Where does this passage occur in the structure of the book? Of what major section is it a part? What significance does this position have?
The passage falls between the introduction and the rest of the book. Peter is writing to exiled Jewish Messianics which were being persecuted. Chapter 1 seems to form the basis of the letter – to remind the readers that throughout the persecution, God is with them, that their position with Him is secure, and that they must remain obedient. Further, in 1.10-12, it seems that our author is giving the audience the added assurance that their moment in time is what the prophets foretold and why Christ died. This is why they must be obedient and to do good works because Christ is likely to come soon.
2.1-10 follows this passage and is itself followed by the rest of the chapter in which a life of separation from sin, holiness, is required. In the middle of these two sections stands the passage which commends the covenantal language of the Torah and the Prophets to Peter’s audience. They are persecuted (chapter 1) because they are the new priesthood they must be holy (the remainder of chapter 2).
What has “happened” (whether in narrative, argument, etc…) in the book so far, and what will happen later?
Thus far, the audience is suffering persecution because they are the Elect and they are awaiting the revelation of Jesus Christ. It seems that throughout the text, however, that Peter contrasts those of the assumed lower position with that of the assumed higher. The persecuted with the persecutor. The slave with the Empire. The wife with the husband. They are reminded, then, of their covenantal position with God, which is not of this world, through the blood of Jesus Christ which is far superior to that of the Law, or rather, the elements of this world. They are then told that they will continue to have suffering, so they must continue doing good. The leaders are addressed as well. It is a letter to remind them to hold fast to their confession of faith.
What appears to be the text’s function in the section and in the book as a whole? How does this passage appear to serve the agenda of the entire work?
In my opinion, this passage commends to the audience, as I stated above, the position of a covenant with God. It places them within the same historical relationship with their physical ancestors had with God. They are the priests. They are the kingdom. I think that it calls to mind the idea that the Church will suffer but that it will endure because it will be received again by Christ upon His return. They are, during this time, to testify of the true grace of God (5.12)
The passage is preceded by the things for which the community must rid itself of. Evil and deceit and the such, and then, they come to Christ, the living stone. As I said before, the language is covenantal but it it also alluding to the Temple. In 2.1-3, the putting away of sin is mimicking the priests who cleansed themselves before entering the Temple. This passage stands as a center of the text, as the Temple did for the various sects of Judaism, and now as the Messiah-believing community stands as the center of God’s love and will. It reminds them of their place and of why they must continue to do good.