The Setting of I Peter
We’re going to study from I Peter if you’d like to turn there in your Bibles. Let’s first try to travel back in our minds to the time when this was written:
If we go back then, it would only be 30ish years ago that a peasant carpenter from nowhere-ville Nazareth quickly became famous in His little country and the surrounding areas doing some seemingly supernatural things, teaching profound things, claiming to be our King and our Savior sent from God, and then put to death but many began to boldly testify to having seen and interacted with Him alive from the dead, and He has ascended to heaven where He has taken His throne as Lord of all. And they began doing in Jesus’ name the sort of supernatural things that Jesus did to confirm their message, and their message spread through the known world, creating believers and followers everywhere it went, to such an extent that the Roman Empire felt threatened by this new movement.
At the time Peter wrote this letter, the threat of the Roman government stepping in against Christianity was in the air. It was already, at the time, not easy to be a Christian. They were commonly misunderstood in their communities. And in the letter of I Peter, it talks about how they’re slandered and maligned by their neighbors (2:12, 4:4). The government hostility against the Christians was mounting as well. It was right after this was written that terrible persecution broke out under emperor Nero in the mid-60s A.D. The emperor Nero even blamed Christians for the huge fire in Rome that burned much of the city. A fire that was started by Nero himself, but he blamed Christians. He also made an effort to round up as many Christians as he could find and kill them in horrible ways for the amusement of the Roman citizens; dressing them in animal skins and allowing them to be torn apart by dogs, crucifying, and burning them, etc.
Tradition says, under Nero, Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, Paul (mercifully because he was a Roman citizen) was beheaded. Then came the rule of Domitian in the later part of the first century, and he was like a “Nero reincarnate”. He sought Christians out for persecution and so did others after him. That sort of extreme persecution was on the horizon when this letter was written.
Peter wrote this letter to Christians scattered throughout five provinces of the Roman Empire knowing the trials they were already experiencing and knowing it was probably only going to get worse. He wrote this to help them through it.
We can read in ancient literature about how the Roman authorities were amazed and bewildered at how many of the Christians went to their deaths with smiles on their faces. How could they smile in the face of death? The answer is they were convinced of the things that Peter speaks of in this letter, especially the portion we’re going to look at.
I Peter 1:3-6
We’re going to look at what Peter says right after the opening greeting. What Peter wanted these Christians to know first of all is (in essence) that despite their trails right now and whatever trials they would face, they were so incredibly blessed. And whatever they’d face temporarily, they still had great reason to be overflowing with joy, gratitude, and praise to God.
Here’s how he words it. I Peter 1:3 and we’ll just go to verse 6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials…”
The first words “Blessed be” means praised be. Praised be God. We owe Him praise. But he doesn’t just say “Blessed be God.” He says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word God means different things to different people. People have different views about who God is. So he clarifies that we’re talking about the God that Jesus served, revealed to us, and reflected as He went about doing good, acting in compassion and kindness and patience and forgiveness; the God who granted Jesus authority over disease and demons and death, the one Jesus trusted and was not disappointed in, the one who raised Jesus from the dead and made Him Lord of all. That good, loving, trustworthy, powerful God is who we’re talking about. And we so ought to praise Him because…
He has acted toward us according to His great mercy.
You know what mercy is? To take pity on someone, so you don’t let them get what they deserve, but you do for them what they don’t deserve. Never ask God to give you what you deserve. You never want to say “God, I want you to give me what I deserve, what I’ve earned. Give me what I’m worthy of.” Can you see what a bad prayer that would be? Because if He granted that prayer: Zap! Boom! You’re gone, space dust! God treats us not as we deserve. He treats us, who are in Christ, as Christ deserves. He treats as though we are as righteous and as worthy as Christ according to His great mercy.
So what has He done for us?
He has caused us to be born again.
That’s language that Peter and John, who learned it from Jesus, used to talk about. They used to talk about the inner transformation and initiation into the family of God that’s happened to Christians. When a leader of the Jews, Nicodemus, was puzzled at this born again talk Jesus used, he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus explained it to him as being born of water and the Spirit, and He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” (John 3:5-6) meaning, I think, the result of physical fleshly birth, is a new flesh, but the result of a birth of the Spirit is a new spirit, a new mind and heart within, an inner transformation where you now trust and love God. Being born again is when you submit to the Spirit’s transforming work and you let God change you, and water is part of it, baptism.
Blessed be God because He caused us to be born again. We didn’t just decide to trust and love God on our own, and we didn’t just somehow compensate God to make up for all our sinfulness and earn our place in God’s family. No. God loved us when we didn’t love Him and He got to work in our lives and won our hearts, and prompted and motivated our repentance; He forgave us, gave us a clean slate, and brought us into His family. We love only because He first loved us. We only have no sin on our account because He paid our debt. We have a relationship with God not because we drew God to us, but because He drew us to Himself, according to His great mercy.
And when we’re born again in the family of God, Peter says…
God has given us a living hope.
A living hope: this powerful anticipation of a better future.
So I heard this story, I have to tell you, about a lady who opened a brand new business. Because she’d opened this new business, her friend sent her a bouquet of flowers. The problem was, the bouquet of flowers had a card attached that read, “Rest in Peace.” So you can imagine the shock to the lady, looking at this bouquet of flowers, “Rest in peace! What is that all about? Surely this is mistake, right?” So she called the flower shop and said “I think, I hope, there’s a mix up here. I think I got the wrong bouquet.” And the florist apologized profusely and said, “Indeed you got the wrong flowers. But just to brighten your day, just think right now, somewhere in town there is a funeral going on and the card on the bouquet of flowers there says, “Congratulations on your new location!” When I heard that I thought, you know, actually I can’t think of a better card to write for Christians at their funeral. We should write that on cards by the caskets of Christians. “Congratulations on your new location!” Because, II Corinthians 5:8, absent from the body, we are at home with the Lord.
I was thinking about what it would be like without this hope God has given me. If I thought that this life is all there is, we’re all just animated worm food, so there’s nothing really that matters to do in life, because whatever we do we’re not going to change the fact that pretty soon we’re all just going to be worm food, and I’m never going to see my loved ones again when death takes them or takes me, and there’s nothing beyond this life to right the wrongs in this world, to punish evil, to reward righteousness, I’m pretty sure I’d be a very depressed person. And I feel so sorry for those people of the world. I kind of understand (if they don’t have hope) why so many want to escape in drugs and alcohol and whatever. I understand why Henry David Thoreau wrote those famous words, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” They don’t have hope really.
But because I have this hope, I have something to live for, something truly valuable to share with others, and joy and peace no matter how dark and difficult it becomes here. I have strength to persevere; I think that’s why Peter calls it “a living hope.”
I think he means our hope doesn’t just sit idly inside us and do nothing like something dead; it’s like it’s alive inside us. Our hope is active and doing stuff within us, giving us joy and peace, getting us out of bed in the morning, motivating us to love and do good deeds, and to bring others to know the Lord. Our hope is blessing us and driving us. It’s like it’s alive in us.
Now, how did God give us this living hope? There are many things God has done to give it to us, but Peter highlights a big one.
God has given us our hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
These Christians to whom Peter was writing were convinced that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead, for many reasons. Number one, when you read the NT writings it’s clear that one of the things early Christians were taught was the prophecies of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures that spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah. Number two, they also knew firsthand that honest, intelligent, good men like Peter were bearing witness to having seen and interacted with Jesus alive after His death. And Paul wrote to 1st century Christians in I Corinthians listing people who had witnessed Jesus alive from the dead and say that He was seen alive from the dead by more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom were still alive. Basically, “If you don’t believe me, go ask them yourself.” That’s I Corinthians 15:6. These early Christians knew there were all these witnesses. And number three, they knew that the witnesses weren’t making it up for some selfish motive; there wasn’t anything for them to gain by testifying that they saw Jesus alive. On the contrary that testimony endangered their lives, and made powerful people hate them and persecute them. And number four, those first century Christians also knew that the apostles and missionaries of Jesus had been doing, in Jesus’ name, the sort of supernatural things that Jesus did, like healing the sick and the lame and the blind and casting out demons and being bit by poisonous snakes without harm and so forth. I find it fascinating that in Corinthians (II Cor 12:12) and Galatians (Gal 3:5) and Thessalonians (I Thess 1:5) and Hebrews (Heb 2:3-4) there are statements reminding the Christians of the signs, wonders, and miracles performed before their eyes in the name of Jesus. That was just one more thing that convinced them Jesus Christ is not dead.
And they understood the implications of the resurrection of Jesus, that He is who He said He was and His promises are true. Death is not the end for us either. God will do for us as He did for Jesus, just as Jesus promised that He would. So God gave them living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we should have the same hope because of His resurrection.
But more than just giving us hope of life after death, Peter says that…
God has also made us heirs of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.
So God, who caused us to be born in His family, has given us all the privileges of son-ship. He’s made us His heirs.
Money may be tight now, you may not have much now, but your Father in heaven is wealthier than you can imagine, He has much more than even what we can see, and he has written up a will, though our Father will never die, for the distribution one day of what He has, and you are in His will.
The property that is coming to us, Peter says here, is imperishable. We can’t lose it to death or destruction.
He says it is undefiled or can’t be spoiled. The land of Canaan was given as an inheritance to the nation of Israel. Leviticus 18:27-28 said that, that land of Canaan had been defiled by the sinfulness of the people who lived there before the Israelites and that’s why God was kicking them out of that land, and should the Israelites defile the land when they live in it by sinfulness again, God would kick them out too. But our inheritance will never be defiled; there’s not going to be sin there. Revelation 21:27 puts it this way, “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Imagine a world where there are no locks on the door, no burglar alarms, no “No trespassing” signs (because they’re not needed), and no bad parts of town, no crime, no conflict, no hate, no wars, no oppression, no injustice, no hurting anyone; a world where everyone is trustworthy, everyone loves one another, everyone is like family, everyone wants to help and serve and bless one another. That’s the sort of world we’re going to. It won’t be spoiled by sin.
And Peter says it will never fade away. Everything in this world fades. Materials things lose their luster and value, tarnish, wear out, weaken, rust, and fall apart. Hobbies and recreational activities, I don’t care what they are, they get boring eventually after you do them enough times. The strength and health and beauty of our bodies fade away. But our inheritance is not like things of this world; it will never fade.
That is the promise of God in this holy book and the promise of Jesus Christ who rose from the dead. If our hearts do not overflow with joy, gratitude, and praise, then we’re not really getting this. Because I know if you heard from a credible source that you have an elderly uncle that you never knew you had and he’s a millionaire and his health is fading and in his will he’s leaving all of his millions to you, you’d be excited. You’d say, “Oh I’m sorry that my uncle is not doing well,” but inside you’d be jumping for joy. And what Peter is saying here is so much greater, because those millions will fade away. We’re heirs, of this promise land; this imperishable, undefiled, “will not fade away” land.
Now, that’s what God HAS done for us, caused us to be born again to a living hope, and made us His heirs.
Now, here’s what God IS doing: First, He’s keeping, guarding, and protecting our inheritance for us in heaven. And secondly, He’s keeping, guarding, and protecting us for it. Or as Peter words it here in verse 5…
We “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Normally when we talk about salvation we speak of it as something that has already happened to us if we’re Christians. We say we have been saved. But here Peter talks about a salvation that we have still yet to experience. Salvation means rescue, deliverance. We have yet to experience being rescued on the last day when God brings judgment on this world, like God rescued Noah and his family when He brought judgment on the world of old. God will rescue His people on the great day to come.
And right now God is watching over us and helping us so that we continue to live in righteousness and obedience so that we will be saved on that day. God is protecting us from Satan and from becoming entangled in sin once again… that is, as long we’re hanging on to our faith. Peter says, “we’re protected by the power of God through faith.” God requires that we continue to trust Him. But as we continue to trust Him, He works to keep us on the right path.
I think of some things God did in David’s life to protect him. Remember that time when David was intent on taking vengeance on that greedy scum bag named Nabal. He was so mad at that guy he was literally going to go kill him. And God worked and brought Abigail, Nabal’s much better half, to intersect David before he got to Nabal to remind David of the reasons why he didn’t want to sin against God in that way. And David listened to her and then he thanked and praised God for sending her to him to keep him from sin. And then I think of how God disciplined David at times so he wouldn’t repeat sins he’d committed. And as David said in Psalm 23 like a good shepherd “He guides me in the paths of righteousness”.
If we’re Christians, God is watching over us and working in our lives, as a good Father does for His children, to keep us on paths of righteousness so that on that last day we will be saved and given our inheritance. Sometimes we lose sight of that day. Sometimes we lose sight of how temporary this life is. All we can see are our earthly problems and difficulties and discomfort here and we’re tempted to compromise our faith, to give in to Satan for some momentary pleasure. But aren’t you glad our Father never loses sight of that day and intensely desires for us to be saved on that day, and even when we lose sight of it, He’s at work to remind us and talk sense into us and keep us on the right path.
And verse 6 says, “In this you greatly rejoice [if this registers with you, what God has done and is doing for you, you greatly rejoice.] even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials…”
Whatever variety of trials you’re facing, from back pain to diagnosis of cancer, from not fitting in amongst your coworkers to being burned at the stake, from financial crisis to your family falling apart, none of that means that God does not love you or that God is not bringing you to eternal life in a new creation. Whatever trials you’re going through, Peter says, know first of all that they are only for a little while. Soon you will be through them and looking back on them. And know, he says, that they are necessary. Your Father in heaven has a loving purpose in mind with your trials. One day, though it may be hard to imagine now, you’re going to thank Him for those trials. And Peter will talk more about the purpose of our trials and why they’re necessary. We’ll save that for another time. But just realize here that our trials will pass and they are not at all an indication that God is angry with you or that God’s not taking good care of you.
I Peter 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials…”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.