Editor’s note: This post is part of a series featuring outstanding excerpts from student papers at the BibleMesh Institute, which offers affordable online training for local churches, schools, and ministries. The author’s name has been withheld for privacy and security purposes. She is preparing to serve as a missionary among Muslims overseas.
Peter’s first letter is often termed “catholic” because its audience was not a particular church (as with Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Philippians, for example), but rather was a scattered group of Christians, referenced in 1:1 as the “elect exiles of the Dispersion,” which would have included both Jews and Gentiles. These believers could have been converts from Pentecost, or from Paul or Peter’s missionary journeys. Historically, exiles of the “Dispersion” would have referred to the believers scattered in modern-day Turkey on account of persecution from Rome. They would have been scattered as far as Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch. According to scholars, this persecution could have taken place under Nero, Domitian, or Trajan. The persecution took many forms and therefore could have been physical, spiritual, or political in nature. Believers at the time often became “victims of slander, animosity, and scorn.”
In contrast to the uncertainty and danger of persecution, Peter emphasized the enduring security of believers’ identity in Christ and their eternal inheritance. According to Peter, not only is this inheritance kept safe in heaven for them, but they themselves are preserved and guarded by God’s power, through means of faith (1:5). Charles Spurgeon refers to this as the “double action of God’s grace”: as believers are prepared and secured for heaven, heaven is prepared and secured for believers. The ESV uses the word “guarded” (referring to Christians), which Grudem defines as both “being kept from escaping” and “protected from attack.” For Peter’s original audience, both protections were necessary, given their context. They were protected from attack, meaning that no one could remove them from God’s hand, and they were kept from escaping, meaning that the indwelling Holy Spirit would sanctify them and intercede for them when they sinned.
Temptation, sin, and attacks from the devil exist for all believers, yet God holds them fast. He promises guarded and secure passage to heaven for the elect regardless of the attack (see John 10:28-30; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 7:25). Knowing their souls and identity were guarded and safe would provide immense comfort for these believers facing suffering and even death. Therefore, their standing in Christ was of immeasurable value—they would not only receive salvation from death itself but also a safe inheritance untouchable by any earthly power and promised preservation until reaching that inheritance in their heavenly home.
Although most modern-day Christians are not physical sojourners and exiles or facing intense persecution (at least in the Western world), the theological principles of 1 Peter 1 are timeless. Christians today can read this passage, rejoice in their salvation through Christ, and look forward to their inheritance as coheirs of the kingdom (vv. 3-4). Believers can also view their trials, regardless of their severity, as under the sovereignty of God (v. 6) and mirror the sojourners to whom Peter was writing by rejoicing even in the midst of suffering and sorrow. This probably will not look like stereotypical, Hollywood joy—no, it will likely take form as steadfastness, genuine worship, and enduring hope in what’s to come, which will look fundamentally different than how the rest of the world approaches trial and tribulation.
- John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, N.p., 1746, http://www.biblestudytools.com/commenatries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/1-peter/.
- Steven J Cole, “Lesson 1: Hope And Holiness In A Hostile World (1 Peter 1:1-2, Introduction),” Bible.Org, 1992, https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-1-hope-and-holiness-hostile-world-1-peter-11-2-introduction.
- Richard Heard, “Chapter 17: The First Epistle of Peter,” Religion Online, accessed September 9, 2020, http://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-17-the-first-epistle-of-peter/.
- Joel B Green, “1 Peter,” 1 Peter (Bible Odyssey, 2019), http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/1-peter.
- Charles H Spurgeon, “Spurgeon’s Verse Expositions of the Bible: 1 Peter 1,” StudyLight, accessed September 9, 2020, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/1-peter.html.
- Wayne A Grudem, “Chapter 40: The Perseverance of the Saints (Remaining a Christian),” in Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 791-792.