Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 2 Peter and Jude

Second Peter and Jude

Of all the New Testament writings thought to be pseudonymous by some commentators, the letter of 2 Peter is unique in that it is the only such writing about which doubts were expressed (regarding its stated authorship) in the early centuries. These doubts were based on clear differences in language and style between 1 and 2 Peter, together with the basic assumption that the Petrine authorship of 1 Peter was genuine. The author presents himself as an eye-witness to Jesus’ transfiguration in 1:16-18, but such a specific reference could just as well serve as an intentional pseudonymous detail meant to establish apostolic authorship (cf. also the apparent self-reference to 1 Peter in 3:1). Critical commentators would also point to the author’s mention of an early authoritative collection of Paul’s letters (3:16), and to the passing of the first generation of believers (3:4), as signs of a later date. On purely objective grounds, the arguments cannot be considered decisive, one way or the other.

If the letter is genuinely from Peter, then it must have been composed in the early-60’s A.D., not long after 1 Peter was written. If pseudonymous, then most likely it was composed nearer to the end of the first-century (c. 90 A.D.?). Regarding the eschatology of 2 Peter in particular, certain aspects do seem more consonant with a post-70 A.D. date; this will be discussed with the relevant passages below.

Commentators often treat the letter of Jude in tandem with 2 Peter, since the two letters share many similarities of subject matter, outlook, style, and emphasis (cp. Jude 2, 3, 5a, 5b-19, 24 with 2 Pet 1:2, 5, 12, 2:1-3:3, and 3:14, respectively). In terms of their eschatology, it also makes sense to discuss the letters together. The precise relationship between these two letters remains a matter of considerable debate among New Testament scholars. Perhaps the best explanation is that they stem from a common Tradition, much as we see with the Johannine writings, sharing a basic religious and theological approach, mode of expression, vocabulary, and so forth. Most critical commentators would date the letters to roughly the same period, c. 90 A.D. Some of the obvious parallels between 2 Peter and Jude, noted above, will be mentioned again in the notes below.

Second Peter

Chapter 1

The eschatological emphasis of 2 Peter can be seen already in the introduction (exordium), 1:3-11, if only brought out clearly in the final verses:

“Therefore (all the) more, brothers, you must act with speed to make secure your calling and gathering out [i.e. being chosen] (by God); for (in) making these (thing)s (secure) you shall (certainly) not ever fall. For so it shall be led round upon you, the way into the kingdom of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal kingdom] of our Lord and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (vv. 10-11)

In the following section (verses 12-21), the historical or autobiographical narration (narratio) and main proposition (propositio) of the letter are essentially combined, since they are wrapped up in the apostolic identity and authority of the author. The longstanding questions regarding the authorship of 2 Peter—whether pseudonymous or genuinely by Peter—were mentioned above. However one views the matter, there can be no doubt that in 1:12-21 the author purposely emphasizes the theme of apostolic authority; this is established in three parts:

    • Verses 12-15—The author, who identifies himself as Peter (v. 1), is nearing the end of his life, and feels it necessary to deliver one final message (as an inspired apostle) to believers. With regard to the critical view that the letter is pseudonymous, it may be worth noting that this sort of “last testament” setting is typical of many Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic writings (which tend to be pseudepigraphic).
    • Verses 16-18—Just as the author (as Peter) was eye-witness to Jesus’ manifestation in glory during the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-8 par), so he is also a reliable (prophetic) witness to the glorious end-time appearance of Jesus.
    • Verses 19-21—The reliability of inspired prophecy is emphasized, and thus that the author’s own message (in the letter) is similarly inspired. The Prophets of the old Covenant and Apostles (missionaries) of the new Covenant were frequently joined together in early Christian thought—Luke 11:49; Eph 2:20; 3:5; Rev 18:20ff; cf. also Matt 5:12; 11:13; 23:29-37 par; Acts 10:41-43; 13:27, 31; Rom 16:26; 1 Thess 2:15; 1 Pet 1:10-12.

The central proposition is implicit, being alluded to most directly in verse 16, when the author indicates that his apostolic witness is reliable, and that “we made known to you our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed’s power and (his com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a]…”. The noun parousi/a was a well-established technical term in early Christianity for the end-time return of Jesus, as has been noted many times in this series. Thus, the author’s apostolic message (in the letter) is eschatological, referring to the end-time and the impending return of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 2

2 Peter 2:1-3

In chapter 2, the eschatological message takes the form of a warning against the “false teachers” (yeudodida/skaloi) who will appear at the end-time, implying that they are already present, but will become a more dangerous and pervasive force as the end draws nearer. This reflects a development in the eschatological tradition of the “false prophets” (yeudoprofh=tai) who will exert an influence over humankind during the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$), cf. Mark 13:22 par. This time of distress is marked by an increase in wickedness, that will include intense persecution and suffering by believers in Christ (Mark 13:9-13 par, etc); the faith of believers will be tested, with the danger that they might even be led astray by these “false prophets” and false Messiahs.

First Peter assumes this period of increasing wickedness and suffering/persecution among believers (cf. the previous article in this series), by which their faith will be tested, part of a fiery ordeal within the great end-time Judgment. Second Peter draws on the same basic tradition, but with a significant difference: in 1 Peter, the attacks come from the surrounding (pagan) population, while in 2 Peter they are from “false teachers” within the Christian Community itself. This may well reflect a somewhat later situation, corresponding to what we find in the Pauline Pastoral Letters and the Letters of John. Especially in 1 John (often dated c. 90 A.D.), the end-time “false prophets” are would-be fellow believers who hold (and teach) an erroneous view of Christ (2:18-19ff; 4:1-3ff). The idea of false teachers infiltrating the congregations is particularly prominent in the Pastorals (dated variously, 60-100 A.D., according to different views of authorship)—2 Tim 2:17-19; 3:1-9, 13; 4:3-4; 1 Tim 1:3-7; 4:1-5ff; 5:15; 6:3ff, 20-21; Titus 1:10-16; 3:9-11.

In the case of 2 Peter, it is clear that the author has in mind supposed Christians, since he tells his readers that such “false teachers” are (and will continue to be) “among you” (e)n u(mi=n), and that they have “brought in alongside”, i.e. surreptitiously, ruinous and destructive teachings, etc, by which they would lure others in the congregations to follow after them. This is the significance of the noun ai%resi$, preserved in English as a transliterated loanword (“heresy”). The word fundamentally means “taking hold” of something, figuratively in the sense of choosing to follow or trust in something, often with the partisan connotation of aligning oneself with a particular group or side. This is only such instance in the New Testament of this technical (negative) connotation which would become so prominent in early Christianity (cp. Acts 5:17; 15:5, etc; 1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20).

It is not clear precisely what these “false teachers” say and do, though at least a partial portrait emerges from the illustrations and expositions in the remainder of the chapter. Here, it is indicated that they are both greedy and deceptive in their speech, by which they would exploit and take advantage of believers (v. 3). Their actions are tantamount to denying the Lord (Jesus) himself, and are such that they would cause the “way of truth” to be defamed and insulted (v. 2). God’s end-time Judgment is very much in view when the author speaks of them “bringing ruin/destruction swiftly upon themselves” (v. 1). Even more explicit is the declaration in verse 3b:

“…these (person)s (for) whom the judgment of old is not idle (in coming), and their (final) ruin/destruction does not nod (off) [i.e. go to sleep].”

2 Peter 2:4-14

The eschatological warning of vv. 1-3 is developed by a pair of Scriptural illustrations (vv. 4-9, 15-17), each of which includes an exposition (vv. 10-14, 18-22) that applies it to the current situation, in the context of the coming Judgment. The first illustration brings together the two most famous episodes from the Old Testament which represent and depict the judgment of God upon the wickedness of humankind—the Great Flood (vv. 4-5) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 6-7). As it happens, each of these judgment-scenes came to serve as an illustrative type-pattern for the coming end-time Judgment. Jesus makes use of them together in an eschatological context (Luke 17:26-29; par Matt 24:37-38, where only Noah and the Flood is mentioned). Noah’s Flood is used in a similar fashion in 1 Peter (3:20ff, cf. the previous article). Of course, destruction by water and fire are the most common means by which the current Age is expected to come to an end, as seen in many eschatological traditions worldwide; this is a basic point of which the author was well aware (cf. below on 3:5-7).

Especially important are the figures of Noah and Lot, each of whom maintained his upright character in the face of the pervasive wickedness in the surrounding society, and, as a result, they were among the very few who were saved from the Judgment. The eschatological implications, and the application to believers (i.e. the readers of the letter), are obvious; these illustrations serve as an exhortation (and warning), vv. 8-9. Moreover, the wicked in the present day (from the standpoint of the letter) follow the pattern of those human beings (and Angels) who sinned in olden times, and are about to face a similarly destructive Judgment (vv. 10-14). The implication is that the “false teachers” are among this group of corrupt and evil persons, depicted so graphically (with some hyperbole) here; however, in this section, it is primarily the wickedness of society (humankind) as a whole that is in view.

2 Peter 2:15-22

The illustration in verses 15ff more properly relates to the false Christian teachers, utilizing the figure of Balaam from Old Testament and Israelite history (cf. similar references in Revelation 2:14 and Jude 11 [below]). Balaam, in the original matrix of traditions, is a complex character, featuring in chapters 22-24 of the book of Numbers. Ultimately, it was the negative aspect of this tradition—particularly, his apparent association with the incident at Peor (cf. Num 31:8, 16)—that came to dominate in subsequent Jewish tradition. Early Christians simply inherited Balaam as a representative figure for wickedness, idolatry, and false prophecy. Covetousness and greed is implied in this portrait (v. 15b), though it is not entirely clear how this relates specifically to the “false teachers”. The author caricatures them savagely, drawing upon the image of Balaam and his donkey (v. 16), and calling them

“fountains without (any) water, (cloud)s of fog being pushed under a storm-wind, for whom the gloom of darkness has been kept (waiting)” (v. 17)

In verses 18-19 we have the first real indication of what these persons may have taught, but it remains quite obscure (to us, at least). It may be that they were advocating social unrest among believers. If the letter was genuinely written by Peter, and/or written in the same setting and time-frame as 1 Peter, then it may reflect a situation of opposition and persecution by segments of the established (pagan) society in the region. Conceivably, these “false teachers” were giving the opposite advice of 1 Peter—instead of patience and humble, law-abiding behavior, they may have advocated a more aggressive approach, promising “freedom” and security by revolutionary means. On the other hand, this e)leuqeri/a (v. 19) could be understood more properly in moral/ethical terms, indicating a ‘false freedom’ that promoted corrupt and licentious behavior. Was the message political, social-ethical, or some combination of the two? What is certain is that these “false teachers” would consider themselves (and/or pretend to be) genuine Christians, and that they, whether intending to or not, would lead other believers away from the true faith (vv. 20-21). They face the same impending Judgment as do the wicked in the rest of society.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 forms the second part of the eschatological message. Alongside the warning of the “false teachers” of the end-time (chap. 2, cf. above), the author now assures his readers of the promise of Jesus’ return, that it is yet imminent.

2 Peter 3:3-7

After reiterating his main point—the reliability of the inspired apostolic witness (the author identifying himself as the apostle Peter, cf. above)—he proceeds to address the eschatological subject of the exalted Jesus’ return to earth. Verse 3 echoes the theme in chapter 2, of those wicked and deceptive “false teachers” who appear at the end-time, prior to Jesus’ return. Now they are turned (rhetorically) into mockers and skeptics who express doubt that Jesus will ever return, that this central Christian belief is itself foolish and misguided. The point as issue is set in their mouths as a question, followed by a taunt:

“Where is the (fulfillment of) the message about his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a]? For, from the (time in) which the fathers laid down (to sleep), all (thing)s remain so throughout, (as they have) from (the) beginning of (the) formation (of the world)!” (v. 4)

The taunt in v. 4b actually serves to frame an apparently quite reasonable observation, and one which would only have had meaning for the early Christian Community. The central issue is the fact that, from the standpoint of the time when the letter was written, the first generation of believers (including the leading figures and apostles, “the fathers”) had passed away (“laid down [to sleep]”), and yet Jesus had still not returned. This reflects a concern over what is referred to by New Testament scholars as “the delay of the parousia” (on the term parousi/a, “[com]ing to be alongside”, cf. above).

As I have discussed throughout this series, virtually all Christians in the earliest period held an imminent eschatology—i.e., that the end, and the return of Jesus, was about to occur soon, generally within the lifetime of most believers. The idea that the first generation of believers would not (or might not) pass away until the end had come is expressed at several points in the Gospels and early Christian tradition, including the famous eschatological saying by Jesus in Mark 13:30 par. Concern over the passing of the generation of the apostles seems to underlie the tradition in John 21:22-23 as well. I discuss these passages in a separate note, as part of the study on imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The historical and/or literary setting of 2 Peter is centered around Peter’s (impending) death, much as the death of the ‘Beloved Disciple’ informs the appendix (chap. 21) of the Johannine Gospel. Most critical commentators recognize that the reference to the passing of the first generation (“the fathers”) is the mark a somewhat later date (post-70 A.D.), and thus the letter was likely not written by Peter. Traditional-conservative commentators would not be so quick to disregard the indications of Petrine authorship in chapter 1, and might explain the issue of the ‘delay of the parousia’ rather differently. Be that as it may, this sense of ‘delay’ is at the heart of the message in chapter 3. As a point of religious psychology, nearly all adherents—individuals and groups—with a strong eschatological orientation believe that they are the final generation, and that they will live to see the coming of the end. When that generation passes, when the expected moment comes and goes, it is then necessary to explain the apparent delay. We see this, for example, with the Community of the Qumran texts—cf. especially the commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab 7.6-14, commenting on Hab 2:3).

The explanation offered in 2 Peter to the problem follows in verses 8ff; however, it is preceded by a warning against all such doubts (i.e. that the return of Jesus may never come), aligning such skeptics with both the “false teachers” of chap. 2 and the earlier wicked generation that perished in the great Flood (2:4-5ff, cf. above), the implication being that they, too, will perish in the coming end-time Judgment. The author makes a clear parallel between the ancient destruction by water (the Flood) and the modern destruction by fire. This suggests an adaptation of the traditional cycle of Ages so common to the eschatology of the ancient world. At the very least, there is a sequence of two Ages: (1) the antediluvian world, destroyed by water, and (2) the current Age that followed, and still exists, which will be destroyed by fire. This is expressed quite clearly in verses 6-7. The idea that the current world would be consumed by fire was prominent, for example, in contemporary Stoicism, but it can be attested in many cultures and traditions of the period.

2 Peter 3:8-10

The author’s explanation of the ‘delay’ is rather simple, though many readers today would probably not find it particularly convincing. The first point, made in verse 8, draws upon the statement in Psalm 90:4:

“For a thousand years in your eyes (are) as (the) day before, for it passes over and (is as) a watch in the night.”

“But this one (thing) must not be hidden from you, (be)loved (one)s, that ‘a single day alongside (the) Lord (is) as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a single day’.” (v. 8)

In other words, God’s way of measuring time is very different from that of humans. The correspondence of “day” and “thousand years” was utilized in other apocalyptic/eschatological writings of the period, as a way of describing the time-frame of the current Age (and the Age to Come) according to the pattern of the seven days of Creation (cf. my recent article on the “thousand years” in Revelation 20). However, this does not seem to be in view here; rather, the comparison (day vs. thousand years) merely serves to open the possibility that the apparent delay is part of the wider plan of God, which we are not fully able to comprehend (cp. 1QpHab 7.7-8, 12-14).

The second explanation (v. 9) is more traditional (and ethical), based on the idea that God’s actions are aimed at giving humankind every opportunity to repent:

“For (the) Lord is not slow (regarding) the (fulfillment) of (His) messages about (the end), as some would lead (forth the idea) of slowness, but He is long in (His) impulse unto us, not wishing any(one) to go to ruin, but (rather) for all to make space [i.e. come over] into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance].”

In spite of this apparent “slowness” (bradu/th$), the author maintains the imminence of Jesus’ return, emphasizing that it could yet occur at any moment:

“But the day of the Lord will arrive as (one) who steals [i.e. a thief], (a day) in which the heavens will go along [i.e. pass away] with a whir, and the (part)s of (its) arranged order will be loosened [i.e. dissolved], burning (with fire), and the earth, and the works in her, will be found (exposed).” (v. 10)

This is a graphic and colorful depiction of the end-time Judgment, though not without certain difficulties of vocabulary and syntax, using the imagery of the dissolution of the universe through fire, at the end of the current Age. The illustration of the day of the Lord coming unexpectedly, as a thief, is traditional, going back to the eschatological sayings of Jesus (Matt 24:43 par; cp. 1 Thess 5:2, 4; Rev 3:3; 16:15).

2 Peter 3:11-18

The message of vv. 1-10 leads into a closing exhortation, emphasizing again the coming Judgment and return of Jesus. The eschatological emphasis features in verses 11-14, transitioning from v. 10 with the opening phrase (v.11) that establishes the context of the exhortation: “All these (thing)s thus being loosened [i.e. dissolved]…”. In other words, with the end of the world still imminent, how are we to live as believers in Christ? In particular, Christians, in their thoughts and actions, should always be “looking toward (receiving)” (prosdokw=nta$) and “speeding oneself (toward)” (speudo/nta$) the return (parousi/a) of Jesus (v. 12). His return corresponds with the great Judgment and the dissolution of the universe, from which believers will be rescued. In turn, there is the promise of “a new heavens and a new earth” in which justice and righteousness dwells (v. 13). This is the coming New Age, described as a “new creation”, with an allusion to Isaiah 65:17; 66:22. What is mentioned briefly here is expounded in more precise visionary and symbolic detail in Revelation 21:1-22:5 (cf. the current notes on Revelation); but the basic eschatological concepts and traditions are the same.

The eschatological exhortation sharpens, reaching its climax in verse 14:

“Therefore, (be)loved (one)s, looking toward (receiving) these (thing)s, you must act with speed to be found without spot and without fault (before) Him, in peace.”

The verb speuda/zw, like the related speu/dw in v. 12, indicates the urgency for believers, in light of the impending return of Jesus (and end of the Age). It means acting with speed, or haste, but often connotes striving to accomplish something or to reach a particular goal; it may also reflect the eagerness with which we await the coming of Jesus.

The Letter of Jude

This short letter is said to have been written by one  )Iou/da$ (Heb. hd`Why+, Yehudah, “Judah, Juda[s]”); the intended person in question should probably be identified as the brother of Jesus (and James) mentioned in Mark 6:3 par, however, scholars debate whether this detail of verse 1 is authentic or a mark of pseudonymity (cf. on 2 Peter, above). The letter is quite similar in style, tone, and emphasis to 2 Peter—in particular, the bulk of Jude (vv. 5b-19) resembles chapter 2 (2:1-3:3) of 2 Peter. As noted above, the relationship between the two letters has been explained various ways; in my view, the best explanation is that they stem from a common line of tradition—here, primarily, an eschatological tradition regarding “false teachers” (= “false prophets”) who are to appear at the end-time, prior to Jesus’ return. As in 2 Peter, the implication is that they are already present among believers, having infiltrated the congregations; this, of course, serves as another sign (and reminder) that Jesus’ return and the end-time Judgment are imminent.

The eschatological orientation of the letter is indicated in the opening greeting (v. 1), as well as the closing doxology (vv. 24f). In verse 1, the description of believers as those “…having been kept watch over [i.e. guarded/preserved] in Yeshua (the) Anointed”, i.e. guarded until they are united with Jesus at his return. This is stated more clearly in the conclusion (v. 24):

“And to the (One) being able to guard you and to stand you in the sight of His splendor, without fault, in a leaping (for joy)…”

This is a depiction of believers standing before God at the Judgment, and able to pass through, delivered from the Judgment by our union with Jesus Christ and our participation in his saving work, i.e., “through Yeshua the Anointed our Lord”.

The idea of the “false teachers” is introduced in verse 4, being contrasted with “the trust [i.e. faith] (hav)ing been given along once to the holy (one)s” (v. 3)—that is, being received by the first witnesses, and passed down through a single, authentic and reliable chain of tradition. In 2 Peter, these “false teachers” are similarly contrasted with the inspired witness of Peter (and the other apostles), 1:16-21 (cf. above). The basic setting and premise (propositio) of the two letters is very similar, as is the expository development (probatio) that follows, in 2 Peter 2 and Jude 5ff, respectively. The Old Testament scenes of judgment—Israel in the wilderness, the Angels and the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah—serve as a type-pattern for the coming end-time Judgment (“the Judgment of the great Day”, v. 6); they also serve as a warning to God’s people today, of the need to remain faithful and alert, in the face of the increasing wickedness and deception in the last days.

The ‘false teachers’ are compared with those earlier wicked generations (v. 8). As in 2 Peter, we cannot be certain of exactly what they taught or did; the description is specific, but (to us) no longer clear; they are said to be:

“(one)s being (caught) in dreams—(on the one hand) they pollute the flesh, but (on the other) they set aside (the) honored (one)s and insult (them).”

Their lack of real knowledge, according to Jude, is declared harshly in verse 10. They are compared again with the wicked Angels, as well as key disobedient and rebellious figures from Old Testament and Israelite tradition—Cain, Balaam, Korah and his followers (verse 11, on Balaam, cf. above). They will be struck by the impending Judgment (vv. 12-13, note the similarity in thought and language with 2 Pet 2:17), the coming of which was prophesied already in the most ancient times, by Enoch (citing 1 Enoch 1:9, apparently, as authoritative Scripture). This is a common feature of apocalyptic literature of the period—events of the current time (or which are about to occur) are presented as prophecies made by famous figures of the past, i.e. as things which will take place in the distant future. Jude 14ff illustrates something of how such pseudepigrapha might develop.

The author (Jude) is more direct in his eschatological message, in verses 17-19:

“But you, (be)loved (one)s, you must remember the utterances, the (one)s having been spoken before(hand) under [i.e. by] the (one)s sent forth by [i.e. apostles of] our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, (the way) that they related to you [that] ‘Upon [i.e. in/at] the last time, there will be (the one)s acting as children in (all things), traveling (about) according to their own impulses (focused) upon (thing)s without reverence’. These are the (one)s marking themselves off (completely), (away) from (the truth), (one)s with (only) a soul, (but) not holding the Spirit.”

The sense of these ‘separatist’ Christians as false believers (“not holding the Spirit”) is reminiscent of the famous descriptions in 1 John (2:18-19; 4:1-3, etc). Though the situation in the two letters is no doubt quite different, they seem to share a common way of referring to other Christians whom they regard as having departed from the truth. The emphasis on preserving the common Tradition, and the danger from those who do not adhere to it (for whatever reason) is quite clear in these writings (as also in 2 Peter and the Pauline Pastoral letters). Most critical commentators would hold that Jude and 1 John, though stemming from different lines of tradition, were written at about same time (c. 90 A.D.).

The exhortation in verse 21 well summarizes the eschatological outlook of Jude, with its directive to “keep watch over [thrh/sate] yourselves”, and the emphasis on “looking toward (receiving) the mercy of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto the life of the Age[s]”. This points out once again how, for early Christians, their understanding of salvation (“our common salvation”, v. 3) is primarily (and fundamentally) eschatological. The end-time Judgment is likely in view in verse 23 as well, with the reference to “snatching out of the fire”, and the urgency surrounding the author’s exhortation. On the eschatological aspect of the closing doxology (vv. 24-25), cf. above; we should note, in particular, the important distinction made between “all the Age, even now” (i.e. the current Age), and the Age(s) to come (“into all the Ages”). Early Christians were quite cognizant of living on this threshold (“the last days/time/hour”) between the current Age and the Age to come—the coming Age being a “New Age” that opens into the fullness of eternal life.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 Peter (Part 2)

(This is a continuation of the article from Part 1)

1 Peter 3:13-22

In the previous sections (2:13-3:12), the ethical-religious instruction in the letter became more practical in approach, dealing with how believers are to conduct themselves in society (and with each other). In the verses that follow, this instruction is increasingly set within an eschatological framework, along with repeated occurrences of one of the key themes of the letter—the need to remain faithful in the face of suffering as the end draws near.

We can see how this plays out in the current section, as the author (Peter) exhorts believers that they have nothing to fear from anyone, if they follow the example of Jesus in their daily life. They may indeed face suffering, but not as the result of their own inappropriate or unlawful conduct. Believers may consider themselves happy if they “suffer through justice [i.e. on account of justice/righteousness]” (v. 14), and should not be afraid; in such instances, they are to remain faithful since “the will of God may intend” that a measure of suffering take place (v. 17). There is unquestionably an eschatological dimension to the “suffering” (pa/sxein) that his readers are currently enduring (and/or that he expects they will have to endure); for more on this, cf. the discussion on 4:17 below.

The main point in this section is that, by enduring suffering, believers are truly following Jesus’ example, and share in his own sufferings—drawing upon the same basic idea of participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus that is so prominent in Paul’s letters. This is summarized in verse 18:

“(For it is) that even (the) Anointed suffered once, about [i.e. for the sake of] sins, a just (person) over [i.e. on behalf of] (those who are) without justice [i.e. unjust], (so) that he should lead us toward God, (hav)ing been put to death in the flesh, but (hav)ing been made alive in the Spirit…”

The reference to Jesus’ death leads to mention being made of his proclamation “to the spirits in (the prison) guard” (v. 19). This much-debated verse is the basis for the doctrine of Jesus’ “descent into Hell/Hades”. It would go much too far afield to discuss the subject here in any detail; there remain considerable differences of opinion over how to interpret “the spirits”, whether they are (a) the ‘fallen’ heavenly beings of Gen 6:1-4 (cf. 2 Pet 2:4), (b) the spirits of dead human beings bound in the realm of death (Hades/Sheol)—or some combination of the two. The immediate reference to the great Flood (v. 20) suggests the former, but the sense of the discussion that follows (esp. in 4:1-6, cf. below) seems to have the latter in view. On the relation of the Flood-tradition to Christian baptism (vv. 20b-21), see my recent Christmas-season note.

The great Flood also serves the author’s purpose, as an eschatological motif, a type-pattern of the coming Judgment—just as God destroyed humankind by the Flood in Noah’s time, so the wicked will perish at the end-time (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 24:37-38 par, also in 2 Peter 2:5ff). Traditionally, the most common means by which the current Age would come to end, is through water (as in Noah’s Flood) or by fire (the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah), cf. Luke 17:26-30, and 2 Pet 2:5-9; 3:5-7 (to be discussed). There are other less obvious eschatological details in this passage, of which we may note the following:

    • The connotation of the Beatitude-form in verse 14, with the use of the plural adjective maka/rioi (“happy/blessed”); cf. my earlier discussion on the background of the Beatitude-form.
    • The expression “the hope [e)lpi/$] in you” (v. 15); as noted in Part 1, the early Christian use of the word e)lpi/$ was primarily eschatological—i.e. the future hope that awaits believers (the resurrection and eternal life)—even though this was already realized, at least in part, for believers in the present.
    • There is an allusion to the coming Judgment in verse 16, with the assurance that those speak against believers will “have shame brought down” on them (vb kataisxu/nw).
    • The concluding reference to Jesus’ exaltation (to God’s right hand, v. 22) assumes the future context of the final subjugation of all things to him; Paul assumes a similar context in the discussion of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:24-28.

1 Peter 4:1-6

The instruction in 4:1-6 builds on the themes of the previous section, in the form of a more forceful ethical exhortation, based on the identity of believers as those who have participated in the sufferings of Christ (v. 1). The wickedness of the surrounding pagan (Greco-Roman) society in Asia Minor is vividly described in verses 2-3, though, to be sure, in rather stereotypical and exaggerated terms. The immorality of pagans was a stock motif in Judaism and early Christianity, but the point of the contrast is clear enough—believers are no longer to conduct themselves as those in the world around them do (v. 4). This is all the more important in light of the impending Judgment:

“th(e one)s who will (have to) give forth an account (of themselves) to the (One who is) ready to judge the (one)s living and dead” (v. 5)

The tradition cited in 3:20 is here given a new interpretation (v. 6), involving the distinction between death in the “flesh” and life in the Spirit (3:19). The idea seems to be that the Gospel is effectively proclaimed to all humankind—those who are dead both literally (physically) and figuratively—and, indeed, all humankind will be judged before God. Those who remain bound in the flesh will face the punishment of death, but those who have already died to the flesh (through trust in Jesus, symbolized by baptism), i.e. believers, will live, according to the same life-giving Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.

1 Peter 4:7ff

“And (indeed) the completion [te/lo$] of all (thing)s has come near [h&ggiken].” (v. 7a)

The ethical instruction of vv. 1-6 is followed by more practical teaching, set again in a strong eschatological context that is established in the opening verse. It is hard to imagine a more concise and unequivocal statement of eschatological imminence; and, for commentators who are reluctant to admit the imminent eschatology expressed throughout the New Testament, such a clear statement is virtually impossible to explain any other way. The author (Peter) declares, simply enough, that the end (te/lo$, “completion”) of the current Age (“all [thing]s”) has come near (h&ggiken, perfect tense)—that is, of course, near to his readers (c. 60 A.D.?); doubtless, he expected that most of them would experience the return of Jesus and the end of the Age. On the technical eschatological use of the noun te/lo$ and verb e)ggi/zw (“come near”), cf. the separate study on imminent eschatology.

1 Peter 4:12-19

The eschatological aspect of the instruction in 1 Peter is heightened considerably in this section, beginning with the opening verses (vv. 12-13):

“(Be)loved (one)s, you must not regard as strange the fiery (burn)ing (that is) coming to be among you, toward (the) testing [peirasmo/$] of you, as (if) a strange (thing) is stepping [i.e. coming] together on you; but, according to the way you share (this) in common with the sufferings of the Anointed, you may delight (in it)! that, in the uncovering of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you may have delight, leaping (about for joy).”

As noted in Part 1, the noun peirasmo/$ (“test[ing]”) has a clear eschatological connotation in early Christianity, especially as there crystalized the idea of an end-time period of distress that would come upon humankind, in the time after Jesus’ ascension and before his subsequent return. During this time, believers would be severely tested, experiencing suffering (cf. above) that included persecution on account of their faith in Jesus. This is the “fiery (burn)ing” (pu/rwsi$) that he speaks of, part of the Judgment by fire (cf. below), a fire that tests the faith of believers. The suffering and persecution of this fiery test is described, in part, in verses 14-16, with a clear distinction between suffering because one has genuinely done wrong, and suffering that is experienced by the innocent—i.e. the faithful believer—in the same manner that Jesus himself suffered.

“(For it is) that (this is) the moment of the Judgment beginning, (and) from the house of God! But, if first from us, what is the completion [te/lo$] (of it) for the (one)s being unpersuaded by the good message of God?” (v. 17)

This statement (and rhetorical question) is striking, and a bit difficult to understand at first. After all, is not the Judgment directed against the wicked? How, then, can it be said to begin with the “house of God” (i.e. believers)? Here the pronoun a)po/ (“from”) indicates the point at which, or from which, something occurs. In actuality, the early Christian concept of the end-time Judgment (kri/ma) encompasses the great Judgment proper, but also the preceding period of distress (qli/yi$) and the intervening event of Jesus’ return to earth. Believers are rescued/saved from the Judgment proper, but they do still have to endure the time of distress, as is clear from Jesus’ eschatological discourse (Mark 13:5-13ff par), the visionary narrative of the book of Revelation, and many other passages in the New Testament discussed in this series. It also reflected the practical experience of many believers at the time, as Paul, for example, makes clear at a number of points in his letters (esp. 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and the earlier articles on them in this series).

All of this means that, in going through the period of distress, believers, were, in a sense, experiencing the first stages of God’s Judgment—it begins with the house of God. However, while the fire of Judgment means punishment for the wicked (non-believers, those “unpersuaded” by the Gospel), for believers it serves as a means of testing one’s faith, like precious metal purified in the fire. At the same time, if believers are careless or negligent, they may still escape the punishment, but only narrowly, and through fire that burns away all that is impure or improper. This seems to be the implication, in part, of the citation of Prov 11:31 (LXX) in verse 18; Paul says much the same thing, though in a different context, in 1 Cor 3:12-15. The providential character of the suffering of believers is made clear in the final encouraging words of verse 19, referring to believers as “the (one)s suffering according to the will of God” —it is suffering that, ultimately, serves a beneficial purpose.

1 Peter 5:1-5

In 5:1-5, the instruction shifts to those who are the “elders”, the leading ministers and overseers of the congregations. As ‘shepherds’ who guard and guide the congregation, these persons have a greater responsibility, which includes strengthening the ones who experience suffering and persecution during the time of distress. Along with this responsibility, and a significant share of suffering as well, there is the promise of the heavenly reward, the “honor/splendor [do/ca] th(at is) about to be uncovered” (v. 1) This refers primarily to the end-time return of Jesus, but also to all that awaits for believers once we are gathered to him. This is the future hope (e)lpi/$) mentioned throughout the letter (cf. above, and in Part 1). The promise is stated more precisely in verse 4:

“…and, (at the) shining forth of the Chief Herdsman [i.e. Jesus the Shepherd], you will (receive and) care for a wreath of honor/splendor [do/ca] th(at is) without fading [i.e. that never fades].”

1 Peter 5:6-11

The ethical and religious instruction of the letter reaches it climax in these closing verses, with its sense of eschatological urgency coming through vividly. The sense that time is short, and that danger and persecution are close at hand, permeates the passage, from its initial words:

“So (then) you must lower [i.e. humble] yourselves under the mighty hand of God, (so) that He may lift you high in the (coming) moment…” (v. 6)

This “moment” (kairo/$) has eschatological significance, though the particular aspect may not be immediately apparent on a casual reading (see the other occurrences of the noun in 1:5, 11; 4:17 [above]). Also unquestionably eschatological is the use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“keep awake, keep watch”), as can be seen from similar exhortations in Mark 13:34-37 par (also 14:34ff par); Matt 25:13; Luke 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15. It is part of verse 8, one of the most famous in the letter:

“You must be sober, you must stay awake [grhgorh/sate]! The (one seek)ing decision against you, (the) Dia/bolo$, walks about roaring as a lion, seeking [someone] to gulp down…”

The noun a)nti/diko$, usually translated as “opponent, adversary”, here captures the eschatological Judgment-context. It literally means something like one who seeks “a right (decision) against” someone, i.e. in a court of law. The original meaning of the Hebrew /f*c* (´¹‰¹n, Satan) was also primarily judicial; even the corresponding Greek dia/bolo$ (i.e. Devil) preserves this aspect when understood literally as one who “throws across” accusations against someone. However, the Satan/Devil truly is opposed to believers (and to God), and represents the forces of evil that would attack (i.e. persecute) the faithful (lit. “gulp down”, katapi/nw; cp. the imagery in Revelation 12:4, 15-16). Christians should not despair in the face of such attacks, since believers everywhere are experiencing this (v. 9), and will continue to all the more, as the period of distress intensifies, prior to Jesus’ return.

Some commentators have sought to tie these references to specific instances of persecution against Christians, in the Roman Empire, during the mid-late 1st century, such as the brief (but severe) attack in the city of Rome during Nero’s reign. This would correspond roughly with the likely date of the letter (early 60’s), a letter which, it would seem, was itself written from Rome (“Babylon”, v. 13); even so, there is not enough information to draw any definite conclusions. The author (Peter) does not seem to be referring to direct attacks by the local (or imperial) authorities, though he may envision the possibility of this in his instruction that Christians are to behave honorably, avoiding provocative or anti-social behavior (cf. 2:13-23; 3:13-17). Any opposition toward believers is expected to come more from the surrounding (pagan) society as a whole, rather than from the government.

The final words of encouragement in verse 10, fittingly, bring out the eschatological emphasis that has been maintained throughout the letter:

“And the God of all favor, the (One hav)ing called you into His honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Ages, in (the) Anointed [Yeshua], (hav)ing suffered a little, He will (set you) down fit, He will (set you) firm, He will strengthen (you), He will (keep you) in place.”

At the heart of this statement is a contrast between a brief period of suffering in the present (“[hav]ing suffered a little”), and the eternal reward (“honor, splendor”, do/ca) that awaits for believers. It is to this moment that God has called us, the promise of which we already experience now “in Christ”; after only a little while, it will be realized in full with Jesus’ return in glory to earth. For believers, eternal life follows the consummation of the current Age, a significance that is rightly preserved by a literal translation of the idiom as “honor/splendor of the Age(s) [ai)w/nio$]”.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 Peter (Part 1)

The Letter of 1 Peter

The two Petrine letters are the most thoroughly eschatological of all the New Testament writings (apart from the book of Revelation). It is hard to say how much our understanding of the early Christian eschatology in these letters is to be affected by longstanding questions regarding their authorship. Both letters claim to have been written by the apostle Simon Peter, and yet commentators have expressed doubt over the authenticity of this detail, though less so in the case of 1 Peter. If the reference in 1 Pet 1:1 is genuine (and not a mark of pseudonymity), then the letter is probably to be dated around 60 A.D. Even so, there are several ways to understand Peter’s role in the composition of the letter (and of the reference to Silvanus in 5:12): (1) Peter dictated the letter to Silvanus who presented it in more polished Greek, (2) it was co-authored with Silvanus, or (3) it was sent in the name of Peter, on his behalf, by an unknown author (together with Silvanus). Of these traditional-conservative approaches, the second makes most sense. If this “Silvanus” is the same as the “Silas” who served as an apostolic missionary together with Paul, it might explain some of the apparent similarity, in thought and expression, between 1 Peter and the Pauline letters.

In my view, the eschatology of the letter is fully in accord with a date of c. 60 A.D. It generally corresponds to the eschatological orientation in the Pauline letters we have examined (mainly in the period c. 50-58 A.D.), as well as the letter of James (cf. the previous article). Which is not to say that there are not some significant differences in emphasis, as we shall consider here below. Space will not allow detailed exegesis of every eschatological section in 1 Peter; instead, each important section will be surveyed, with special attention paid to the key eschatological phrases and expressions in the passage.

1 Peter 1:3-12

Following the epistolary prescript (opening/greeting), the exordium (introduction/thanksgiving) in verses 3-12 demonstrates the strong eschatological orientation of the letter. Verses 3-9 comprise a single long sentence in Greek, which becomes quite impractical in a modern English translation. However, I make every attempt here to preserve this syntax, as it is vital to maintain a sense of the force and flow of the author’s rhetoric. To aid the reader, I give this here in a syntactical outline form:

  • “(Of) good account (is)
    the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed,
    • the (One who), according to (how) much (there is) of His mercy,
      • (hav)ing caused us to be (born) again
        • into a living hope through the standing up (again) of Yeshua out of the dead,
        • into the lot (that is) without decay and without stain and without fading (away),
          • having been kept watch (over) in (the) heavens unto [i.e. for] you,
            • the (one)s (who) in the power of God (are) being watched before (Him), through trust, into (the) salvation
              • made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment,
                • in which you leap (for joy), if a little (while) now (your) being saddened [is] necessary, in (your) various (time)s of testing,
                  • (so) that the consideration of your trust, more valuable than (the) gold th(at is) going to ruin, but (now) being considered through fire, should be found unto praise and honor and value in (the) uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed,
                    • who, not (hav)ing seen, you (still) love,
                    • in whom, not perceiving him now, but (still) trusting,
                      • you leap (about) in joy (that is) without (any) calling out and (yet) having been esteemed,
                        • taking care (to receive) the completion of [your] trust—
                          • the salvation of your souls.”

Let us briefly consider the main eschatological phrases and statements within this extraordinary opening sentence.

“…into a living hope through the standing up (again) of Yeshua out of the dead, into the lot (that is) without decay and without stain and without fading (away), having been kept watch (over) in heaven unto [i.e. for] you” (vv. 3b-4)

The twin prepositional phrases, governed by the preposition ei)$, indicate what believers have come to be born into—(1) a living hope (e)lpi/$), and (2) inheriting the lot portioned out (klhronomi/a) that is without decay, etc. In the New Testament the word e)lpi/$ (“hope”) is fundamentally eschatological—i.e., the future hope. Paul uses it most frequently, where it often alludes to the future resurrection; cf. especially Rom 8:24-25 (and my earlier article on this passage), also 1 Cor 15:19; 2 Cor 3:12; Gal 5:5, etc. We may note in particular the similar wording in Col 1:5, of a future hope that is waiting for believers in heaven. Here, indeed, in v. 3b hope is connected with the resurrection, though it is Jesus’ own resurrection that is emphasized. The statement agrees with Paul, in terms of the idea that believers participate in the life-giving resurrection of Jesus—we are “born into” it, and it is a “living” hope. Almost certainly, the context of baptism is in view, along with our union with Christ through the presence of the Spirit. This is “realized” for believers already in the present, but we still await its fulfillment in the future.

Even more traditional is the reference to this new life in terms of inheritance, using the noun klhronomi/a, which refers to a person receiving the lot or share that has been portioned out. Again Paul makes frequent use of this idiom, but its occurrence is widespread. The contrast with an ordinary earthly inheritance (cf. further in v. 7) is made by the use of a trio of a)-privative adjectives (“without…”); in other words, it is a heavenly, eternal inheritance, as is made explicit with the final phrase “having been kept watch (over) in the heavens”. God Himself watches over this inheritance, and it is reserved for believers (“unto you”).

“…into (the) salvation made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment” (v. 5b)

Even as God keeps watch (vb thre/w) over the heavenly inheritance of believers, so also He watches over believers themselves, in the time while they are yet on earth. In verse 5a, believers are characterized as “the (one)s (who) in the power of God (are) being watched before (Him)”. The verb froure/w is a bit difficult to translate; it refers to someone keeping an eye on (i.e. watching) something that is before him. Here, again, the implication is that it is God doing the watching. That He watches believers is clear by the expression “through trust” (dia\ pi/stew$); this is parallel with the expression “in the power of God”, giving both sides of the dynamic—the divine protection involves both God’s power and our trust.

The purpose, or goal, of this protection is indicated by the prepositional phrase in verse 5b, again using the preposition ei)$ (“into”)—believers are guarded unto/into salvation. On numerous occasions in this series, I have noted how, for early Christians, the idea of salvation (swthri/a) is primarily eschatological, with the emphasis on being saved from God’s end-time Judgment on humankind. The eschatological orientation is made explicit here, as this salvation is “made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment”. That the author (Peter) believes he and his readers are living at the time when this “last moment” will come, is clear enough from the context of the passage, and the letter as a whole (cf. below). It is unquestionably an imminent eschatology.

“…in (your) various (time)s of testing, (so) that the consideration of your trust, more valuable than (the) gold th(at is) going to ruin, but (now) being considered through fire, should be found unto praise and honor and value in (the) uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 6b-7)

Currently, the trust of believers is being tested, indicated here by the plural noun peirasmoi/, in the expression e)n poiki/loi$ peirasmoi=$, which I have translated as “in various (time)s of testing”. The noun peirasmo/$ is often rendered as “temptation”, but this can be misleading; it more properly means “test(ing)”, i.e. being put to the test. It has a specific eschatological connotation in early Christianity, as a number of occurrences in the New Testament make clear. This is certainly the case, for example, in Revelation 3:10, and also elsewhere in the Petrine letters (4:12, discussed in Part 2; and 2 Pet 2:9). Yet even in Jesus’ use of the word—in the Lord’s Prayer and Garden scene of his Passion (Matt 6:13 par; Mark 14:38 par), there is a strong eschatological aspect which is often overlooked. The context of 4:12, with the same motif of fire, suggests that the sense of the “testing” is also eschatological here. The proof of the believer’s faith and devotion will be manifest at the “uncovering” of Jesus, i.e. his end-time return, which is thought to be imminent.

“…taking care (to receive) the completion of [your] trust—the salvation of your souls.” (v. 9b)

This final statement brings out the exhortational dimension of the entire passage. Believers are to take care to remain faithful, even during the moments of testing in the end-time, so that they/we may receive the inheritance that awaits for us in heaven. Again, it must be emphasized that the early Christian understanding of salvation was fundamentally eschatological, a point brought out here vividly at the conclusion of the sentence (cp. Jesus’ words in Mark 13:13 par). The use of the word te/lo$ (“completion”) likely has eschatological significance here as well (cf. 4:7).

More is said about this “salvation” that awaits for believers, in verses 10-12. It is possible to regard these verses as part of the same sentence as vv. 3-9, separating with a pause, or semi-colon; however, I think it better to treat vv. 10-12 as a separate sentence:

“About which salvation the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] sought out and searched out… to whom it was uncovered that (it was) not for themselves, but for us, (that) they served (God in) th(ese thing)s, which are now given up as a message to you by the holy Spirit…”

This brings out a basic concept in early Christianity, one expressed by Paul with the use of the term musth/rion (“secret”)—that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ was a secret, hidden through the Ages, but only now being revealed, at the end-time. It was made known to the Prophets, but only in a veiled way, so that they did not fully understand what was being revealed to them, but had to “search out” the truth. The Spirit now makes clear this message for believers. Since Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah), who has expected to appear at the end-time, the prophecies regarding him were eschatological prophecies. For early Christians, there was no significant separation between Jesus’ first coming and his eventual return—they were part of the same Prophetic message.

1 Peter 1:13-21ff

The exhortation of vv. 3-12 sharpens into a more precise ethical instruction in vv. 13-16ff; however, the eschatological orientation remains firmly in view. The imminence of Jesus’ return is expressed in verse 13, giving urgency to the instruction:

“Therefore, binding [i.e. girding] up the thighs/loins of (what goes) through your mind, (always) being sober, you must hope complete(ly) upon the favor (that is) being brought [lit. borne/carried] to you in the uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

The adverb telei/w$ (“complete[ly]”), related to te/lo$ (“completion, end”), likely has a specific eschatological connotation here as well (cf. above, and on 4:7). Again, the “hope” (e)lpi/$) of believers is fundamentally eschatological, and rests on the end-time coming of Jesus, who will usher in the Judgment and save/deliver those who trust in him and remain faithful.

Verses 14-16 introduce the theme of believers as the chosen people of God; as such, the need to preserve the holiness of God, is central to the ethical instruction in the letter. The people of God are also his children (“offspring”, te/kna, v. 14), and so God is truly for them the Father (v. 17). This identity of believers as pure and holy people/children of God frames the passage in vv. 17-21, with its strong eschatological message. To begin with, the impending Judgment is mentioned in v. 17. Believers do not belong to the world (upon which the Judgment is coming), but are merely travelers passing through, in temporary dwellings (paroiki/a, “housing alongside”), living so for only a brief time (“you turn over [i.e. spend] your time”). While this may be understood generally, in terms of the relative brevity and transitory nature of human life (a common theme of Wisdom literature), it is all the more significant when the time remaining before the end is so short. The letter of James expresses this same eschatological aspect of the Wisdom tradition (cf. 1:9-11; 4:11-5:11).

Believers in Christ were set free from bondage to the transitory and corrupt existence of the world, and, as God’s own people (and children), now belong to the eternal and heavenly realm instead. This is experienced in the present, but will only be realized fully at the end-time. Both aspects—present and future—are expressed powerfully in the Christological statement of verses 19-20:

“(you were loosed from bondage) by the valuable blood of (the) Anointed, as (of) a lamb without fault and without spot, having been known before(hand), before the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, but (having) been made to shine forth (now) upon the last times, through you [i.e. for your sake]”

There can be no doubt that, according to this statement, Jesus’ coming to earth took place in the “last times” (cp. Acts 2:17, “last days”, etc). If that is true of his initial appearance, it applies all the more to his return. Keep in mind that, for New Testament believers, c. 40-70 A.D., there was thought to be only a short gap of time between Jesus’ ascension and his return—both appearances reflect his identity as the Anointed One of the end-time, and both take place in the “last times”.

1 Peter 2:1-12

The same sort of ethical-religious instruction is found in 2:1-12, but presented in a more homiletic form, typical of the early Gospel preaching, in which the proclamation (kerygma) is set in the context of an Old Testament Scripture. Here the Scripture is a citation of Psalm 118:22 (also Isa 8:14), along with an allusion to Isa 28:16. The same Scripture was cited by Jesus in the Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par), and is also quoted or referenced in Acts 4:11 and Eph 2:20. In these passages, the emphasis is on Jesus as the foundation-stone or “cornerstone”; however, 1 Peter adds to this interpretation the image of believers as precious “living stones” (vv. 4-5, Isa 28:16; cp. Eph 2:21-22). This is important in light of the continuing theme of believers as the holy and chosen people of God (vv. 9-10). Because of this essential identity we possess, believers must live and act in a pure and upright manner that reflects this identity. The goal and purpose is that we would “grow into salvation” (v. 2). Again, this sense of salvation (swthri/a) is primarily eschatological—the eschatological aspect of the passage here is only brought out clearly in the closing exhortation of vv. 11-12:

“(Be)loved (one)s, I call (you) alongside, as (one)s (who only) house alongside and live alongside (the) people (of the world), to hold (yourself) away from (the) impulses upon fleshly (thing)s which make war (like) soldiers against the soul; (instead), (you should be) holding fine (the manner of) your turning up among the nations, (so) that, in the (way) that they speak against you as (one)s doing bad (things), (yet) casting (their) eyes upon (what comes) out of (your) fine works, they might honor God in the day of His (coming to) look (things) over [e)piskoph/].”

The vocabulary and syntax of these verses create certain difficulties in translation; preserving a literal rendering requires a fair amount of glossing and use of parenthetical words to fill out the passage. The sense of the exhortation is clear enough, though the precise meaning of the last clause remains a bit uncertain. Unquestionably, it refers to the end-time appearance of God, when he comes to bring Judgment. The idea seems to be that, even though at the moment many non-believers will disparage and speak evil of believers, they also (perhaps reluctantly) recognize the good that Christians do. And, as a result, this witness may eventually lead to the conversion of at least some non-believers, so that they will give honor to God at the time of Judgment. Compare Paul’s discussion, along similar lines, within a mixed marital setting (believer and non-believer), in 1 Cor 7:12-16.

In any case, the key word here is e)piskoph/ (literally, a “looking over”), sometimes used specifically in the sense of a supervising official coming (i.e. making an official visit) to look things over. In Hellenistic Judaism of the period, and in early Christianity, it came to have a technical meaning, referring to God’s (end-time) appearance on earth to look things over and render the Judgment accordingly. This could be understood as taking place through God’s appointed representative, i.e. the Messiah, or a similar heavenly/divine being. It has this meaning most clearly in Luke 19:44, where, in an early Christian (Gospel) setting, it functions as an allusion to Jesus’ end-time return.

(The remainder of this article follows in Part 2)

March 7: Matt 6:10a; Luke 11:2c

Matthew 6:10a; Luke 11:2c

The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, like the first, is identical in all three versions—Luke [MT], Matthew, and the Didache:

e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
elthétœ h¢ basileía sou
“May your Kingdom come”

Syntactically, this is perhaps the simplest and most straightforward of all the petitions in the Prayer, a fact which belies several difficult points of interpretation. In the shorter (Lukan) version of the Prayer, the first two petitions form a precise pair:

    • “May your Name be made holy”
      “May your Kingdom come”

The Matthean structure is more complex, due the inclusion of an additional (third) petition, to be discussed in the next note. A version in Aramaic, such as may have been spoken by Jesus, would perhaps be: Et*Wkl=m^ hyt@at@ (t¢°têh malkût¹k). There is a similar sort of petition in the Jewish Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer: “May he cause his kingdom to rule in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the House of Israel” (Fitzmyer, p. 900).

The 3rd person imperative e)lqe/tw (“it must come”) is exactly parallel to the (passive) imperative a(giasqh/tw (“it must be made [i.e. treated as] holy”) in the first petition. As noted previously, the context of a prayer to God requires a slightly difference force to the imperative in translation, as an exhortative request: “may it be that…”, “let it be (so) that…”. The person praying urges God to bring it about that these things happen: (1) His Name is treated as holy by people on earth, and (2) that His Kingdom comes, or is made manifest, on earth. These two aspects, or attributes, of God—His Name and Kingdom—must be considered together, as a conceptual pair. The first of these was discussed in the previous note (on the first petition, cf. also the series “And you shall call His Name…“). I have examined the idea of the Kingdom of God in earlier notes and articles (see “…the things about the Kingdom of God“, Part 5 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and an article in the series “Birth of the Son of God”). Here I will be focusing specifically on the theme of the Kingdom in the context of the Prayer.

In Matthew, within the Sermon on the Mount, the expression “Kingdom of the Heavens” (the Matthean parallel to “Kingdom of God” in the sayings of Jesus) occurs eight times (5:3, 10, 19 [twice], 20; 6:10, 33; 7:21), including the opening Beatitude that begins the Sermon (5:3): “Happy are the (one)s…(in) that the kingdom of the heavens is theirs”. This serves as a keynote theme to the Sermon as a whole, and follows upon the initial proclamation by Jesus at the start of his public ministry:

“Yeshua began to proclaim and say, ‘You must change (your) mind [i.e. repent], for the kingdom of the heavens has come near!’…. And he led (the way) around in (the) whole of the Galîl, teaching…and proclaiming the good message of the Kingdom…” (Matt 4:17, 23 par)

It is interesting to compare these two pieces of tradition—if Jesus declared that the Kingdom of Heaven has (already) come near (h&ggiken, perfect form of the vb. e)ggi/zw), how is it that his followers should pray that the Kingdom might yet come (vb. e&rxomai)? The key to understanding this lies in the eschatological context of both Jesus’ initial proclamation and the petition in the Prayer. That the Kingdom of God/Heaven has come near (e)ggu/$) means that has not yet arrived, but is about to very soon. The use of e)ggu/$ and the verb e)ggi/zw in the New Testament, as well as elements like the verb me/llw (“about to be/happen”) and other vocabulary, provides clear and unmistakable evidence of an expectation among early Christians and Jews of the period that the end was imminent. God was about to appear to bring Judgment upon the world and to rescue the faithful ones among his people. Both John the Baptist and Jesus affirmed this in their preaching (Matt 3:2; 4:17 par, etc). I discuss the subject at length in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (soon to be posted on this site).

At the same time, there was still a longing and desire among God’s people for this eschatological moment to be realized, that it might come to pass even as the faithful are waiting for it to occur. We see this expressed at numerous points in the New Testament and the Gospel tradition—e.g., Mark 15:43 par; Luke 2:25, 38, etc.—and it is what is emphasized in the Lord’s Prayer as well. However, the significance of it needs to be considered in the context of the first petition. The wish that God’s name should be treated as holy by people on earth indicates that this is currently not taking place—human beings are not acting and thinking in a way that gives honor to God or that reflects His nature and character. Jesus’ true disciples, if they follow his teaching and example, will reflect God’s own character, and will be worthy of belonging to His Kingdom (Matt 5:3, 10, 19-20, 48; 6:33; 7:21, etc). What about the rest of humanity? They will only come to honor God’s “Name” at the (eschatological) moment when He appears to bring Judgment upon the earth (cf. Phil 2:9-11). Some will be converted even before this point, through the example and witness of believers (Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12, etc). Paul envisions the conversion of “all Israel” as an end-time event prior to the Judgment (Rom 11:25-27).

Another important eschatological aspect to the Kingdom-petition in the Prayer is the fundamental idea of God as King, and the natural (religious) desire to see His power and influence exerted over the world, especially in regard to the elimination of wickedness and evil. This will be discussed further when addressing the last petitions of the prayer. This cosmic conflict, and its resolution at the end-time, is central to most eschatological frameworks, and certainly is evident among Jews and Christians in the first century A.D. Moreover, eschatological and Messianic modes of thought and expression go hand in hand, as I discuss in considerable detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. A climactic expression of this for early Christians is found in the visions of the book of Revelation, especially the scenes of heavenly worship in chapters 4-7, and the hymn of praise following the heavenly battle-scene in chapter 12 (vv. 10ff):

“Now it (ha)s come to be—the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Anointed (One)…!”

Thus, the Kingdom-petition is finally realized in the context of these end-time visions. The general clarity and precision of this eschatological hope in the Prayer itself is complicated by two factors:

    1. The additional (third) petition in the Matthean version of the Prayer, and
    2. The variant reading, in place of the Kingdom-petition, in some witnesses of the Lukan version

These will be examined, respectively, in the next two daily notes.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.