Monday, February 13, 2012

Peter & The Temple (part 2 of 5)

Now, if we allow our minds to wander as we take in all of this information, we’ll be tempted to retreat into inappropriate ways of hearing what has been said (mishearing “last days” and “coming,” and ascribing erroneous ideas to those words and phrases that would have not been held by a first-century Jew or an early follower of Jesus).  However, if we remain focused, we hear the Daniel seven context and the favorable judgment on behalf of those being persecuted.  Without going into too much detail, we can also think about the fact that Jesus, at His trial, had accused the High Priest---the chief Temple authority---of being the very entity that was warring against the saints of God in the seventh chapter of Daniel.  According to the book of Acts, Stephen made this same accusation at his trial.  In both instances, the accuser died at the hands of the accused, thus the allusions to Daniel seven have their say.   

Together with talk of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly in the second letter of Peter, we also consider the usage of “heavens and earth.”  This could not be more important, as it can and should be understood as a reference to the Temple---the place where heaven and earth meet.  Yes, the Temple was the place of the coming together of heaven and earth, and it was common and well understood that any reference to “heaven and earth,” especially if it is in the context of talk of the Temple, is a reference to the Temple itself.  Though we are offering conjecture when it comes to the link between this letter, the Gospels, the traditions of Jesus and the message of the early church (though not unsupported conjecture) when it comes to second Peter, we are far from offering conjecture when we hear such talk in the Gospels.  Anyone and everyone that would have been listening to Jesus, and heard Him speak of “heaven and earth,” would have heard this in context of the Temple.  Any talk of the end of the heavens and the earth, or of its passing away, because the Jews did not have a widespread conception of the end of the created order (instead, holding to the notion of God’s restoration of His creation at the end of the age or in the last days), would not have been connected to the creation, but to the Temple. 

This prompts us to return again to Matthew twenty-four (though we could also look to both Mark and Luke), and to Jesus saying, as He borrows words from Isaiah and answers the question about when the Temple will be cast down with not one stone left upon another, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken” (24:29).  Though the reference to Isaiah ends there, we have already seen that Isaiah continued on to eventually write “So I will shake the heavens, and the earth will shake loose from its foundation” (13:13a).  Isaiah was referring to Jerusalem and the Temple being overcome by Babylon, using apocalyptic language of heaven and earth that reaches beyond mere symbolism and drama, conveying Jewish opinion concerning the Temple---the place where heaven and earth came together.  In addition to talk of heavenly bodies as a way of vesting events with all necessary weight, the Temple authorities themselves, in apocalyptic literature, were themselves sometimes referred to as heavenly luminaries.  This would not have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, nor on those who would hear and read the Petrine letter.   

The tradition of such thinking concerning the house of God reached all the way back to Jacob, as it is when he is in Bethel (the house of God), that he has the dream in which a ladder reached from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending.  Yes, the house of God is where and heaven and earth came together.  Little wonder then, that the Gospel of John, in its portrayal of Jesus that reflected the development of Christian understanding about Jesus and a better grasp, in the late first century in the time period after the fall of the Temple, of Jesus’ sayings about Himself, has Jesus telling Nathanael and the other men that had been called to be His disciples, that they “will see heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51b).  Yes, the early church clearly understood that Jesus was the true Temple, and perhaps He spoke of Himself in that way.  He was the house of God.  He was the place where heaven and earth came together.  Naturally, if talk about the church as the Temple of the Holy Spirit is taken seriously (as Paul indicates), in both a communal sense and in accord with the responsibility of the individuals members that compose the body of Christ, this informs the Christian as to his or her responsibilities in association with a life lived in response to the Gospel claim that Jesus is Lord.  The Christian, in Christ, is to be the place where and heaven earth come together---bringing heaven to earth as a singular purpose. 

Getting back to the course of thought that Isaiah suggests, we hear Jesus doing the same thing, though omitting the explicit reference to the earth and its foundations, though the entire statement of Isaiah would be expected to be called to the mind of the hearers of Jesus and the hearers of the Gospel accounts.  Given the nature of allusion, as Jesus intends to call to mind the broad picture being painted by Isaiah, a reference to the earth, and dramatic happenings in relation to the earth to go along with the happenings with the sun, moon, stars, and the power of heaven, is implied.  Importantly, all of this is said in the context of Jesus’ discourse about the Temple, and it is quite reasonable to suggest that Peter is drawing from this component of the oral Jesus tradition, thus indicating its place in the early church’s witness.   

No comments:

Post a Comment