“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1).
The opening verse of 1 Peter attests that it was written by this Apostle. His primary admonitions in this epistle are for the Lord’s people to lead upright lives, to show endurance even under undeserved afflictions, and to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter writes to the Jewish Christians that had been scattered amongst the Gentiles, had experienced severe trials and needed encouragement to endure faithfully to the end. While the Apostle provides this encouragement, it is not exclusively efficacious to the Jews which then came into Christ. His words are relevant to all who have entered into covenant relationship with God, whose focus remains fixed on the hope of their salvation and on doing what is required to make their calling and election sure.
Peter’s epistles reveal that he was a prominent figure in the early church. We have more written about him in the gospels than about any other disciple. Originally known as Simon, the Apostle Peter was the son of Jonas and a member of a family of fishermen. Peter was called to follow Christ during Our Lord’s earthly ministry and was later appointed to apostleship on the day of Pentecost. Peter was a man of contrasts — impulsive and bold, yet affectionate and loyal. He eagerly responded to the call of Jesus (Matthew 4:18-20) by leaving his net, boat, fishing trade and familiar surroundings to follow and worship the Man from Nazareth. Aside from his brother, Andrew, and another of John the Baptist’s disciples, he was the first of Jesus’ disciples to recognize who Jesus was (John 1:40-41, Matthew 16:16).
By the time Jesus arrived on the coast of Caesarea (John 1:42, Matthew 16:15-18), he had renamed His disciple Peter, meaning a stone or rock. Following this incident, Peter was singled out for many special lessons throughout the gospels. Some include his witnessing our Lord’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9), Jesus foretelling his denial (Matthew 26:31-35), Peter’s refusal to allow Christ to wash his feet (John 13:6-8) and his loving zeal and enthusiasm to bear witness of our resurrected Lord at Pentecost (John 20:2, 3, Acts 2).
This epistle can rightfully be viewed in three parts. Chapters one and two through verse eight address Christian suffering and conduct during the consecrated’s march to salvation. The second part from 1 Peter 2:9 through the end of chapter four discusses the life of the consecrated coupled with their sufferings for Christ. The third and concluding portion is found in the fifth chapter and addresses the role that elders should play in their service towards the brotherhood. These three parts each provide timely lessons, but chapter two, in particular, contains a number of stimulating admonitions which we find especially worthy of our consideration.
Chapter two generally addresses four core lessons: First, verses four through eight describe Christ as the living stone who was rejected of men. Second, in verses nine and ten, Peter describes the characteristics of the Church. Third, verses 11 through 17 comment on how the saints should live as servants of God. Finally, in verses 18 through 25, the Apostle articulates the example of Christ’s suffering.
The Apostle’s description of Christ indicates as a living stone, He is held in disesteem by men, offensive to the human family but yet chosen of God (2:4-8). Parenthetically, He is the foundation stone of all of our hopes and happiness, and through Him, we have access to the Heavenly Father. Mankind in general does not appreciate the sacrifice of our Savior, and unlike the Church, they have rejected Him. Despite the opposition faced by Jesus in an ungrateful world, He was rewarded by becoming the Head of the Church, the Savior of His people and the Judge of mankind as a result of his sacrificial death.
After the Apostle describes Christ as the living stone, he goes on to speak of the Church as “living stones” where KJV says in 2:5, “ye also as lively stones are built up,” but “living stones” as the RV updates the diction. These living stones are the Church, chiseled, shaped and prepared to fit Christ, the great rock upon whose atoning sacrifice these members are built. Peter further describes the Christian Church as a holy priesthood, which is of a higher order than the Jewish arrangement under the Law. Thus the Apostle provides a beautiful illustration, when he describes the royal priesthood as a spiritual house over which Christ reigns as the living stone.
In 1 Peter 2:9, 10, the Apostle gives distinct definitions when describing the faithful Church. He uses the expressions: a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a peculiar people. It may be asked how is the Church a chosen generation? We answer that New Creatures are chosen of God to be joint heirs with Christ in the heavenly kingdom. All true Christians are a chosen generation because they are separate from the human family at large.
How is the Church a royal priesthood? The Little Flock members are antitypical underpriests, depicted by Aaron’s sons in the Levitical priesthood. The faithful overcomers will become kings and priests, as described by the Apostle John in Revelation 1:6, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father.” Isaiah 61:6 seems to reiterate this point, for it says: “But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD.” The word, royal, implies kingly authority. Here is the merging of two offices — kings and priests — like Melchizedek; it is unlike the Law, where the two offices, priest and king, were separate.
Today we are to learn to do all to the glory of God — the King of Eternity. Then tomorrow in the resurrection — “the day appointed of the father,” we will as sons of God reign with Christ for a thousand years. Today we are to sacrifice — to present our bodies “a living sacrifice” — an acceptable offering to God. Then tomorrow we will join with Christ, the High Priest, to bless all the families of the earth. Thus, the body of Christ will be a royal priesthood (Galatians 4:1-2, Romans 12:1).
How is the Church a holy nation? All faithful Christians, wherever they may be found, will be included as part of the holy nation. They are one nation developed under our sole Head, Christ Jesus, who is the epitome of holiness. This expression can also be found in Exodus 19:6 because the Hebrews were once regarded as a nation consecrated to God as His special treasure but after they were rejected because of their disobedience. This same language was then properly applied to the Gospel Age people whom God had chosen in their place —- the Christian church. This holy nation of spiritual Israelites will be joined together as one government separate and distinct from the world.
How is the Church a peculiar people? The royal priesthood is not peculiar in language or dress, but their peculiarity relates to the fact that they are a purchased possession for whom the merit of Christ’s blood has already been applied, and they are living a new life with an entirely different focus from the human family. They have spiritual hopes, aims and ambitions which the world regards as foolishness. What encouragements these should be to us in appreciating the attributes of the prospective glorified Church, as we continue to appreciate our standing in Christ.
To make these chosen ones thankful for the great mercies and honor bestowed upon them, the Apostle advises the saints to compare both their present and former estate (2:10). Peter may have been referring to the Gentiles in this scripture, as those in times past were not recognized as the people of God but now are His. Hosea 2:23 expresses a similar thought: “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.” Although the Gentiles did not obtain mercy from God, until after the 70 weeks of exclusive favor to the nation of Israel ended awhile after Pentecost, the Gentiles thenceforth obtained mercy from God with the baptism of Cornelius, the first Christian convert, into the body of Christ.
Pilgrims vs. Lust
1 Peter 2:11-17 focuses primarily on the Church being the servants of God. Peter addresses the saints in verse 11 as being strangers and pilgrims. We note that the Apostle Paul used a similar expression in Ephesians 2:19, where the word “strangers” is rendered “foreigners.” These terms refer to those without the rights of citizenship, mere sojourners because their citizenship is in heaven. They are aliens in the world. A companion scripture for the word pilgrim comes from Hebrews 11:13, where the Ancient Worthies are called “pilgrims.” A pilgrim is one who travels a distance from his own country to a holy environment. Hence, the suggestion by the Apostle is that Christians have no permanent home on earth, for they are seeking an eternal dwelling in heaven. This provides an additional encouragement to the Lord’s people as we see ourselves in this light.
Peter also admonishes the Christian to abstain from fleshly lusts, because such desires and passions hinder their progress. He implies that a sojourner does not give himself up to the indulgences of the flesh, for this would discourage him from pressing towards his great reward. Peter counsels that the Christian should resist those fleshly desires, which war against his conscience.
New Creatures are also admonished to have their conversation honest among the Gentiles, meaning they should consistently strive to manifest wholesomeness in word and in deed. The heathen who surround the people of God, closely observe their language and conduct. Those who are opposed to the body of Christ may say believers are evil doers, but may be silenced when they observe their upright lives, for which, when scrutinized, they find no ground for reproach. Rather, upon careful inspection, mankind should see that the saints are motivated by godly principles and disposed to righteousness. Indirectly, this brings glory and honor to our Heavenly Father.
Peter reminds us that the Christian must to submit to every ordinance of man, meaning to respect the institutions, laws and governments of the world. He is not to regard humanity as being above God, but should recognize he is in subjection to those with civil authority. While living a life of benevolence, the Christian may put to silence the ignorance of these men through his well doing (1 Peter 2:15).
Suffering — Learning from our Savior
Since Christ suffered for us (1 Peter 2:18- 25), the saints are also exhorted to suffer and accept trials with the same spirit as did Jesus. Our Lord, who committed no sin, was in all respects perfectly holy. He was entirely innocent and suffered without having committed any crime. As Jesus suffered unjustly, his body members should regard it as being no strange thing when they too undergo similar sufferings and persecutions.
The scriptures tell us that there was no guile, deceit, hypocrisy or insincerity found in Jesus’ mouth, for he was in all respects what he professed to be. Though he was condemned as an impostor, that charge was wholly untrue. Jesus was reviled and spoken of as a deceiver, charged with being in league with Beelzebub, “the prince of devils,” and accused as a blasphemer against God (2:23). Although he was falsely accused by his malefactors, Jesus did not revile those who reproached him. He seldom used harsh language and showed no anger. He calmly stood and bore it all, for he came to endure all kinds of sufferings in order that he might set an example for us and make an atonement for our sins. Such should be our course as well when faced with like attacks.
1 Peter 2:25, “Ye were as sheep going astray,” alludes to Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This thought in a broader sense expresses the condition of the human race before God recovers them through the plan of salvation. A flock wandering without a shepherd or guide is in a pathetic condition, and so was it for the prospective body of Christ before being sought out and brought into the true fold by accepting the value of the shed blood of the Good Shepherd.
In the fourth chapter, the Apostle warned his readers about the coming of a more intense period of persecution (4:12-19). He stresses the importance of patience and mental readiness. Peter intimates that the Church should not regard it as being strange or unusual for the people of God to suffer as did Christ, because later they will be glorified together with him in God’s coming kingdom. He also admonishes the Church not to become perturbed concerning matters unrelated to Christ, but to rejoice in their afflictions, knowing they will be counted as a blessing. The people of God should always place their lives completely in His hand, believing that because He is their Creator, He will be their preserver. He will withhold no good thing from those who love Him and walk uprightly. He who is employed in God’s service will always have God’s protection.
In the final chapter of this epistle, a text which has yielded different interpretive views comes from 5:13 and states, “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.” Tradition dismisses the literal interpretation of this passage because it claims that Peter lived in the West (and not in Babylon) during his final years and was crucified upside down in Rome. The city of Babylon was almost nonexistent during Peter’s lifetime, for it was captured by Darius the Mede during the time of the prophet Daniel, conquered seventeen more times, and destroyed by the Parthians in the second century BC, with many inhabitants taken as slaves. Additionally there is no scriptural evidence suggesting that Peter ever traveled to Babylon during his ministry. Those who hold to the traditional view maintain that Babylon was actually a code name for Rome. Additionally, the Apostle closes his salutation by stating that John Mark also sent his greetings. According to Colossians 4:10, John Mark was with the Apostle Paul in Rome, which seems to support the view held by Bible scholars that Babylon in this scripture refers to Rome.
Nonetheless, the message we discern from this verse is the same, whether it was penned in Rome or in Babylon. Peter tells us that the saints of God are extending their greetings to the Lord’s people who were scattered throughout Asia Minor. The larger application of this scripture is that Christians everywhere are joined together by the bond of Christ. Wherever the brethren may live, they have an affinity for one another. Great distances may separate the saints physically, but according to the spirit they remain one in Christ. We are all united by God’s common election.
The Lord’s people continue to appreciate the messages of the Apostle in his first letter. We remain encouraged to be joyful and trust in God even through the face of persecution. Such was the course of Christ, and we must expect the same if we are to be found faithful unto death. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1:7).
(1) “Babylon: Rome. A metaphor probably founded on Jewish usage” (Douay Bible footnote).