Yes, I know some do not like it when I quote long Scripture passages. I prefer to invite you to read them prayerfully. No paper is wasted, just some electronic pulses. Please read them slowly and try to put yourself in the same state of mind of those who wrote them.
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ (Acts 1: 6-11)
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-12)
Having those previously quoted Scriptures in mind, we follow with a reading of Matthew 16, more specifically the part where Peter tries to convince Jesus to reject the Cross. Reading verse by verse Matthew 16 from 21 to 28 we can glean some interesting facts but first I will ask you to imagine that the whole of chapter 16 is a prophetic representation of how the history of the Papacy will unfold from the days of Simon Peter all the way to the end of the age.
In the beginning we have Simon Peter in perfect consonance with the Holy Trinity, confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The Holy Spirit moves Peter to pronounce a true prophetic statement and by doing so, the fisherman identifies himself as the man elected by God to be the royal steward of the New Israel, the Church. At the same time, it is evident that Peter will lead the way in revealing the universal destiny of Israel: to conquer the world spiritually for God.
Keep that in mind while we go to the end of the prophetic picture to observe what will happen to the successors of Peter when the end of the age approaches. We will see that in the actions and words of Peter himself when he dares to rebuke Jesus, advising Him to renounce the Cross.
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
In verse 21 Jesus explains the Cross. First there is a confrontation between him and the established religious leaders who will push for his crucifixion. Jesus presents that awful fate as a necessary condition for the Resurrection. The Age of the Mosaic Law is coming to an end, the tree is rotten and unfruitful. The new tree is the Cross, and the new fruit is the body of Christ crucified. The Cross is presented here to the disciples as the way to gain the world by surrendering one´s soul to the mysterious will of God.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Peter pronounces a false prophecy (a sign of satanic influence) and Jesus detects the failure. This is a perfect reversal of the statement that caused Jesus to identify Peter as the first among the Apostles. The first prophecy was true (Jesus is the Christ!) and was coming straight from God the Father by means of the Holy Ghost. But this second prophecy has a different origin. Peter is still under the influence of the ideas of his time. He thinks the Messiah will conquer the world by leading a mighty military force. The idea of meekly submitting to public abuse and death on a cross is repugnant to Peter. He resists the mysterious will of God incited by the spirit of the age.
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
In verse 23 Jesus identifies Peter as an agent of satan, a resister before God (compare with the three temptations: pleasing of one’s senses, testing the will of God, desire of worldly power.) Peter positions himself in front of God’s will and the inevitable advent of God’s Kingdom. Peter has uttered a false prophecy (“this will never happen to you”) and that reveals to Jesus the origin of that thought just in the same way that the earlier true prophecy had revealed the divine origin of Peter’s words. Then Jesus reveals the motivations behind Peter’s rebuke: he follows human ideas instead of following Jesus.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Of course, this complex parable did not arise by itself. It is Jesus who is moving the pieces to represent something important and teach the Church what is coming. The first thing he teaches is the way of the Cross. The disciples must deny themselves, accept the suffering that will result from resisting the world by living a Christian life, and save their souls by rejecting the world, even if that results in their martyrdom. Again, we find here a counterpoint to the three temptations.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
The price of the world is one’s soul. Christ, being divine is about to gain the whole world by surrendering his perfect soul to an unjust death. In this rather compact manner, Christ is presenting his most important teaching. Father Thomas Hopko (1939-2015), an Eastern Orthodox Christian priest and theologian, resumes this teaching perfectly:
“… the only way we can find ourselves is to deny ourselves. That’s Christ’s teaching. If you cling to yourself, you lose yourself. Unwillingness to forgive is the ultimate act of not wanting yourself let go. You want to defend yourself, assert yourself, protect yourself … Your neighbor is your true self. You have no self in yourself… the minute I don’t feel deeply that my real self is the other, then I have no reason to forgive anyone. The act of forgiveness is the very act by which our humanity is constituted. If we deny that, we will kill ourselves. It is metaphysical suicide.”
The Cross is the the intersection of the path of the Creator with offending mankind. The Offended defeats the world by hanging on the Cross, completely defenseless, unassertive, unprotected. In this lesson, Christ is teaching the Church to be like Him, to act like Him. Just as Christ was surrendered to the Roman authorities by the unfruitful religious leaders of that time, one day the Church will be surrendered to the murderous worldly mob by that one unfruitful leader that will follow human ideas, a resister. That is what Peter represents at that moment. He started the prophetic parable being Simon Peter, a Galilean like his Master. He ends the parable by representing the last Peter, Peter the Roman, a man who thinks in terms of human power and not in terms of faith. One can almost predict that such man will be a vindictive, self-asserting, power-hungry man like Judas Iscariot. A man ready to give away the Church, the Body of Christ for mere silver.
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
The teaching continues with a description of Christ’s return. The age ends and so does the arc of the parable that started by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The return of Christ in true power will happen when both Christ and His Church have tasted the bitter cup of the Cross. It is by the Cross that they conquer and Peter will be the first to effect the conquest of mighty Rome by dying there like his Master.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
The final promise is an assurance that death will not touch the souls of those who serve Christ.
The Passion of the Church
The hidden parable presented to us in Matthew 16 traces a path that goes from the first Pope (Peter the Galilean, like Jesus) to the last (Peter the Roman, like Caesar.) The parable is built by Jesus before our very eyes: it is “catholic” (meaning all “encompassing”) because if pertains space (kingdoms, territories) time (from Peter to the last Pope) and the realms of the human soul from where God has been expelled. Those realms must be reconquered to vindicate divine justice.
Peter is the type, the archetype perhaps: at the beginning of the parable he represents himself as mankind perfectly submitting to God. At the end he represents his last successor: a man who rejects Christ and the Cross, a man who will incarnate the will of satan the resister, the antichrist, the man of disobedience, the one who will not go to the depths (duc in altum, see Luke 5: 4) but to the peripheries, claiming a better understanding of the needs of the flock than Christ Himself. He will let go of the Master’s hand and follow the devil in search of a false divine quality.
That man will be revealed by his false prophesying, showing the absence of the Son and the Father as a counterpoint to verse 17 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” To that antichrist Jesus will respond inversely: “Get behind me, Satan! You are resisting me. You are blocking the way to my kingdom!” In the antichrist’s doctrine Christ will be absent. Therefore, this last successor of Peter will be either the antichrist or the one who will surrender the Church to the powers of the world just like the religious leaders of the first century did with Jesus. Forgive me for the disturbing picture I am presenting to you but that is what I sincerely understand.
In our days, a picture is emerging of a church that is not the Church. By simple elimination: if Christ told us that the faith of Peter would not falter … then if a false church like that “bishop dressed in white we thought he was the Holy Father” — in the words of the Fatima seers — comes into the scene with a faith so undeniably faltering that can only be identified as a satanic ape of the true Church. In that false church we have a sure sign of the end of the age.
To arrive at the Passion of Our Lord, several things were necessary. His arrival had to happen at the time prophesied by Daniel and other prophets, his own nation would have to reject him, etc. There were over one-hundred prophecies regarding the Messiah and all of them had to be fulfilled perfectly. No one knew how that was to happen. The very disciples of Christ were not clear about what this extraordinary man was, or how he was going to accomplish the mission of restoring Israel. Jesus taught them a few things in language so mysterious that it was hard for them to decipher.
Eventually, the disciples realized that the meaning of Jesus’ words would be unveiled at a future time. There were elements of Christ’s message that God had to conceal from the natural curiosity of men: “‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1: 6-7) The divine warning has not deterred many who tried to guess the mind of God. It keeps happening in every generation. The exact way and the exact time of Christ’s return continues to be a great secret. We are allowed to know some generalities but not the specific manner in which it will happen. Commanders and strategists zealously guard their plans and God is no exception. However we have been given some general clues. We will touch that subject in the next post.