The Religion of Empire and the Second Coming
(2 Peter 1:16-21)
Richard Mario Procida, Esq.
2 Peter 1:16-21
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Jesus died a long time ago. When is he coming back? Is it all just a myth? Early Christians had these doubts, too.
Speaking of the coming Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, this
As first generation Christians passed away and Jesus failed to return, disappointment spread. Many began reinterpreting Jesus’ promise, just like we reinterpret it today. Some went so far as to call it a myth.
The Author or 2 Peter
The author of 2 Peter is aghast. Something essential is being lost. He fears an ethical catastrophe should people not believe that Jesus will return to judge the world. It would lead to corruption and avarice. So he pens a letter in no less than Peter’s name to persuade Christians to hold to the faith.
There are a number of books in the Bible that were not written by the author identified in the Bible or by the early church, including all of the Gospels, many of the letters of Paul, and some of the other letters. Writing in a historical figure’s name was common in the ancient world.
Many wrote in an apostle’s name in order to invoke that apostle’s authority. This author went so far as to claim that he was present at the Transfiguration! People of the ancient world understood this. It was a way of imagining what the apostle would say if confronted with the same issue. The author portrays Peter as incensed and writing on his deathbed. [2 Peter 1:14]
Who is the author so enraged at that he has to portray Peter as penning a letter just before he died? We really don’t know. The letter implies that the “false teachers” are within the Church. [2 Peter 2:20-21]
The author sees the abandonment of the expectation of Jesus’ return and judgment as a disaster. He describes those other members of the Church as dogs who eat their own vomit and pigs who after being washed return to wallow in the mud. [2 Peter 2:22]
This type of vitriol was common. Opponents of an idea would disparage their opponents when attacking their ideas. Accusations of sexual immorality and other mudslinging were often nasty and unfounded. It’s probably not an emblematic way of dealing with disagreement, especially within the church.
It is inappropriate to portray our opponents as sexual perverts, pigs, and dogs. Today we have books like Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Disagree about Religion and Politics”. We live in a pluralistic world where we respect those with different ideas, beliefs, and values. We honor other cultures and religions. Respect for others strengthens our communities.
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t clearly and forcefully state our views. My faith calls upon me to follow Jesus through the city gates to confront Empire. I see in Second Peter’s allusions to greed and self-interest as applicable to my opponents within the church.
Shouldn’t Christians be compassionate toward the poor? What in the Bible tells people they should oppose government social programs? Did Jesus really support the rich? Lower taxes and less regulation of banks and corporations are not supported by the Bible.
Some use religion to support their own prejudices, and others use it to promote their own interests. We all know that the Bible has been used to support all kinds of evil, including anti-Semitism, slavery and war. Today we still see it used to support prejudice against immigrants, women and those of other sexual orientations and identities.
In my opinion my opponents have taken scripture and turned it to their own ends, and they have done it in an organized and systematic way. I see 2 Peter’s references to greed and corruption in those who use the Bible to oppose progressive reforms, support wars and prisons, and block funding for services to the poor, including food stamps, a livable minimum wage, and universal healthcare, among other things. [2 Peter 2:3 and 19]
The Coming Kingdom of Heaven
I see evil in the religion of empire, but the last paragraph of our reading tells us how to understand the second coming. Being attentive to the “lamp shinning in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star raises in your heart” should be read to describe the Kingdom of Heaven as coming near and is among us. It arises from within. [Matthew 4:17 and 10:7, and Luke 17:20-21] The return of Christ means the coming of Christ within and among us. This is a proper spiritualization of the text.
The last sentence builds upon this. The spirit speaks through us. No ecumenical council, no theological doctrine, no individual human interpretation is sufficient to understand God and the Bible. We understand the Bible only through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us, and those leanings must be discerned within a spiritual community. The Holy Spirit speaks through us when speak our truth and discuss our interpretations of scripture with others.