Thursday, February 16, 2012

Peter & The Temple (part 5 of 5)

As we round out this study, we now take the opportunity to bolster the conjecture in which we have been engaging concerning second Peter.  To get there, we look to Matthew.  As Jesus continues on with His discourse about the fall of the Temple, He says to “stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, He would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matthew 24:42-43).  Because of what we have determined to be a possibility, which is that the author of second Peter is referencing the prediction that the Temple would indeed fall, again (if the letter is indeed composed before the fall of the Temple and the production of the Gospel of Matthew in the form in which we now have it), realizing that the author of the letter is relying on the oral tradition that surrounds Jesus’ talk of the fall of the Temple (the passing away of heaven and earth, along with the celestial bodies), we are not at all surprised when we hear him say “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (3:10a), as the analogy from the Jesus tradition is drafted into use. 

Along the same lines, if second Peter is being written with a knowledge of that which will eventually come to be codified and communicated in Matthew twenty-four, then we are also quite unsurprised to hear the regular Petrine references to Noah and the judgment of the flood, especially considering what we hear Jesus saying: “For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.  For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark” (24:37-38).  To that, Jesus adds “And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away.  It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man” (24:39).  It cannot be repeated enough that this coming of the Son of Man is the Danielic coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, which, according to Jesus, is to be thought of coincidentally with the fall of the Temple (a cataclysmic sign of judgment by Israel’s God to be sure) that He, according to the synoptic authors, has been predicting. 

If Jesus’ prediction is, in fact, in mind, and if questions concerning the legitimacy of His prediction and therefore the legitimacy of His ministry and therefore the legitimacy of the church and its proclamation concerning Him, then this provides an interesting avenue by which to approach something to be found in the first chapter of the letter, which is “Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing.  You do well to pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place” (1:19a). 

In the third chapter, after insisting that the day of the Lord will come like a thief, a question is proffered: “Since all these things are to melt away in this manner,” as we remember the three uses of “these things” in the synoptic recounting of Jesus’ discourse (while also remembering that, if this is indeed written before the Temple’s fall, that there is no access to Matthew, but rather, only the oral tradition and possibly Mark, if it was written before the fall, though this particular letter seems to make reference to that which would find its way into the Matthean tradition), “what sort of people must we be?” (3:11)  Jesus proposes an answer to this question about the sort of people that His people must be as they wait for the fall of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man to receive His kingdom.  He says “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes.  I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions” (24:45-47).  Jesus then goes on to provide a contrast with an evil slave. 

Jesus continues, saying “At that time,” the time when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days and the Temple falls, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (25:1), with a further contrast between those that were wise and foolish in their preparation in relation to the coming of the bridegroom, who clearly stands in for the Son of Man for purposes of this parable.  Following that, Jesus offers up that which is referred to as “the parable of the talents,” saying “For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them” (25:14).  

Like the previously mentioned slaves, these slaves were all given certain responsibilities.  Continuing, as we continue to seek the answer asked by Peter, which was “what sort of people must we be?”, we hear Jesus say “When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him” (another telling mention of angels---not even the angels in heaven know when the Son of Man is going to come to the ancient of days), “then He will sit on His glorious throne.  All the nations will be assembled before Him,” as Daniel seven indicates, “and He will separate people from one another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:31-34). 

To whom is Jesus referring when He speaks of sheep?  It is those to whom the Son of Man, the King, speaks and says “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me” (25:35-36).  He, as the Son of Man, the King, goes on to add: “I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for Me” (25:40).  If we are looking for an answer as to what sort of people we must be, this is as good as any, especially when the goats are described as those that did not do these things.    

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