Today and over the next 8 weeks, we will be studying the book of 1 Peter. It’s a book that talks a lot about suffering. The word “suffer” is used 11 times.
Today Christians who are suffering are in the news. This is the the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet, a noon. It’s the equivalent to the Roman letter N. The ن stands for Nasara or Nazarenes, a pejorative Arabic word for Christians.
As the Islamic State over ran Mosul last summer, thousands of Christians fled the city after their homes were marked like this, targeting these families for persecution and violence. Throughout the centuries Christians have suffered persecution and it continues today.
But in his book Peter addresses, not just persecution, but suffering of all kinds.
It starts right off with, “Peter, and apostle of Jesus Christ”
In the first word of the letter the author gives his name and describes himself as an apostle, a “sent one,” a representative of Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One.
Early Christian tradition lends strong support to Peter as the author. And until recent times, the book has been universally accepted as written by the apostle Peter. The only real challenge to Peter’s authorship, is that the letter is written in quite fluent Greek. Yet Peter was an unschooled Galilean whose native language was Aramaic, not Greek. But there are very good responses to this.
First of all, Galilee was a bilingual region where both Greek and Aramaic were spoken. Peter undoubtedly had much experience speaking Greek.
Secondly, by the time 1 Peter was written, Peter had preached for 30 years, probably often in Greek. There is good reason to assume that his rhetorical skills in that language would have become quite strong.
Thirdly, the last verses of the letter say that he was assisted with the letter by Silas, who may have had more education than Peter.
In conclusion, there are very strong internal and external evidences that Peter was, indeed, the author.
Who was the book written to?
It says, “To the elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”. The word “Exiles” is translated differently in various translations as “strangers, foreigners, pilgrims, aliens, refugees, temporary residents, and scattered away from their homes.” Perhaps “foreigner” probably best fits the sense of the word.
The word “Dispersion” was a common term for Jews scattered throughout the world as a result of the exile of 587 BC and of emigration after that. So, some have speculated from this and from the fact that Peter was the apostle to the Jews, that Peter was writing to Jewish Christians scattered throughout these provinces.
But a close look at the letter makes it clear that this is not the case. In chapter 2, Peter calls his readers a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” but then says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”
Once you were not a people — That can’t be the Jews, because from the very beginning of their existence, the people of Israel were the chosen people of God. There is no time when Israel was not the people of God. Rather, Peter is referring to the church, that has now become a “people,” chosen by God, the people of God through faith in Jesus, not through physical descent.
Later in chapter one, Peter says, “Do not conform to the pattern of your former ignorance, but be holy” and “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers." Again, this fits much better with Gentiles than Jews. Jews were not been ignorant of God and the Jewish forefathers taught them godly ways, not futile ways. And in chapter 4, he says that they had formerly lived like Gentiles, in “drunkenness orgies, and lawless idolatry, etc.”
So, although Peter uses the word “Dispersion,” he is evidently using this term commonly used of scattered Jews, to refer to Christians who are also foreigners scattered throughout this world, waiting for King Jesus to return and set up His kingdom.
All of the provinces Peter references were in northern Asia Minor, what is today the country of Turkey. The Bible does not tell us how churches got started in these northern areas. We know that Paul started churches in Southern Asia Minor, but how there northern churches were started, we don’t know.
We do know from Acts 2, that on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached his first sermon in Jerusalem, there were Jews there from Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia who were visiting for the feast. Perhaps converts returning to those provinces planted churches there. Perhaps Peter may have had a hand in starting or strengthening these churches.
Concerning the geography of these provinces, one author writes:
The geographical areas addressed include a ‘fantastic conglomeration of territories’—coastal regions, mountain ranges, plateaus, lakes and river systems. The inhabitants were even more diverse. They had ‘different origins, ethnic roots, languages, customs, religions, and political histories'.
Although there was a substantial Jewish population in Asia Minor, most likely the churches in these provinces reflected the diversity of the area.
What about the date & place of writing? The second to the last verse of the book says,
“She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.”
This verse is a bit cryptic in a couple ways. First of all, who is “she” ? Might it be Peter’s wife? We know from the gospels that Peter was married. Or does this refer to the church from which Peter was writing?
The second question is “What is Babylon?” Was it the Babylon in Iraq, which was certainly a Jewish cultural center at this time and did have a large Jewish population? As the apostle to the Jews, it is likely that Peter preached there. Yet many scholars think that “Babylon” was a code name for “Rome” and that Peter used this code name to conceal his location because of persecution.
And who was “Mark” Peter’s son? Was this the John-Mark, who, according to church tradition, translated Peter’s gospel, the book of Mark, or did Peter have a physical son named “Mark”?
To me it is uncertain where the book was written from.
When was it written?
There is no definitive answer, but many scholars think it was written toward the end of Peter’s life, perhaps between 60 and 64 AD.
Let’s look at Peter’s greeting. Peter calls them “elect.” This word “elect” is used five times in 1 Peter, and each of the other times, it is translated “chosen.” In 2:4 & 2:6, Jesus is called the chosen and precious cornerstone. In 2:9 he refers to the church as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for God’s own possession. And finally, in 5:13 He talks of “she who is chosen with you.”
It is actually quite amazing that Peter would call the church a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for God’s possession." These are all Old Testament terms used for Israel. And Peter was born and raised a faithful and devout Israelite. Yet now we see Peter refers not to Israel, but the church as the chosen people of God.
We read in the book of Acts that Peter struggled with this transition. When God sent him to preach the gospel for the first time to Gentiles, God gave him a vision showing all kinds of unclean animals and a voice said, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat.” Peter responded “No, Lord. I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” When Peter visiting Antioch, Peter had been eating with Gentiles, which was forbidden in the law. Yet in fear of some of his Jewish collegues, Peter stopped fellowshipping with the Gentile Christians, and Paul had to rebuke him. This was not an easy transition for such a loyal Jew, but by the time he writes this letter, Peter has fully accepted that now God’s chosen people are now all who put their faith in Christ, no longer just the physical descendants of Abraham. He says that they are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father
Look down at verse 20. This word is also used of Jesus.
He (Jesus) was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:20, ESV)
Who Jesus was going to be was largely hidden, but made manifest in Peter’s day. Yet God foreknew exactly who Christ would be and what He would do. Similarly, in verse 2, Peter says that God foreknew that His chosen people would become more than just the Jewish people. Gentile believers were more than just an afterthought. God foreknew that He would open up salvation by faith for all who would believe, Jew and Gentile.
In the sanctification of the Spirit
The word “sanctification,” means “to be set apart.” Perhaps this refers to the work of the Spirit in performing miracles through the apostles hands. Perhaps it refers to the love and joy and peace in an evangelist’s heart as he proclaimed Christ in the power of the Spirit. Perhaps it refers to the work of the Spirit in their hearts, drawing them to believe in Christ. It probably refers to all. But the Spirit worked to set them apart, to draw them to Christ for obedience to Jesus Christ. They submitted to Jesus as their Lord. They became His disciples. Followers of Jesus and for sprinkling with his blood.
Sprinkling with blood? What’s that about?
Exodus 24:6–8 describes how God made a covenant with the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
First they sacrificed some oxen and collected some of their blood
And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
So, both the people and the altar were sprinkled with blood. This was how God’s ratified a covenant, an agreement with them. So, Peter is alluding, here, to the New Covenant, made not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with the blood of Jesus Himself.
Notice one other thing in this greeting. We see the trinity, God the Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Spirit. All three members of the trinity were involved in saving you and bringing this new chosen people into existence. Sometimes we can question whether the trinity is taught in the Bible. Of course the word “trinity” is never used. But if you look for it, it is everywhere. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are woven all through the writings of Paul, and of John, and, as we see here, of Peter.
Isn’t it amazing what Peter packs into his greeting? Hi! You are the new, chosen people of God, foreknown by Him, foreigners scattered throughout a land that is not your home, set apart by the Spirit, ready to obey Jesus, and recipients of a new covenant inaugurated with the blood of Jesus.
Born again — literally this says “He birthed you again” “He begot you again.” Through an infusion of divine life, you have started life over, now with the power of God within you.
To a Living Hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
They had a living hope. Why was it living? Because Jesus is alive. Jesus came back to life.
Think what it must have been like for Peter when Jesus was crucified. All his hopes and dreams were wrapped up in this man. He had thrown in his lot with Jesus, whom he believed was the Messiah the one who would restore the kingdom to Israel.
Yet all this came crashing down as His savior was brutally crucified and killed. And on top of that, Peter denied the Lord three times, claiming that he never knew him. The story of Peter’s betrayal ends with Peter sobbing bitterly, crushed by despair and agonizing guilt, walking off into darkness.
But three days later, Jesus is alive! And for Peter, hope was reborn! Isn’t this the way it is so often for us as well? Something happens in our lives that just crushes our hopes and we are left weeping, with nothing more to do than walk off into the darkness.
But we have a living hope because Jesus is alive! No matter how bad things get, no matter how bleak they are, Jesus is alive! It’s evidence that the very worst that sin and the devil and betrayal and death can do—the foulest deed that has ever been done—the crucifixion of the Son of God, only resulted in unspeakable joy for Peter and for all who believe in the resurrection.
God is a God of resurrection and no matter what sorrow and sadness or sickness or loss we encounter, we can hold fast to Jesus, because in Him there is a resurrection coming. Our resurrected Savior is alive and He is our Living Hope
To an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
Any earthly inheritances is uncertain, isn’t it? The value of an estate can plummet with a change in the market or in the value of a property. Inheritances can be tied up in court or stolen. But our inheritance in Christ cannot perish, cannot be defiled, and cannot fade away. But not only is our inheritance sure, we ourselves, are secure.
With an earthly inheritance, an heir may die before he gets his inheritance. But Peter says that we, ourselves, are secure, guarded by the power of God through our faith. In this you rejoice. We rejoice that we have a living hope. We rejoice in our inheritance.
Though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.
What are trials? Things that grieve us. Disappointments, frustrations, things that make you angry or sad or discouraged or afraid. Trials are situations that cause us to suffer.
We see here, several things Peter wants us to know about trials. First is that they last for a little while. Yet, Peter seems to imply that the “little while” in some cases may be a lifetime.Yet still, in comparison to eternity, it is only a little while.
Secondly, trials will come in various forms. Peter is talking about more than persecution here, but all kinds of trials. Later he will talk about the trial of working for a harsh master. He talks about the trials of a wife living with an unbelieving husband. He talks about suffering from being ridiculed by those who are into partying and wild living.
Trials come in all kinds of forms. Illness, the pain of divorce (whether your own marriage or your parents or that of a friend), the loss of a relationship with a close friend who maybe moves away or worse betrays you in some way, the death of a loved one,an auto accident, the loss of property or possessions through natural disaster or theft or war. There is hardly a limit to the variety of trials we encounter.
Thirdly, suffering and trials purify our faith. Just as a metal worker heats gold over and over again, each time skimming off a little more impurity, so God tests our faith for the purpose of strengthening and refining it. And he says that faith like this is way more precious than any amount of gold we might own or every hope to own.
Fourthly, persevering in faith through our trialswill result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed, when He returns to earth to set up His kingdom.
Think about all the different ceremonies that there are around us to give glory to those who excel. Think of the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Grammy awards. Think about the Olympics. In almost every industry there are awards—writing awards, awards for education, awards in the sciences, in engineering, for cooking, for architecture. The list is endless.Tonight one team will receive the Vince Lombardy trophy, the highest award in football.
What is the purpose of all these awards? All of them are designed to give praise and glory and honor to those who excel, for those who work and strive and suffer to become the best in whatever endeavor is being rewarded. But all earthly rewards are nothing compared to that great day that is coming when Jesus Christ is revealed, when He returns to earth and judges each and ever person. That’s when the real glory, honor, and praise will begin, way, way more than any other possible honor we could ever achieve.
Let’s conclude with verse 8 & 9
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Thought you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls
Could it be that Peter was a bit amazed by them? These people had not seen Jesus, like Peter had, yet they loved him. These people still didn’t see him now, yet they believed in Him. It makes you wonder is Peter was a bit amazed at their faith, a faith based solely on His and others testimony and on the working of the Spirit in their hearts.
What is the result of their love for Jesus and faith in Him? They rejoiced with joy inexpressible and filled with glory. Would you agree that some experiences are impossible to describe in words? They are so deep, so full, so amazing, that words simply can’t describe them.
Peter says that the joy of those who have been born again, filled with a living hope, who know that their inheritance awaits them, who are being purified by trials - the joy they can have is so deep and full that it simply cannot be described in words. It’s a joy “filled with glory.”
I’m not sure what that means, but I like to think about Moses’ face, how it shone after he went to meet with God in the tabernacle. The Israelites were afraid when they saw his face shining, so Moses put a veil over his face. But Paul says that ministers of the new covenant need not veil their faces, but let the glory of the Lord shine out.
So maybe this is the type of glory Peter is thinking of — a joy so deep and full, that people can see it in your face, on your countenance, in your eyes.
What a wonderful Savior we have. What a wonderful life we have been given. A life filled with a living hope, with inexpressible joy, with the security of a certain inheritance, with the confidence of the power of God.
As we begin this book of 1 Peter, I remember how Peter was charged by Jesus to shepherd His sheep. And even two thousand years later, Peter continues to do so through this letter. He’s providing hope and confidence and encouragement to us, the people of God through faith so that even in the midst of our trials, which, like theirs, are many and varied, we can rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of our faith the salvation of our souls.