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Commentary on The First Letter of Peter (1 Peter)

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Brief Introductions to 1 & 2 Peter.

Central Message.

1 Peter.

The central message of 1 Peter is the obedience of Jesus Christ (1.2), of which we are to partake through the working of the Holy Spirit (1.2), especially as revealed in His obedience unto death (2.24; 3.18). This is an obedience into which we can enter (2.24), which results from our being begotten again by God (1.3, 23) and the consequence is that we become ‘the children of obedience’ (1.14), even when it leads through the pathway of suffering. As Paul put it, ‘Through the obedience of One shall many be made righteous’ (Romans 5.19).

Jesus ‘learned obedience by experience through the things that He suffered’ (Hebrews 5.8). And that He did suffer is something that Peter stresses. ‘He suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit’ (3.18). ‘He His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin might live unto righteousness’ (2.24). And He did so, in order that we might purify our souls in obedience to the truth (1.22) and be supported through our sufferings, ‘unto His eternal glory in Christ’ (5.10). For the final result of our being ‘brought into His obedience in order to become children of obedience’, will be that we will share His eternal glory. This sums up the message of 1 Peter.

2 Peter.

The central message of 2 Peter continues the thought of the eternal glory of Jesus. ‘He called us by His own glory and virtue’ (1.3). ‘We did not follow cunningly devised stories when we made known to you the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from the Father honour and glory when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”. And this voice we heard ourselves come out of Heaven when we were with Him in the holy mount’ (1.16-18). And it was a glory which was confirmed by the true prophets (1.19-21).

Thus we must avoid the Christian false prophets, who like the fallen angels of old come to us with great words and promises, encouraging us to earthly pleasures and riches (2.1-22), and rather, as those who are truly righteous, we must look to the words of the true prophets (3.2) who speak of the day when He will come (3.4), the day when out of judgment and destruction will come new heavens and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness’ (3.12-13). Thus they are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to Whom will be the glory for ever (3.18). .

Authorship.

On the basis of the normal rules of historical evidence accepted in respect of other secular works, there is no sound reason for denying that both letters were written by Peter. No other name was ever linked with them, and even though there is an obvious distinction in style between 1 & 2 Peter, this is clearly explicable by the fact that the contents of the first letter were compiled in cooperation with Silvanus, his beloved companion (5.12).

Silvanus (Silas) was a one time companion of Paul (Acts 15.22, 40; 16.19; 17.10; 18.5; 1 Thessalonians 1.1; 2 Thessalonians 1.1), a Roman citizen, and one who was distinguished among Jesus’ early followers (Acts 15.22). It is significant how often he was involved when important Christian communications had to be made (Acts 15.22-23; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; and now Peter). He would have written down Peter’s thoughts in his own elegant style, much as a modern secretary would do for his/her employer, although in his case not so much as a secretary but as a valued and trusted companion. This connection also helps to explain some of the similarities between 1 Peter and Paul’s Thessalonian letters. In contrast in 2 Peter we may well have Peter’s own style, which was very much like the man himself, open, unrestrained, impetuous. He would use a secretary here also, but probably not allowing him as much input.

That Peter was familiar with some of Paul’s letters, and valued them, we know from 2 Peter 3.15. They had after all met up with each other at various times, hearing each other’s preaching and having close discussions (Galatians 2.2, 9, 11), and Silvanus knew Paul’s teaching inside out, having travelled with him as his close companion. He would no doubt have commented on some of what he knew to Peter. Thus Peter had at this time good reason to be familiar with Paul’s theology as something that augmented his own ideas. But there is no doubt that in his letter Peter has his own view of God’s agenda. He is not just a parrot repeating Paul’s ideas.

Furthermore we must not overlook the fact there are many parallels with thoughts in Hebrews which will come out in the commentary, which suggest that he was at least familiar with the background of ideas lying behind that letter, and there are indications of a similar familiarity with the ideas lying behind James’ letter. He was clearly at home with 1st century Christian thought.

In the case of 2 Peter he may well also have been inspired by his reading of Jude, or more likely of the source from which Jude obtained a number of his ideas, for 2 Peter and Jude share a number of ideas in common, although even then it should be noted that each puts what he says in his own different and individual style, fitting the ideas with the needs of those to whom they wrote. It was not a case of one simply copying from the other, and writing down what someone else had said. Rather each felt that the ideas that he had read or heard were what his readers needed to hear, and so he formulated them in his own style.

As a Galilean Peter would have been fluent in Greek and Aramaic, although with his Greek having a pronounced Semitic flavour. Furthermore, his ability to speak fluent Hellenistic Greek would undoubtedly have been expanded as a result of his activities for many years among Greek speaking churches, so that we would expect to find him using colloquial Greek coloured with Semitisms. (It is the more classical Greek of 1 Peter that should surprise us, not the rugged Greek of 2 Peter. But as we have seen that is explicable in terms of his use of the cultured Silvanus as his ‘secretary’). Among such churches he would also have used the Septuagint as a source for his teaching of the Scriptures, if for no other reason than that that was the version that the majority in the Greek-speaking churches were familiar with and used.

Indications of Peter’s Connection With 1 Peter.

We must not take too seriously in this regard the statement with regard to Peter that he was ‘unlearned and ignorant’ (Acts 4.13). That simply meant that he was not learned in the official interpretations of the Law or in the lore of the priesthood. And that, indeed was the way in which most Galileans were probably looked on in Jerusalem. But he would have had a synagogue education and we can be sure that Jesus selected as His Apostles capable men of good intelligence who were able to adapt. Jesus was a good reader of men, and He had a wide selection to choose from. He knew precisely what He was looking for.

There are in fact subtle indications in the letter that point to Peter. No other letters in the New Testament emphasise the fact that Jesus ‘suffered’ in the way that Peter does (see later for details). This recalls to our minds the way in which, when Jesus had first stressed that He must suffer, Peter had taken Him on one side and had rebuked Him and had had to be put firmly in his place. He had taken the lesson to heart. He had come to accept that Jesus would suffer.

Again there is in the letter a subtle emphasis on ‘glory’, which ties in with one who had seen the glory of the Lord revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9.1-8; compare 2 Peter 1.16-18). Indeed the whole letter builds up to the glory that is coming (5.10). While his twofold emphasis on Jesus as the Chief Shepherd (2.25; 5.4) is a reminder of the fact that Jesus, after His resurrection, had called on Peter to ‘tend My sheep’ (John 21.15-17).

We could note also the parallel ideas found in this letter and in Peter’s speeches in Acts, with the letter revealing an advancement in thought on the speeches as we might expect. Note for example the emphasis on the suffering of Christ and the fact that He died on ‘the tree’ (1.11, compare Acts 3.18; 2.24, compare Acts 5.30); the idea of His foreordination to death (1.20 compare Acts 2.23); His manifestation in the last time/days (1.20, compare Acts 1.17a); His triumph over Hades (3.19 with Acts 2.24, 27, 31); His being raised from the dead by God and being given glory (1.21 with Acts 2.24, 32-36).

But none of these things are over-emphasised or spoken of in an exactly parallel way, as they would undoubtedly have been by someone seeking to use them in order to pretend to be Peter. (Such people tended to be blatant rather than subtle). They come rather as the natural expression of the writer’s heart.

Early References to 1 & 2 Peter.

Both of Peter’s letters are in fact echoed as early as the late first century AD by Clement of Rome (although the earliest Christian writers tended not to quote Scripture directly, but to incorporate it into their text).

1 Peter is also echoed in the letters of Ignatius, the martyred Bishop of Antioch (c. 110 AD), the letter of Barnabas (c. 130 AD), and the Shepherd of Hermas (c. 140 AD) among others. It is clearly cited (although not by name) by Polycarp c.160 AD, who had himself personally known some of the Apostles, and he clearly saw it as authoritative, even though he does not mention Peter’s name. And why should he? He was assuming that people would recognise the references and would therefore ascribe it to Peter, which is in itself an indication of its popularity. It may be seen as suggesting that its authorship was so well known that it did not need to be stated.

2 Peter is not quite as well attested, but as well as echoes being found in Clement at the end of the first century AD, it was probably also echoed by Justin Martyr (c.150 AD), and possibly by the letters of Ignatius and by Hermas.

There are also echoes of both 1 & 2 Peter in the works of Irenaus, Bishop of Lyons, who had known Polycarp, and wrote towards the end of 2nd century AD. Furthermore Origen, a Christian scholar in the early 200s AD, actually describes both letters as having been written by Peter, something clearly held as true by the churches as a whole. None were questioning 1 Peter, but there those who were questioning the authorship of 2 Peter. This last fact should comfort us rather than disturbing us, for it demonstrates how carefully the church were considering authorship. But it was not an idea that took root, which suggests that most knew that it was written by Peter There is in fact no suggestion that 2 Peter was ever said to have actually been positively rejected. It was just that it was not taken up too quickly in some areas because of doubts. But it is important to recognises that no other source was ever suggested in respect of it.

We must remember that in 2nd century AD a number of works claiming the name of Peter were circulating around, and people were therefore rightly being careful. But even then there were no doubts about 1 Peter. 2 Peter simply entered into those doubts. What would actually have been more disturbing would have been if no one in the earliest centuries had ever questioned the authorship of books and letters. Then we would have had real grounds for doubts.

Thus Origen’s words are interesting as demonstrating that the question of the authorship of New Testament books was taken seriously at this early stage. Yet even in this light it is clear that its authorship by Peter was then accepted by most churches, including by Origen himself, and this therefore by the foremost scholar of the period at a time when good information would still be available, and sources could be traced back. Most importantly it was acknowledged as by Peter in the very area to which the letters appear to have been sent (Firmilian - mid-200s, Methodius - 300s), in Asia Minor. And who knew better?

It should be remembered that in a church which was careful about what it accepted, anything bearing the name of Peter would inevitably raise questions about its authenticity because of the way in which so many heretical works used Peter’s name. Unless they were certain of their source the early church would thus have viewed any such works suspiciously. It must also be considered as quite possible that the enthusiasm for chiliasm (the belief in a 1,000 year period of bliss) in 2nd century AD, and then the resultant reaction against chiliasm, resulted in a frowning on 2 Peter by some people of both sides , because of his mention of a thousand years. Although it was in another context, it could be loosely cited by both sides. (It is not only in our own day that the Scriptures have been loosely cited). And we do know that the difference in styles between the two letters did disturb some more thoughtful readers, who might not have realised the assistance that Silvanus had given in the case of 1 Peter, in view of the doubts and suspicions which always clung to supposed Petrine works. Nor on the whole are the contents of the letter of a type to encourage popularity or extensive quotation.

However, the vast majority of the church appears to have been continually confident that it was the work of Peter, even though they were aware of many other spurious works that had had Peter’s name attached to them, which they rejected as Scripture. We must remember that, at that stage, where the work came from would still be remembered, and questions could be asked.

Concerning 1 Peter little doubt was ever expressed. We can probably safely say that it was universally accepted by all the churches as ‘written’ by Peter. And it is not insignificant that after a thorough examination of the origin of all the New Testament books, Athanasius in the east (367 AD), and the council of Carthage (397 AD), which while attended by easterners mainly represented western opinion, (both of which had sources of evidence of which we know nothing), accepted both as genuine works of Peter, while rejecting the letter of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, both of which had previously gained some considerable credence. Genuine Apostolicity reigned supreme, and 1 and 2 Peter were included because their sources were considered to be known. We have every reason therefore to have confidence in the fact that both are genuinely the work of Peter. Their superiority over the non-canonical works is undoubted.

Themes of 1 Peter.

1 Peter was written to the churches described in the introduction so as to:

  • Remind them of the established truths of the Gospel and of their glorious privileges with regard to them (1.1-25).
  • Bring to their minds the huge privilege and responsibility that they had as God’s representatives on earth as, founded on Him, they have become living stones in His temle (2.1-10).
  • Encourage them to keep themselves from worldly behaviour, and not to follow worldly desires, while at the same time warning them not to unnecessarily set the world at loggerheads against them (2.11-3.12).
  • Be an encouragement in the face of persecution and suffering (3.13-4.19).
  • Encourage the growth and unity of the church in the face of opposition (5.1-14).

The persecution described would not appear to have been official, but appears to be arising from the circumstances of the environment in which they lived. When speaking of their attitudes towards the authorities there is no hint that such authorities were involved in the persecution (2.13-17). It is when he speaks of the attitude of Christians towards their masters that there is a clear indication of problems arising (2.18-20).

So their persecution seems rather to be connected with their particular situation in regard to society generally. It would not be unexpected. The very fact that Christians were not prepared to participate in the ‘normal’ way of living of a society which was heavily involved with idolatrous worship, and its accompanying lascivious living, would be quite sufficient to draw on them the wrath of the unthinking among the populace, and this was especially so when it came to the relationship of slaves to their masters, where refusal to submit to the household religion or to emperor worship might well have been seen as due to recalcitrance. It is that master-servant relationship that appears largely to have been at the root of their problems (2.18-21), although it no doubt also spread outwards from there to include persecution of the type which Paul regularly experienced from those who saw their religion as being superseded, or saw their profits as being affected (4.12), and thus began to hate the name of Christ. (See Acts 14.4-6, 19; 16.19; 17.5; 18.12; 19.23-41 especially)

The problems would begin when it was recognised that the Christians were the only ones who would not comply with local religious feeling, or local festivals, or with Emperor worship (which was popular in the East), and were quietly resistant to any attempt to force them to become involved because they insisted that they had something better. And once the increasing size of the churches made them noticeable there would inevitably be a reaction against their exclusivity, and the way that they gained converts, and they would begin to be despised as ‘those Christians’. Nothing is hated more by the unsuccessful than the success of others.

Yet it was not so much the contents of their religion as such that was being attacked. Had they been willing to be inclusive, and to join in with the general behaviour and compromise, they would have been accepted. What upset people was that they set themselves up as exclusive and different. Christians seemed to think of themselves as not of this world. And it was this ‘difference’ (which be it noted Peter emphatically encourages) that was one of the things that was seen as offensive. The world considered that Christians set themselves up as better than other men, while their indulging ‘in secret ceremonies’ (the Lord’s Supper) could only be seen as adding to the suspicions. Thus the impression grew among many ‘pagans’, fostered by evil men, that these Christians were up to something which was not very pleasant. Did they not gather together to eat human flesh and drink blood?

Contents Of The Letter.

The letter contains a number of important themes, and it opens with a glorious portrayal of God’s powerful working on our behalf in His great plan of ‘salvation’, which is certainly one of those important themes (1.2, 5, 9, 10; 2.2; 3.20-21; 4.18). And this includes:

  • His foreknowing and sanctifying of us (1.2).
  • His ‘begetting of us again’ through the resurrection (1.3; compare 1.23; 2.2), together with the resultant call for purity of living (1.14-16; 2.1-2, 11-12; 4.2-4).
  • A reminder of the refining suffering that salvation will involve for those who are His (1.6-7; compare 2.20-21; 3.14, 17; 4.1, 12-16, 19; 5.8-10).
  • A pointing to our certain hope that is yet to come as we look forward to the everlasting kingdom (1.4, 5, 7, 13; compare 2.2, 12; 3.15; 4.5, 7, 13; 5.1, 4, 10).

These are major emphases, and the ideas do, as we can see, crop up throughout the narrative. But while giving full recognition to this fact, they are not the main theme that unifies the whole. Rather they must be seen as accompanying that main theme. For unlike Paul, Peter does make clear his main theme from the beginning.

The main theme that is in Peter’s mind is stated by him quite openly in his introductory words in 1.2, and it is this:

  • That God the Father forechose us (‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God’).
  • So that the Powerful Spirit of God might set about the work of ‘setting us apart to being wholly His’ (‘in sanctification of the Spirit’).
  • In order that we might enter into the fullness of the obedience of the One Who was God-made-man (‘--unto the obedience of Jesus Christ’), the One Who learned obedience by the things that He suffered (Hebrews 5.8), and was obedient unto death (Philippians 2.8).
  • And so that we might obtain the benefit of the shedding of His blood (‘unto sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’).

That is what the letter is all about, and these ideas of ‘entering into the obedience of Jesus Christ’ and ‘looking to His shed blood’ will pervade the letter.

In saying this we need first to note here the Greek construction of the last part of 1.2 which is difficult to bring out in the English. The particular words are, ‘Unto obedience and sprinkling of blood of Jesus Christ’. In the Greek the preposition ‘unto’ applies jointly to both the obedience and the sprinkling (this ‘application’ is more positively significant in the Greek). This brings out that the two ideas go closely together, and we are probably therefore to see ‘of Jesus Christ’ as also applying to both. It is saying that the purpose of the Spirit is that we should be united with Jesus both in His obedience (by having it reckoned to us, and by ourselves becoming obedient), and in the sprinkling of His blood (in the application to us of the benefits of His sacrificial death).

In other words Peter’s central thought is that from eternity past the power of Almighty God had been at work with the final aim of bringing His elect into intimate connection with the foreordained and foreknown obedience, suffering and death of Jesus Christ (1.20; compare Acts 2.23), and all that springs from it.

This must certainly be seen as including His resurrection and glorification for these indicated the satisfactory nature of His obedience, and its acceptability as making Him a sufficient sacrifice for sin. Unless He had been raised from the dead and reinstated in His glory there would have been no satisfactory offering. But Peter has very much in mind their present circumstances when what they have to face are the persecutions and sufferings that had also faced their Master.

So, central to Peter’s thought is that what God had chosen His people for was that they may become one with Christ in His obedience and death, so that they may share His obedience and the benefits of His death, resulting in a sharing in His resurrection, and finally in His glory (5.10).

None knew better than Peter the reality, both of the obedience of Jesus Christ, and of His sufferings. For three or more glorious years of his life Peter had walked with Jesus Christ in the flesh, and he had beheld His constant obedience. Like John (in 1 John 1.1-3) he had listened to Him (‘what we have heard from the beginning’), he had watched Him (‘which our eyes have seen’), he had scrutinised His life (‘which we have gazed upon’), he had been one of His close companions (‘which our hands have come into contact with’), and as a result he had come to recognise that ‘He had the words of eternal life’ (‘of the Word of life’). In spite of not really knowing what was happening (although he had thought that he knew) He had faithfully followed Him, and he had continually seen His glory, the glory as of the only true-born Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1.14; compare 2 Peter 1.16-18). And that was why, when challenged, he had declared ‘Lord, to Whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we know and believe that you are the Holy One of God’ (Peter’s words in John 6.68-69).

It was also why he could declare of Him that, ‘He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, Who when He was reviled, did not retaliate with reviling, when He suffered, He did not threaten’, but rather submitted Himself in obedience to the will of God (2.22-23). None knew better than he the obedience of Jesus Christ, which had been expressed by Jesus in the terms, ‘I do always those things which please Him’ (John 8.29). None knew better than he how much it had cost Him in terms of rejection. The one thing above all others that must have come home to His disciples was how totally He was bound up in doing the will of His Father, and in nothing else, and how much this had turned His enemies against Him. They had recognised in Him One Who was uniquely God’s ‘obedient One’. And in hindsight especially, he had also become very much aware during those last days, of Jesus’ continuing ‘obedience unto death’.

And he had then had his life shattered, by the impact of the events that led to His violent death. He had been ‘a witness of the sufferings of Christ’ (5.1). He had seen Him sweating great drops of blood in the Garden. He had observed Him being dragged around, a torn and bleeding figure, in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. He had seen those eyes turned towards him after his own failure (Luke 22.61). And he had had his own life torn apart, at the thought that Jesus had gone to the cross not knowing how bitterly he had repented. Then for three days his life had lain in ruins around him because this One Who had become his life and had done only the will of His Father had been overtaken by a violent death, while he and the other disciples were in hiding, fearful for their very lives. How near any of the disciples apart from John came to the cross we do not know. They may well have looked on from afar. But they had certainly not dared to appear openly. But they had seen His sufferings beforehand, and they observed the clear marks of the nailprints afterwards. They knew how He had suffered. And it had seemed clear as a result, that all that Jesus’ faithful obedience to God had resulted in was a shameful death, and worse, death under a curse (Galatians 3.13). It had seemed incredible. One moment things had seemed to be going forward reasonably well, with the crowds being won to His side, and the arguments of His opponents defeated, and the next all hope seemed to have gone. In that moment all that they had been giving their lives to had collapsed.

But then Jesus had been raised from the dead and His obedience and death had taken on a new meaning. These ideas had then driven themselves into Peter’s soul and he had come to realise, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that it was in fact Jesus’ obedience, and especially His obedience unto death, that had been uniquely essential and effective within the purposes of God, and that it had been especially essential on our behalf. He had brought to mind Jesus’ words that He had come to obey. That He had come to serve and to suffer, and to give His life a ransom for many (1.18-19; Mark 10.45), so that we too might serve and suffer, but most of all so that we might be redeemed. For it is especially noticeable in Peter’s letter that, while he twice uses Jesus as an example to be followed in His suffering, in each case it leads on to a reminder that His death was far more than that (compare 2.21 with 24; 3.17 with 18; 4.1-2). It was not only to be seen as a good example, it was to be seen as a life given for many, a death which resulted in the ‘bearing of sin’.

This same thought of obedience and death that we find in Peter pervades the letter to the Hebrews, and it may be seen as summed up in Hebrews 10.6-9 where the writer portrays Jesus as saying, ‘In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have had no pleasure, then said I, Lo, I am come, to do your will, O my God.’

And the writer then declares that ‘He takes away the first (the burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin) that He might establish the second’. In other words, the whole of Israel’s sacrificial system, (which had been but a symbol), had been replaced by the obedience of Jesus Christ, and especially by His obedience unto death, (which were the glorious facts), as He had performed God’s will through suffering. And that is why the writer could add, ‘By which will we are “having been sanctified ones” through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10.10), with the result that, ‘He has perfected for ever those who are being sanctified’ (Hebrews 10.14). The obedience of Jesus Christ in preparation for, and then as an essential part of, His sacrifice, thus lies at the very heart of the Gospel. Here was ‘the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus’ accomplishing God’s perfect work of salvation, and being applied by the Spirit in His work of the sanctifying of His own.

And this is what Peter is talking about in his opening words. He is pointing out that God has chosen His elect in order that by the sanctifying work of the Spirit they may be united with Jesus Christ in His obedience and death. And his central theme throughout his letter will be that, having been united with Jesus Christ in His obedience, and especially His obedience unto death, and having been sprinkled with His blood, the latter signifying our intimately benefiting from His death, it must result in lives of full obedience as we follow in His steps, an obedience which must inevitably result in suffering. For having as a result of His obedience and death been ‘begotten of God to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1.3), we have been made ‘children of obedience’ (1.14), and have ‘purified our souls in obedience’ (1.22), something which has resulted in our unique love for our brothers and sisters in Christ (1.22), and the certainty that we will suffer for His Name’s sake (2.20-21; 3.16; 4.1; 4.13-14, 16; 5.10). And that is all something that has therefore to be lived out.

This thought of obedience pervades the whole letter. It is because of the obedience of Jesus Christ unto death that, if we are of His elect:

  • We are being sanctified ‘unto that obedience’ (1.2), with the result that through the new birth we have been made ‘children of obedience’ (1.6, 14).
  • We have purified our souls ‘in our obedience to the truth’ resulting in unfeigned love of our brothers and sisters (1.22)
  • We are in contrast to those who are ‘disobedient’ (2.8), and with unbelievers who are those who ‘do not obey the word’ (3.1).
  • We are to be like Sarah who ‘obeyed’ Abraham (3.6).
  • We, along with Him, are in contrast to the imprisoned spirits who had been previously ‘disobedient’ (3.20).
  • We are not of those of whom the question is asked as to what will be the end of those who ‘obey not the Gospel of God’ (4.17).

But even more importantly we should note that the idea of obedience and disobedience, along with the idea of ‘submitting’ to the Lord in all things, even in the face of suffering, underlies the whole letter, even where it is not mentioned in so many words. For the idea is found everywhere.

With this in mind let us consider his ideas in more detail:

  • 1). In 1.3-6 our begetting again through the resurrection is ‘unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time’. At our worst moments we tend to think of salvation as our being ‘brought into the comfort zone’. And that is of especial importance when we feel loaded down by sin. We want to be sure that we are going to Heaven. But when God thinks of salvation it is from a more positive viewpoint. It is from the viewpoint of our being ‘presented holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight’ (Colossians 1.22), of our ‘not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing’, but becoming ‘holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5.27), of our being ‘conformed to the image of His Son’ (Romans 8.29). In other words in God’s purposes salvation is to result in our becoming what we should be, fully obedient to the will of God. That is why the very purpose of our being begotten again is that we might be children of obedience (1.14), an attitude that results from our response to Christ, a response by which we purify our souls in obedience to the truth (1.22).
  • 2). In 1.7 the sufferings of the present time are in order that the genuineness of our faith may be revealed by our obedience in suffering, so that it may ‘redound to praise, glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ’. In other words the purpose of our sufferings is so that our obedience of faith, resulting in practical obedience, may be revealed, in order to bring glory to God.
  • 3). In 1.8-9 the outcome of our faith in Jesus Christ is to be the salvation of our whole persons (souls). In other words the outcome will be that we will be presented perfect in obedience and in acceptability to Him.
  • 4). And it is ‘therefore’, (because of these facts), that we are to gird up our minds and be sober, setting our hope on the revelation that is to come to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1.13), walking as children of obedience (1.14), and being holy as He is holy (1.15).
  • 5). Our knowledge of what Christ has done for us in redeeming us through His blood, and of the fact that the Father judges all men without respect of persons, is to cause us to walk in ‘awed reverence’ (and therefore in obedience) during the time of our sojourning in this world (1.17-20). For what He has done for us was for the purpose of establishing our faith and hope in God (1.21).
  • 6). By being begotten again we have purified our souls in ‘obedience to the truth’ resulting in unfeigned love of our brothers and sisters in Christ, a course in which we must persevere (1.22-25).
  • 7). We are therefore to put away all sinful behaviour, and to partake of spiritual milk in order to grow ‘unto salvation’ (2.1-2). This will result, as a consequence of our response to the Lord (2.3-4), in our offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, and revealing true belief in Him (2.5-6), demonstrating that we are not disobedient unbelievers (2.7-8), but have hearts full of love, faith and obedience, and we will thereby (by our obedience) show forth the excellencies of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light (2.8-9).
  • 8). So putting away all fleshly desires we are to behave in a seemly way and by our good works we are to bring glory to God in the Day of Visitation (2.11-12).
  • 9). One way in which our obedience will be revealed will be by our being subject to those placed in authority by God, to ‘every ordinance of man’, and this ‘for the Lord’s sake’; thus we are to be subject to the rightful secular authority, thereby fulfilling the will of God (2.13-17).
  • 10). We are to reveal our obedience to Christ by being subject in obedience to our masters. Following the example of Christ in His suffering and death we are to be free from guile and subject in obedience to our employers, as sheep who have responded to the Shepherd (2.18-25). (Again therefore it is for the Lord’s sake). Compare Ephesians 6.6. And of this obedience Jesus is the example. Note the emphasis on Jesus’ doing the will of His Father in 2.22-23 making Him able to bear our sins (verse 24) in order that we might become obedient by ‘living unto righteousness’ (verse 24).
  • 11). Christian women are to be subject in obedience to their husbands. Just as Sarah was obedient to Abraham, so are Christian women, who are ‘daughters of Sarah’ (and thus the true Israel - Romans 9.7-13), to be obedient to their husbands, and to be so chaste and pure living that if their husbands are unbelieving they will be brought into obedience to the word by the purity of their lives (3.1-6). In the same way husbands are to cherish and honour their wives (3.7). (It is this idea of swaying the unbelieving that lies behind much of what he says).
  • 12). We are to be subject (obedient) to one another. All of us are to behave in a similar way in righteousness of life (3.8-12), and thus by the goodness of our lives we should put our gainsayers to shame (3.13-16).
  • 13). We should be ready to suffer for well-doing, following the example of Christ Who in the will of God suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous in order that He might bring us to God, being first put to death in His flesh, but then being made alive in the spirit, as a result of which He became a proclaimed example to the spirits in prison who had been disobedient in the days of Noah while Noah was preparing the Ark (3.17-20a). Here our obedience and His obedience are set in total contrast to the ‘disobedience’ of the angels. Note again the emphasis on the fact that Jesus suffered ‘in the will of God’ (verses 17-18), in contrast with the angels in their disobedience.
  • 14). By that Ark (prepared as a result of Noah’s obedience - compare 2 Peter 2.5) eight people were saved through water, while the remainder died at the same time as the disobedient spirits were imprisoned. This is an illustration of how we are saved through baptism, not because of its ritual effect, but through (our participation in) the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because our being baptised reveals the answer or plea of a good conscience towards God (an obedient and submissive conscience). And that resurrection as the obedient One is in contrast with the fate of the disobedient spirits in prison, and has resulted in His glorification (3.20b-22), and His being put in authority over all spiritual beings (3.22), and will by implication therefore result in our glorification too (5.10, compare Ephesians 1.19-2.6). And all in response to and within the will of God.
  • 15). That is why we are to follow the example of Christ in His suffering, by ourselves being willing to suffer in order that we might cease from sin (compare 1.7), and no longer live in disobedience (4.1-4). And we do it because we know that One day He will judge the living and the dead. For the purpose of the Gospel is that we might live according to God in the spirit (4.5-6), either so as to be ready for that Day, or in order that we might ourselves benefit by so living.

    16). Because the end of all things is at hand we are therefore to live spiritual lives of soberness and prayerfulness, loving one another, showing hospitality and serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. And all so that God might be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ (4.7-11).

  • 17). We are therefore to be ready to suffer as He did, becoming partakers of His sufferings, because as a result of it we will finally find joy when His subsequent glory is revealed. But we must suffer, not as evildoers, but as Christians who walk in obedience to Him and His Gospel. For judgment is coming for all, beginning at the house of God, and if we who obey the Gospel of God are to be judged, what will be the end of those who do not obey the Gospel of God? (4.12-19).
  • 18). Peter then variously exhorts us to godly behaviour and living, because he was a witness of the sufferings of Christ and will be a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed (5.1-7). And he exhorts us to vigilance in the face of the Devil’s attacks through persecution. Him we must resist steadfast in faith knowing that we but suffer along with our brothers and sisters around the world, and that the God Who has called us to eternal glory will finally perfect, strengthen and establish us, ensuring our full obedience to God (5.8-11).
  • 19). We are therefore to stand fast in the true grace of God, having been called to His eternal glory in Christ (5.10).

It appears to us, therefore, that the main underlying theme of 1 Peter is the obedience through suffering that was manifested in Jesus Christ and with which we are conjoined through being begotten again by God (1.2-3, compare Romans 5.19; Hebrews 10.5-10; and see Hebrews 5.8-9; Philippians 2.8; Romans 6.17-18). It is an obedience which makes us ‘children of obedience’ and purified in obedience (1.14, 22), and which is to result in godly living (1.14, 22; Romans 6.17-18), and to lead up to full salvation and obedience at His coming (1.5, 7; Hebrews 5.8-9). And he makes it clear that this being united with Him in His obedience goes in parallel with our benefiting from His obedience unto death, which resulted in His sacrificial death on our behalf (1.18-19; 2.22-24; 3.18; 4.1, 13; 5.1).

Paul expresses a similar picture of the importance of the obedience of Jesus Christ with which we are conjoined in Romans 5.19, when he says ‘through the obedience of one shall many be made righteous’ (compare 2 Corinthians 5.21), and the context makes clear that this includes being ‘accounted as righteous’, while the verb implies also being made so in reality. This is then applied to practical obedience in Romans 6.16-17 (the imputed obedience having been dealt with in Romans 3.24-5.11). And in a similar way to their rolling together in Romans 5.19, we see the two ideas rolled together in 1 Peter 1.2. Our obedience is not only the consequence of His obedience, it is essentially a part of it. It is by our being united with Him in His obedience through the Spirit that we are made obedient ones (children of obedience), something which we must then live out. (We can compare here Isaiah’s use of the terms ‘righteousness’ and ‘salvation’ which are expressive both of what God will do for His people (bring them salvation and make them acceptable and righteous in His sight) and the response that will result (they will receive His salvation and be made righteous)). But while with Paul it is simply part of the substructure, in Peter it is the main theme.

In 1 Peter this is then supported by a number of important sub-themes. These include: the saving activity of God from the beginning (1.2, 20), the sanctifying work of the Spirit which applies it (1.2), the new birth which is the result of that activity (1.6), the death and resurrection of Jesus which has made all possible (1.3 and regularly), the necessity and importance of suffering in the bringing about of God’s saving activity (1.6-7 and regularly), and the expectancy of His coming again. All are, however, to be seen as being in order to bring about the restoration of men to obedience and acceptability.

Indeed we are probably to detect a further implication, for it cannot be accidental that the word that Peter uses for ‘sprinkling’ is hrantismos. But in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) this word is only used of the sprinkling of the water of purification on one who has become clean (Numbers 19). It is an indicator of the removal of the taint of uncleanness in the sight of God through the shedding of the blood of the heifer, the ashes of which were mixed with the water. Thus Peter may well have intended the idea that just as an ‘unclean’ person became clean through God’s healing power and was then declared clean, and had the taint of his uncleanness removed by the sprinkling of the water of purification, so we are made clean, firstly by responding to Him in His obedience to death, and then secondly by having the taint of sin removed and being declared clean by the sprinkling of His blood. Thus we may detect here that whole process of the removal of the uncleanness of sin and its consequences, but given an even deeper significance in that here it was not by water, (even blood sprinkled water), but by the blood of Jesus Christ.

We are not, of course, suggesting that this last sums up Peter’s whole theory of atonement, for he makes crystal clear that that includes the ideas of redemption (1.18-19), atonement through sacrifice (2.24); and substitutionary death as our representative (3.18). But what is clear is that our being made clean in order that we may be able to approach God is an important requirement so that we can fulfil our priestly responsibilities (2.5-9). And this is confirmed by the citation in 1.16, which comes from Leviticus 11.44. For the holiness in mind there is that obtained by separation from all that is unclean.

Further Thoughts On The Obedience of Christ.

It has been suggested above that the main theme around which this letter is written is the obedience of Jesus Christ (1.2), including especially His obedience unto death, and its consequences for us. That is why Peter tells us that those who are true Christians are sanctified in the Spirit unto ‘the obedience of Jesus Christ, and the sprinkling of His blood’ (1.2 NIV). In other words those who come to Him enter into His obedience, and especially into His obedience unto death, and receive cleansing through His blood.

We must recognise the importance of the fact that this full and total obedience of Jesus Christ stood in absolute contrast to the behaviour of the whole world. It stands unique in history. And Peter sees it against the whole background of Heaven and earth. Let us consider the idea for a moment in more depth. Jesus came into a world that was full of disobedience, and would continue to be so. He entered the territory of the disobedient, to live among the sons of disobedience. And in it He lived a life of total obedience. He was indeed the only one ever to do so. There had been righteous men in the past (Enoch - Genesis 5.22, 24; Noah - Genesis 6.9; Job - Job 1.8). But none were wholly righteous. Jesus, however, was different. To the Pharisees He could say, ‘which of you can convict me of sin?’ (John 8.46). Those who knew Him closest could say, ‘He did no sin neither was guile found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He reviled not again, when He suffered He threatened not, but committed all things to Him Who judges righteously’ (2.22-23), the last part of which especially reflects what happened at the cross. Paul could speak of ‘He Who knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). The writer to the Hebrews could say that He was ‘yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15). So His obedience stood out starkly against the background of mankind.

This obedience of Jesus Christ was vital if the world was to be offered salvation. It stood in total contrast to the disobedience of the whole of mankind, and of the fallen angels, and through it He was seeking to bring back to God those chosen to become ‘children of obedience’. Ever since the sin of the first man, mankind had been disobedient towards God. Every man and woman who had followed Adam had continued in disobedience. However, without such obedience it had been made clear that no man or woman could hope to enter God’s presence, or approach God. And yet nothing is more obvious than that such obedience is something that is totally beyond us. That, therefore, is why our sole hope of salvation can only be found in the obedience of Another that is put to our account.

But the question is, Who could do such a thing. Who could so walk the earth on behalf of others? Who could put forward His obedience as the saving solution for mankind? The answer could only be found in One Who was infinite. One Who was the Son of God made man. It could only be found in One Who summed up His people in Himself (Matthew 2.15; John 15.1-6), One Who could be the representative of us all before His Father’s throne (Hebrews 4.14-16). For it required infinite obedience. It required One Who could say, ‘Lo, I come to do your will, O my God’ (Hebrews 10.7, 9), and Who could then do it, not only on His own behalf, but on behalf of others. Note how He constantly stresses His own obedience, in His own matter of fact way, as arising out of His relationship with His Father (see John 5.19, 36; 8.28-29, 46; 10.37-38).

And such an infinite obedience could only result from the infinite One walking in obedience on behalf of the finite. It was thus only through His obedience that many could be made righteous (Romans 5.19) as they sheltered under the umbrella of His obedience.

Peter had never forgotten that night in the Garden when Jesus had faced up to the final consequences of doing the will of God. Jesus’ very soul had quailed at what it involved. ‘Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me’ (Matthew 26.29). And again He had prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing remove this cup from Me’ (Luke 22.42). But He had in both cases immediately added, ‘nevertheless not as I will, but as You will.’ It had been total submission to the will of God in the face of the most awful consequences. The agony of it is brought out in the letter to the Hebrews, ‘Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to Him Who was able to save Him from death, was heard for His godly fear’ (Hebrews 5.7). And then He had gone on to fulfil His obedience by suffering for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (3.18). That is why it is through His obedience that we can be made righteous.

And the consequence of His coming is that those who respond to Him and His obedience unto death, become ‘children of obedience’ (1.14). They become those who have come under the umbrella of His obedience. They thus see themselves as followers of Him in His obedience, with the result that they ‘have purified their souls in their obedience to the truth’ (1.22).

But what of the awfulness of their sin? Can that be overlooked? The answer can only be ‘no’. A holy God cannot overlook the very sin that He hates, the sin against which He has an extreme antipathy. This is Peter’s second theme. He was fully aware that in the righteousness of God sin could not go unpunished. Were it to be so God would be called a liar. And he knew that judgment had to begin even at the house of God. And if it began there, where could the ungodly and sinner appear? (4.17-19). Thus there was need not only for obedience, but for the blotting out of sin. And that meant that in some way the sin had to be ‘atoned for’. Something had to be accomplished that would somehow neutralise that sin in the sight of a holy God. And again there was only One Who could do that and could bear our sin and punishment (2.24). For again it had to be One Who could be the representative of us all, One Who was totally unblemished Who could suffer for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous, the infinite for the finite (3.18). One Whose blood could be shed for many, and then be applied to those who sought Him.

It is with these two concepts that Peter opens his letter, ‘unto the obedience of Jesus Christ, and the sprinkling of His blood’ (1.2). These are the hope of mankind, and it is only because of these that the sanctifying work of the Spirit can be effective.

(For those interested in technical matters the Greek is literally ‘unto obedience and sprinkling of blood of Jesus Christ’. But the ‘unto’ is only used once to cover both nouns and in Greek that indicates that both ideas are to be seen as closely connected. Thus it can be argued that we must also see ‘of Jesus Christ’ as applying to both nouns).

This theme of obedience continues throughout the letter. Having entered into His obedience by the work of the Spirit (1.2), it is His obedience that His people must live out through faith in Him (1.14, 22), and it is this obedience which is set in contrast with the disobedience of the world as a whole (2.7, 12; 4.17) who are destined for judgment (4.5, 18), and the disobedience of many of the angels (3.19-20) who are already in prison (3.19), while He Himself is set over those ready to be obedient (3.22). On the one hand there is the Obedient One, along with those who become one with Him in His obedience, and on the other there are the disobedient.

The universe is thus now seen as divided into two. On the one hand are those who obey God and His word, because they have entered into the obedience of Jesus Christ by faith. They have entered under the Kingly Rule of God. And on the other are those who disobey Him because they have refused to enter into such obedience. They are ‘the disobedient’. They may be very good-living people, but they have not responded to Jesus Christ and are therefore living in disobedience.

Those who have come to Him and who believe in Him are, as it were, seen as enveloped in the obedience of Jesus Christ, so that His obedience is imputed to them (reckoned to them) in God’s eyes (compare Romans 5.19; 2 Corinthians 5.21). They are looked on as obedient because He was obedient, and His obedience has been set to their account. That is why as God looks down on them He sees them as His ‘obedient ones’, His ‘children of obedience’ (1.14).

But that is only half of the story. It cannot stop there. God is not simply wanting a kind of theoretical transaction by which He can overlook sin (which He could never do), He is wanting to remedy the whole situation. So the consequence of their having His obedience imputed to them is that His obedience begins to work within them. They cannot receive the benefit of His obedience and it not affect their lives. Thus it acts like a germinating seed inside them. As a result, says Peter, they are ‘begotten again’ by God through His word, and are brought by the Spirit into a new life of lived-out obedience. They become ‘children of obedience’ (1.14) and begin to follow in the way of obedience. God begins to work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). To put it in the words of Jesus Christ, they have ‘entered under the Kingly Rule of God’ by turning to God and believing the Good News (Mark 1.15), which has resulted in them submitting themselves to the King. And they therefore begin to do His will. That is why Jesus said, ‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” will enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but those who do the will of My Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 7.21).

In contrast, those who disobey Him are in rebellion against Him, and are still under the tyranny of darkness (Colossians 1.3). They are ‘children of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2.20; 5.6; Colossians 3.6). They do not obey Him (4.17). They are destined for judgment (4.5, 18), or in the case of the disobedient angels have already been judged (3.19). For them there is no hope, because they will not submit to His obedience and to His sacrifice on their behalf.

Obedience Unto Death.

One important aspect of the obedience of Jesus Christ was His obedience in suffering and unto death. So much so that the writer to the Hebrews could say, ‘He learned obedience by the things that He suffered’, and that, ‘He was made perfect (as our Trek Leader for life) through suffering’ (Hebrews 5.8; 2.10). This did not mean that He had been disobedient, and that as a result of suffering at His Father’s hands He had learned to be obedient. What it indicated was that through His suffering He had learned what obedience really meant. It is saying that it is one thing to obey when the requirements are easy and palatable, but quite another when the requirements are extremely painful and demanding. And yet if true obedience is to be appreciated and understood it can only be by obeying when the going gets tough.

This is Peter’s parallel theme in this letter, that obedience and suffering go hand in hand. And so alongside the call to be obedient because He was obedient, comes the call for us to be ready to suffer for obedience’ sake, because He suffered for obedience’ sake. The difference between ourselves and Christ must, however, be noted, and that is that while we must be ready to suffer in being obedient to God’s requirements, because it is a consequence of the path we have been called on to follow, Christ suffered both to bear our sins, and in order to take our place as the Righteous One suffering for the unrighteous. His suffering was not just the consequence of the path that He took. Rather it was the reason why He took that path. He chose the path of suffering because He was suffering on our behalf the consequences of our sins.

The Call To Live In The Light Of His Coming.

Closely connected with the call to obedience is the call to live in the light of His coming and of the final salvation which will come at the end of time. It is seen as the certain hope of the believer, as the guarantee of great spiritual blessing to come, and as a reminder that all must one day give account.

Thus Peter speaks of:

  • ‘A salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1.5)
  • ‘Being found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1.7).
  • ‘Receiving the end of your faith even the salvation of your souls’ (1.9).
  • ‘The grace that is to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1.13).
  • ‘That you may grow thereby unto salvation’ (2.2).
  • ‘The Day of Visitation’ (2.12).
  • ‘Being ready always to give answer to every man who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’ (3.15).
  • ‘Who shall give account to Him Who is ready to judge the living and the dead’ (4.5).
  • ‘The end of all things is at hand’ (4.7).
  • ‘That at the revelation of His glory also you may rejoice with exceeding joy’ (4.13).
  • ‘If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?’ (4.18).
  • ‘Who am also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed’ (5.1).
  • ‘When the Chief Shepherd shall be manifested you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away’ (5.4).
  • ‘After you have suffered a little while He will Himself perfect, establish and strengthen you’ (5.10).

It is clear from this that Peter expects his readers to live in the light of His coming, and what will finally result from it. At the last Day having been conjoined with the obedience of Christ will have finally resulted in the presentation of His people in perfect obedience. We must therefore always keep that Day in mind as the goal of our obedience, and as an encouragement in suffering.

And along with this goes Peter’s emphasis on the eternal kingdom.

  • ‘Who is on the right hand of God, having gone into Heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him’ (3.22).
  • ‘Jesus Christ, Whose is the glory and dominion for ever and ever’ (4.11).
  • ‘To Him be the dominion for ever and ever’ (5.11).

For the final certainty is the rule of Christ and of God, bringing all into obedience, and it has been guaranteed by His having, as glorified man, received total authority, glory and dominion.

The Centrality In The Letter Of The Death And Resurrection Of Jesus Christ.

Two other central features of his letter are the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are continually mentioned by Peter as a follow up to the fact that we are ‘in sanctification of the Spirit -- unto the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1.2).

Thus in 1.3 we are begotten again by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In 1.11 the prophets foretold the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that would follow (see for example Isaiah 53). In 1.19-20 we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, Whom (1.21) God raised from the dead and to Whom He gave glory. In 2.24 He ‘His own self bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we being dead to sin should live unto righteousness’. In 3.18 ‘Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.’ In 4.1 Christ suffered in the flesh that we might die with Him, that we might no longer live our human lives following the desires of men, but to the will of God. In 4.13 we are partakers of His sufferings, that at the revelation of His glory we might rejoice with great joy. In 5.1 Peter was a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker in the glory that shall be revealed.

Thus the purpose of His death was in order to redeem us by the payment of a price, it was in order to bear our sins by being offered as a sacrifice on our behalf, and it was to die as a substitute, the righteous for the unrighteous. And the consequence was that He rose again so that He might receive His glory, (note the emphasis on glory in 1.11, 21; 4.13; 5.1; and compare John 17.5), and so that we too might be begotten again to new life (1.3), and share in His glories (1.11; 5.1; compare Ephesians 2.4-6).

The emphasis of Peter on the fact that Christ ‘suffered’ is very significant when we bear in mind that he himself had protested at the thought of Him suffering. He appears to have taken Jesus’ lesson on the matter to heart. The need for the Christ to ‘suffer’ had burned it way into his soul.

This emphasis contrasts very strongly with references elsewhere. In all his letters Paul only refers three times to the sufferings of Christ, firstly in Romans 8.17, where he writes ‘if we suffer with Him (Christ) we shall also be glorified with Him’; secondly in 2 Corinthians 1.5 where ‘the sufferings of Christ abound towards us’; and thirdly in Philippians 3.10, where Paul desires to enter into ‘the fellowship of His (Christ’s) sufferings’. And in all these cases Christ’s sufferings are linked with our suffering. (Note that in each reference it is ‘Christ’ Who suffers. He is the suffering Messiah). Paul does, of course, constantly refer to the death and sacrifice of Christ in other terminology, but in his letters he clearly reserves the idea of His ‘suffering’ to times when he is speaking of our participation with Him in His sufferings. Thus He lays no emphasis on the fact of His sufferings as something in itself, but only in relation to His people’s sufferings.

It was, however, a little different in Paul’s evangelistic preaching, for the term is applied to his preaching twice in Acts, both in an evangelistic context. Firstly where he taught ‘from the Scriptures’ that the Christ must suffer (Acts 17.3), and secondly where he speaks of the prophets declaring that the Christ must suffer (Acts 26.23). In both these cases he is drawing on the Old Testament depictions of the sufferings of the Christ (e.g. Isaiah 50.3-8; 53; Psalm 22; Daniel 7), and the idea of suffering is seen to link with what was prophesied. Interestingly apart from these examples, and in Hebrews, no other New Testament letters refer to the sufferings of Christ.

Hebrews refers more regularly to the suffering of Jesus/Christ, five times in all in one letter. Thus:

  • ‘Jesus -- was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death’ (to pathema) ‘tasting death for every man’ (Hebrews 2.9).
  • He (Jesus) was ‘made perfect through sufferings’ (Hebrews 2.10).
  • ‘Though He (Christ) was a Son yet He learned obedience through the things that He suffered’ (5.8).
  • He (Christ) did not offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice annually otherwise He must often have suffered since the foundation of the world (9.26).
  • In order that He (Jesus) might ‘sanctify His people by His own blood He suffered outside the gate’ (of Jerusalem - 13.12).

Here three of the references are to His suffering as a sacrificial offering on our behalf, while two refer to the purifying effects of suffering on Jesus Christ Himself. Note also that three of the references (a different three) refer to the sufferings of ‘Jesus’, and two to the sufferings of ‘Christ’. In the first two cases ‘Jesus’ is used because He is in context being closely allied with His manhood and His incarnation, but in the third case the reason for the difference is not so obvious, although it might have been in order to stress His oneness with His people. However what is clear here is the emphasis on the fact that Jesus Himself did suffer as a human being. In the other cases ‘Christ’ had to learn obedience through the things that He suffered, even though He was the Son, and secondly He did not offer Himself up as a continual sacrifice but as one that was once for all. All the references have sacrifice in mind.

In 1 Peter, however, the idea of the sufferings of Christ is more central. In his short letter he refers to His sufferings seven times, always be it noted with reference to Him as ‘Christ’, and with different emphases:

  • The first example parallels Paul’s usage in Acts, referring to the prophecies of the sufferings of the Messiah, and connecting that suffering with His people. ‘The Spirit of Christ -- testified beforehand the sufferings unto Christ and the glories that should follow’ (1.11).
  • The second connects His sufferings with His people’s sufferings, as in Paul’s letters. ‘Christ suffered for you leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps’ (2.21).
  • The third lifts Him up as an example of how to behave under duress. ‘When He (Christ) suffered He did not threaten’ (2.23).
  • In the fourth case He is dying as a sacrificial offering as in Hebrews 13.12; compare 9.26. ‘Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God’ (3.18).
  • In the fifth case His suffering is used as a call to His people to be willing to suffer as He did, for their own good, as it will be an aid towards their being made perfect, as it was for Christ in Hebrews 2.10; 5.8. ‘Forasmuch then as Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (by dying with Him)’ (4.1).
  • In the sixth case suffering for His sake, and thus participating in His sufferings, is a cause for rejoicing because of the ultimate joy and glory that it will bring. ‘Insomuch as you are partakers of Christ’ sufferings, rejoice, that at the revelation of His glory also you may rejoice, with exceedingly great joy’ (4.13).
  • In the seventh case there is a very personal reminiscence of His sufferings. ‘I -- who am -- a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed’ (5.1).

Thus he has seven references in all, and all teaching different lessons. We may possibly also add Acts 3.18, where Peter speaks of ‘the things that God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer’, which ties in with 1.11 (compare Luke 24.26). Thus to Peter the sufferings of Christ lay at the root of every aspect of the Gospel, as something that was deeply imbedded in his own heart. Like Hebrews Peter reveals himself as more aware of the fact that Christ did actually ‘suffer’, yet nevertheless it is not the suffering itself that is the central emphasis in what he has to say. While the sufferings of His Master do clearly tell on him, they do not prevent him from applying the major lessons that arise from it. He is not merely sentimental.

It should be noted how this great emphasis ties in significantly with what happened at Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus spoke of His coming suffering in a way that upset Peter enough to make him denounce the idea, only for him to be put firmly in his place by Jesus (Matthew 16.21-23), and secondly with the fact that Jesus did later constantly emphasise to His disciples the necessity of His coming suffering (Matthew 17.12; Luke 17.25; 22.15’ 24.26), and thirdly with the fact that Peter was a witness of His sufferings, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the courtyard of the High Priest. The idea of the necessary sufferings of Christ had therefore become very deeply imbedded in his thinking. To Peter Jesus was ‘the suffering One’.

Peter’s Use Of The Idea Of ‘Glory’.

Another aspect of Jesus’ teaching that we find emphasised by Peter is His emphasis on Jesus Christ’s glory which was yet to be revealed. Peter’s experience of the glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17.1-8; Mark 9.1-8; Luke 9.28-36; John 1.14; 2 Peter 1.16-18) had also had a great impact on him, an impact which comes out in his letter, where he continually associates Jesus with glory.

He is not, of course, the only one to stress His glory. Jesus Himself had indicated that the glory that they had seen on the mount would one day be openly displayed (Matthew 16.27; 24.27, 30; 25.31; Mark 8.38; 10.37; 13.26; Luke 9.26; 17.24; 21.27), and that He was going to the glory which had been His before the world was (John 17.5). And Paul at times lays great stress on the revealing of the glory of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.4, 6; Colossians 3.4; 2 Thessalonians 2.14). Indeed he can describe Jesus as ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1.28) and as ‘the Lord of glory’ (1 Corinthians 2.8; compare James 2.1). But with Peter the idea of glory permeates his whole letter. See 1.7, 8, 11, 21, 24; 4.13, 14; 5.1, 4, 10; 2 Peter 1.3, 17; 3.18. Note also 2.9; 2.20 ‘Glory’ is unquestionably one of his main themes.

Thus:

  • In 1.7 our faith, proved in trials, will be found ‘to praise, glory and honour’ at the revelation of Jesus Christ (presumably at His revelation in glory).
  • In 1.8 as a result of our believing in Jesus we rejoice ‘with joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1.8), a glory that shines out in our rejoicing.
  • In 1.11 the prophets have revealed ‘the glories that will follow’ the sufferings of Christ.
  • In 1.21 God has given glory to Jesus on raising Him from the dead.
  • In 2.9 we have been called out of darkness into His ‘marvellous light’.
  • In 2.20 it is clearly implied that our patient endurance in suffering will bring glory to us (as it had to Jesus, Who also patiently endured in suffering - see John 12.23-24).
  • In 4.13 Jesus glory is to be revealed at His coming.
  • In 4.14 ‘the Spirit of glory and of God’ will rest on those who bear His reproach.
  • In 5.1 Peter is expecting to be ‘a partaker of the glory that will be revealed’ (at His second coming).
  • In 5.4 when the Chief Shepherd is manifested those who are His will receive ‘an unfading crown of glory’.
  • In 5.10 the God of all grace has called us unto His eternal glory in Christ.

To Peter especially Jesus is the Lord of glory. And this is further emphasised in 2 Peter.

The Parallels With 2 Peter.

1 Peter has a number of interesting parallels with 2 Peter. Thus in both we find the theme of the glory of Christ (1 Peter 1.7, 8, 11, 21; 4.13, 14; 5.10; 2 Peter 1.3, 16-17; 3.18). Both emphasise the transformation within as a result of His word and promises (1 Peter 1.3, 23; 2.2; 2 Peter 1.4). Both refer to our escaping from the corruption of the world and its desires (1 Peter 1.14, 18; 2.11; 4.2; 2 Peter 1.4). Both refer to our calling and election (1 Peter 1.1-2; 2 Peter 1.10-11). Both refer to Noah and the flood (1 Peter 3.20-21; 2 Peter 2.5), although with different applications. Both speak of the angels who sinned (1 Peter 3.19-20; 2 Peter 2.4). Both refer to the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures and the prophetic foretelling of the Gospel (1 Peter 1.10-12; 2 Peter 1.16-21). Both emphasise His second coming (1 Peter often, see above; 2 Peter 3.3-13). And so on. And yet the applications are so different that there is no suggestion of one deliberate aping the other. It is rather therefore an indication that the parallels arise because they are imbedded in the thinking of the author.

The Parallels with Peter’s Speeches in Acts.

An analysis of the different speeches in Acts has drawn attention to the basis of early church evangelism, and it is quite clear from an analysis of Peter’s speeches in Acts that they are closely paralleled in this letter, as the following parallels make clear.

  • 1). The promised age of fulfilment has come, and the days of the Messiah have arrived. There is to be a new beginning and all are called on to join the new community and become a part of His elect (Acts 2.14-16; 3.12-26; 4.8-12; 10.34-43; 1 Peter 1.3, 10-12; 4.7).
  • 2). This new age has been introduced through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who died ‘on the tree’ (Acts 5.30; 10.39; 1 Peter 2.24), and rose again, events which are in direct fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and are in accordance with the specific plan, purpose and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2.20-31; 3.13-14; 10.43; 1 Peter 1.20-21; compare 1.3).
  • 3). As a result of the resurrection Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God and as the Messiah is the head of the new Israel (Acts 2.22-26; 3.13; 4.11; 5.30-31; 10.39-42; 1 Peter 1.1, 21; 2.5-7, 9-10, 24-25; 3.22).
  • 4). These Messianic events will finally reach their consummation in the return of Jesus Christ in glory and the judgment of the living and the dead (Acts 3.19-23; 10.42; 1 Peter. 1:5, 7, 13; 4.5, 13, 17-18; 5.1, 4).
  • 5). As a result God calls for repentance, and offers forgiveness, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of eternal life (Acts 2.38-39; 3.19; 5.31; 10.43; 1 Peter 1.13-25; 2.1-3; 4.1-5).

Thus the five main points which can be traced in Peter’s sermons in Acts are also central to the teaching of this letter, something which points to the same hand being involved in both.

The Church Is The True Israel.

Another idea that is central to Peter’s thinking (see point 3. above) is that the continuation of the true congregation of Israel is found in the ‘elect’ of Jesus Christ, that is in the congregation of all true believers (Matthew 16.18). It is not that the church is like Israel, or is a kind of ‘spiritual Israel’, or that Israel in some way symbolises the church. It is that the worldwide body of true believers who are in Christ are seen as actually being the real Israel, the inheritors of the promises, the ones in whom God’s final purposes and His promises to Abraham will be accomplished.

From the beginning Israel was always a fluid concept. Pre-Israel began with Abraham, and he was ‘father’ over a family tribe that included many foreign servants (e.g. Hagar, Eliezer). This remained true for Isaac and Jacob, and for the patriarchs. Thus when the patriarchs went into Egypt with their ‘households’ these also would include many foreign servants. And they grew into what Pharaoh would describe as ‘Israel’. When they were redeemed from Egypt and departed with Moses they took with them ‘a mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12.38). All were incorporated into the covenant at Sinai. Furthermore provision was made from the earliest days for any who wished to do so to become members of the covenant by being circumcised and submitting to the covenant (Exodus 12.48). We know, for example, that certain Kenites joined with Israel during the journey through the wilderness (Judges 1.16), and it is quite likely that others did as well. Furthermore we know from Deuteronomy 23.1-8 that such accessions had specifically to be legislated for. Once in the land others such as Uriah the Hittite and some of David’s other men, gathered while he was a brigand leader, also became Israelites as they shared in his rise to kingship (see, for example, the list of his mighty men). Thus as Israel grew it was a conglomerate, multi-national nation, claiming descent from Abraham, but in the majority of cases this was only by adoption. During all periods some were ‘cut off’ from Israel for failure to observe the covenant, and others were ‘grafted in’ as they committed themselves to the covenant. Even in later centuries ‘proselytes’ (Gentiles who became Israelites and were circumcised) were continually welcomed, theoretically at least on equal terms with ‘trueborn’ Israelites, and in fact at times quite large numbers were forced to become proselytes (e.g. the Edomites in Southern Palestine; Gentiles who had settled in Galilee).

Thus to call Israel ‘the natural descendants of the patriarchs’ is to distort the facts. They were never so right from the beginning. They were rather a multinational group.

The establishment of the new covenant resulted in the call to all Israel to respond to that covenant, and Jesus was to be seen as representing the true Israel (Matthew 2.15; John 15.1-6). And respond they did in large numbers (Acts 1-11). Thus the new ‘congregation’ (church) grew out of the old, the church grew out of the root of Israel, and was founded on Israel, and all who remained in unbelief were cut off from Israel, while any who would could be grafted in (Romans 11.17-28). This was what Jesus Himself had taught when He described Himself as the True Vine (in contrast with the false - Isaiah 5.1-7) which had to be pruned to remove unbelievers (John 15.1-6). Since then all who have been conjoined with Christ have been conjoined with Israel through the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11; compare Exodus 12.48). Thus the only true Israelites now live on in the church of all true believers. In God’s purposes old Israel are no more unless they on their part return to Christ in true repentance and become a part of the true Israel, for they have been ‘cut off’ from the true Israel.

That is why Peter, although he makes it clear that he is writing to ex-Gentiles (1.14; 2.10; 4.3-4), writes to them as ‘sojourners of the Dispersion’, that is, those who are truly Israel but living outside the promised inheritance (1.1). They are, however, destined to be the receivers of the inheritance (1.4). They form a part of the glories that follow the sufferings of the Isaianic Servant (1.11). It is of them that the prophets spoke (1.12). They are a spiritual house and a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (2.5). They are founded on the Cornerstone of Zion (2.6). They fulfil the promise of Exodus 19.5-6 in being ‘an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession’ (2.9). They are now ‘the people of God’ (2.10). They are no longer Gentiles (2.12; 4.3). Christian women are to be like Sarah in her attitude of obedience towards Abraham (3.6), for they are the new seed of Sarah. (The old Israel are Hagar, the new Israel are Sarah (Galatians 4.22-31)). The new Israel are the flock of God (5.2-4; compare the many Old Testament references to Israel as the flock of God).

These clear indications that Peter is writing to those whom he sees as being the true Israel have made some think that perhaps he was writing to Christian Jews. But the truth is that throughout he refers to his readers in a way that makes clear that they are not former Jews but mainly ex-Gentiles, e.g. ‘they had lived ‘in ignorance’ (1.14); they have been redeemed from the vain manner of living which they had received from their fathers (1.18), they had been ‘no people’ (2.10); the times past had sufficed for them to have wrought the desires of the Gentiles -- in which they think it strange that they no longer run with them (4.2-4), no one would have thought it strange that the Jews did not run after Gentile desires). And his point is that they are now genuinely Israel, as much Israel as any Israel had ever been. And this fact that he is writing mainly to ex-Gentiles is confirmed by the fact that there is no reference in 1 Peter to the Law and its requirements, and no Jewish questions appear to have needed resolving. But he still sees them as Israel.

Christians Are To Be Seen As Taking Part In A New Exodus.

It is often difficult for us to know what New Testament writers have in mind when we detect hints of the Old Testament in their words, because they were so saturated in Old Testament ideas that they may have come out unconsciously (as they unquestionably sometimes did), but there are a number of pointers that suggest that Peter may deliberately be indicating that the church is taking part in a New Exodus.

  • They are sojourners of the Dispersion (1.1) as Israel were in Egypt and in Assyria and Babylon.
  • They are bound for their inheritance (1.4), just as Israel, sojourning in Egypt, were to go forward to their inheritance (e.g. Exodus 15.17; Numbers 26.53; 33.54; Deuteronomy 4.38). We should consider here also Isaiah’s constant reference to the return of exiles in a new Exodus (e.g. Isaiah 11.10-12; 43.3-7; 49.12; 60.4, 9-12), in the same way as they had originally returned from Egypt (Isaiah 48.20b-21; 63.8-14).
  • Just as at the first Exodus Israel was declared to be ‘My son, My firstborn’ (Exodus 4.22), so the renewed Israel, is ‘begotten again’ (1.3), and given a new name (4.14, 16; compare Isaiah 62.2).
  • In the same way as Israel had to celebrate the Passover with their loins girded (Exodus 12.11), so God’s people are to ‘gird up the loins of their mind’ (1.13).
  • They are called to ‘be holy as He is holy’ in accordance with the Law given in the wilderness (1.15-16, compare Leviticus 11.44; Exodus 19.5-6), just as Israel were at Sinai.
  • They are to be built up as a spiritual house (compare Numbers 12.7; Hebrews 3.2, 5) and a holy priesthood (compare Exodus 19.5-6), offering spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God (2.5; compare the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood).
  • Their foundation stone is laid in Zion (2.6).
  • They are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (2.9) thus fulfilling God’s call to the first Israel (compare Exodus 19.5-6).
  • They are sojourners and pilgrims (2.11) as they travel through the world (compare Leviticus 25.23). Indeed both Paul and Hebrews make similar comparisons with the journey through the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10.1-6; Hebrews 2.10; 3-4).

Thus in 1.1-2.10 the new Israel are seen as very much following in the ideal steps of the old Israel. The new nation has replaced the old (Matthew 21.43).

The Use Of The Names of Jesus Christ in 1 Peter.

This question is to some extent difficult to resolve with certainty because of textual differences. But taking the most probable text it is interesting to note when it is that Peter speaks of our Lord as ‘Jesus Christ’ and when he speaks of Him as ‘Christ’ (he never simply refers to Him as Jesus).

Thus, for example, he speaks of Jesus simply as ‘Christ’ in two types of circumstance. Firstly whenever in the context he speaks of Him as suffering. In these contexts He is always, without exception, spoken of as ‘Christ’. And secondly whenever His people are spoken of as being ‘in Christ’ (5.10, 14). On the other hand when he is speaking generally, or he is laying emphasis on His resurrection and His being revealed at the end, or he is speaking of our receiving things ‘through Jesus Christ’, it is regularly as ‘Jesus Christ’ (seven times in 1.1 to 2.10; 3.21; 4.11). (Similarly because in 2 Peter there is no mention of the sufferings of Christ or of being ‘in Christ’ 2 Peter has no instance of the use simply of ‘Christ’).

This might appear to indicate that part of the reason why Peter uses the term ‘Christ’ on its own (as Paul similarly did with respect to His suffering) is because from the earliest days it was necessary to guard against an early form of docetism where it was claimed that it was only Jesus Who suffered and not the Christ. In other words he does it in order to make it clear that it was ‘the Christ’ Himself Who suffered. Alternately it may simply be that both wanted to emphasise Who it was Who suffered so that the wonder of it might sink into our souls. But either way the emphasis is there.

It may perhaps be worthwhile here to list the references in order to bring out this distinction, because once we do so the difference is clear:

  • Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the sojourners of the dispersion throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.(1.1).
  • Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of His blood’ (1.2).
  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1.3).
  • That the proving of your faith, being much more precious than of gold which perishes, though it be proved with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the revealing of Jesus Christ (1.7).
  • Searching what time or manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point to when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow (1.11).
  • Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober, and set your hope perfectly (or ‘to the end), on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1.13).
  • With precious blood as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even of Christ (1.19)
  • You also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (2.5).
  • For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps (2.21).
  • But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord, being ready always to give answer to every man who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that wherein you are spoken against they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ, for it is better if the will of God should so will that you suffer for well-doing than for evil doing, because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (3.15-18).
  • Which also an antitype baptism now saves you, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (3.21).
  • Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind’ (4.1).
  • If any man speaks, as it were the oracles of God; if any man ministers, as of the strength which God supplies, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, Whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen (4.11).
  • But in so much as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice, that at the revelation of His glory also you may rejoice with exceedingly great joy, if you are reproached for the name of Christ happy are you because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (4.13-14).
  • The elders that are among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed (5.1).
  • And the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ (in the early manuscripts Aleph, B have ‘Christ’, A has ‘Jesus Christ’) after that you have suffered a while, shall Himself perfect, establish, strengthen you (5.10).
  • Peace be with you all who are in Christ. Amen (5.14).

Peter’s Use of ‘Now’.

Peter’s consciousness of the vital times in which we are living is brought out by his use of ‘now’. For him time was divided into three. The past which represented the old Israel and the old manner of living of the Gentiles. ‘Now’ which represents the new Israel present in the world in the present time of salvation made up of both believing Jews and believing ex-Gentiles. And the future when the true Israel will be with Christ.

  • It is ‘now’ that we as His people have to face a wide variation of temptations ‘for a little while’ (1.6).
  • It is ‘now’ that we do not yet see Him, and yet we believe in Him and greatly rejoice (1.8).
  • It is ‘now’ that the Gospel is being proclaimed by Christian preachers through the Holy Spirit Who has been sent down from Heaven (1.12).
  • It is ‘now’ that we believing Gentiles have become the people of God (2.10).
  • It is ‘now’ that as strayed sheep we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (2.25).
  • It is ‘now’ that baptism, as the interrogation of a good conscience towards God, saves us, lifting us up to God as the waters lifted Noah up in the Ark (3.21).

All this is describing the situation of God’s people in these last days prior to His coming, and making it personal to his readers who are ‘even now’ involved in this glorious venture.

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