Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Future Hope and Present Reality of Jesus Christ the Firstfruits

Imagine the scene: Calloused hands rough from working the land. Stomaches weary of the dried grains pulled from the store houses. Mouths longing to know the satisfaction of tasting fresh produce. The fields ripe with the harvest, bursting with new fruit. Imagine the joy of bringing in that harvest, of preparing breads with new grain and knowing that your stores would be full for the season. Having been trained up by Paul who at one time was one of the most highly regarded Pharisees of his day, even the Greek Corinthians surely would have understood the intentionality of this use of the Mosaic Law. As they read Paul’s letter, they would have seen the pictures of a long awaited harvest being gathered from the fields. They would have felt the longing of the people to taste the fresh grains after a season of eating nothing but the dry remnants of the food reserves. The Greeks would have felt the anticipation of the Jewish patriarchs who eagerly awaited satisfaction as they presented the first sheaf of the harvest as an offering to Yahweh. However, Paul must have been wondering if the Corinthians would share the confidence of the Jews that they would indeed know that satisfaction; that the offering of the first sheaf was an act of trust, a statement of faith in God to continue to provide. Even though the Corinthians would have understood the imagery evoked by Paul’s mention of the Feast of the Firstfruits, would they embrace the reality of Jesus Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection? Would the Corinthian church translate the Apostle’s example of the Jew’s history into their own present reality?
to Over a short period of time the Corinthians had adopted practices which were contrary to the gospel Paul had preached to them. In writing his letter, Paul set out to correct and instruct against these errant practices and beliefs. There were many issues for the Apostle to address: division, fornication, and abuse of the sacraments, but the most troubling issue for Paul was that some of the Corinthians had come to deny the resurrection of the dead. When he addresses this issue in his letter to the church, Paul draws from the imagery of the Old Covenant feasts and declares that Jesus is the “firstfruits of those raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20, ESV). In so doing, Paul proves to the Corinthians that the resurrection of the dead is intrinsically connected to the resurrection of Christ Himself, and grounds them in a new reality.

Taking all of the various influences and conditions of their social context into consideration, for Corinth was a major tradeport and a veritable melting pot of various pagan religions and influences, one may understand how the believers in the city could fall into some of the error they were guilty of. Still, Paul seems more irritated than sympathetic that the Corinthian church had fallen into the sin they had, but was particularly aghast that they would deny the resurrection of the body. Was not the gospel he preached that of a resurrected Jesus? Indeed, he starts his reprimand and correction of the Corinthians in chapter 15 by making this very point. Paul does not present anything new, but rather reminds them of the gospel that they had already heard from him, and that they said they believed. “Now, I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel which I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” (1 Cor 15:1-2b, ESV). In the verses following, Paul goes on to define that gospel again for his readers: that Christ died for our sins (15:3), that He was buried (15:4), and that He rose again on the third day (15:4), all according to the Scriptures (15:3-4). Further, Paul recounts the evidence that he offered of Jesus’s resurrection by speaking of the many who had seen the risen Christ: Cephas, the more than 500 believers, James, the Apostles, and, finally, Paul himself. Again, this was nothing new to the Corinthians, they had not only heard it before, but also embraced it. Paul reminds them of this when he writes, “Whether then it was I or [the other Apostles], so we preach and so you believed.” (15:11).

Having laid the foundation for his reproof of the Corinthians, Paul now addresses the problem directly in verses 15:12-13 by forcing the Corinthians to draw the logical conclusion of the gospel which he just reminded them of. “Now, if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Paul points out to the believers in Corinth that if the gospel that he preached to them is true, and if they truly believed it, then it is impossible for them to say there is no bodily resurrection from the dead; for if Paul’s gospel is true, then Christ is certainly raised from the dead. And if Christ is raised, then those that believe in him will certainly be raised as well.

Having shown them the logical result of Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of believers, he then walks them through to the logical conclusion of their belief that the dead are not raised: that Christ Himself was not raised (714). “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised,” (1 Cor 15:13, ESV). Paul continues to make his point by showing the Corinthians the consequences of believing in a Christ that is not raised.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only have we hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:14-19)

In short, Paul is saying that the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of the gospel. If Jesus is not raised, then nothing else can be true and the gospel is a lie. If Christ is not raised, then God is not who they said He is, and death is not only final, but also inescapable as they are still in their sins. If Christ is not raises, then Paul and the Corinthians alike are the most hopeless and pitiful people in the world; indeed their faith is all in vain. Having brought the Corinthians to the ghastly result of their false beliefs, Paul concludes his reprimand and correction.

“But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead,” (1 Cor. 15:20)! With these climactic, joyful words of hope, the Apostle does not allow his Corinthian brothers to remain is despair, but now returns them to the truth of the gospel which he delivered to them as of the first importance (15:3). It is important to note the change in Paul’s language in this section of his letter. In the preceding text, the Apostle had assumed a hypothetical “what if?” posture. Here, that changes radically to a definitive, authoritative, and affirmative tone: Christ has been raised! Having shown them the dark, desperate results of their false beliefs, Paul now sets out to show them the hopeful promise and surety of the truth: that Christ, and therefore all in Him, is raised from the dead. And, to make his point, Paul draws upon the imagery of the Old Covenant and of the Mosaic Feast of Firstfruits.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Cor 15:20-23)
To feel the full weight of Paul’s imagery, to see the full scope of his reasoning and the full extent of his conclusions, we must first understand that which he is alluding to. Let us remember the reality of the Mosaic Jews.

As the newly liberated Hebrews made their way to the Promised Land, God delivered His Law to them through His prophet Moses. One of the central, possibly the central, aspect of the Law was that of the sacrificial system by which the Israelites were able to approach and dwell with God. The regulations of this system are found in the book of Leviticus. It is within this context that the celebration of the Feast of the Firstfruits, the imagery Paul draws from to describe Christ to the Corinthians, is commanded for the Israelites.

The institution of and instruction for the feast is found in Leviticus 23, starting in verse 9.
And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land that I give you, and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the Priest shall wave it…. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched nor fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. (Leviticus 23:9-11, 14)
The sense of the feast was this: The Israelites had spent the whole season planting and tending their crops as they ate the harvest from the previous season. Finally, after months of eating nothing but dry, parched grain, they were finally ready to fill their stores with the ripe produce and taste of the fresh grains of the current season. However, their own satisfaction would have to wait in order to fill that of their covenant God. Before they could partake of any of the new harvest, they first had to bring the sheaf of the first harvest to the priest to be offered to God. This was never seen as a gamble, a chance that there may not be a second harvest to partake of. Rather the offering of the firstfruit was seen as the surety of the harvest to come. As God was honored and obeyed through the offering of the firstfruits, He certainly would bring about the rest of the harvest. Indeed the celebration of the feast was an exercise and display of the faith of the Jews their God. Interestingly enough, though the institution of the Feast of the Firstfruits was commanded in the desert, it was not to be observed until after the Israelites had entered Canaan. This will later be shown to be a very important aspect picked up by Paul.

Only now that the context in which the Firstfruits was to be celebrated is understood, can the full bearing of Paul’s imagery can be realized. Do we see what Paul is doing here? In naming Christ as the “firstfruits of those raised from the dead”, Paul conclusively proves the reality of the resurrection of the body. Because the firstfruits of the Old Covenant was the surety of the harvest to come, and because Jesus defeated death and Himself was raised as the firstfruits, then all those who believe in Him Must also be raised. Jesus Christ is the surety; those who believe in Him are the harvest to come. In the same way that the Old Covenant Jews brought the sheaf before Lord as an act of faith that God would bring in the rest of the harvest, so the risen Christ presented Himself before God as the first of many to be raised from the dead. And as God raised Jesus, He will certainly raise those that are in Him. There is nothing more that Paul had to say, and there was nothing that the Corinthians could say against him.

Paul then takes the Corinthians beyond the assurance of their future hope, and shows them the present reality defined by Christ the firstfruits. “Therefore brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” (1 Cor 15:58). This exhortation comes after Paul’s description of the end times found in verses 24-57 which demonstrate Christ’s victory over death. Paul is telling the Corinthians that although Christ is the firstfruits of the harvest that will be reaped at the end (1 Cor 15:23-24), it bears heavily on their present reality. N.T. Wright puts it this way: “the resurrection is more than defeat of an enemy. It is the inauguration of God’s new world.” Paul tells the Corinthians that the resurrection of Jesus necessitates a present reality within the life of the believer: the reality of citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

Remember that particular aspect of the institution of the Feast of the Firstfruits which was mentioned earlier: that it was given in the desert to be celebrated in Canaan. “When you come into the land that I give you, and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest,” (Lev 23:10, emphasis added). The firstfruits were not to be offered until God’s people entered into the land that God had promised them. Here, in 1 Corinthians, the very fact that the firstfruits have been offered in Christ speaks undeniably to the fact that God has brought His people into the land which He promised them. Though it is not the focus of this paper, it is necessary to note that Paul’s eschatological discussion in 15:23-28 of 1 Corinthians must be informed by this understanding. This is a precious and foundational truth for Paul, and through the imagery of the firstfruits, he clearly tells the Corinthians that the Kingdom is now, and that they, through Christ, are citizens of it, now. Again, N.T. Wright:
This passage is near the heart of Paul’s understanding of Jesus, God, history and the world. It’s near the heart of what Jesus himself spent his short public career talking about, too. It’s about the coming of God’s kingdom…..The order of events is explained first. Jesus, following his resurrection, is already the Lord of the world, already ruling as king (verse 25 is as clear a statement as anywhere in Paul of what he means when calling Jesus ‘Messiah’: he is God’s anointed king, already installed as the world’s true Lord). Paul understands the present time as the time when Jesus is already reigning.

In qualifying the Corinthian’s present reality, the Apostle Paul forces the church to see the contrast between their earthly, Corinthian citizenship and their Spiritual, Kingdom citizenship. In doing this, Paul is not only speaking to the church’s error of denying the resurrection, but effectually readdresses every problem he has dealt with throughout the body of his letter. Echoing his instruction in his letter to the church in Rome, which was written around the same time as his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is essentially telling the church in Corinth to “not be conformed to this [city of Corinth], but be transformed by the renewal of your (firstfruits secured, kingdom citizen) mind,” (Romans 12:2a, ESV, paraphrase).

The Corinthians’ Kingdom citizenship was eternally secured by Christ the firstfruits, and was therefore far more powerful that their Corinthian citizenship. Whether it be division, sexual immorality, abuse of the Lord’s table, whatever the particular sin issue may be, Paul’s exhortation that it can, and indeed must, be overcome and put aside is rooted in the fact that Jesus, the Christ, our King, is risen, and that He is risen as the firstfruits of a great harvest to follow. This risen Christ not only secures the future, but also defines the present Kingdom reality of not just the Corinthians, but the entire harvest of believers. With this, Paul closes the body of his letter.

Indeed, the imagery was powerful: Pictures of a long awaited harvest being gathered from the fields; the longing of the people to taste the fresh grains; the anticipation of God’s people who eagerly awaited satisfaction. But these images of the past were the reality of the present for the Corinthians with one major difference: the waiting was over. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In addressing the Corinthians errors, Paul draws from the Law and its feasts and declares that Jesus Himself is the firstfruits and has been offered up to God as the surety of their bodily resurrection. Brother and sister, we are from the same harvest as those Corinthians. The truth of the gospel of Christ, the risen Jesus is our surety as well. Take hope in tomorrow and be joyful and purposeful today knowing that you are citizens of a real and present Kingdom with a living and victorious King. Death is indeed swallowed up in victory.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Shall We Mourn

Shall we mourn? I've heard and read of many either attending solemn services or partaking of fasts on Good Friday and today in observance and remembrance of the death and burial of Jesus; Undoubtedly the most spiritually, physically, emotionally, even creationally intense and tension wrought events in all of history. However, in remembering the death, burial, and resurrection of our King and Savior Jesus, is it appropriate to take a posture of solemnity or even grief? Certainly the disciples of Jesus, in the days leading up to and immediatley following His crucifixion were grief stricken, confused, and hopeless. Certainly we, Jesus' disciples today, should remember that sorrow, but is it appropriate to recreate or participate in it? Shall we mourn over the death of Jesus Christ?

This is the very question I've been pondering over for the past few days. It started with a Passover seder meal we participated in which really brought joy to my heart. Seeing the Scriptures and the symbols of the meal brought to fulfillment and given meaning in the realization of Jesus, the true Paschal lamb, made me wonder how we as His followers could ever understand, never mind share in the sorrow experienced by those disciples nearly two millennia ago. They didn't have the fact of Jesus' resurrection to guide and comfort them through those hours and days. They didn't know the victory Jesus was manifesting through His death. They were bewildered, distraught, and maybe even feeling a little foolish for believing that this carpenter's son was the long awaited Messiah.

And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were conversing with each other about all these things which had taken place. And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached, and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. And one of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. - Luke 24:13-21

While this reaction, this mourning, is what we would expect from those, even those that knew Jesus in the flesh, in that historical context, and while it is necessary to understand their state of mind, we must realize that we are not those people! There is no doubt, no reason for us to mourn for our historical context is one that has the blessing of the risen Christ illuminating the Law, the prophets, His death and His burial. Consider how the resurrected Messiah Himself answers those He was walking with that day. "And He said to them, 'O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?' ” Luke 24:25-26. Jesus was rebuking them for mourning, for doubting. He was saying that if they had actually listened to Him before He was crucified, they would not be so bewildered and hopeless. He was showing them, and us, that if they truly understood they would not have reason to mourn for they would have known that the sufferings of Jesus were necessary for Him to be known as King and Savior. Remember how Jesus reacted to Peter when the apostle vowed to protect Him from death: "But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Matt 16:23 (cf Mark 8:33)
But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the spoil with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. - Isaiah 53:10-12

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

So the question comes again: Shall we mourn? Though horrible as the event must have been, shall we find sorrow in that which we now know was necessary for us to know Jesus as our King. Shall we find somberness in the blood that was shed to covenant us with the God of all creation? In remembering the death and burial of Jesus shall we not remember, as Paul shows the Corinthians, the gospel of Jesus? Shall we not see that the death and burial of our King was foretold by the prophets and foreshadowed in the Law? Shall we not remember that the death and burial of Jesus our Messiah was proof positive that YAHWEH is faithful to His promises and keeps the covenant He made with His people? People of God, shall we mourn because our Messiah was crucified and buried? Or shall we rejoice?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

There is a Man, A Certain Man...

I have a very, very dear friend. We grew up together practically as brothers. When we were teenagers, he moved to another town a few miles away and we didn't see each other as much. As we grew older, we each developed our own interests and, while we remained close, started to go in different directions. Well, maybe that's not the right thing to say. Maybe its better to say that we "grew" in different directions; we shared common roots, so to speak, but our branches spread out to cover different areas. I make this distinction because I think its important, at least for me, to realize that even to this day we've never separated. We remain fast friends. I would do anything for him. At least that's what I say...

See, I've come to realize that over these past, oh geez... 15 or so years, that the one thing that he has not only been asking me to do, but practically begging me to do, is give him some reason to believe me, one reason to think that what I say is different from what everyone else says. Let me back up. One of the things that he and I "covered different areas" on is religion. I grew up going to church, hearing the Scriptures spoken and explained, being encouraged to read the Bible, etc., both in the church and in the home. God and Jesus Christ were facts of life for me. My friend on the other hand, if I remember correctly, had some exposure and familiarity with Christianity, but did not have this background. As young kids, and even more as young adults, I was a representative of this area of life to him. Please, don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm not boasting in this. In fact, just the opposite. I am ashamed that I did not, and even to this day have not represented God or His people in a proper manner to my dear friend. I look back on visits and conversations and only now see the times that he has literally grabbed me by the arm, shaken me, and cried out, "Save me, brother!" Sure, he did it in a joking manner, but the challenge was offered. He knows what I believe, at least the basics of the gospel, and I really don't think that he simply wants me to tell it to him again. No, he wants me to prove it to him, he wants to be shown that what I say is true. He wants to see that I truly believe what I say.

My friend has gone to church a few times as an adult, but, as I understand it, he has pretty much written it off as an organization of liars and hypocrites. He sees judgement and ridicule, oppression and bigotry, and sees that there is no reason what-so-ever to believe a word they say over and against anything anybody else says. He, like many, many others, has this view of the church because he sees no difference in the way the church does business from how everybody else does it. They work in the same places as everyone else, they play in the same places as everyone else, they have their groups and clubs and societies just like everybody else. They are just another group of people with another opinion. And honestly, on the whole, I can't say he's wrong. And this is where I fail him as a friend.

I found myself in a familiar place today, lamenting over my sin and thanking God that my place with Him is secure in my King, His Son, Jesus. While confiding in God my despair over returning to my sin as a dog to its vomit, I cried out, "What am I doing differently?! How does what I'm doing speak of Your glory?!" And then, in a moment of horror, I realized that I was asking this question not simply of the moments I succumb to sin and temptation, but of every moment of every day, and I immediately thought of my friend. How does my life speak to the world of God's glory and the peculiarity of His people? How does the way I live speak salvation to those around me? How does my every second, every action, every thought, every breath, speak the truth of Jesus' Kingship to my dear, dear friend? I know that I can not save him, that my words and actions have no power in and of themselves, but when I speak the gospel, what reason do I give him to believe one single word that I say? What reason do I give him to think that God truly redeems His people and that they are indeed different from the rest of the world? How am I salt? How am I light?

Those of you that I talk to on a regular basis know that "how shall we then live" (thanks, Francis Schaeffer) has been a topic of conversation for about the past year or so. Michelle and I have been trying to put some thoughts down on paper on this topic, specifically to help us articulate our ministry goals, but haven't found much success (we are, well, I guess I am easily distracted). But today, I felt undeniably compelled to start writing about these things, to start the conversation once again. It is a vast conversation that covers not just specific action, but motive. Not just means, but ends. Not simply reasons, but justification. It asks not only how to do something, but why do it; if we're doing things that we shouldn't and not doing things that we should. It challenges us to ask not what is common to culture, but what is common to mankind. It speaks of individual and community. It speaks of identity. It speaks of love and hate, redemption and restoration. It speaks of justice. It speaks of salvation in God through Jesus the King.

In the past, this blog has been a collection of posts about random things and I have had a hard time keeping it going. Now, however, I intend to devote my blog to carrying on this conversation through specific topics and by asking specific questions. It is my desire, brother and sister, friend and neighbor, that you join me. I need your wisdom. It is the fruits of this conversation that we, God's people, must give as a true testimony of God's glory, a reason to believe what we say, and as proof that we believe it ourselves.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
--Matthew 5:13-16

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Welcoming the Thief Part VI:

An Anxious Longing

Having explored Peter's use of "luo", we must now turn our attention to the definition of the verb. In the overwhelming majority of appearances of “luo”, it carries the meaning of “to loose, untie bonds, set free, release” (Arndt, 483-4). Returning briefly to the discussion of “kataka-ay-setai” and “heur-is-ko”, we see that either of these words would accommodate this most common use of “luo”. Further, it now becomes immediately apparent that Peter’s use of “kainos” both fully supports, and is fully supported by this glossing of the verb. If, as has been determined by examining Peter’s use of “apollumi”, destruction is reserved for sinful men who are judged, and no one can hide from this judgment, then the created heavens and earth are indeed “set free”, “luo”. This results in its renewal, its redemption; it results in a “kainos” new heaven and a “kainos” new earth.

This idea is fully supported not only by an examination of the language, but by the plain content of Peter’s letter as well. Consider some of the concluding words of this section. “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things,” (2 Peter 3:14-16a, NAS). We see here that Peter makes explicit reference to the writings of Paul on these matters, and so we, just as Peter’s original audience, must turn to the words of the great apostle for insight.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:18-22)
Is there any doubt that Paul too speaks of creation, the heavens and the earth, experiencing not a day of destruction, but a day of redemption? A day when it is “set free from its slavery to corruption,” and delivered into “the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” the freedom of those who survive God’s fiery judgment, those who do not perish as sinful men? And so it is clear that what Peter is saying here in his second general epistle about our confidence in God and the end of the world is not necessarily what we have been reading. Taking into account all that we have seen in studying this text, perhaps we can say it this way:
This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the created heavens existed long ago and the created earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the sinful men of that time were destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present created heavens and created earth by His word are being reserved for refining fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any of you to be destroyed but that you all come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the created heavens will pass by with a roar and the elements will be set free with intense heat, and the created earth and its works will be discovered. Since all these things are to be set free in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be set free by burning, and the elements will melt with the intense heat of judgment! But according to His promise we are looking for a redeemed heavens and a redeemed earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet 3:1-14, emendations added)
As scared about the end of the world as I remember being as a youth, I also remember thinking that something about what I was being taught wasn’t quite right. And now, as an adult, I look at these words of Peter and see that there was something to my childhood suspicions. Peter is telling his readers, telling us, that there is a great peace and a promise of hope in the end of the world, for it is no end at all. Our salvation is not an escape from terror, but an inclusion into joy. We are not waiting for deliverance from a cataclysmic and gruesome end, but are presently enjoying the promise and the hope of a creation in which righteousness lives at the victory of Jesus Christ. It is the day of Jesus himself that arrives like a thief in the night, a day of restoration, a day of redemption, and this is not something I want to escape, not something to be afraid of. Indeed, I want to leave my doors unlocked and welcome the thief with open arms.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Welcoming the Thief Part V:

Burn, Baby, Burn...(?)

We must now return to Peter’s use of the verb “luo”. As mentioned before, Peter only uses this verb when the “the heavens and earth” are the object. Just as with the verb/object pairing of “apollumi”, it is crucial that we understand the meaning of both parts of the “luo” equation. Having already discerned the meaning of the object of “luo”: the heavens and the earth, “hoti uranoi [and] hay gay”, as opposed to sinful man, “kosmos”, we must turn our attentions to the meaning of the verb itself. When this passage from 2 Peter is translated into the English, “luo” is commonly assigned the meaning "to destroy". While this is a legitimate meaning carried by the verb, it is by far the definition most infrequently used in the Scriptures. Zodhiates says of this meaning that it is, “by implication,” and even marks its use in 2 Peter as “figurative” (Zodhiates, 932). A brief look at the appearance of the word in John’s gospel reveals that it is used by Jesus when he says, “Destroy [luo]this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” However, the text also tells us that he was not speaking of the temple in Jerusalem, as his Jewish audience supposed, but rather was speaking of his body (John 2:19-21, NAS). Bearing this in mind, we see that even one of John’s uses of “luo” which carries the meaning “destroy” was not a permanent destruction, for certainly none of us would say that Christ’s resurrection was a result of a “re-creation”, or that he was not wholly the same being he was prior to his death. As we can see, assigning the definition of “destroy” to “luo” in 2 Peter is not strong based on other Scriptural uses, and so we must look to the writings of Peter himself, as well as consider the alternate, more frequent meanings that appear in the Scriptures.

In regards to the text of 2 Peter, we have already discussed what the apostle identifies as the result of this “luo”-ing of “the heavens and the earth”: a “kainos”, a renewed, heavens and “kainos”, a renewed, earth. This idea alone speaks loudly against assigning “luo” the definition of “destroyed.” Another verbal clue as to how to translate the verb is found in verse 10. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet 3:10). In order to see what Peter intended to say with this verse, as well as what it tells us about his use of the verb "luo", we must consider it carefully as there is some question over what word Peter actually intended to appear at the end of his sentence. We find that some ancient manuscripts contain the verb “kataka-ay-setai”, “burn up,” while others show the verb “heur-is-ko”, “to be found”, or to “discover” (Aland, 811). Though the two words seem to bear very different meanings, there must be some common ground upon which they stand that can account for their appearances in this place on different manuscripts. The verbs are visually dissimilar which seems to discount an error in copying texts, so perhaps there is something to their meaning that a scribe thought would better be reflected by one of the words over the other. “Burn up” is certainly supported by the picture painted by Peter of the present heavens and earth being “stored up for fire” in 3:7, however his use of “fire” must also be considered. The overwhelming use of “fire” in the New Testament is to symbolize judgment, and indeed Peter seems to be echoing this imagery by saying that the creation is being “stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment” (2 Pet 3:7, NAS). With this in mind, we must also note that the text goes on to say that this day of judgment is also the day of the destruction of the ungodly, just as the previous day of judgment in the time of Noah, which, as we have already concluded, saw the destruction of sinful men and not the creation. Considering this evidence we can be open to the idea that the “burning up”, the “kataka-ay-setai”, of the earth Peter speaks of in 3:10 is not a literal consuming by fire, but rather the intense judgment of a refining fire; a judgment so intense, that nothing can hide from it. And once all ungodly men and their works are destroyed and burned away like dross, the very created earth and its works will be revealed, or, or “heur-is-ko”, “discovered”. Considering the text in this way shows that these verbs which at first glance have no apparent connection,, “kataka-ay-setai” and “heur-is-ko”, and their respective manuscripts, certainly seem to be speaking of the same thing, and it is not the destruction, the “apollumi”, of the heavens and earth.

To be Concluded...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Welcoming the Thief Part IV:

Different Worlds

We can begin to discern the answer to this question by first looking at the text as it has been translated in English. Upon reading the passage, it is important to recognize a shift in Peter’s language that may go unnoticed at first glance. Beginning in verse 5, we see that Peter employs the use of a word-pair that he uses consistently throughout the passage. “For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water,” (3:5, emphasis added). Beginning in the text of 3:5, where he speaks of God’s act of creation, through the text of 3:13, the promise of the renewal of creation, every time Peter mentions the “heavens”, “hoti uranoi”, he also mentions the “earth”, “hay gay”. There is one exception, however, in 3:12: “Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” This derivation from Peter’s use of his word-pair, may be accounted for by his use of the word for “elements”. “Stoichaion”, as used here sometimes carries a meaning that supports the understanding of elements being “elemental substances, the basic elements from which everything in the natural world is made, and of which it is composed” (Arndt, 769). Considering this definition, along with the fact that Peter uses the word in conjunction with the “heavens and earth” in verse 10, “...the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up,” it appears that he continues this pairing here in 3:12 with “elements” instead of “earth”.

Recognizing Peter’s use of this word-pair is important to us not only in taking note of where he does use it, but also of where he does not. Verses 5 and 6 are of particular concern in this regard. “For when [the mockers] maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Pet 3:5-6, NAS). While we see clearly that Peter uses the pairing in verse 5, we must also notice that he does not use it in verse 6. Though he tells his readers that it is “the world” that was destroyed by the flood, he intentionally delineates from his word-pair and instead uses the word ko,smos, “kosmos”. Although this change occurs after only one use of “heaven and earth”, he quickly returns to it in verse 7 and, as was already demonstrated, establishes the pattern of its usage through to the end of the text. And so we must acknowledge the shift, the delineation in verse 6, to be intentional. Peter’s reasoning in using “kosmos” instead of “gay” , or even “stoichayon”, can be elucidated by considering the surrounding text and his aforementioned use of “apolaya” and “apollumi”. As we read in verse 7: “...kept for the day of judgment and destruction [apolaya] of ungodly men.” (3:7, emphasis added), we similarly see in verse 9: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish [apollumi] but for all to come to repentance.” (3:9, emphasis added). When reading these verses, we must note that the object of the verb is human in both cases; the thing experiencing destruction is mankind. In contrast, whenever the object of the verb is Peter’s heaven and earth word-pair, the verb he uses is lu,w, “luo”. We will return to the meaning of this verb and its connotations momentarily, but for now, it is important to simply make note of the difference in the use of the two verbs, and that the usage is linked to specific objects. So we see that there are two factors that we must take into consideration while seeking to determine what Peter is really saying: First, that Peter intentionally shifts away from using his word-pair in verse 6 and uses “kosmos” in its place, and, second, that in conjunction with “kosmos” he uses “apollumi” , which he uses elsewhere only in conjunction with a human object. These two factors seem to force us to the conclusion that when Peter uses the word “kosmos”, he is not using it to refer to the heavens and the earth, “hoti uranoi [and] hay gay”, that which God created from the waters, but rather to that which was judged by and perished in the waters: sinful man. The Greek completely allows for and supports the understanding of “kosmos” as “sinful man”, as the word carries an enormous range of meaning and is often used to speak of “the world as mankind,” and “the world as the scene of earthly joys, possessions, cares, sufferings.” (Arndt, 446). While it is true that “kosmos” can also be used to talk about the creation and its order (446), the two factors mentioned above, at very least, strongly push us to conclude Peter is employing the former use. Having reached this conclusion, let us reconsider the meaning of the text of 2 Peter 3:5-6. “For when [the mockers] maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the created heavens existed long ago and the created earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the sinful men of that time [were] destroyed, being flooded with water.” (emendations added).

To be Continued...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Welcoming the Thief Part III:

It's All Greek to Me

In order to truly understand what Peter is saying, and to alleviate the apparent contradictions with the whole counsel of Scripture, we must look at his writing and take into account the language he actually wrote in. Of first consideration, we must look at the reason Peter says why it is so important to know that the mockers and false teachers are wrong: the hope of the promise that he assured his readers God would keep. This hope is found in verse 13. “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” The promise of the new heavens and new earth, a place that is free from the corruption of sin and in which righteousness dwells unhindered. This promise can only be rightly understood if we first look at what Peter actually wrote, not necessarily what we read.

The Greek here tells us what this is. In the original language there are a few words that can be translated as "new", but the word Peter writes here in verse 13 for both "new heaven” and “new earth," is “kainos”. “Kainos” carries the primary meaning that denotes quality; it defines that something is qualitatively new. Spiros Zodhiates also attaches to it the meaning of “novel or strange” (Zodhiates, 1007). This word is directly contrasted with the word "neos" which denotes the aspect of being temporally new, new in time. To solidify the difference, it can be said that while “neos” denotes that the word or idea that it attends to is something that never existed before but now exists in time, that it is newly existing, or newly created, “kainos” tells us that its referent is something that has already been existing, but is now experiencing a new, better quality than it ever had in all its previous existence. As used in other Scriptural texts, the differences between the words can be seen. Consider Mark 2:21 as explained in Spiros Zodhiates' New Testament edition of The Complete Word Study Dictionary:

In Mark 2:21, the word "new" occurs twice, but is two different words in Greek, the first being agnophos, one that has not been washed and properly shrunk. The second "new" is kainos, in the neuter, to kainon, which means another patch but derived from cloth that has been washed and shrunk. Therefore it will not shrink when used as a patch and thus tear the garment.... A new patch is needed, but that patch must be of shrunken cloth. Thus it is qualitatively different from just any new (neos) piece of cloth that has not been shrunk. (804)
“Neos” on the other hand, as mentioned before, refers to temporal newness. Again, according to Zodhiates, "New, recent. New in relation to time, that which has recently come into existence or become present. New in the aspect of quality is kaino´s," and is used in passages such as Matt 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37-39 to speak of newly made, fermenting wine (1007). “Neos” refers to something newly made, newly created. “Kainos” refers to something new or better in quality, something of superior quality, not of new existence, but like new .

From this understanding, it is clear that the "new heaven and new earth," Peter declares to be the promise of God in Christ are not a newly created heaven and earth, but a new in quality heaven and earth. To say it another way, the promise of God in Christ is not that the earth will be destroyed but that it will be renewed; the hope of salvation through Messiah is a renewed heaven and earth, a redeemed heaven and earth. When we start here, with the hope that Peter aims his argument at, it presents obvious, yet undeniable contradictions with our reading of the rest of the text, and tells us that our we must look at the argument as a whole more carefully as well.

Having examined the end of Peter’s argument, let us now turn to the beginning. Peter starts his argument, as was outlined above, by bringing his readers through an abbreviated history of the world, both past and future. In this history, he mentions the creation, the destruction of the past judgment of the flood, and the destruction of the judgment by fire that is to come. In his writing of verse 6, Peter employs the aorist, indicative form of the verb “apollumi”, which carries the meaning to ruin or destroy, to lose (Arndt, 95), to denote the past result of God’s judgment by water: that which was judged was utterly destroyed. “the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Pet 3:6, NAS). We are assured by the original language here that the result of the judgment of the flood was a real destruction, the ceasing to be of that which was judged, and that the common reading of the text is appropriate. Similarly, in verse 7 when Peter speaks of the judgment by fire that is to come, he uses a cognate noun “apolaya” to describe that which those being judged will experience (Rogers, 588). “But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet 3:7, NAS). This meaning is further supported by Peter’s second use of “apollumi” in 3:9 when he speaks of God not wanting any of his people to “perish”. Again, we find that the use of the original language supports our common understanding that the text tells us that the thing that is judged experiences real destruction. In further examination of the text, we must ask the question that seems to naturally flow out our new discoveries: If destruction surely comes to that which is judged, both past and future, what does the text, what does Peter himself, tells us has and will be judged?

To be Continued...