Monday, February 15, 2010

The Shepherd and the Lion

My friend and colleague, Joshua Appel, pointed out that 1 Peter 5 actually holds together fairly tightly: moving from exhortation to elders to "shepherd the flock" faithful as those who will give account to the Chief Shepherd ultimately to the exhortation to resist the devil who is a "prowling lion" seeking to devour them.

This is helpful in a couple of ways: First, if the "adversary" and the "the devil" is tied specifically in Peter's mind to the mechanism of persecution (which it seems to be, given 5:9), then the "devil" here would seem to be something similar to the "principalities and powers" spoken of elsewhere which seems to combine demonic beings with earthly, political rulers. The "devil" then is a sort of "ruler" who contrasts with the shepherds of the Chief Shepherd who are called to "rule" in an entirely different sort of way (5:2-3). If the Jews are specifically in Peter's mind, as seems implicit in a number of places in 1 Peter, then Peter is consciously comparing Christian elders to the "shepherds of Israel" who continue to "devour" the flock of God (Ez. 34:2-3).

But secondly the implication is that submission to the Christian elders is submission to protection from these false shepherds, protection from these lions who are seeking to devour the flock of God. Following these elder-shepherds as they follow the example of the Chief Shepherd may very well mean suffering and death, as it did for Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. But after they have suffered a little while, they will be raised up, whether they are delivered from persecution in this life or literally raised from the dead at the end. But notice that this submission is "resistance." The death of Jesus was the death blow of all principalities and powers, the death blow to Satan's project. This means that the suffering and death of Christians is likewise an act of war and resistance. As Revelation puts it: "they overcame [the devil] by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" (Rev. 12:11).

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