Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Peter & The Temple (part 3 of 5)

Returning then to second Peter, we are able to read and hear him from a more enlightened perspective.  We do so as we keep clearly in view the fact of Jesus’ prediction about the fall of the Temple, along with the need, amongst the followers of Jesus in the years after His death, Resurrection, and ascension, for this prediction to come true, that He might not be cast aside as a false prophet, His single most dramatic “prophecy” having failed to come to pass.  Having laid the groundwork, this author writes “Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.  The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because He does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (3:8-9).  So with this we are here insisting that the promise is the judgment prophesied against the Temple, and that, folding in the Jesus tradition as presented in the Gospels alongside the insistence that the Temple will fall, this will also coincide with the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, providing the ultimate signal of the fact of Christ’s reign. 

Continuing, we read “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare” (3:10).  There’s that heaven and earth language again, combined with talk of celestial bodies, which was also well-understood Temple-related language.  It leads into “Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?”  (3:11-12a)  Do we here recognize the Daniel seven reference, which then also is a reference to the oral traditions (if indeed this is written in the sixties of the first century) concerning Jesus’ speech about the Temple, to the coming of the Son of Man?  The thought is rounded out with “Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze!  But, according to His promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides” (3:12b-13).  What is the new heavens and the new earth?  Not only does it carry the thought of a restored creation, but it is also a new Temple, indwelt by the Creator God.

Indeed, they were waiting for it to be made clear to all that Jesus was the true Temple, which would be demonstrated when the Temple in Jerusalem was taken out of the way, just as Jesus had said would happen.  Jesus was to be recognized, by all, as the new heavens and the new earth, the place of the coming together of heaven and earth, which is part and parcel of the meaning behind His ascension---fusing the realm of God’s existence with that of man.  When it comes to being the place where righteousness dwells, when righteousness is understood as God’s covenant faithfulness, which is that which was represented by the Temple, then when it is Jesus that is left standing, resurrected following His crucifixion by Rome, whereas the Temple was destroyed by Rome never to rise again, then yes, Jesus is that which represents God’s covenant faithfulness to His people and to His creation.  

As we hear the words of the second letter of Peter (as a perfect example, though we could also comb through Paul’s letters as part of this exercise), and consider the possibilities surrounding the potential interpretation of what is to be found there, while also considering the possibility that it was produced before the fall of the Temple, in demonstration of the church’s expectation of that fall and what it would mean for their faith, we can’t help but think about the time frame in which the written synoptic Gospels are said to have been produced.  If indeed it was well understood that Jesus, as reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, was speaking of the fall of the Temple as something that would occur within the lifetimes of many of those that heard His answer to the disciples’ question about when the Temple would be thrown to the ground with not one stone left upon another, then this can also help to explain the time period that saw the relative explosion of Gospel narratives on to the scene in the first century.

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