead. We can see that Peter exhibits no fear of his death, rather he reveals that the Lord has already shown him how he would die. Note that he is eager to “draw near to the cross.” Continuing on:
“And having approached and standing by the cross he began to say: O name of the cross, thou hidden mystery! O grace ineffable that is pronounced in the name of the cross! O nature of man, that cannot be separated from God! O love (friendship) unspeakable and inseparable, that cannot be shown forth by unclean lips! I seize thee now, I that am at the end of my delivery hence (or, of my coming hither). I will declare thee, what thou art: I will not keep silence of the mystery of the cross which of old was shut and hidden from my soul. Let not the cross be unto you which hope in Christ, this which appeareth: for it is another thing, different from that which appeareth, even this passion which is according to that of Christ. And now above all, because ye that can hear are able to hear it of me, that am at the last and final hour of my life, hearken: Separate your souls from every thing that is of the senses, from every thing that appeareth, and does not exist in truth. Blind these eyes of yours, close these ears of yours, put away your doings that are seen; and ye shall perceive that which concerneth Christ, and the whole mystery of your salvation: and let thus much be said unto you that hear, as if it had not been spoken. But now it is time for thee, Peter, to deliver up thy body unto them that take it. Receive it then, ye unto whom it belongeth. I beseech you the executioners, crucify me thus, with the head downward and not otherwise: and the reason wherefore, I will tell unto them that hear.” ~ Acts of Peter 37
What a richly filled text from Peter. He refers to the cross as a hidden mystery that he wants to reveal. He explains that the cross is different than what they are seeing with their eyes, it is something perceived “spiritually.” he encourages them to separate their souls from what they see and hear, all things that are of the senses, so that they could understand the mystery of our salvation. This tells us that the mystery of our salvation is something that can’t be completely perceived with our natural senses. Peter then gives the instruction to crucify him “head downward” and gets ready to tell the people the purpose behind this. This mystery is to be revealed to those who possess spiritual ears, not natural ears. In other words, what Peter is getting ready to explain is foolishness to the world, but it is wisdom and knowledge to the spiritual man/woman of God. Reading on:
“And when they had hanged him up after the manner he desired, he began again to say: Ye men unto whom it belongeth to hear, hearken to that which I shall declare unto you at this especial time as I hang here. Learn ye the mystery of all nature, and the beginning of all things, what it was. For the first man, whose race I bear in mine appearance (or, of the race of whom I bear the likeness), fell (was borne) head downwards, and showed forth a manner of birth such as was not heretofore: for it was dead, having no motion. He, then, being pulled down -who also cast his first state down upon the earth– established this whole disposition of all things, being hanged up an image of the creation (Gk. vocation) wherein he made the things of the right hand into left hand and the left hand into right hand, and changed about all the marks of their nature, so that he thought those things that were not fair to be fair, and those that were in truth evil, to be good. Concerning which the Lord saith in a mystery: Unless ye make the things of the right hand as those of the left, and those of the left as those of the right, and those that are above as those below, and those that are behind as those that are before, ye shall not have knowedge of the kingdom.“ ~ Acts of Peter 38
Let’s stop here for a second. Here Peter begins to expound on mysteries intended for only those that it “belongeth to hear.” This wasn’t a message for everyone present. He goes on to tell them the mystery of all nature and the beginning of all things. He talks about the “first man” whose race he belongs to….human kind. The first man was born “head downwards” a manner of birth that had never happened before. He is not speaking of Adam and Eve, because neither of these were “born” according to the scriptures. Taking all early Jewish writings into account, Adam and Eve were beings created that are unlike us today, as they dwelled in a place where heaven and earth touched, in the Garden of Eden. They dwelt with God. The first born of the earth was Cain. Peter indicates, Cain was dead. We know that Cain was human, and we know that he was “alive” as a human being. Peter is really indicating that Cain was dead in spirit. Peter then speaks in reference to Satan, when he gives the clue that he “cast his first estate down upon the earth”, and that he changed the disposition of all things. Satan left his first estate and came into the world, taking something that was created one way and made it the opposite. He changed the marks of the nature of man, and declared things that were in truth evil, to be good. The “He” that refers to Satan, is also referring to Cain, or mankind. Satan took up his residence within mankind here on the earth, and gave mankind a disposition opposite to the way of God. Remember when Jesus scolded Peter?
“But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” ~ Matthew 16:23
As you and I are born into this earth head first, upside down, we are born into flesh that is initially ruled by Satan and his nature. This began with Cain, the first born of the earth, and as we know, Cain had a murderous heart/spirit. Peter then indicates a saying of Jesus, where he mentioned that unless we turn the ways of Satan upside down, we will have no knowledge of the Kingdom of God. We would have to reject our very nature, this fleshly nature we were born with, in order to gain knowledge of the Kingdom of God. Peter continues:
“This thought, therefore, have I declared unto you; and the figure wherein ye now see me hanging is the representation of that man that first came unto birth. Ye therefore, my beloved, and ye that hear me and that shall hear, ought to cease from your former error and return back again. For it is right to mount upon the cross of Christ, who is the word stretched out, the one and only, of whom the spirit saith: For what else is Christ, but the word, the sound of God? So that the word is the upright beam whereon I am crucified. And the sound is that which crosseth it, the nature of man. And the nail which holdeth the cross-tree unto the upright in the midst thereof is the conversion and repentance of man.” ~ Acts of Peter 38
Here Peter reveals the purpose of his upside down crucifixion. He hung there as a representation of Cain, the first born of men. He then implores his brethren to “cease from your former error and return back again.” Here is the KEY to the Kingdom of Heaven. The nature of Cain/Satan is born into each of us when we exit the womb head first. Unless we can turn Cain/Satan upside down, we will be locked out of the Kingdom of God. We must cease from the works of Cain/Satan, the former error, and return to God and His way. Peter then goes on to explain the true mystery of the cross. he first speaks about the main beam/the center column of wood on the cross he was hanging on, and indicates that this is the WORD OF GOD. The beam that crosses the main beam, he indicates is the NATURE OF MAN. The nail that holds it together is the “conversion”- belief in Jesus, and the repentance of man. The only thing that keeps us on the cross with Christ, is belief in Jesus and repentance for our sin. Lacking those, we are separated from the Word, which is Jesus. What an amazing mystery it is that Peter revealed in his last breaths. Peter finishes:
“Now whereas thou hast made known and revealed these things unto me, O word of life, called now by me wood (or, word called now by me the tree of life), I give thee thanks, not with these lips that are nailed unto the cross, nor with this tongue by which truth and falsehood issue forth, nor with this word which cometh forth by means of art whose nature is material, but with that voice do I give thee thanks, O King, which is perceived (understood) in silence, which is not heard openly, which proceedeth not forth by organs of the body, which goeth not into ears of flesh, which is not heard of corruptible substance, which existeth not in the world, neither is sent forth upon earth, nor written in books, which is owned by one and not by another: but with this, O Jesu Christ, do I give thee thanks, with the silence of a voice, wherewith the spirit that is in me loveth thee, speaketh unto thee, seeth thee, and beseecheth thee. Thou art perceived of the spirit only, thou art unto me father, thou my mother, thou my brother, thou my friend, thou my bondsman, thou my steward: thou art the All and the All is in thee: and thou Art, and there is nought else that is save thee only. Unto him therefore do ye also, brethren, flee, and if ye learn that in him alone ye exist, ye shall obtain those things whereof he saith unto you: ‘which neither eye hath seen nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man.’ We ask, therefore, for that which thou hast promised to give unto us, O thou undefiled Jesu. We praise thee, we give thee thanks, and confess to thee, glorifying thee, even we men that are yet without strength, for thou art God alone, and none other: to whom be glory now and unto all ages. Amen.” ~ Acts of Peter 39
Peter goes on to give thanks, not in the flesh, but with his spirit, with a voice that cannot be heard with ears. This was a communication of the heart between Peter and God. He reveals that God is everything, and only in God does true life exist. His final advice, is that if we can learn that in God alone we exist, we will obtain those things where Jesus said “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of men.” What a fantastic testimony from Peter. In his dying breaths, Peter provided the keys that unlock the Kingdom of Heaven. Repent for your sin, turn the ways of Satan upside down within you, be baptized and reborn in spirit, and believe in Jesus Christ, and the Kingdom is available to you. It is a message so simple, the simplest of men can comprehend it. The keys are in your grasp. Pray for courage to turn them upside down.