A Bible Lesson on Jude

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.

This is a lesson on the little letter of Jude. It has much in common with 2Peter. Jude writes as a pastor to people who are in danger of falling under the influence of heretics who would lead them astray and in that, damn their souls.

Jude 1:1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

Jude was probably the half-brother of Jesus. But look how humbly he introduces himself. He identifies himself in terms of to whom he belongs, Jesus the Messiah. It is not important to Jude that he “knew Jesus back before He was famous.” It is important that Jesus is his Master.

Jude writes “to those who are called, beloved, and kept.” Jude clearly understands the great sovereignty of God. And he sees ordinary believers like you and like me standing in the long line of those who have been called of God. The line runs from Abraham to his readers and on to you and me.

2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude, it seems, had intended to write a more general letter. But he finds himself constrained to write to combat the influences of heretics and to encourage his readers to vigorously oppose them. It would be good for us to carefully consider standard 21st century reactions to the errors Jude combats. We’re pretty soft on confronting bad doctrine.

Jude tells his readers to contend for the faith. “contend” is a word that implies there will be opposition and that vigorous effort is needed. “the faith” refers to an objective body of doctrine/belief, that was once for all entrusted to the saints. What we must hear is that this objective body of doctrine is not the invention of our minds, but rather something given to man through the gracious revelation of God. And it is not something that is evolving or changing, but rather something fixed that we hold as a sacred trust. It was once for all delivered to the saints.

It is not fashionable today to be strong in insisting on fidelity to the historical Christian doctrines. We don’t like being too “narrow.” Jude, on the contrary, says that it is of utmost importance that we contend for the Apostolic Gospel.

4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Certain men have slipped in unnoticed/stealthily. We need to think about this. Did these people show up and announce “We’re here to subvert orthodox Christianity and promote something else”? That is hardly the case. Were they recognizable because they were unattractive or unpleasant? That is unlikely. These were probably likeable folks that could blend in and speak the lingo, ones you wouldn’t want to think ill of. But Jude calls them “ungodly.” It is standard in our time to want to embrace as Christian anyone who makes noises that even sound vaguely Christian. We’re encouraged to not split doctrinal hairs. Jude, on the other hand, maintains that doctrine is important. Bad doctrine and bad living go together. These heretics seem to be of the antinomian (anti-law) variety. They hold that God’s gracious forgiveness somehow translates to freedom on our part to call the shots, do what we please, and break His laws. Jude says that to live this way denies that Christ is Lord. That is, of course, only sensible. In fact, the position of the heretics makes no sense at all. There is not a cubic inch of all the universe that is not His. He is our only Master/Sovereign and Lord.

5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

Jude says, “you once fully knew it” The notion is that the reader may have lost focus. Calvin said, “… for the use of God’s Word is not only to teach us what we could not have otherwise known, but also to rouse us to a serious meditation of those things which we already understand, and not to suffer us to grow torpid in a cold knowledge.” The ESV follows the early manuscripts and explicitly says “Jesus” saved a people and destroyed the unbelieving. Other renderings like the NIV say just “Lord.”

Jude now gives three examples of God’s judgment on beings that once knew better, but allowed their thinking to grow corrupt. He begins with the case of the nation of Israel after its deliverance from Egypt. The nation saw God’s wonderful deliverance from Egypt, experienced His provision in the wilderness, but then doubted His ability to take them into the Promised Land. And as a result, an entire generation had to die off before they were allowed to enter. Back-of-the-envelope calculations will get you that an average of 90 people died and were buried every day in the desert over those 40 years. What a stunning visual aid to make clear the consequences of failure to believe. What a solemn warning to those greatly blessed with the Word and call of God who do not believe. Calvin correctly calls unbelief the “fountain of all evil.”

6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day–

The best guess is that this refers to Genesis 6:1-3 and angelic beings revolting at God’s natural order and taking human women. The message seems to be that they surely knew better, but chose to try to impose their own will.

7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Sodom and Gomorrah were in a lush region, physically blessed of God, with Lot living in their midst. But the men of Sodom also chose to go against God’s natural order and the LORD destroyed the cities with fire and brimstone.

8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.

Jude characterizes the heretics as dreamers (possibly because they claimed to get revelations from God in dreams or visions) who exhibit the same kind of rebellion that brought God’s judgment in each of these cases. He says they reject authority and they “blaspheme the glorious ones” or slander celestial beings. What he means by this is not completely clear. One possibility that makes a lot of sense is that the Jews saw angels as active in both the giving and the administration of God’s law. These heretics claimed that God’s law was null and void, and so would perhaps also be antagonistic to the whole idea of angelic beings. That is, their attitude toward God’s messengers is consistent with their contempt for God’s law.

9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Again, exactly what is meant here is not clear. The Jews had a legend that Satan demanded the body of Moses, since Moses had been a murderer. The gist could be that even the archangel Michael didn’t presume to be the judge or mediator of the law for Moses. He could neither punish nor pardon Moses, but rather knew that was God’s place. It was neither his nor Satan’s, and in the legend Michael reminds Satan of his place.

10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.

These men speak as if they were God, as if they called the shots, as if they had the right to cancel the righteous provisions of God’s moral law. And in the end, this is their undoing. God didn’t spare Israel, He didn’t spare rebellious angels, He didn’t spare Sodom and Gomorrah, and God won’t spare these false teachers.

11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.

Cain had a better idea. God said X, Cain said he’d rather do Y, and ended up killing his brother in a fit of jealousy. Balaam was not allowed to curse Israel even though he tried to do so in order to get paid by Balak. He knew that God’s intentions for Israel were good, but in Numbers 31:16 we read that it was his idea to draw the people into sexual sin and worship of Baal as a means of defeating Israel. God said X, Balaam wanted dollars and so schemed a means of subverting X (the “error” of Balaam is not a passive mistake, but rather his active pushing Israel into sin). Korah was a flat-out rebel. God had ordained leadership for His people and put Moses in their lives as God-given authority. Korah figured he was as worthy as Moses, and started a rebellion. He rejected God-ordained authority. Jude sees these characteristics in people that have wormed their way into the early Christian church. It’s sobering to see how seriously Jude takes what in the 21st century we might be inclined to see as just somewhat idiosyncratic thinking on the part of these teachers.

12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;

These are “sunken rocks” or “hidden reefs” waiting to sink the unwary sailor. Shepherds who feed only themselves and let the sheep starve aren’t shepherds at all. The implicit assumption here is that there is only nourishment in the orthodox doctrine that in verse 3 was given once and for all to the church for safe keeping. They are clouds without rain and trees without fruit, utterly useless.

13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

Big waves deposit all kinds of junk on a beach. People who stray from the basic Gospel message deposit all kinds of junk in the lives of those whom they influence, and Jude is not the least bit reluctant to say that God will execute terrible judgment on people who bring that kind of error into the lives of others. The blackest darkness awaits them. This is most horrible and serious business.

14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones,

15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Jude says, “all, all, all” This is most sobering. The “ungodly way” probably refers to sinning without any real fear. Jude goes on to describe how the people he’s concerned with operate. We hear descriptions that sound way too familiar and not really all that sinister by our standards.

16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

These are grumblers and malcontents or faultfinders. To grumble is serious error. We excuse it in ourselves and others. But to gripe gives away that we don’t accept God’s sovereign provision. It says that we think we know better than Him how things should be in our lives. The people of Israel grumbled in the wilderness and said that they wished that they’d never left their bondage in Egypt. That terrible ingratitude and lack of trust brought God’s righteous judgment. A parallel grumbling is played out all too often in the lives of Christian people. It sounds like “Oh, woe is me. Following Jesus is so hard. Besides, God’s got me on a detail I’m not really happy about. I want some other duty.” Another version of this is that there are people for whom a church is never without serious shortcomings. Is it easier to see a bunch of things someone else should do in the church than it is to recognize there are things that we should do.

Jude indicts these people as boasters showing favoritism to gain advantage. Why do people do what they do? Because it is right and good? Or because they think it benefits them in the short run?

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”

These circumstances should not catch anyone by surprise. Jude says that the Apostles warned that as we wait for the second coming there would be this kind of people. Jesus warned them that there would be false prophets. The tense of the beginning of verse 18 would be better captured as “They were in the habit of saying to you.” Note again too that Jude the half-brother of Jesus has no problem at all bowing to the authority of the Apostles. Amazingly enough, post-moderns have much more problem here than did Jude.

There will be scoffers following ungodly passions. Bad attitudes and bad living go together, and these folks will harm Christ’s church.

19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

The tense here indicates that this type of person is habitually divisive. It’s clear that in Jude’s mind, Christ’s church has been entrusted with the Holy Gospel. The work of these heretics is to separate people from Christ’s church by flattery and other means and to provide them with wrong innovations on the Truth that will ultimately damn their souls. These new doctrines that deviate from the basic teaching of the Apostles, says Jude, don’t come from the Spirit of God. People may think they do, but the fact is that they are the product of natural human instincts. Jude wishes for better for his readers, and he now tells them what they should do as they “contend for the faith” as he put it in verse 3.

20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,

21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Jude says, “building yourselves up” This is plural and begins a corporate admonition. It is an instruction to the church. Do so “in your most holy faith,” in the faith that is set apart and ultimately from and belonging to God. This is the faith referred to in verse 3, that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude implies that Christians’ standard posture is prayer “praying in the Holy Spirit.” As we wait for the return of Christ we have a responsibility to together dwell on the essentials of the Christian faith and to cast ourselves on God in prayer, keeping ourselves in God’s love. These verses emphasize Christian responsibility, and in a corporate way. The picture here is an active one. It is not just holding out till the end, but being about Christ’s business while we wait expectantly for His return. And as we wait for the fulfillment of God’s mercy, Christ’s people are to show mercy.

22 And have mercy on those who doubt;

23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

These verses are apparently different in the different New Testament Greek manuscripts and rather obscure in all of them. So some versions have only two groups here instead of three.   But the general intention is pretty clear. Yes, there are those whose teaching will damn one’s soul, but our attitudes cannot be callous towards them and those they influence. Ones that are doubting and starting to fall away need to be shown mercy. Others that are about to receive God’s just wrath, if we can, we ought to try and pull back from destruction. People that are wallowing in the fruit of bad teaching need mercy as well, and we should show it to them, being careful that we don’t get sucked in. And by God’s grace we can influence those, because most fundamentally it is God who holds onto us, not we to Him. We have a role to play, but it is He who is sovereign. And the letter ends with a wonderful doxology.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,

There may be false teachers, but God is sovereign. He is capable of preserving His saints.

25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Amen … so be it!

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.

A Bible Lesson on 2Peter 3

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.

2Peter 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,

Peter is writing to “beloved”/dear friends. This is in stark contrast to the kind of words Peter has just had for heretics and false teachers. He is turning to directly address the faithful. And his concern is that they think and live right.

2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,

I want you to recall/remember the predictions and the commandment. This is in contrast to verse 21 of chapter 2, where the false teachers are described as having turned their backs on the sacred command. Peter is concerned with how his readers are going to think and live, and he therefore points them to the Word of God spoken by the prophets, by Christ Himself, and now by the apostles.

3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

Peter says, “first of all.” There’s not a list here that goes “first, second, and third in time.” Rather Peter is saying “Listen, this is important!” He says “in the last days.” This is not in some distant future time just before the end, but in the period where Peter was living and in which we now live, in the period between the first and second comings. The presence of scoffers is already a reality in Peter’s time. And cynicism goes hand in hand with bad living, the following of one’s own lusts. One feeds the other.

4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

There two charges/claims here that Peter will address in reverse order. The first masquerades as a question, but is not really a request for information. It is instead a flat denial of the truth of the promise that Christ made to return. And one of the heretics’ arguments for this position was the uniformity of the natural world. This is, of course, the position of our post-modern naturalists. These people basically say the so-called “physical laws” of the universe are what govern things. God (so the heretics Peter refutes say) cannot or will not suspend these natural laws and change anything.

It is ironic that even contained in the claim “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” is the seed of its forceful refutation. That is the word “creation.” Apparently these heretics didn’t deny that God created all. But if God did create, things have not always been the way they are now. Post-modern naturalists of course duck this by claiming that the physical universe is self-existent. Further, it’s simply bad reasoning to set the regularity/uniformity of nature up as evidence against the promises of God. It is, rather completely consistent with and testimony to the promises of God.

5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,

Peter says that this argument from the uniformity of nature is wrong and those that use it know that it is wrong. This deliberate ignoring of what we realize are the weaknesses of our arguments is one of fallen humanity’s favorite tricks.

Peter says that by His Word, God created all there is. He made the waters and from them He made His world.

6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

When Peter says “by means of these.” Probably we should hear “by His Word and by water.” God sent the flood in Noah’s time. God intervened in natural history in a supernatural way by His Word bringing judgment.

7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

The NIV wrongly omits “and”/”but” at the beginning here. The ESV has it right. The flow is that God by his Word and water intervened in Noah’s time in judgment. And by His Word and fire He will intervene in His world in final judgment. Christ will come, and one aspect of His coming will be judgment on the immorality that the heretics seem to sanction.

Note too that Peter sees God presently active in reserving/keeping until judgment day. The picture of the world just ticking along without any help from God is just a wrong one. The Jews had it right when they maintained that should God ever cease to sustain the world even for a second, it would cease to be.

Now Peter moves to his reply to the main issue of whether Christ will come again, especially if He hasn’t returned by now. Remember that this is probably the early 60’s AD.

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

The scoffer says, “Look He’s not coming back. He’s not done so by now, and He won’t in the future.” Peter says that God differs from us in both the perspective and the intensity with which He regards time. Part of verse 8 comes from Psalm 90.

Psalm 90:4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

God, unlike us, stands outside of time. We are finite creatures, locked in time. God is infinite, the very Creator of time. He is not constrained or pressured by our impatience. We think that the second coming should be at a certain point, but He’s not obligated by that. 1000 years against the backdrop of eternity is nothing. On the other hand, a single day with the Lord has the content of 1000 years. The point is that God is sovereign over time.

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The scoffer’s argument is that since God hasn’t acted in the matter of the second coming, He must have no power to act. Peter says, “No, you have it wrong. It is not powerlessness, but rather patience and mercy.” God was patient in Noah’s time, providing 100 years during the building of the ark when men could repent and be saved from the flood. He is patient now, providing opportunity time for men to repent and be saved from fire.

The plain meaning here is that though God is sovereign and genuinely desires all to be saved, He has ordered things in a way that gives man a will and that some will deliberately choose not to repent.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

God is patient, but we dare not presume upon His patience. Without warning, His patient waiting for the repentance of man will come to an end. That, Peter hopes we will see, is a terrifying prospect for those outside of God’s grace. Calvin points out that if God will purge the physical earth with fire to make it fit for the Kingdom of Christ, how much more necessary is the “renovation of men” as he terms it.

Isaiah saw the same thing coming.

Isaiah 34:4 All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.

In our time there has been a lot of silliness in talk about verse 10. People speak as if “Oh now we know about nuclear energy, so that authenticates the Word of God, and we see how this could come to be.” Peter’s picture here is far more than some small little nuclear holocaust on planet earth. “The elements” almost certainly refers to all heavenly bodies. The whole universe as we know it is going to be remade, beginning with purifying fire from the Holy One. Everything will be laid bare. Everything that every human being has ever done or been will be open and in plain view. If you and I are not standing in Christ at that time, the prospect of this day is truly and ultimately terrifying. And that knowledge ought to shape our living in the time before the second coming. Right Biblical doctrine ought to always issue in right living.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,

You ought to live holy lives. Why? There surely should be an element of holy fear here. But primarily this should be driven by gratitude for God’s great grace and patience. God’s patience COULD have come to an end 3 seconds before you and I bowed the knee. We could at this moment be facing the terrible and righteous judgment of our holy Creator. But we are not. In fact, says Peter, our attitude toward the second coming ought to be entirely other. Rather than shrinking back, we ought to be living lives of holiness and godliness looking forward to this day.

It’s interesting that the Greek for “godliness” here is plural. It’s literally “godlinesses” James-Fosset-Brown say, “…(or pieties towards God) in their manifold modes of manifestation” Calvin said, “… every part of conduct should be holy and every part of godliness should be attended to.”

12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

Not only are we to look forward to the final day, but amazingly enough, Peter says that we tiny frail human beings have the privilege of hastening/speeding its coming. Part of this is surely that we speed His coming as we live holy and consistent lives. Part of it is that we speed His coming as we do the work of missions and evangelism. Part of it is surely that we speed His coming as we pray in that direction. The phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is indeed “thy kingdom come.” That is a plea on our part for God to set all things right. That is a plea for the return of Christ and all it entails. The “waiting for” is no passive thing. It is patient and assured by the promises of God, but it is not just sitting idly around, rather being at work “hastening.”

Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost included this.

Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,

Acts 3:20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,

What we do, in some way has a part in how God will act in history. He is sovereign, He calls the shots, and yet you and I have a role to play.

13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Peter’s word “new” emphasizes both the radical change that creation will undergo and its continuation. The Greek word means new in nature or quality, not in time or origin. The teaching here is not of the emergence of a cosmos totally other than the present one, but the creation of a universe that is totally renewed in continuity with the present one. The Christian looks at the sure prospect of the purifying fire of God laying bare all things and says “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!” because with that fire will come a renewed and pure universe. We’re silly if we think we know details as to either the timing or the exact nature of this renewed creation. What we do know is that this is God’s sure promise.

Isaiah too saw the coming of a new heavens and earth.

Isaiah 65:17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

Peter says, “Therefore/as/since you are looking forward to these …” Peter comes again to where he started this letter, to the matters of purity of life and relationship with Christ. “knowledge” about the end times that doesn’t influence the way we live is no knowledge at all. We ought to live in humble gratitude for the patience of God that included even us. The delay in Christ’s return has meant that you and I will share in a glorious eternity.

15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,

16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Already in Peter’s time, people were trying to take Paul’s insistence that salvation is by faith plus nothing and twist it into license for ungodly behavior. Peter understands that for what it is: willful disobedience. And he has no problem at all declaring that such will bring God’s judgment. The apostles had no problem calling heresy heresy, and saying that it will bring damnation. Our soft/tolerant/inclusive 21st century ways don’t match well with the Biblical understanding that it is far better to warn people than to smile at them and let them go to destruction.

17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

Peter urges believers to “take care”/be vigilant. Peter has said in verse 10 of chapter 1 that “you will never fall.” He links that here with taking care/being on guard and growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior. No Christian stands still. We either grow in grace or we slide toward horrible loss.

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Indeed, to Him be glory both now and forever. May Christ be glorified in His church even now, and may His eternal visible and glorious reign come quickly.

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.

A Bible Lesson on 2Peter 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.

The best guess seems to be that Peter wrote this letter from Rome in the early 60’s AD, not long before (according to church history and consistent with what Jesus said in John 21:18 would happen to him in later life) he was martyred in the persecution under Nero. He writes seemingly to combat the teaching of heretics who appear to be promoting a strain of antinomian heresy. (They were people who denied the validity of God’s moral law and maintained that they were free to engage in any activity they chose.) Exactly what they were teaching can’t be known from the text, but in many places it seems like we can hear Peter answering their false teachings and throwing back to them some of their own words, but saying what is really true about their phrases and subjects.

2Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle, a bond slave and one specially chosen by God to be an eye-witness and evangelist is the one who writes. There is in this both great humility and also an understanding of his responsibility and authority to set people straight as to who Jesus is and what He has done. Peter addresses his readers as ones who share with him a precious Christian faith. The phrasing here in this first verse makes it clear that Peter sees Christ as one with the Father, as fully divine.

2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Pagan religions of the 1st century (and plenty of heresies of our own day) put a lot of emphasis on special “knowledge” available only to the initiated. Peter says true knowledge is inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ. And it is through Him the we are recipients of grace and peace, not through “knowing” some special incantations or secrets of the cult.

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

The heretics against who Peter seems to be writing have apparently declared that moral living (living in accord with God’s laws) is either impossible or unnecessary, or both. Peter opens here with a clear statement that godliness, life in accord with God’s wishes, is both desirable and in a real way possible because of the work of Christ. Christ’s power gives us all we need for life and godliness. We have both Christ’s power at work in us and His promises to us.

4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

The phrase “may become partakers of the divine nature” is one that Peter is likely throwing back at the heretics he is combating. There is a wonderful truth that in Christ, God’s Spirit dwells in us and changes our hearts, putting them in harmony with God. In a limited way, we share a family resemblance to Christ and the Father. We share His nature but not His essence. The goal of a pagan is to BE “god,” either in some Hindu kind of way where one is supposedly absorbed into some big single sea of consciousness, or in some more “new age” kind of way where one is supposed to really call the shots in a reality that one “owns.” Christian “participation in the divine nature” is something quite different from these pagan notions. It is, for one thing, not the goal at the end of the line, but rather the starting point! God’s Spirit dwells in us and starting from there, there follows a life of grateful service to our King and Lord. And Peter emphasizes that this produces holiness, not corruption/license but morality.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,

For this very reason/in light of the first 4 verses, make every effort. In light of what Christ has provided for us, Peter urges the consistent development of Christian virtues and character. There is a list or progression here, but not that one item must be mastered and then the next addressed as if one were sequentially collecting merit badges. Rather, all of these ought to always be increasingly evident in the life of a believer. Note that the list begins in verse 5 with faith and ends in verse 7 with (agape) love.

The word rendered here “to supplement” or “add to” carries connotations of lavish provision. Christians, don’t just throw on a little of these things, equip yourselves generously with them.

“virtue”/goodness here means “excellence”/the proper fulfillment of something. The proper fulfillment of a knife is a clean exact cut. The proper fulfillment of man is to reflect Christ and glorify the Father.

Peter says we are to be supplemented with knowledge. The heretics Peter is opposing seem to have a wrong view of “knowledge,” but that doesn’t cause Peter to dismiss real knowledge as unimportant, nor to hide from real knowledge. Indeed Christians should add to their excellence knowledge. This is practical knowledge that enables one to decide rightly and act honorably and efficiently in day to day life.

6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,

“self-control” is literally “the ability to take a grip of oneself.” It is having one’s passions under control.

“steadfastness”/perseverance is the courageous acceptance of all that life can do to one. It is more than stoic resignation that whatever comes must come. It is, instead, rooted in the promises of and sure knowledge of God, in confidence in His provision and character. The mature Christian does not give up. Answer 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way: “We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father.”

“godliness” might be better translated “reverence,” a holy respect for God. Calvin’s motto Coram Deo (before the face of or in the presence of God) rightly describes a life lived carefully, reverently, consistent with the description that continues.

7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Christians are to live with brotherly kindness. Our treatment of people must match our reverence for God. And the list culminates with love (agape love), the self-giving, unconditional, deliberate desire for the highest good of another that issues in sacrificial actions.

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To the pagan mind, the end of religious practice was to “know” and thus be able to manipulate. Christianity begins with knowing the personal God of the Bible through Christ and proceeds to productive service to our gracious Lord and Master.

9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Again, it seems like heretics were teaching a self-centered religion that neither required nor produced any progress in these virtues. Peter is not impressed. Literally, it is “blind and nearsighted” and the blindness can mean not being able to see, as when one blinks or shuts one’s eyes. It seems here that Peter is saying that willfully shutting one’s eyes to the importance of the Christian virtues in verses 5-7 is tragically short-sighted. It is short-sighted in view of eternity, a topic Peter is going to broach in verse 11.

10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

Make your calling and election sure. Here again is Scripture’s consistent insistence that somehow both God’s choosing and man’s free will are true. To our finite minds, either God must choose or it is through our choosing that we come to faith. But Peter says “be all the more diligent/eager to make your calling and election sure.” God is indeed sovereign and yet we have a part in this.

“never fall” doesn’t mean that we will never encounter setbacks or will never mess up. It means that we will not be ultimately undone. Peter is saying here that if there is progress in Christian virtue there is no danger of complete loss. On the contrary,

11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This “rich entrance/welcome” carried an interesting connotation. Apparently the word is one that was used to describe the reception given by Greeks cities to champion athletes returning victorious from the games. Barclay says that they often broke down a part of the city wall so that the athlete could enter by their own route. The idea is one of extravagance of the welcome. The Christian faith is meant to bring us safely and even richly through this life into the next.

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.

I intend “to remind you.” Much of the work of preaching and pastoring is to remind of what we should and, in fact, already do know. Genuine Christian teachers are not innovators. If it’s new, it’s surely wrong. Fallen human hearts want to see themselves as being on the forefront of new religious developments. What we instead ought to desire is to simply stand in the long line of real faith and be richly welcomed into Christ’s eternal kingdom on the same grounds that all before us have been welcomed. “Always reminding” was Peter’s number 1 job.

13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,

14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.

Peter sees his own death coming soon. Jesus said to him

John 21:18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”

The letter was almost surely written around the time of Nero’s persecution of the church. It doesn’t take much insight for Peter to see what’s coming. He’s not scared or uneasy. This is the robust fellow who in Acts 12, while in prison chained to guards awaiting the action of Herod Agrippa was sleeping so soundly that the angel sent to get him had to hit him in the side to wake him up. But he is concerned for the church.

15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

Many commentators hear in this verse a promise that Mark will take what he’s heard in Peter’s preaching and compile it. The early church fathers considered the Gospel of Mark to be exactly that, a compilation of Peter’s preaching. Whether or not this is exactly what Peter means, he is promising to see that the apostolic Gospel is preserved and brought to remembrance of his readers even after he is gone.

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

There is almost certainly here either a refutation of a charge that heretics have brought against Peter, or a contrast with what the false teachers have been doing. Peter says “we apostles have done nothing except tell you what we saw and heard.” Christianity hangs on what really happened in time and space. It is absolutely vital that what the eyewitnesses say happened actually happened. And Peter says “I was there at the transfiguration. I know that He is God’s own Son.” Myths are stories made up out of nothing by humans for their own purposes. The Christian apostles weren’t dealing in such things. They were saying what they’d really seen, real things ordained by God for God’s purposes.

17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”

18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

Apparently the Greek can be rendered to mean either that Peter’s account confirms what the prophets had promised or that what the Old Testament prophets said confirms the veracity of Peter’s testimony. The ESV has chosen to render it in second way (the NIV chooses the first). The ESV rendering seems more plausible. That is, it seems like Peter may well be saying “look if you weren’t inclined to take my word for it, believe the Old Testament prophets. They confirm what I’ve told you about Christ.”

20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.

And the Scriptures aren’t something that a bunch of guys dreamed up for fun. They aren’t the opinions of some wise men. They are instead the very revelation of God to fallen humanity. They are what God tells us about reality.

21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Men spoke from God as they were carried along as a sailing ship is moved by the wind, not in some kind of “automatic writing” way as if they were taking dictation, but as the Spirit of God blew them in right directions.

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.

A Bible Lesson on 1Peter 4:12-5:11

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.

We’ll jump now to 1st Peter Chapter 4, verse 12, and more of what Peter has to say about the proper response to suffering in this world.

1Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Peter needs here to answer a semi-reasonable question. He has said how wonderfully blessed Christian people are, inheriting the promises of God to His chosen people. So, a reasonable question to the natural mind, is “If this is all true, then how come life is full of suffering for me?” Peter lets us know that our thinking that makes “suffering” the opposite of “being blessed” is wrong. Rather, like it or not, it is for our good and God’s glory and is a normal part of Christian discipleship.

13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Rejoice as you share/participate in the sufferings of Christ. There is an amazing thought. Not that in any way you and I add to Christ’s atoning work, but that we do have the great privilege of demonstrating to the world a measure of His mind and heart. We follow Him in suffering, and the people who see us acting properly under suffering are given an inkling of what He did on their behalf. In that sense, what Christians suffer helps bring people to God.

Do this so that you may rejoice/be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. This is in at least two senses. In one sense, God’s glory is presently seen in His people reflecting His nature. In a second sense, we will in the future be overjoyed when His great glory is revealed to the whole universe at His return and we are found to belong to Him.

Paul says similar things in Romans.

Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

You are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. That reminds of Stephen. As he was being stoned, the visible glory of God was seen in his face. The word “blessed” is the same word Jesus used in the beatitudes.

Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Modern flabby notions that suffering is the opposite of blessedness just reveals failure to listen and apply Biblical categories in reasoning.

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.

16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Right thinking Christians from the start have counted it a privilege to suffer for Christ.

Acts 5:40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

2Timothy 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

Suffering for Christ both brings Him honor and confirms to our hearts that truly we are His. Peter’s advice would be “Neither seek it nor run from it. Live as if you weren’t going to experience it. But if God ordains that you should, His grace is sufficient. There will be joy and His glory in it. Count it a blessing.”

In Chapter 5, Peter addresses relationships in Christ’s church and gives encouragement in suffering. He describes how we who belong to Christ should live with each other, recognizing that we are pilgrims and sojourners, strangers in a hostile world, on our way to a glorious inheritance in eternity. He begins with instructions to elders.

1Peter 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:

Peter says “To the elders among you.” The word translated “elder” here is one with a rich and important history. In the history of the Jews, beginning in Numbers 11:16-30, there were men who functioned in the community under God as spiritual and civic leaders. Moses appointed 70 to help him lead the Israelites. As time went on, there were elders in every town who dispensed justice, administered the synagogue and saw to it that there was good government and order in the synagogue. In Christian history, the concept is there almost from the start. Paul, on his missionary journeys appointed elders in the churches he established, to provide for order, soundness of doctrine and nurture of the congregations. There were elders in the church at Jerusalem, etc.   These same people are sometimes called “bishops” or “overseers” elsewhere in the New Testament. For the well-being of the church, this was and is an important function and responsibility/office that has 4000 years of Jewish and Christian history.

Notice how Peter makes his appeal here. He appeals in a manner consistent with what he is urging of his hearers. Humanly speaking he has the “right/authority” as an apostle and one commissioned by Christ to speak from “above” those to whom he writes, but he doesn’t. He speaks humbly and as a peer, as a fellow elder and witness of Christ’s sufferings. It’s worth noting too that in light of Peter’s denial of Jesus the morning before the crucifixion (and after he’d sworn that HE would never fail Jesus) the memory of Christ’s sufferings would have been doubly painful. To call them up demonstrates a real humility of spirit on Peter’s part. But he writes too as one who has in common with his readers a sure hope of glory with Christ in eternity.

2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

The NIV renders this “Be shepherds of God’s flock.” The ESV is closer to the literal “shepherd God’s sheep.” A shepherd sees that the flock has food and water. He sees that it is protected from wild animals and human thieves. He finds shelter for the flock in the time of storm. He puts the well-being of the flock before his own well-being, standing personally between danger and the flock. In those cases where the flock is not his own, he answers to the owner for how he tends the flock. Remember the context here. Peter is speaking in or immediately before times of serious government-sponsored persecution of the church. This is a serious commission.

And it is, after all, “the flock of God that is among you.” Peter speaks as an under-shepherd to fellow under-shepherds in God’s service. Recall his specific commission from the risen Christ.

John 21:16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

It is significant that Peter was given this commission only after he had confessed his love for Jesus. And now Peter speaks as one of many who have in the context of their love for Christ been given a solemn trust or responsibility from God. Hebrews 13:17 alludes to the responsibility that an elder carries in the most serious of terms, as keeping watch over souls and needing to give an account to Christ.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The intent in verse 2 is that this is to be done not because you must, but because you are willing as God wants you to be. The office of elder should not be one that people vie, grasp, and campaign for without any real self-examination. But there is also a way of agreeing to a responsibility in a grudging fashion that takes the life out of good that one might do. The idea is that Christian people ought to be eager to serve Christ’s church, all the time aware of their own fallibility and inadequacies, but willing to put their hearts into what they’re called on to do.

An elder is to not be greedy for money, but to be eager to serve. This doesn’t say that pastors ought not be paid. It does say that the motivation for an elder or pastor ought not in any way be what can be gotten out of it in this life (in terms of money, or anything else for that matter). Rather, the motivation ought to be service to Christ and His people.

3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Now here is a vital authentically Christian contrast, the contrast between ordering people around and leading by example. It’s a common saying and true, that one can’t lead where one has never been. This is a tremendous responsibility. Peter is saying that an elder must strive to have qualities of life that people can admire and emulate. That has implications about moral excellence of character and devotion to Christ. It also implies that when there is work to be done or service to be rendered, an elder ought to be there first so that others will see the example and follow.

Peter speaks of those “in your charge”/”entrusted to you.” Apparently the Greek verb has overtones of being allotted without special merit. The duties of and elder are those allotted by God, by grace without any intrinsic merit on the part of the elder. It’s God’s choosing, not man’s assembling of the proper resume or somehow inherently possessing the right talents. Inherent in an understanding of that ought to again be humility on the part of those who serve as elders in Christ’s church.

4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

 Peter refers to “when the Chief Shepherd/Jesus, the Good Shepherd appears” (at the 2nd coming). An elder not only tends a flock that belongs to someone else (God), but he’s really only an assistant to Jesus Christ himself.

There is in it a crown of unfading glory. This probably doesn’t refer to a crown of gold that a king would wear, but rather to a crown of laurels that a champion athlete or military hero would wear. In this present life, such a crown will dry up and become nothing but a dead branch. But the crown promised to an elder that serves well is one of sharing in Christ’s victory that is eternal and unfading.

The point of serving properly here and now, isn’t to get a goody later. It’s not to be unselfish now so that one can be selfish in eternity. That would be a perversion of the truth. The promise of eternal reward is encouragement in a time of trial where a frail human being might be caused to ask whether there is really any point in going on. Peter is saying “Yes there is eternal consequence in the work that one does. It is part of the grand work of God that will in the end be successful, not for our glory or for our pleasure, but for the glory of God.” That’s reason to go on when times and circumstances are hard.

In discussing the role of elders, Peter now deals briefly specifically with the matter of how members of the church body ought to cooperate with elders.

5a Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.

The NIV here does a bad job of translation, referring to “those who are older” instead of saying “the elders.” The word here is the same word translated “elder” in verse 1. This is not about respect for the aged, it is a continuation of what Peter has already been talking about. The specific address here is to young men … but no one thinks that the injunction somehow applies only to them. Rather, if anything, it is a matter that they would be the group most likely to cause trouble for the leadership of the church, so Peter speaks with special emphasis to them.

Peter says “be subject to/be submissive.” The Amplified Bible says “you that are younger and of lesser rank, be subject to the elders, giving them due respect and yielding to their counsel.” Of course that doesn’t mean that the leadership in a church is never wrong. But the point is that our old nature tends to rebellion and we are to curb it. When there appears to be a problem or oversight, it should be approached with humility and proper respect. We ought to listen seriously to the advice of church leaders. In almost all cases, where there is a dispute with a church’s leadership over something that is doctrinally nonessential, and a decent, humble inquiry doesn’t change things to our liking, the right thing to do is to let the buck stop with the elders. This is strange advice to ears such as ours in the 21st century where people quite honestly believe that they can pretty much make up their own “religion” a la carte. But this is the Word of God.

Peter goes on now to discuss relationships in the church in general, not just between the elders and others. There is simply no reason to limit the application of what he’s thinking about to what goes on between elders and the people of a congregation. The same principles of deference of one’s personal preferences and agenda in light of the common good apply across the board.

5b All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

All of you clothe yourself with humility toward one another. The word translated “clothe” is apparently an interesting one. It has two distinct meanings that come together in this passage in a wonderful way. For one thing, it meant “to knot around” as a servant would knot a towel or cloak around himself in order to perform some menial task like washing feet. On the other hand, it could also mean “to pull on a long stole-like garment” (which was a sign of great honor). The meanings come together here. We are to knot on humility and service, and in the process end up pulling on great honor in Christ.

Why does this all make sense? It is because fundamentally it is stubborn human pride that is the root of the sin that keeps us from God. The Scriptures are plain that God hates that attitude in us. It must be done away with. Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34 Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,

The Amplified Bible says humble (demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation). Once again, the point is not that somehow by temporarily behaving ourselves we can satisfy God so that at a later date He will allow us to be as selfish as we please. Rather, the point is that we are to know that if life is at present hard and we are tempted to give up, we should not. In His time frame, we will find that the suffering was worth it for Christ’s sake.

Do this “under God’s mighty hand.” That is a favorite Old Testament phrase connected in thought with God’s deliverance of His people. The application here is that He can and will intervene in human affairs and bring blessing out of our acceptance of the humble part, and even out of suffering if we will bear it correctly.

7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Some English Bibles start a new sentence here where the ESV does not, making the first phrase here a command. But good commentaries make a pretty convincing case that that the ESV rendering is right. That is, “casting all your anxieties on him” is a participial phrase explaining how verse 6 is done. We humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand by casting ourselves upon Him. This is not a separate thought, but finishes the one in verse 6. It answers the natural question “Well, but if I concern myself with others, who’s going to take care of me?” The answer is that God, who is far more able than we, cares for us and will by His mighty hand do so. That frees us to cease constantly looking out for ourselves and to indeed be humble and concerned with others. Peter is here quoting from Psalm 55.

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

“Cast” here is a strong word. “Hurl” might better convey the sense of what is being said. Truly if God is God and He does care for His children, we can cast our cares on Him. In fact, that’s the only thing that makes any sense to do.

Verse 7 is, of course, not an invitation to goof off.

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Be self-controlled/sober. Be well-balanced, sane temperate, sober-minded, not given to either laziness or mental intoxication which injures spiritual concentration on God’s revealed truth.

Be alert/vigilant/watchful/wide awake. Why? Because there is real danger out there! There is a real enemy of our souls seeking to bring us to a horrible, eternal spiritual death, trying to convince us to walk away from our gracious God, the only source of life and light in the whole universe. Christian people are to both trust God and at the same time put their energy and vigilance into living for Christ. There is no contradiction between casting ourselves on God and being vigilant.

9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Resist the devil. James says in James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Do this standing firm in the faith. The word translated “firm” is used to describe solid material objects. No lightweight airy faith will do here. Christians are to be solid and rocklike. The idea is that we are to bear up under suffering and persecution. In those places that the devil would like to persuade us to throw in the towel, we are to instead resist. Christians are to persevere in the faith, in the fundamental apostolic teachings about who Jesus is and what He has done. There are two equally serious errors as regards our thinking about the work of Satan. One is to ignore his working and think that he doesn’t exist. There truly is an enemy of our souls in the universe. But the other error though is to give him too much credit. By God’s grace and in His strength and dressed in the armor of God, we can and must resist him.

Peter wants his readers to understand that what they are enduring is not unusual, but rather is the common experience of Christians. Our brethren around the world face the same things (and in most cases much worse things than) we encounter in the way of suffering and persecution. The suffering believer is not alone. The believer is joined to his or her brethren around the world, is experiencing an inherent part of the faith, and can draw encouragement from the testimony that the suffering gives evidence that God’s promised final deliverance is nearer every day.

10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will act. Peter’s admonition to persevere is allied with the promise of God’s preservation. If it is indeed God who has called us to share Christ’s glory, we ought to ultimately be able to rely upon Him to bring us safely through this present life.

After a short (by the standards of eternity) period of suffering, God will 1) restore, 2) confirm, 3) make strong, and 4) establish/make steadfast.

1) God will Himself restore you. The word rendered “restore” is one that is used to describe the setting of broken bones, the mending of fishing nets, the repair of ships damaged in a storm. It is to supply that which is missing. It is to supply that which is broken. It is to complete/put in order/make right. God, through suffering that is accepted in humility and trust, can supply that which is missing in us in the way of character.

2) God will confirm you/make you firm. This is to make as solid as granite. Christians emerge from suffering tempered like hardened steel, toughened up, and made into something substantial.

3) God will strengthen you/make you strong. He will fill us with strength (including that of purpose). A life that needs no effort or discipline is one that is flabby, weak, and susceptible to injury. God’s intent for a Christian’s suffering is good, not harm.

4) God will establish you/make you steadfast. The Greek verb is apparently “to lay the foundations.” When we meet sorrow and suffering, we are driven to the very bedrock of faith. We get down to what is really unshakable and primary, a humble consistent reliance upon God.

If we accept suffering in trusting certainty that a loving Father will never allow us to suffer without purpose or beyond what will be for our good, then out of it will come things that can be developed in no other way. To what end? The end is always the glory of God!

11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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.

A Bible Lesson on 1Peter 3:8-22

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.

As we jump into the 3rd chapter of the letter, Peter is discussing how Christians ought to live as strangers and aliens in this world. In the portion of the book we’re jumping over, he talks about how loyalty to Christ ought to affect relationships with civil authorities, those whom a Christian serves as a slave, spouses, and brethren in the church. In the verses considered here, the primary focus is on how believers ought to think about and respond to persecution and suffering on account of the faith.

1Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

These two verses are a summary of what has just gone before. They are not new thoughts.

Peter says first that believers are to have unity of mind/likemindedness/harmony. And, as Edmond Clowney put it, “The unity of mind that Christians are to show includes harmony of attitude as well as of understanding. … When the truth of Christ is affirmed in arrogance, it is denied.” The list of characteristics begins with unity/likemindedness and ends with humility/lowlymindedness. In the Biblical/Christian mind, these are closely and fundamentally linked.

Christians are to have sympathy for one another. This is participation in the misery and suffering that Christian people endure and encounter in this life. Life is arguably easier/more pleasant if we are “islands,” ignoring the difficulty around us. But we would be in a world of hurt if that was the attitude of Christ toward us, and His people are in the process of becoming like Him. This is much more than simply intervening to try to help “fix” another’s problem, it is purposely taking on the turmoil of life.

Christian love is “brotherly.” It is familial in nature. That speaks to its origin and to its permanence. It’s from God, as Christians belong to His adopted family. Just as (despite all human difficulty and stress) we never cease to be siblings to our siblings, Christians are always related to other believers. If we have any sense, we’ll reckon from that and live accordingly. We’ll live with tender hearts. We will live with compassion. Paul says much the same, again pointing to Christ as the origin.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Verse 9 says “No tit for tat, instead blessing.” That is the nature of the Savior and it’s the nature of His Kingdom. Jesus said that plainly in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:38-48. The Apostle Paul says that repeatedly in his letters.

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

1Thessalonians 5:15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

1Corinthians 4:12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;

This is true both inside and outside of the Christian church. This is completely contrary to “the way the world works,” but it’s the nature of the Kingdom of God and that is true, real, and ultimate blessing. Peter then introduces a quotation from Psalm 34 with “For …”

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;

11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Christian people know that they live before the face of God. They live knowing He is sovereign and just. They live knowing that their responsibility is not to look out for themselves, but rather to live as loyal subjects of their King and trust all to Him. (It’s a wonderful thing to know that we are not responsible to keep the earth spinning on its axis!)

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

This is a rhetorical question and the implied answer is “no one.” But this has to be reconciled with the fact that Jesus plainly warned those that would follow Him that they would be hated for their allegiance to Him and with the reality that these people to whom Peter writes already are (or very soon will be) facing intense government-sponsored persecution for the sake of Christ.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Peter is beginning this discussion of problem of persecution with emphasis on what is ultimately true. Christians are in the hand of God. Bottom line, no ultimate harm can come to those who are God’s. There may be persecution, yes, even death, but eternal harm, no.

The Old Testament is full of this kind of encouragement to God’s people.

Isaiah 50:7 But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.

9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

And Paul has similar things to say.

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

 

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,

“But even if,” Peter says. Peter is speaking as if persecution is a fairly remote or unusual possibility for those who are zealous about doing good. That’s interesting, again in light of the fact that these people are either in or on the brink of intense persecution. Peter’s not encouraging them to dwell on it. He’s not teaching them to make a big deal out of anticipating it or somehow figuring that preparations need to be made for it. Peter seems to be saying “Don’t be brooding over the possibility of suffering for the sake of the right. Live like it isn’t going to happen. If it does, don’t fear because all is in God’s hands and His grace is sufficient.”

The focus here is on God, not on any human threat. And if this was true for 1st century believers living in the increasingly hostile Roman Empire, how much more should it be true for us in the relatively safe US in the early 21st century?

Peter is quoting from Isaiah 8.

Isaiah 8:12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.

13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

Do not fear. The Old Testament Scripture points to reverence for the LORD Almighty as the antidote for fear. Peter says

15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

Honor or set apart Christ as Lord. Put Him in a category by Himself as Lord. Worship Him and Him alone.

Be prepared to make a defense/give an answer, both to those who are hostile and would persecute you, and to honest inquirers drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith in Christ.

The word choice here indicates that the reply we are to be prepared to give in answer is one that is reasonable, that is, rational, coherent, understandable. The Christian is to have an examined faith in Christ, one that can be articulated both to the hostile and the friendly. And it is to be done with gentleness and respect. Gentleness is strength under control, not weakness. Respect is probably better translated “reverence.” Fundamentally this is directed at the sovereign Lord.

16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

In some ways, the ultimate argument or apologetic is the quality of one’s character and life. Our words are necessary and important, but what will finally silence malicious criticism by those who hate the Faith is exemplary conduct. Conversely, all of our words mean next to nothing when we deal with a person who has been ripped off by someone who claims to be a Christian.

17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

But again, if persecution comes, it’s not the ultimate tragedy. The ultimate tragedy would instead to be walking outside God’s grace and mercy and to get the just rewards of our sin. And again, Peter puts the issue of what we will face in this world in the hands of God. If God so chooses, you and I will suffer for doing good, but that is not something that ought to occupy our thoughts. Instead we ought to dwell on Christ’s work on our behalf. We wrongly set up suffering as an opposite of living in God’s blessing. It is not.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, 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,

The first half of this verse is one of the most compact and yet complete statements of the doctrine of atonement in the Bible. Christ died once (for all). Jesus’s death was unique. In what happened on the cross, sin was finally and completely defeated. God dealt with man’s sin in a way that is adequate for all sin, for all humans, for all time. Christ died for sins. It is the death of Christ that atones for the sin of man and makes possible the restoration of the lost relationship between man and God. Christ died the righteous for the unrighteous. The death of Jesus was vicarious. He took my rightful place and yours. Christ died to bring us to God. The word for “bring” is one that was applied in this time to admitting one to an audience with a King.

The last half of the verse and the next 2 make up one of the most disputed short passages in Scripture. Histories of conflicting interpretations go all the way back to the early church fathers. Augustine, for example, took issue with Oregin’s interpretation. Apparently the Greek is ambiguous in a number of ways and places in these verses. The differing interpretations revolve around the possible answers to 3 questions:

Who are the spirits in prison? Unbelievers who have died? Old Testament believers who have died? Fallen angels?

What did Christ preach? A chance for repentance? Completion of redemption’s work? Final condemnation?

When did He preach? In the days of Noah? Between his death and resurrection? After His resurrection?

Even to adequately lay out the various possibilities that have been suggested would take us afar from the main flow of this text. And the arguments for each are based on nuances of grammar that are probably beyond sensible consideration here. What I’ll do here then, is just offer one that seems to be consistent with the rest of Scripture and the context, and that was seemingly well argued in the commentary on 1Peter that I have found most helpful. That is the possibility that the reference is to unbelievers from Noah’s time, to whom the Spirit of Christ (alive in Noah) preached repentance before the flood.

19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,

20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

Apparently, a perfectly legitimate rendering of verses 19 and 20 is “he went and preached to those who are now spirits in prison when they disobeyed formerly when God’s patience was waiting in the days of Noah”

In any case, the thought brings Peter to the picture of the ark. Noah’s time was a dark time. Noah’s family was the tiniest of minorities. The family members surely felt the sting of persecution from their neighbors as they preached and prepared for the flood. But God saved them through that dark time and situation. The application is that neither the early Christians nor we have it any worse than Noah and his family. We know the whole story. Noah had only a glimpse of redemption. God’s provision was sufficient for Noah and it’s sufficient for us.

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Baptism corresponds to/is an “antitype” of this. Just as a stamp has an imprint, the Old Testament flood and Christian baptism are in correspondence. We see in the flood God’s just wrath on a rebellious world. Noah and his family were saved through that wrath by faith, in that they believed and obeyed God. Christian baptism (in this analogy) pictures a death, the just punishment for my sin. But as God provided a way for Noah, He has provided a way for you and me. We’re saved and come through the flood unharmed by faith in Christ. Lest we think that it is the physical act of baptism that brings us through, Peter hastens to tell us otherwise. It’s not the physical washing that saves, but the appeal that the penitent sinner makes to God in faith. Baptism is “an appeal to God for a clear conscience.” We come to the end of ourselves and throw ourselves on God’s mercy, knowing that only He can set things right. In Peter’s mind, baptism is a sign or picture of a transaction that has taken place between God and a human being who has come to Him in faith, and this thing is not without its basis in real fact. It is by the resurrection of Christ.

22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

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.

A Bible Lesson on 1Peter 2:1-10

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.

1Peter 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

1Peter 2 begins “So/therefore.” It’s not absolutely clear, but most probably this refers back to 1:22 and Peter’s declaration that Christians are to love each other. In what specific ways does real love manifest itself among Christians? For one thing, we put aside attitudes and actions that are harmful to others. The verb translated “put away” is literally to peel off as one would peel off a soiled garment. “all malice” is broader than just ill will. It is not only ill intent but any actions that might be harmful to others. The four that follow are but examples of what needs to be peeled off,

  1. deceit is to harm another through trickery or falsehood,
  2. hypocrisy is hiding inward evil with an outward show of righteousness,
  3. envy (… we all know this fellow …) it is the opposite of being glad and thankful for the good that comes to others, and
  4. slander … any kind of speech that harms or is intended to harm another.

All of these sins are contrary to Christian love. In the light of God’s great salvation Peter says, be done with these and all other malice/wickedness.

2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–

There’s no new sentence here in the Greek. The sense of the command here is more like “Therefore, putting aside … long for …” Do this “Like newborn babies.” Peter, in 1:23 has said that Christians start life over, they are born again. He seems to carry this idea on here. We’re born again and then need to be nourished just as newborns need to be nourished. The correct English translation of the word “spiritual” is not clear. Many believe that the alternate translation “of the Word” (i.e. of the Scriptures) is better. (That’s the KJV translation.) Regardless, it’s pretty clear that the reference is to God’s Word. (From the proximity of verse 23, the way that the Old Testament talks about God’s Word as pure and nourishing, etc.) We’re to crave it. That’s an intense personal desire, not just some attitude of indifference. It’s pure/unadulterated, not mixed with anything. Note that the metaphor here isn’t the one of Hebrews, where milk is for kids. This milk is not just meant for beginners, it’s meant to nourish every believer at every station. The application is not limited to newborn Christians, but for all, the craving is to be like that of a newborn.

3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

tasted” means to have come to know by personal experience. We come to know and taste the Lord through the Word of God. It’s also through the Word that we will grow up in salvation.

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Peter now starts to talk about membership in God’s family, and shows carefully that the Christian church is now the true Israel, God’s chosen people.

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,

5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The relationship between verses 4 and 5 is that coming and being built happen simultaneously. What is perhaps not completely clear from our English renderings is the continuous nature of the coming … the gist here is something like “As you continually come to Christ (in initial faith and then in worship and prayer) you are yourselves being built into a spiritual house.”

It is “As you come to Him the living Stone.” Christ is the stone with a capital “S.” He is living. He is both alive and giving life. Christ is superior to the lifeless stones used to build the Old Testament temple.

He was “rejected by men.” These were Jesus’ own words in Matthew 21:42, which quotes Psalm 118:22-23. Jesus, rejected by the Jewish religious leaders of the day, becomes the chief personality in what God is building, namely the church. And the amazing thing is that we ordinary people who embrace Christ then too become part of what God is building. Christ is the Stone with a capital “S,” but we too are stones, being built up/growing into a spiritual house. The “spiritual” doesn’t mean “immaterial,” but rather in accord with God’s desires/influenced by the Holy Spirit. The picture is the church as a house for God, taking the place of the Old Testament tabernacle or temple. God doesn’t dwell in such buildings. He lives in and among His people. The Old Testament records the glory of the LORD descending to fill Solomon’s temple. Peter was there at the day of Pentecost to see the glory of the LORD descend to rest in and on His church. It’s interesting that Peter, who Jesus named “the rock,” makes it clear that we’re all stones. There’s no hint here that this is something reserved for him personally or even for a subset of the church.

There are a number of things the metaphors of stones and house teach. A stone is no good alone. It must be fit together with others to amount to anything. A house has a builder, is built according to a plan, is a permanent structure, provides safety and shelter, is a single unit constructed of a variety of parts, etc. But while this is all good and helpful, we shouldn’t see the image as a static thing, without life. It is alive and growing. In fact Peter switches images in the middle of the verse to use a priesthood to describe the Christian community.

Peter quotes from Exodus, again applying the Old Testament terms for Israel to the Christian church.

Exodus 19:3 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel:

 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;

6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

 The Old Testament priests had direct access to God and their function was to bring others to God. The Old Testament priests were to bring sacrifices to God. The church has access to God in Christ and it is its function to bring men and women to God. And Peter goes on to explain that it is the function of the church to offer not the Old Testament animal sacrifices, but spiritual sacrifices. These include

  1. our bodies/whole selves Romans 12:1,
  2. money or material goods Philippians 4:18 and Hebrews 13:16,
  3. praise to God Hebrews 13:15, and
  4. doing good Hebrews 13:16.

In fact, all we do ought to be seen in this light.

The purpose of these sacrifices is different from the Old Testament sacrifices. It is not to gain favor or right standing with God. That is already ours through faith in Christ. The point is rather an expression of profound gratitude. And these sacrifices are acceptable to God through Christ Jesus. Every (false) human religion pins its hopes on our own works and is always aware of our guilt and the impossibility of works doing the job. The sacrifices offered by humans can never really clear us, but the case is different in Christ.

Peter now refers to the Old Testament texts about stones and applies them to Christ.

6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

This is a quote from Isaiah 28:16. The context there is that the princes of Judah are congratulating themselves on their political cleverness and think that it will preserve them and the nation. God says that the cornerstone He’s laying in Zion is going to provide a foundation for the only edifice that will stand in the time of trial. That chief cornerstone, says Peter, is Christ and the building is His church.

7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

The first phrase is apparently hard to render. Literally it is something like “therefore the honor to you the believers.” The ESV is pretty good. It might also be translated “to you therefore who believe is honor.” To those who believe there is honor, not the shame. The Isaiah quote in verse 6 says that the Father sees the Son as the precious cornerstone. Good to those who see it His way. There are but two reactions to Jesus, trust that issues in honor and disbelief that issues in shame.

Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 regarding what the ESV calls the “cornerstone.” It is literally “head of the corner.” The “head” can mean “at the furthest extremity” which is where the cornerstone stood, lining out the location, elevation and orientation of the building. Peter has no trouble applying that description to Jesus, just as He Himself did in Matthew 21:42.

Peter now goes to Isaiah 8:14.

Isaiah 8:13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

That is, Peter says that the LORD God of Isaiah is Jesus, the stone that will make men stumble.

8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

To stumble is to take offense at and reject. Earlier Peter has said that it is the Christian Gospel that gives those who believe new life. There will be those, who when they hear the Gospel, will fall over it. It is meant to bring us to life, but if we reject it, that brings an implied judgment. Note that the taking offense at and rejecting the Gospel is linked with disobedience to the Word. People almost always fail to embrace the Gospel because of their morality. They do not wish to repent of sin and thus reject the Good News. Their theology follows their (lack of) morality. They are unwilling to take God at His word and obey.

The phrase “as they were destined to do” is what it is and says what it says. Arminians need to hear it say what it says. Calvinists need to bear in mind that the text leaves open the possibility of later repentance and saving faith. It could be rendered literally as “presently” not believing, stumbling and disobeying. And Peter goes on to affirm the hope that many of these unbelievers will come to faith (see 2:12, 3:1, 3:15, 2Peter 3:9). The main emphasis here in any case is the destining of the saints for good. That is Peter’s main concern and emphasis. Those who believe have a wonderful calling.

 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

 Remember that verse 5 quotes Exodus 19 and applies the term “holy priesthood.” Calvin said, “The meaning then is, as though he had said ‘Moses formerly called your fathers a holy nation, a priestly kingdom, and God’s peculiar people: all these titles do now far more justly belong to you; therefore you ought to beware lest your unbelief should rob you of them.” In contrast to those who stumbled, you are a chosen race.

The description in this verse of God’s people is packed full. Every phrase in it is a rich one.

Christians are a “chosen race,” filling the place of Old Testament Israel in God’s plans. It’s His doing and for His glory. The Christian is chosen by God for the privilege of fellowship, obedience and service, not by physical descent, but by rebirth into God’s family.

Christians are a “royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Again, these are quotes from Exodus 19:6. Verse 5 says “holy priesthood,” and the quote in Exodus says “kingdom of priests.” This wording is slightly different and attributes royalty to the whole of the priesthood/church. In the Old Testament, the kingship and priesthood were united only in Mechizidek and potentially in the Messiah. Now they are united in fact in Christ and His church.

Christians are “a holy nation.” God is holy, so ought His people be holy. His people are a nation. That’s quite a thought when we consider that living in nearly every nation of the world are members of this invisible holy nation of God. We have various languages, appearances, customs, etc. and are all part of the Christian church. We are not people identified because we live in one location, but because we are subjects of one King and servants of one Lord, set apart to God.

Christians are “a people for His own possession,” a people for God to specially possess. Things take on special value according to who owns or has owned them. We go to museums to look at ordinary household items that were used by George Washington or King Tut. We’re like that. We’re a people of worth in that we belong to God.

Christians are these things “that you (they) may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you.” God is the very definition of excellence. We are to reflect that and sound that abroad. We are to declare the perfection of His being in word and in action. As the catechism says “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him eternally.” We are redeemed not simply for our pleasure, but that we might bring Him glory. Salvation is ultimately not man-centered, but rather God-centered.

God is the One “who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The Christian faith is something that is out in the open, above board. There is no secret handshake or special words only for the insiders. It is light and life and wholeness and sanity. Truly, outside of the Christian message all is darkness, despair, distrust and fear. Christians are called into HIS wonderful light. The good proceeds wholly from God. It is His, given graciously to undeserving sinners such as you and me.

10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Peter makes another Old Testament reference, this time to the famous phrases in Hosea (1:6, 9; 2:1, 23). Christians had at one time, like rebellious and wayward Israel been rejected by God for their sin, had been no people, and had received no mercy. We were condemned for sin. But now we have been granted the highest privilege in the universe, to be God’s people. This is not by any merit of our own, but only by the undeserved favor of God. We have received mercy. Praise be to Christ!

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.

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.