The Power and Glory – 2 Peter 1:16-18

In response to the claim the apostolic teaching concerning the return of Jesus is a cleverly devised myth, Peter claims to be an eyewitness of “his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16b-18). Peter is referring to the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matt 17:1-8, Mark 9:1-8, Luke 9:28-36).  In this well-known story, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountain where the glory of God comes upon Jesus. God’s voice speaks, declaring Jesus to be his son and then Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah.

In the Gospels the transfiguration calls attention to who Jesus really is: he is the Son of God and the fulfillment of both the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). God’s voice sounding from a bright Transfiguration Raphaelcloud declaring Jesus to be his son evokes both the theophany at Mount Sinai and Psalm 2, an important messianic Psalms.

In 2 Peter, the writer claims to be an “eyewitness of his majesty.” The noun Peter chooses for “eyewitness”(ἐπόπτης) only appears here in the New Testament, but has the connotation of someone that makes very careful observations. For example, God sees everything (2 Macc 3:39; 7:35; 3 Macc 2:21; 1 Clem 59:3) or the Emperor (IPerg 381).

What Peter witnessed was “his majesty” (μεγαλειότης, v. 16). This noun is also rare in the New Testament, but it is used in Acts 19:27 when the pagan Demetrius the Silversmith described the “great goddess Atremis,” she might lose some of her “majesty” if Paul’s gospel is left to grow unchecked. The word therefore refers to something ultimately impressive or awe-inspiring even in the pagan world. A similar word appears in v. 17 (μεγαλοπρεπής), although this word appears in the LXX to describe God himself (Deut 33:26; Sirach 17:3, “the glory of his voice”).

It is perhaps unexpected that Peter would answer the objection concerning the second coming of Jesus with a reference back to the Transfiguration. But as Thomas Schreiner points out, the transfiguration follows a statement about seeing “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt 16:28–17:13; Mark 9:1–13; Luke 9:27–36).

In Matthew 16:21-23 Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection for the first time, immediately after Peter has confessed his belief in Jesus as the Messiah. In response to the surprising prediction that God’s Messiah was going to be killed when he went to Jerusalem, Peter rebukes Jesus (v. 22), and Jesus’ rebukes Satan and calls Peter a hindrance!

Jesus then declares to his disciples they must be ready to “take up their cross and follow him” (Matt 16:24-28). To a first century Jew, “taking up one’s cross” meant to be crucified by the Romans! Jesus warns his disciples that he will he be executed in Jerusalem, but also they must be ready for the same treatment. The assumed context of 2 Peter is just before Peter literally “takes up his cross” and die on account of his faith in Jesus.

Peter is therefore presenting himself as a prophetic witness to a foretaste of the glory of the Son of Man and his kingdom. Having raised the issue of prophecy, he goes on to argue that the prophets are reliable because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Memories of Jesus – 2 Peter 1:12-15

This paragraph is like a “last testament” for Peter. He knows he will be executed soon and he wants to encourage the readers to keep what he has said in mind even after he is gone. Some of the language here is “stock language” used in last testaments, both in the Bible and I the literature of the Second Temple period.

The prediction of Peter’s martyrdom at the end of John’s gospel generated a number of extra-biblical legends about
the kind of death Peter would experience, including a legend that Peter met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Rome and Jesus told him he was about to be Caravaggio - Crucifixion of Petercrucified (Acts of Peter). There is nothing historical in these stories since the point of Jesus’ prediction was only to tell Peter that his faith was not weak and that he would persevere all the way to the end.

In 2 Peter, he uses a vivid metaphor for death, he will soon be putting off the “tent of his body.” This phrase is usually associated with Bedouin who pack up their tent when they are ready to move on to a new location.  Peter knows the time is near for him to leave be body and move on to what is next.

Since he knows he is about to die, Peter wants his readers to remember his personal testimony about Jesus. This would include his ethical teaching in the previous chapter he also is looking ahead to the personal testimony in the next few verses, that he was a witness to the transfiguration. For many of his readers, Peter will be a last connection to the life of Jesus. An eyewitness was respected more than a written source by many in the ancient world, so Peter wants his readers to remember what he is about to tell them in the next paragraph.

He wants to “stir up” his readers “by way of a reminder” (ESV). To “stir up” (διεγείρω) is a word used for rousing someone from sleep, to “awaken” a thought in the mind of the readers. The noun (ὑπόμνησις) is a reminder, so the meaning here is to awaken a particular thought. Think of this as a trigger for a flood of memories. Peter’s goal is to provide a trigger in the minds of his readers so they recall what he has taught them about Jesus and living an exemplary life. Alluding to the story of the transfiguration is part of that trigger.

Likewise, the phrase “make remembrance” (μνήμη, v. 15) refers to a memorial, a marker set up to remember someone or a special event.  Some of my students create elaborate mnemonic devices to recall things for quizzes. I know this because they write random letters in the margins to help remember things, although sometimes remember the crazy word or sentence, but forget the thing they were supposed to remember in the first place! Peter’s words are to be like a memorial stone set up to remind people of the ethical teaching in the previous paragraph and the glorious revelation of Jesus in the following.

This “last testament” of Peter is a way of introducing the main goals of the rest of the letter. Peter wants his readers to recall his testimony about Jesus and his return in the face of opponents of the apostolic teaching about the return of Jesus.

What Have We Forgotten? – 2 Peter 1:9

In 1 Peter 1:5-7, the writer has described a virtuous life. But the one who lacks these qualities has forgotten they are cleansed of sin (v.9).  Two metaphors are used to describe someone that lacks the virtues listed in verses 5-7.

First, they are like people who have poor vision. They are not blind, but so nearsighted that they might as well be blind. Perhaps we might call that “legally blind” in contemporary Mr-magooculture. If you really cannot see well, you find yourself in difficult, embarrassing, or potentially dangerous situations. It is one thing to not be able to read a menu in a restaurant, for example, and quite another to not be able to tell one person from another. Worse yet, if you cannot see well enough to read street signs, driving a car becomes very dangerous.

In the same way, someone that is not developing godliness does not have the spiritual vision to recognize dangers around them and may find themselves not just in an embarrassing situation, but a spiritually dangerous place. A Christian who lacks self-control may say something that is harsh or judgmental when they ought to have controlled their tongue (this is something I have done many times!) They might even be too blind to know that their harsh speech is doing more harm than good.

The second metaphor is forgetfulness. A person who is not perusing godliness has simply forgotten what they are, a forgiven sinner. Most people have had a moment when they forgot something important. Usually it is a name, or something that you RememberAllsaid you would do, etc. Like blindness, forgetfulness can lead to embarrassment (who are you again?) but also to potential danger. Think of people who have serious problems remembering who they are, such as an amnesiac or a person suffering from Alzheimer syndrome. It might be dangerous for a person to be on their own because they have forgotten critically important information that will keep them out of danger.

The person who is not pursuing godliness in Peter 1:9 has forgotten the most important thing imaginable, they have forgotten that they have already been cleansed from sin. Imagine a very dirty child who takes a bath so that they are ready for bed, and then wants to go out and play in the mud again. The believer has already been cleansed of sin, why would they “forget” and go back to their past sins?

This too might be a hint at the problem Peter needs to address in the letter. The opponents claim to have superior godly knowledge of God, and that knowledge allows them (or so they claim) to behave in any way they choose. They are “sinning that grace may abound,” to use the Pauline phrase, since later in the letter Peter will say that the opponents are twisting Paul’s letters in order to support their sin.

Once again I think Peter’s letter is applicable to the current state of the Western church. In our pursuit of some good things, we have lost sight of the most important elements of the Gospel. What is the Church blind to? What are we not seeing (or worse, closing our eyes to?) What have we forgotten in the Gospel?

Is it possible by forgetting what is really important we have become like a child who wants to go play in the mud again?

 

What is a Virtuous Life? – 2 Peter 1:5-7

Like several other places in the New Testament, Peter offers a list of virtues to describe what a “godly life” might look like. The structure of the list is like a staircase (a and b, b and c, etc.) This is a Hellenistic Greek style known as sorites, and is rare in the New Testament (Rom 5:3-5 is the only other example), but appears in Wisdom 6:17-20 and m.Sota 9:15. It is therefore a style known and used by Jewish Christian writers.

Open BiblePursuit of virtue must be a strenuous effort on the part of the believer. “Make every effort” implies deliberate action. Someone might claim to be growing in godliness, but if there is no deliberate activity then the claim is empty. Imagine someone who claims to be trying to lose some weight, but they are not dieting or exercising.  They are not really making “every effort” to lose weight! This is a bit like a “good faith effort” in modern English, but perhaps stronger. It means that the person really does make an honest effort to pursue virtue and godliness.

The believer is making an effort to supplement their faith with various virtues. The participle (παρεισφέρω) is a word only appearing here in the New Testament. In Koine Greek the word refers to benefactors who do good for a community. What they add to is a gift, and the main verb in the clause (ἐπιχορηγέω) is also used for “generous support of the community” (BDAG). Together, the image Peter has in mind here is of a wealthy patron who gives a generous gift to some public building.

Peter includes some virtues from other New Testament lists, but there are also a handful of unique items to this list.

Faith with virtue. Despite being common in modern discussions of ethical living, virtue (ἀρετή) is not often mentioned in the New Testament of godly living. The word is often associated with civic virtue, a wealthy patron who does good deeds for his community. This may be why Peter began with this in his list, since he has already used a metaphor of a benefactor in the previous verse.

Virtue with knowledge. To virtue is added knowledge (γνωσις).This noun is usually associated with intellectual knowledge, and it might seem strange for Peter to begin a Christian virtue list with two common Greco-Roman virtues.

Knowledge with self-control. Knowledge without self-control is arrogant. The noun (ἐγκράτεια) appears as the last item in Paul’s fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) and was a respected virtue in the Greco-Roman world. It refers to having a proper restraint on one’s emotions and passions.

Self-control with steadfastness. The noun (ὑπομονή) is often translated as patience, but may also refer to endurance or “personal fortitude.” The person who is in control of their passions will be patient with others and “suffer long” before reacting in a controlled manner.

Steadfastness with godliness. That patience is tempered with godliness (εὐσέβεια). The noun refers to loyalty to a god, so sometimes piety is a good translation. Sometimes the word refers only to external acts of worship, so that a pagan might be described as “godly” if they are pious in their worship of their god.

Godliness with brotherly affection. This noun (φιλαδελφία) refers to the sort of affection family members have for one another. It is common in the New Testament for Christians to think of themselves as brothers and sisters.

Brotherly affection with love. Christian love is more than a brotherhood, there is real and genuine love for others at the heart of Christian ethics. How we behave and how we relate to the world ought to be laced with genuine love.

It is significant that this “virtue list” begins with faith (v. 4) and ends with love (v. 7). Christian virtue lists are often introduced with faith and love. Love begins the fruit of the Spirit list, and faith, hope and love are the three most important virtues in 1 Corinthians 13, for example.

It is remarkable to me that these virtues are relational and non-confrontational. There is nothing in this list demanding believers protest the pagan meat-markets or fight back against their persecutors. Like 1 Peter, this virtue list describes a “good citizen” of Rome! A Stoic or Epicurean may have applauded this list as admirable, and not pagan would fault Christians for having genuine brotherly love or self control.

How does this particular list differ from how Christian virtues are described today? What is the reason for this quite striking difference?

Submit to the Government? – 1 Peter 2:11-17

Donald Trump AntichristStrangers are not always welcome. Imagine this scene: you are traveling in England, and in some small village you have some car trouble so you stop at the local pub with a colorful name like “the Prancing Pony” or “The Drunken Duck” or my personal favorite, “The Skiving Scholar” (which is in Plymouth). As you walk up to the door, you can hear people talking, laughing, etc. But when you open the door and step inside, everyone goes silent and looks at you: you are different. You are an outsider and no good can come from an outsider (especially an American). Maybe you hear some muttering in the background about “tourists” as people just glare at you, waiting to hear what you want.

In the first part of 1 Peter 2, Peter has described the People of God as stones in a Living Temple of God. If we really do have this kind of status in the world, and we really do function in some ways like a “royal priesthood” to the nations, then there are some practical applications for Peter’s readers.  He has described them as strangers and aliens, living as foreigners in a strange land. Whatever they do, the people of God will be watched with a suspicious eye since they are “different.”

Hillary Clinton AntichristThe first application he develops is the relationship of the believer to the government. This is a particularly difficult problem since Rome ruled Asia Minor, and most of Asia Minor encouraged the worship of the Empire and the Emperor as a show of loyalty.

When this letter was written, the Emperor was Nero. If the book of 1 Peter is dated to about A.D. 64, then Nero is just beginning his spiral into insanity that will result in his suicide in June of 68. In July of 64, Nero appears to have secretly ordered the burning of some buildings in Rome in order to build a new Palace dedicated to himself (an area of up to 300 acres!), but the fire got out of hand and burned for five days, destroying three districts in Rome and damaging seven others. Looking to shift blame, Nero blamed the Christians (those strange outsiders) and began a persecution that (at least according to tradition) killed both Peter and Paul.

Bernie Sanders AntichristIt is unlikely that this persecution reached beyond the city of Rome, but the Greco-Roman world always looked at Jews with suspicion, and even more so the growing sect of Christians. If Karen Jobes is right and the letter of 1 Peter is written to Jewish Christians expelled from Rome by Claudius, then they are literally “strangers and aliens,” exiles from their home.

It is therefore remarkable that Peter does not command his readers to rebel against Rome or form some sort of underground opposition party. Nor are the Christians to work to undermine the foundations of the Empire. In fact, he tells his readers to “Submit to every human authority” (v. 13). But can Peter really mean every human authority?

What sort of application might this have to contemporary Church-State conversations? I think that this would look different in American than most of the rest of the world – how do people living outside the democratic west handle this teaching?

We Are Like Stones – 1 Peter 2:5

If Jesus is the cornerstone, then the believers are the stones that are laid on the stone in order to build up a Temple. Peter compares the people of God to the stones that make up a “spiritual house.” If Jesus is like the chief cornerstone (in some ways like the foundation and in other ways like the capstone), then those who are in Christ are the other components of that building. This is not too far from Paul’s “body of Christ” metaphor, in which Christ is the head and believers are the members of the body.

Temple StonesPeter describes God’s people with Temple language in verse five. The people of God are a “spiritual house.” The text does not say “temple of the Holy Spirit,” the metaphor Paul used in 1 Corinthians, but it is not quite the same. Any Jewish person hearing the phrase “spiritual house” in the first century would have immediately thought of the Temple in Jerusalem, and even in the Diaspora there was a certain pride in the Temple as God’s dwelling place. Buy not all would agree that the Temple was a real, spiritual house.

There are several well-known critiques of the Temple, including the Temple Action by Jesus just before his crucifixion. Jesus called the activity around the Temple as a “den of thieves” and threatened to tear the Temple down and rebuild it in three days. We know now that he was talking about his body and the coming resurrection, but there were many who saw this as an attack on the Temple itself.

Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is often seen as critical of the Temple and the aristocratic priesthood. Stephen claimed that there is simple no need for a “spiritual house” in the present age, and he was lynched for this attack! The Qumran community in particular considered the activity of the Temple to be corrupt.  The community seems to have considered their activity near the Dead Sea as a kind of replacement for Temple worship until the Temple was cleansed by the coming messiah.

In the same way, the original readers would have understood “holy priesthood” in the light of the Temple. In fact, the priests were the only ones who permitted to offer sacrifices at the temple.  Peter describes all believers as a “holy priesthood,: not just those members of the tribe of Levi or the family of Aaron.  The high priest was to come from the line of Zadok, but after the Maccabean Revolt the Hasmoneans served as priest-kings, despite only being from the tribe of Levi. Since they were not Zadokites, the Qumran community rejected them proper high priests.

At the time this letter was written, the high priests were appointed to the office by the Sanhedrin.  The high priest Ananus son of Ananus was removed from office in A.D. 63 because he executed James the brother of Jesus (Josephus,  Antiq., 20.9.1).  The high priest Joshua ben Gamla obtained the office in 64 after his wealthy wife bribed the right people; the final high priest, Phannias ben Samuel, was not even in the priestly line, but was appointed by the Zealots. Josephus said that he was a “mere rustic “and “a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was.” (Josephus, JW, 4.151-158).

The believer is superior to the Temple priest because they are able to bring “acceptable sacrifice to God” because they are offering them “through Jesus.”  Again, if there were some Jewish groups that considered the Temple and the priesthood corrupt, then can their sacrifices be acceptable to God? If, for example, the high priest was not actually holy when he brought the Day of Atonement sacrifice (on the wrong day even!), is it possible that God did not accept that sacrifice?

All of this language sounds like Peter is describing the present people of God as a kind of New Israel, but it is not the case that Peter is saying that the present Church (the Body of Christ) replaces the old Israel. For a Jewish writer and reader this new priesthood and temple service replaces the old one that was ineffective. The believers in Asia Minor in the first century are now all priests that are capable of offering acceptable sacrifices to God.

Prepare Your Mind – 1 Peter 1:13-15

In 1 Peter 1:16, Peter stated that the believer is to be holy. But how do we “become holy”? In the previous post I alluded to the classic scene of a monk living in the cave. He is physically separate from the world, but his mind might remain there! He might be thinking about some women he met on the way to his cave, or wondering about how is life might have gone if he stayed at home, or he might be jealous of his brother who got rich and is living a good life, or ne might be smugly thinking how spiritual he is in comparison to all the other less-monkish Christians who do not live in caves, etc. Appearing to be holy should never be confused with actual holiness.

Peter’s main point in verses 13-15 is that a life of physical holiness and separation is of no value if one’s mind remains unrestrained. Holiness begins with control our thoughts.

First, we are to prepare our minds for action. This is the first word of the paragraph (and is an aorist participle) and it emphasizes the fact that Peter thinks that preparing your mind for action precedes holiness. The verb ἀναζώννυμι is literally “gird up,” and the phrase is in fact “gird up the loins of your mind (ὀσφυς).” To “gird up one’s loins” refers to the practice of wearing a belt and tucking your robe into the belt in order to move more freely, perhaps to walk or run. This is a similar metaphor to Paul’s “belt of truth” in Eph 6:14. In the parable in Luke 12:35-40 Jesus teaches that the disciple must be “dressed and ready” for the return of the Master at any time.

Homer BrainSecond, we are to prepare our minds by being “sober-minded.” This verb (νήφω) can refer to “not being drunk,” but it is often used for reasonableness, clear thinking. Think of this as the sort of self-discipline required of an athlete, they have to be completely focused on the game in order to win (or, think of the lack of focus of the five-year-old soccer league). Perhaps we can think of this word as referring to absolute focus on the task of “being holy.”

This is a very difficult thing for the typical twenty-first century person to practice since we are bombarded with so many ideas and distractions at any given time. For a twenty-something, it is difficult to sit quietly and think (they go into cell-phone deprivation). People were just as easily distracted in the first century, so Peter gives his readers a specific thing to focus on as they live out this new life in Christ.

Third, we are to fully set our hope on the grace that will be revealed at the return of Jesus. Peter offers his readers something to help them focus their attention – the hope of the soon return of Jesus. Hope in the Bible is not like hope in modern English, which is often a kind of hope for something that is unlikely (“I hope I win the lottery.”) Instead, hope is in something that is certain to happen in the future and it gives a person some motivation to act in the present.

Our hope in the soon-return of Jesus ought to have an impact on how we live right now (mentally and spiritually prepared and sober-minded, leading to a kind of holiness that sets us apart from the world). This is not a prediction that Jesus will return in a particular date, nor does Peter look at contemporary events and claim that they are fulfilling prophecy; rather, he is making the simple observation that the return of Jesus is very close and could happen soon, therefore the believer ought to be motivated toward increasing holiness.

Last, if we allow our minds to be guided by holiness, we will not be conformed to childish passions. The more we yield to the Spirit of God and become more mature in Christ, the less we are “conformed” to the passions of this world. To conform is to be “guided by” something, to follow the instructions for example. (This is the same word Paul used in Romans 12:2, συσχηματίζω, with virtually the same point.)

It is significant that Peter does not give a list of spiritual, religions acts that will result in holiness. He does not give a special prayer, or a set of magic rituals that, if preformed correctly, will result in holiness. He simply says, “change the way you think!” The problem is that changing the was we think is far more difficult than a set of rituals, and that alone explains the practices of most religions.