A Bible Lesson on 1Peter 1

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Barclay put the purpose of the letter of 1 Peter this way:1 Peter was written to meet no theological heresy; it was written strengthen men and women in jeopardy of their lives.” The best guess seems to be that this letter was written by Peter from Rome at about the time of Nero’s initial persecution of the Christians. It is a beautiful letter, written from the affectionate heart of a pastor and Apostle of Christ, to people that were going through rough times and on whom even rougher times were about to descend. Its keynote is steady encouragement to endurance in conduct and innocence in behavior.

Before Nero burned Rome in 64 AD and needed someone to blame for the fire, persecution suffered by Christians came principally from the Jews, but without the official sanction of the Roman government. Beginning with Nero, the persecution became government policy. The situation was this. Up to 64 AD, the Romans treated Christianity as an offbeat Jewish sect. Judaism was an officially permitted religion (as long as the Jews didn’t cross Rome’s authority). As long as Christianity looked to the Romans like a Jewish sect, it was given the same governmental indifference as Judaism. The Jews had, for a long time, been (correctly) claiming to the Romans that Christianity is not Judaism. Finally, with Nero’s need for someone to blame for his torching of Rome, this Jewish argument was finally heard, with the effect that all Christians immediately became criminals and enemies of the Roman state. We have all heard of the horrible things that Nero did to the Christian believers in Rome. He rolled some in pitch and set them on fire to light his garden parties. Others were wrapped in the skins of wild animals and torn to shreds by his hunting dogs, etc. But this persecution wasn’t limited to Rome. Any time and place in the empire that someone chose to point out the fact that Christians were conducting illegal worship of Christ, believers were in danger for their lives. They had the threat of deaths like the ones that Nero dreamed up always hanging over their heads. If someone chose to make an issue of their faith in Christ, they were subject to immediate arrest and possible death. It is as such times were beginning or just over the horizon that Peter writes.

1Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

The letter begins “Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ …” This is Peter, one of the 12. It is instructive that this one who had been on most intimate terms with Christ during His earthly ministry doesn’t come to dazzle us with some special insights or personal details that only he knew about Jesus. Instead, he preaches and writes with emphasis on what Christ’s death and resurrection has secured for us in eternity. This isn’t an essay on “what Jesus means to me.” It’s a letter about what Christ’s work means for us all.

Peter writes to God’s elect. This is a Jew, who knows that since God’s call of Abraham it had been the Jews who were “God’s elect,” writing to gentile people in the area of modern Turkey and calling them “elect exiles” or “God’s elect strangers.” These people are strangers or sojourners. The Greek word means one that is in a strange land and whose thoughts are continually of home. Christian people are not at home in this world. But we are more than just transients passing through and staying at the local motel for a night. We are more like the exiles that were taken to Babylon and told by Jeremiah to build houses and live among the people of Babylon, all the time knowing that they belonged to and would return to another city, Jerusalem.

Peter applies the word “scattered” to his hearers. Here again is a term applied to the Jewish nation after the Babylonian captivity (the diaspora) used now by an ethnic Jew to refer to the Christian church. Already in a single verse, half of his salutation, Peter has said much about how Christian people should see themselves as they face hard times.

2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Translation here is apparently not straightforward as regards what the phrase “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” is meant to modify. The ESV makes it modify the whole situation in verse 1, and that seem like the most probable meaning. (The NIV makes it modify “chosen” here in verse 2, which seems a bad rendering, as “chosen” is not a verb in the Greek.) That the whole situation in verse 1 is according to the foreknowledge of God is a tremendous comfort. God knew and ordained from before the beginning of time that His people would be strangers and sojourners, scattered abroad in the world. It is no accident that we are who we are, where we are. That gives you and me calm assurance that it’s not some colossal mistake that were are facing difficulty in this life.

The other two prepositional phrases of this verse “in sanctification of the Spirit” and “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling by His blood” also have the same ambiguity of reference in the Greek. Again it is probably best to render them as the ESV does, referring to the whole situation in verse 1. That is, God’s chosen sojourners are scattered in the world “in sanctification of the Spirit” and “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling by His blood.” This whole thing we are experiencing (and the 1st century Christians experienced) has not only been ordained of God from before the beginning of time, but it is immersed in our sanctification and being made clean before God through the work of Christ’s blood.

Indeed, may grace and peace be multiplied. Peter is contemplating the grace of God and his heart overflows in praise.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

Peter recognizes that the change God makes in His people is so radical that one effectively begins life all over again. He or she is reborn into a “living hope.” Think about those two words for a second.

First consider the word “hope.” To the people of the ancient world, hope was a Christian distinctive. Nobody else really had any. To the heathen, the world was a place where everything was running down and becoming faded and decayed and ultimately going nowhere. Sophocles wrote “Not to be born at all, that is by far the best fortune; the second best is as soon as one is born with all speed to return thither whence one has come.” For most of the people of the day, there was the expectation of nothing after life but endless dark. It is not so with Christian people, and Biblical hope is not just wishful thinking. It is instead a firm conviction that is directed toward the future. Christian hope has to do with what we are sure will come to pass, not simply what we would like to be. Our “hope” of resurrection is firm conviction that in the future we will be raised, just as and because Jesus was.

And it is a living hope. It’s alive and grows. That’s because our hope is our relationship with a person, the risen Christ. It’s a wonderful and lovely thing that true Christianity is something that grows and deepens. The 80 year old saint that is close to seeing Christ face to face is in the best cases not at all the same person he or she was when he or she first surrendered to Jesus.

Note again and always that the means of this grace is the (space and time) resurrection of Christ, out in the open, available to all who will see and embrace it.

4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

We’ve been born again, not only into a living hope, but into an inheritance. In our colloquial usage this word means something that we think may possess in the future. In the Bible, the word signifies a secure possession. To the Jew, even when he was a slave in Egypt or exiled in Babylon, the promised land of Canaan was his by God’s decree. The Christian believer’s inheritance, his sure possession is in heaven, and primarily it is the presence of God Himself.

Numbers 18:20 And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.

This inheritance/sure possession of the Christian believer is unlike the earthly inheritance the Jew counted on in Canaan. It can’t be lost or spoiled. The Jews were spewed out of the promised land because of their infidelity. In contrast, the Christian’s permanent inheritance is “kept in heaven for you,” The verb tense indicates (God’s) completed past activity that has results that are still continuing in the present. God Himself has “stored up” or “reserved” this inheritance in heaven for believers and it continues to be there, still reserved for them.

5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

God’s people are ones who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. The word translated “guarded” is a military word. It means “garrisoned.” God is standing sentinel over His people, protecting them by His power. And there is a second meaning that may well also be intended here. That is the notion of being kept from escaping. God is both protecting His people from external attack and keeping them from stupidly wandering off like dumb sheep heading out to their own harm. In both ways there is again tremendous comfort here. It is God Himself who preserves us. If it were us who were responsible, we’d be undone.

On the other hand, the means is faith. It is humble reliance upon, trust in, cleaving to God in Christ. That, God works in us and it preserves us until Christ comes again. This is good news and

6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,

The hope and inheritance that we have of eternity with God causes us and caused the believers to whom Peter first wrote to rejoice. This is in spite of the fact that there has been and will continue to be suffering. There are “all kinds of trials,” literally, “many colored trials.” It is significant that this word is used later in the letter in 4:10 to talk about the “many colored” grace of God. Where difficulty abounds, there also grace abounds. We need to bear in mind that Peter’s first hearers were ones who were facing arrest without warning and potentially a horrible torturous death because of faith in Jesus. This is not just some small inconvenience or social embarrassment they face. And yet Peter says clearly that the real believer will greatly rejoice. One is reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4.

2Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Peter now expands on the purpose and effects of trials in the life of a believer.

7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Trials/difficulty/persecution are not meant to make us collapse, but instead to strengthen us. Athletes don’t train to be worn down, but to be built up and to develop staying power. Gold ore isn’t destroyed by fire, but the junk is separated out and what is left is as permanent as anything in this present world. What is produced in a true believer’s life through suffering will last through eternity, and it will result in praise for and from our faithful savior Jesus Christ. The believer who presses on and remains true will in the end hear Christ Himself say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter is making an implied comparison here between his situation and that of the rest of us. He had the privilege of seeing the Lord Jesus. We have not, and yet we have believed. Remember the words of Jesus to Thomas in John 20.

John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

There is joy in relying upon, trusting in, cleaving to Christ. And there is salvation of our souls/salvation of our entire beings. The word translated “souls” here means more than just the “non-bodily” part of us. The magnitude of this grace is really quite staggering.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,

11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

There is nothing in all of human history or experience that even comes close to the wonder of the Gospel. In our mentally lazy moments, we might think that it would have been cool to have been one of the Old Testament prophets, maybe Elisha or Jeremiah. But that is foolishness. Peter says “Look, you know the whole story. You see now how the parts all fit together. True, you don’t know all future details, but fundamentally your position is the envy of all humans who lived before Christ and even the angels in heaven. You are objects of God’s greatest kindness and unlike those who went before, you have been told how it will all work. That ought to produce in you unspeakable joy and gratitude.”

The balance of this chapter concerns the implications of God’s grace to us in terms of the quality of our behavior.

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

“Therefore,” in light of the wonder of God’s mercy/salvation blessings shown to us, unworthy and sinful creatures that we are, in light of what Peter has said in verses 1-12. Scripturally, what God has done for us always precedes what we are called to do. Benetreau said, “Without the indicative of what God does, the imperative is addressed to a helpless sinner, the victim of his illusions; it becomes a commandment that crushes or that drives to vain and presumptuous efforts.”

“preparing your minds for action,” Christians are not to live carelessly/aimlessly. This phrase might in modern language be rendered “rolling up the sleeves of your mind for some serious work.” The KJV “gird up the loins of your mind” refers to tucking the long skirts of a mid-eastern robe into one’s belt so that one’s legs are free for action.

The post-modern media portrays Christian people as unthinking dolts. And some mystical types within the bounds of the faith let on as if use of one’s mind, reason, logic, etc. were “unspiritual,” not at all the thing to do if one is really progressing in the “faith.” The truth here is that God calls us to clear and hard thinking. There is no excuse for intellectual slackness in believers. We are to be ready for the most serious mental endeavors. This goes in all areas of our lives.

We are to be “sober” or self-controlled, steady and clear in mind. We are to avoid not only the intoxication of alcohol, but the intoxication of exotic ideas and doctrines. Sobriety involves being realistic and without delusions. We are not to run after the latest fashion or newest craze. Clowney said, “Christian realism knows the actuality of sin and the folly of utopian dreams.” We are to be steady.

Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. The command indicates a clear and decisive action, and Clowney explained, “It’s not so much an attitude to be cultivated as it is a reality to be recognized.” We can be sober and steady because we know where we are going. The best is yet to come. We have an “inheritance” in the sense that it is irrevocably promised to us, but not yet in our possession. he athlete accepts training because there is a goal, a trophy to win. The believer knows that there is hope/confident expectation for eternity, that there is nothing more important or precious than the Gospel.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,

“obedient children” isn’t the greatest rendering. It is rather “children of obedience,” ones who are characterized by obedience, as if obedience were their father. The word used for obedience is one derived from the word for “hearing.” As ones who are characteristically obedient, as ones who are characterized by the fact that they have heard, don’t keep on living as if you were in darkness. Rather, live as ones who have heard and responded to the Gospel.

15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,

But, in contrast to acting in the passions of your former ignorance, be holy, set apart, completely dedicated to the service of God. Be set apart from sin and impurity, living in ways that are set apart and different from the ways of the world, fallen humanity living in indifference to the Creator. This concept has been twisted in a number of different ways. Some have treated it as almost some kind of mystical, unexplainable kind of state of mind. Others have sought it by withdrawing from the world where God has placed them and hiding out to avoid any contact with the world. Neither of these can be supported by Scripture. The emphasis here is on how we behave. It is on righteous behavior, a behavior that accords with the character of God and is unlike the standards of society, carried out in the midst of society.

Why? Peter begins a series of answers to this question.

16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Peter quotes a central verse from the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:2 … You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. The complete moral perfection of the one true and living God should move His people to be like Him, to be set apart from corrupt practices. Only God is completely holy, but it is our calling to reflect His nature to our world. When we act like members of His family He is honored. When we don’t, we dishonor Him. God is holy by nature. If we truly love Him, are His, are part of His redeemed family, our heart’s desire and behavior will be consistent with His nature. Here is the final and only basis for morality: what is right is right because it is consistent with His nature.

17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

If our responsibility to correctly represent our Holy God to the world isn’t motivation enough, there is the real fact that our thoughts and actions are out in the open before Him, and He is as impartial as He is perfect. He can’t be fooled or bribed. He won’t play favorites. He sees our work, and that ought to cause us to behave reverently, to act with a proper respect and awe of God. Peter says that those who call on Him as Father, who habitually appeal to Him in prayer, ought to live in a way that evidences a real respect for Him. Indeed, how could we possibly figure that we have any business addressing God as Father in prayer and living as if He’s not the One with whom we must do? The reference here is not to final judgment (as if the final fate of a believer is in doubt), but rather to God’s continual present judging, acting, and disciplining in His world. And the “fear” includes the reality that God will not just wink at the disobedience of His children in this life.

18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,

19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Here’s a third reason for Christian holiness. The cost to God of our redemption was huge. To act in any but a grateful and holy way reveals that we fail to appreciate the infinite cost to God of our approach to Him and fellowship with Him. No honorable person squanders what is of infinite worth.

Believers are “ransomed from futile/empty ways.” The ways are futile/empty in what senses? They are empty in the sense of going nowhere, amounting to nothing. A life lived to any other purpose than the glory of God ultimately counts for nothing. Therefore the ways are also empty in the sense that we will find no satisfaction in them. The simple fact is that we were made to love and serve our Creator, and there is nothing else that we will find to do that will bring us long term satisfaction.

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

Peter expands some on the nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us. This is important for us to understand in order to get a glimpse of the sovereignty of God. The cross and the empty tomb were not “plan B.” God was not somehow caught off guard by the transgression of Adam and Eve and had to think up some kind of patch job. Rather, God knew from eternity past that man would willingly turn his back on Him and that Christ’s sacrifice would be necessary to restore a path of fellowship. The cross is the symbol of God’s active love reaching for us from before time began.

He was made manifest/revealed. God has given us brains and expects us to use them, but we never would have guessed or figured out His plan for our redemption. Rather, we are dependent upon God’s revelation of His Son. Salvation was revealed for our sake, and not only was our salvation accomplished and made possible through Christ, He is the One through whom it comes to us. He is both the source and the agent (through His Spirit) of our salvation.

21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

It is characteristic of apostolic preaching and teaching that the crucifixion is always coupled with the resurrection. Through His death, Jesus emancipated humans from their bondage to sin and death. Through the resurrection He gives us a life which is as glorious and indestructible as His own. Jesus is not only the Lamb that was slain, He is the triumphant risen One that the Father has given glory.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,

Here’s an implication of our salvation, an implication of holiness. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth …” Jesus, said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He, God in human form, is the reference point. His character is the definition of goodness, what is right and to be emulated. He is the definition of the way things really are.

Peter says our obedience to Him and the Gospel produces “sincere brotherly love.” One of the measures of the genuineness of our faith is the extent to which we love the brethren. It is to be sincere/unfeigned. The “deeply” or “earnestly” denotes supreme effort. It means with every muscle straining. This is not a comment to blow by or toss off. It is to be taken seriously and worked at. We share a life and we share truth that are eternal.

23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

Our relationship to each other and to God is not a finite one. Its source is an eternal one. That Word which has given us new life both lasts/is alive forever and is completely unchanging/abiding.

This picture of seed is instructive. The notion is that God’s eternal Word has planted in us something that is from God and indestructible. It is God’s seed. When we plant a seed, that seed has no say in what it’s going to grow into. The young plant has no latitude in what it will become. The point is that the seed must produce what the genetic material in it calls for. In the same way, the Word of God working in us will produce the character of Jesus, if we will cultivate it, or at least not trample it down. The character of Christ includes a love for the truth and for the church. It is a living and abiding word. God’s Word is both alive and enduring.

24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,

25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

The main point of this quote from Isaiah 40:6-8 is the enduring and dynamic quality of the Word of God. It’s this kind of preaching and teaching the early Christians heard and loved, and by the grace of God, that’s the kind we too will hear and love.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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