Because of their salvation (Peter wrote, to the Jewish believers in Jesus living among the Diaspora), they had been profoundly altered, moving from the covenant of God with the Hebrew people to the covenant cut in the blood of Christ with every believer. They had been born anew, born from above, bought with the precious blood of the Lamb of God.
“Therefore,” Peter continued, they were to prepare their minds for action, discipline -themselves-, but set all of their hope on the -grace- Jesus brings. Their new birthright would bring them—and us today—hope, holiness, reverence for God, and a life of love.
Still, Peter had a second “therefore” waiting to be said. Here it is today.
Cast Off! Take in!
Cast off from yourselves, therefore, every evil, and every deceit and pretense (hypocrisy, play-acting) and envy (ill-will, spite, jealousy), and all evil speech.1 Peter 2:1
That comes right on the heels of Peter reiterating, just two verses previously,
You have been born again not of corruptible seed, but rather of imperishable, through a word of God, living and abiding.1 Peter 1:23
Because you and I are holy, because God’s imperishable word has taken root in us and given us new birth, now grow up in Christ, get rid of the old life. Like newborn infants, Peter wrote, intensely desire perfect food that generates rapid growth and health—the pure milk of the word.
The Christian life is marked by continual growth brought about by the reading and study of scripture, by living out the wisdom we learn, by connection with God through prayer and fellowship with other believers. All this is wrapped into the metaphor of pure milk Peter was writing about.
What makes scripture the word is its revelatory nature about God, relationship to God, and God’s relationship to people, the earth, and the cosmos. But this pure milk is also the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Greek, this is what Peter wrote reads like,
As newborn infants, intensely desire (crave) the wordish, pure (unadulterated) milk, in order that in it(him) you would be grown up into salvation.1 Peter 2:2
Living Stones and the Corner Stone
Then Peter switched metaphors, moving to the imagery of living rock. Living rock in Peter’s day meant a mountain from which stones were hewn to build with. Rock carved from a quarry, or a mountainside, fits uniquely together in color and quality, for if well-shaped, the stones together take on the unity from which they came. Peter added to that concept by envisioning the stones being themselves also living, as Jesus is living.
If you tasted that the Lord is gracious (good), coming to him, a living stone—by humankind indeed having been repudiated and rejected, but with God chosen, treasured. And to him as living stones you all are being built up, a spiritual house, into a holy priesthood . . .
For (it is) included in the (sacred) writings, “Behold, I set down in Zion a chief cornerstone, chosen, treasured, and whoever believes upon it(him) will never ever be dishonored, (disgraced, or put to shame).”1Peter 2:3-5, 6
The temple was often referred to as God’s holy habitation. Now Peter was casting the vision of a spiritual habitation, God’s spiritual house made up of people born from above, hewn from the living God, in relationship with and to each other, well-shaped and perfectly fitted together. The corner stone is also perfectly cut and measured so that all the other stones can be measured and aligned with the cornerstone. The straightness and soundness of the whole building traces back to this stone.
In antiquity, the cornerstone could be very large – one found was sixty-nine feet long, twelve feet tall and thirteen feet thick! Once placed, such a cornerstone would indeed be permanent. If the whole building were to be torn rock from rock, there would still be the cornerstone. As Christians, we are to build on the Lord Who is immovable and unchangeable.
Peter the Rock
Peter must have been thinking about the time when Jesus said to him, Peter, your name means rock, and upon that rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
It was during a time when Jesus and his disciples had been ministering in northern Palestine. At one point, Jesus took his disciples into the region of Caesarea Philippi, predominantly Gentile and ruled by the tetrarch Herod Philip, a son of Herod the Great, a famously beautiful area.
Gates of Hades
Jesus most likely had taken his disciples to the foot of Mount Hermon, a sheer rock cliff. At the top of the cliff was a dazzling white temple dedicated to the deity of Caesar. Along the cliff face was the place where the Greek god Pan was worshiped, with his own temple situated on the side of a great crack in the mountain, described as being “without bottom.” It was thought that Pan, the god of nature, had been born in this cave. It was also thought that the spring waters of the river Jordan originated in the same cave.
This cavity in the mountain had come to be called The Gates of Hades by the local population, who believed it was the portal from which devils and spirits would come out from the land of death into the world of the living. (To learn more, follow this link)
Deliberately set against this backdrop of world religions, Jesus began to pray.
One of the central tenets of Judaism is a fervent monotheism. Every morning those of Jewish faith spoke their prayers at dawn, called the Shema, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. How, then, could there be one God and yet be a man, Jesus, a flesh-and-blood human being, saying he was the unique Son of God, and actually God? As Jesus prayed, the disciples gathered around him, and when Jesus opened his eyes to ask who people said he was, they instantly responded.
- John the Baptist: Some people like Herod Antipas, thought Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead.
- Elijah: Other people thought he might be Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah. (To this day a place is set at every Passover table for Elijah to come back and announce the coming of Messiah.)
- Jeremiah: Some people said Jesus was Jeremiah, who, according to legend, had hidden the ark and the altar of incense in Mount Nebo right before Judah went into exile, and would return to produce them when Messiah came.
- Another prophet: Still others thought for sure Jesus was at least one famous prophet or other, come back from the dead.
After hearing all their ideas, Jesus asked them the far more important question—who did they think Jesus was?
It was as though Peter was discovering the answer even as he said the words, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Messiah, Son of the Living God
Messiah: Jesus was the fulfillment of all the prophesies that God revealed to the Hebrew prophets to prepare the people for the Messiah. Jesus is the way, the only way, to God and to salvation. Whereas other religions might have some modicum of truth, or use some principles of truth, Peter would go on to claim only Jesus, in himself, provides the way to be reconciled to the Father, to have eternal life with God in heaven.
The Son: Jesus is unique. As the apostle John put it, Jesus was with God and Jesus was God.
Of the Living God: Not of any God, but of YHWH, the one and only true God, the Creator of heaven and earth.
There had been other confessions prior to this, made by Peter, by Nathanael, and by Andrew, specifically, and by crowds of people. But what made this confession different was that it was not an emotional response to a situation, but rather the sincere confession of belief and faith in response to having been taught by God.
The implications were enormous.
[The Temple of Banias. Creative Commons image.]