Today we will consider the first epistle of Peter. This letter is written by the Apostle Peter to encourage believers who were suffering persecution. His message is about the inevitability of suffering in this life, and the Christian’s responsibility to endure that suffering, which Christ did. We can to as we look to our sure end. Peter encourages Christians to find hope and even blessing in suffering. This letter was written in the mid-60s A.D.
Peter begins by addressing the “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” The “Dispersion” (Greek: diaspora) is an expression that originally referred to the remnant of Judah that would return from the Babylonian captivity (from the Septuagint of Isaiah 49:6). It eventually came to refer to any Jew living outside of Israel (see John 7:35). Here, adding the title “elect exiles,” Peter is using the word to refer to Christians, speaking of our dwelling in the world as the true “Dispersion.” We are dispersed throughout the world, but our true home is heaven. Peter then invokes the Holy Trinity, going on to say that we are elect and in our Dispersion according to the Father’s foreknowledge, in order to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, in order to obey Christ Who made atonement for us through His blood (v. 2 – see below on “foreknowledge”). Here in the two first verses, Peter lays out the theme of his letter.
Peter then pronounces a blessing on God the Father (v. 3). In His mercy, He has caused us to be born again. Peter emphasizes the sovereignty of God is salvation. And what we are born into is the surety of our final resurrection, just as Jesus was raised from the dead. And until that day, God is sovereignly preserving us, making that end sure (vv. 4-5). This is cause to rejoice even in the sufferings of this world (v. 6). Peter says that these sufferings are necessary for our sanctification. They help keep us holy and help preserve us until the end (v. 7 – 1 Cor 3:12-14). This is all through faith (vv. 8-9).
Peter then appeals to the Old Testament. The writers of the Old Testament predicted Christ and our salvation (as we have seen – vv. 10-11). Note that Peter says they wrote about this without knowing when Christ would come (v. 11). Even more amazingly, they wrote the Old Testament for the New Testament saints (v. 12). Note how Peter credits the Holy Spirit with writing of both Testaments. Since we have received what was promised, we are to look to our final salvation (v. 13). Peter equates having this hope with proper thinking: preparing our minds and being sober-minded. Having this hope, we should obey God (v. 14). Rather than be what we have always been, we should be something new that is revealed through our holy living (vv. 15-16). We should live in the fear of the Lord during our time here on earth (v. 17) knowing that Christ’s atoning work makes us able to do so (vv. 18-19).
Paul says that Christ was foreknown before time began (v. 20). This shows that “foreknowledge” in the Bible does not simply mean God knowing something before it happens. Foreknowledge does mean God does not sovereignly ordain what happens. Those that say this is what foreknowledge means when it comes to our salvation (that God “foresees” our “accepting” Him), then must believe that Christ’s work was not predestined, but God simply saw that Jesus of Nazareth would choose to live a perfect life and die on the cross. But this is not what Peter is saying at all! Christ was made manifest in these last days for the sake of the elect (vv. 20-21).
Living obediently (see v. 14) means loving one another (v. 22 – see John 13:34-35). We do this since we have been born again (v. 23). Peter uses a perfect, passive, participle here, which indicates that this is a completed event that has continuing results. Our being born again is not a past event that punches our ticket to heaven, as it were. It is the beginning of a new life that affects everything we do. And we are born again through the Word of God, which is eternal (vv. 24-25). Only the eternal can beget eternal life.
Peter then offers some application for his readers. Since we have been born again and are called to holy and obedient living instead of our former life, we are to live without malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (2:1). And Peter ties in the separation of ourselves from these things with our longing for the truth of God’s Word (v. 2). We should want this if we have tasted that the Lord is good (v. 3). These three verses are a reference to Psalm 34 (Ps 34:8, 13-14).
Peter now returns to the idea that the Old Testament Scriptures were both written for our sake (1:12) and written about our salvation (1:10). We have come to the stone who was rejected by men (Ps 118:22), but chosen by God (v. 4). We have then ourselves become living stones being used to build the true Temple of God (the church) (v. 5). We are the true priests of God, and our offerings are spiritual, made through Christ. Peter claims that Christ is the fulfillment of Isaiah 28:16 (v. 6), Psalm 118:22 (v. 4, 7), and Isaiah 8:14 (v. 8). Unbelievers disobey the revealed Word (which was mostly the Old Testament at this point). We, the church however, obey and fulfill the Word (vv. 9-10 – alluding to Ex 19:5-6, Deut 4:20, 7:5, 14:2, Isa 43:20-21, Hos 1:9-10, 2:23). Peter then calls on us elect exiles to live lives according to who we have been made (vv. 11-12 – see v. 1-3, 1:14-16). Note that Peter refers to our conduct among the Gentiles. Peter is calling the church the spiritual Israel and the world the spiritual Gentiles/nations. We are the true Israel, as the Old Testament Scriptures ultimately reveal Christ and us.
Peter than gives more practical application. We are to be subject to worldly authorities (vv. 13-14, 17 – see Rom 13:1-6) in order to be examples of what is right and wise (v. 15). We should live using the freedom Christ has given us to obey God (v. 16), including honoring authority and loving each other (v. 17). Servants should honor their masters regardless of how their master treats them (v 18). This is part of that necessary suffering (see 1:6). It is also how we are examples in what in right (v. 19 – see v. 15). Peter tell us that the suffering we are called to as Christians is not the sufferings we face because of our own sin (which is a lot of our suffering!), but the suffering that befalls us through our obedience to God (v. 20). We have such an example in Christ Who suffered for our sake (v. 21), even though He had not sinned (v. 22). And in His suffering, He did not respond in a worldly way, but trusted God and obeyed (v. 23). We are called to follow this example because Christ suffered because of our sin (v. 24) and called us to Him (v. 25).
Wives are to submit to their husbands, even if their husbands are not Christians (v. 1). This will reveal God and potentially bring their unbelieving husband to repentance (vv. 1-2). Women should not focus on their outward appearance (v. 3), but their inward heart and resulting outward actions (v. 4). Peter again points back to the Old Testament and holds up Sarah as an example (vv. 5-6). Husbands are to honor our wives and protect them (v. 7). Women are equal with men in the kingdom, that is, they receive the same inheritance men do. Note that Peter says that how a man treats his wife affects his relationship with God.
Peter calls for Christians to be united, loving, and humble toward each other (v. 8). We are called to endure suffering and even bless those who persecute us (v. 9 – see Matt 5:43-48). This will result in our blessing. Peter again quotes Psalm 34 (Ps 34:12-16). In verse 13, Peter alludes to Proverbs 16:7, tying in our endurance of suffering with what he said in 2:12. Like a believing wife can win over and unbelieving husband (vv. 1-2), so can our treatment of our persecutors win them for Christ. But even if not, God will bless us for our obedience (v. 14) and our honoring Christ (v. 15). This will also open the door for us to share our faith with unbelievers, as well as keep our conscience clear and condemn the wicked (vv. 15-16 – see 2:15). Peter then brings this back to suffering for the right reasons (v. 17 – see 2:20-23), and again points us to Christ’s example (v. 18). He endured suffering to bring the ungodly to faith in God. So should we.
Peter then has this odd statement about Christ proclaiming to the spirits who were in prison for disobedience during Noah’s day (vv. 18-20). These spirits are the disobedient angels of Genesis 6:1-4 (see 2 Pet 2:4-5 and Jude 6). Peter is alluding to the book of 1 Enoch (which is in the Septuagint – the Bible Jesus and the Apostles used). Enoch was taken by God without dying (see Gen 5:21-24). According to 1 Enoch chapters 6-15, the angels who sinned in Genesis 6 are thrown into Tartarus (in the underworld) and kept as prisoners. Enoch (alive and serving God) is asked by the angels to plead with God for their forgiveness. God refuses and sends Enoch to the prisoners to preach their destruction. Peter is saying that Christ’s finished work spells the final destruction for the powers of darkness. And He let them know when He finished His work.
But what about the baptism talk in verse 21? Peter uses the metaphor of those who survived through the flood water and the defeat of the powers of darkness to describe baptism. Baptism identifies the saved with Christ, not just in His death and resurrection, but with His victory in His ascension and rule over everything, including the spiritual realm (vv. 21-22). In context, this is the reason that we can keep our conscience clear (v. 21 – see v. 16) and endure suffering and even bless our persecutors. We already share in Christ’s victory. Even when we lose in this world, we win! What’s more, this also means that our baptism as a public profession is not just professing our faith. It is declaring victory over the powers of darkness!
We are to think like Christ Who suffered bodily (4:1). We have died with Him to sin and live unto God (v. 1-2 – see Rom 6:1-14 and the baptism tie-in there). He reminds us that we are now beyond living like spiritual Gentiles (v. 3 – see 1:14-16). Once again, living differently from the unsaved reveals God to them (v. 4). This may lead to further persecution, but it will also be their condemnation (v. 5). The point is that we must reveal God and preach (and live out) the Gospel in the hopes of saving them, just like Christ lived it out for us when we were dead in sin, even those who are now physically dead (v. 6). So since Christ died for our sake in these last days, we are to live obediently so that our relationship with God is not affected (v. 7 see 3:7). Peter again encourages love among the saints, which will help each other in our sanctification (v. 8). We are to sacrificially share what we have with each other, whether material goods (v. 9) or spiritual gifts (v. 10). And we are to do it all unto God (v. 11).
Peter then reminds us that suffering is going to come (v. 12). He also reminds us to rejoice if we suffer for doing good, because we are imitating Christ, ensuring our final salvation (v. 13). We are to suffer for good (v. 14), not evil (v. 15), all for God’s glory (v. 16). If we would check ourselves within the church and live obediently, we would have a glorious effect on the unsaved (v. 17). If we are not living out the Gospel, we leave the unsaved condemned (v. 18). Let us then entrust ourselves to God and suffer for doing good (v. 19).
Peter then addresses elders in particular (5:1). We are to shepherd the flock not for monetary gain, but because we are eager to fulfill God’s calling on our lives (v. 2). We are to remain mutually humble with other Christians as an example to them (v. 3, 5 – see 3:8), and because our end is sure (v. 4). Our humility is a sign of our salvation (vv. 5-6), and our reliance of God (v. 7). We must be sober-minded (by living holy – see 1:13) lest we become susceptible to Satan’s deceit (v. 8). We must also endure suffering for the same reason (v. 9). This is true for all Christians. And once we endure suffering in this fleeting life, God will welcome us to our final salvation (v. 10). He also uses it to sustain us in the here and now.
Peter ends by telling his readers that Silvanus will be bringing this letter around to all the churches (v. 12). “She who is at Babylon” (v. 13) is likely a reference to the church in Rome. With Rome in charge of the world at the time of this writing, Rome is the new Babylon, where the dispersed are in exile on this earth (see 1:1). Peter was in Rome with Mark (v. 13). Peter asks that their greetings be sent to all (v. 14).