The First Letter of Peter should have the immediate attention of all believers. It was written by the apostle to people who live at the margins of society. These believers were just beginning to suffer persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. Many Christians are suffering persecution now where true Christianity is presently expanding. And in the previously tolerant west, formal Christianity has been marginalized and true Christians are facing rejection and hatred from the larger culture. Certainly this letter speaks to the church in every generation and situation, and we want to listen to how Peter by the Spirit teaches us about the true Christian way of life.
This is a very practical personal letter to Christians who live as “scattered exiles” in this present world. Some of the ideas that we want to grasp from our study is that Christ is simultaneously the object of our faith and the pattern of our way of life. We also want to understand that the Christian’s identity is in Christ, enabling us to live in a world hostile to the gospel, and that it is better to suffer for Christ than to sin.
I Peter 1 (ESV)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
As we will see First Peter has presents a Christ-focused or Christ-structured view of life. Thoroughly Trinitarian (even a casually attentive reader hears the emphasis on Father, Son and Holy Spirit), Peter builds his letter on Christ from suffering to glory. From this flows out, the believer’s close, vital relation to the Lord Jesus and to other believers in the partnership of the gospel. This means that Christians have become visiting foreigners or resident exiles in this present world. We live in these last times from an eternal perspective. The salvation we share in stretches from God’s eternal choice to Christ’s appearance in these last days, to our life in these same last days, to eternal glory with Christ. Being part of such a reality in Christ, we can suffer as a Christian.
As mentioned, First Peter has the form of a personal letter of that time. He begins with his name, the sender, states his recipients, and offers a wish for their well-being. But since this is a letter from a Christian leader to Christian readers, all three elements are enriched by his faith in Christ, which is common in the New Testament letters.
Simon Peter identifies himself by the name given him by the Lord Jesus. He is “Peter” or “Rock”. This new name agreed with Christ’s calling on his life, and in this letter we will see a Spirit-led reflection on the significance of that new name, an identity that he shares with others in the body of Christ. Peter also sets forth his function in Christ’s church. He is an apostle or “sent one”, sent by Jesus Christ to be a witness of his resurrection (Ac 1) and a spokesman of his message (Jn 16).
Next, Peter identifies the original recipients of the letter in relation to God and his people. First, he briefly calls them “elect” or “chosen” or “selected” by God. In 1:2 he will enlarge upon this description. However, we should grasp that before anything else, Peter tells them of their special relationship to God. This is an important starting point. We must first identify ourselves toward God before we consider what we are in relation to people. God must have the priority in our thinking. Who is Christ? He is God’s chosen one (Is 42:1). Who are we? We are God’s chosen ones? Regardless of suffering in the last days, both Christ and we, are chosen by God. We are not on a personal quest for significance or relevance. That is already settled. We live in these times secure in our relationship to God in Christ.
Second, his readers are “exiles scattered”. The word “exiles” was used to designate someone who did not hold citizenship in the place they resided and who was therefore viewed as a foreigner. Peter will return to this idea in 2:11. There is much debate whether Peter means exiles in a purely physical or spiritual sense. While this discussion is interesting and various physical circumstances were undoubtedly present, I think that in the context of the letter that Peter is speaking in spiritual terms. God’s people are always exiles in this world (Gen 23:4; Ps 39:12; Heb 11:13). We live in this world now, but this is not our home. We are citizens of heaven (Ph 3:21). We are not called to withdraw from earthly society but to engage it by the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. So, we are to be “missional” or “sent” Christians. “Scattered” was originally a technical term that referred to the scattering of the Jewish people in the nations because of God’s judgment. But now Peter applies the word to Christians, who are now God’s people. (This is the first of many names or terms of God’s old covenant people that Peter now applies to the new covenant people. This is an aspect of continuity of God’s covenant purposes.) The idea is not that they are on a journey but that they are scattered people. However, they are not scattered because of God’s judgment, but due to Christ’s purpose for his people. He has scattered his people throughout the world to function as salt and light (Mt 5).
Many question how these Christians came to be scattered in the area mentioned in verse one, an area of about 130,000 square miles. As far as we know, Paul never evangelized there, except for near Ephesus in the province of Asia. Did Peter? Did one of his associates? We simply do not know, so it is a futile exercise to construct a scenario and then use it to help “interpret” this letter. They might have been relocated there through various, unknown means or perhaps evangelized by otherwise unknown Christians. (For example, Luke says nothing about Epaphras spreading the gospel in Colosse. We only know of his ministry through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, or we would be ignorant of how they came to know the Lord.) Perhaps some could trace their “spiritual roots” back to Pentecost (cf. Ac 2:9). The fact is we know very little about the spread of Christianity in the early days outside of what we are told in Acts.
Peter next expands upon their vertical (toward God) relationship. They are elect who are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Foreknowledge in the Bible, when used of God, has an active sense (cf. Ac 2:23). It makes someone something or sets the person on a certain path. For example, the redemptive work of Christ was foreknown (1:20). God did not simply have future insight into what his Son would do; he planned the work that the Son accomplished; he gave him that work to do (Jn 17:4). So then, God the Father’s plan for someone makes them “elect”. God is our Father, because he is the Father of Christ (1:3) and makes us his children by the new birth (1:23). This means that Christians must look at themselves as in a family relationship with the Maker and Ruler of all. He planned for us to be in this special relationship with him. This is important for “scattered exiles” to know. We might be in difficult or painful or forgotten places, but God the Father chose us on purpose for his purpose.
These scattered exiles are also set apart or consecrated to God by the Holy Spirit. This refers to our position before God or what we could call our “positional sanctification”, which is mentioned many times in the New Testament Scriptures. God has set us apart to be his. Scattered exiles need to have this as part of their identity. We are not simply in some place; we are set apart for the living God in that place. Throughout this letter, Peter will talk about our way of life and conducting ourselves in a set apart (“holy”) manner (what is called “progressive sanctification”). But first we must see ourselves from the perspective of God’s saving activity.
Much ink has been spilled over the phrase “to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood,” as people look for its meaning by dissecting it. This is unnecessary, since it ignores the larger Biblical context. It is a phrase that refers to God’s covenant people (cf. Ex 24:3-8). Peter likes to take terms that spoke of God’s people before the cross and resurrection and apply them to Christ’s new covenant people. We are obedient and sprinkled in relation to Christ. What the law could not do, Christ has done, consecrating a people to God by his blood and making them obedient to his lordship.
Peter concludes the introduction to his letter in typical fashion by a prayer/wish. Like other letters in the New Testament Scriptures, Peter enriches it with the combination of “grace and peace”, but he adds his own touching, praying that both would be multiplied to his readers. Grab hold of this idea: the Spirit wants you to enter in to the fullness of what the Father has purposed for you in Jesus Christ. Though you are a “scattered exile” in this world, you should be experiencing abundant grace and peace.
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