In his first letter, the Apostle Peter wrote to believers in Asia Minor who were suffering for their faith.
Notice how Peter addressed them: “the elect exiles of the dispersion”. This language reminds us of Israel under exile in Babylon. Peter wanted them to realise that because they have identified themselves with Christ, they too are “sojourners and exiles”on this earth, just like those exiled to Babylon under KIng Nebuchadnezzar. They do not belong to this world; as such, they must expect hostilities from this unbelieving world around them. Peter’s call to them was to live holy lives to provide a faithful witness to the world; like Christ, they too must be prepared to suffer and indeed will suffer. But with Christ, if they endure faithfully, they will share in His victory, vindication and glory (3:8-4:19). Until then, they were exhorted to persevere, to cast their anxieties upon Jesus, to remain in sober watchfulness and humility and to resist the evil one.
Peter’s message still rings with relevance to believers today; we are living in a postmodern world, increasingly in a pleuralistic society, where values are relative, where truth is based on what each one believes personally, and one would not take too kindly to those who declare that Jesus is God and is the only way to God the Father. The values of those in this world may be directly contrary to those of believers, and these may be in the areas of personal freedom and rights, sexuality, morality, religion and beliefs, cultural convictions and many other views. So, like the believers in Asia Minor, we too should not be surprised to encounter opposition, persecution and suffering for our faith.
In the light of this, Peter’s message to believers is to remind them of their solid hope for salvation they enjoy because of Christ’s death and resurrection and to challenge them to maintain the highest level of holy living as a powerful witness to those who reject them and persecute them. God’s people are not just the exiled; they are the elect, chosen to be His people, to represent Him and mediate His presence as “priests” (2:5,9-10). Hence holiness embodies their ‘way of life’. Living as God’s elect, they therefore incur ‘surprise’ (4:4) and ‘hostility’ from unbelievers – they themselves should not be surprised by suffering (4:12), for to follow the Saviour and His example is to suffer for the sake of righteousness and in doing so, testify to God’s glory and goodness (2:19-25,3:9,15-16). In short, Christians are called to exhibit piety under pressure as a means to glorify God and to witness to a hostile and watchful world.
Privilege and Responsibilities of believers
Peter began his letter by establishing the believers’ identity as the new-covenant people of God, saved and secured by the triune God. God the Father chose them; the Son accomplished their salvation by His sacrifice; and the Holy Spirit applied this salvation to all who believed the gospel. Peter reminded them that they were sojourning toward an inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:4-5). Believers, in their suffering, are encouraged to endure faithfully by looking back to this great salvation accomplished for them by the triune God and to look forward with hope to the time when they will receive their eternal inheritance at Christ’s return.
We may wish to live in a different time, an easier time, but Peter reminds us that we are in fact living in a privileged time, and we have experienced a privileged salvation – a salvation the prophets of old longed for, a salvation that angels marvel over (1:12). Although we may wish to escape suffering and live in a different time, the Old Testament prophets understood that they were serving not themselves, but us: namely the Christians in Asia Minor during Peter’s time and all other Christians under the new covenant (1:10-12).
Peter made many allusions to the Old Testament in his letter. Those who do not believe, Jesus, the stone they rejected, has become the cornerstone (2:7; Ps.118:22) and “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (2:8; Isaiah 8:14). God is now building His temple on Jesus, the living stone, by adding all who believe as living stones in this new temple (2:4-5). Peter’s use of Isaiah 43:20-21 and Exodus 19:6 in 1 Peter 2:9 is interesting. Isaiah 43 highlights Israel’s return from exile in the language of a new exodus. The language in Exodus 19:6 (” a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession”) is addressed to the Christians in his letter and Peter placed it between verses verses 20 and 21 of Isaiah 43. Peter identified the Christians as the people of the second exodus and like the people of the first exodus, God has saved them to represent Him and His kingdom to the unbelieving world.
As a royal priesthood, Israel of old had a special relationship with God. By applying this language to the Christians, Peter indicated that Christians are the new Israel, the Israel of the second exodus by whom God gathers the nations throughout the world. Christians are participating in the end-time gathering of the nations to God.
The response and lifestyle of Christians
Christians should exhibit a lifestyle which is different from, yet attractive to, the hostile world in which they live. (2:11-12). They should do so, first, by their “submission” – the key idea in (2:13-3:7). First they should submit to “every human authority” ( 2:13), then specifically to some authorities like the government (2:14-17), masters (for slaves) (2:18-25), and husbands (for wives) (3:1-7). Peter reminded the believers that their conversion has not exempted them from the duties appropriate to this world. But their duties are transformed by the example of Christ (2:21-25) and by the purpose of these duties to testify to God’s power and goodness (3:1).
Peter also reminded the believers of their responsibility to live in harmony with both believers and unbelievers (3:8-12). In suffering, they are to respond to hostility with bold witness and attractive conduct. They should however suffer “according to God’s will” and to commit themselves to “their faithful Creator” and they should continue to do good.
We have been united with Christ in baptism – we are not only united with Christ in His suffering and death, but we are also united to Chgrist in His resurrection, exaltation and glory (3:21). The pathway of suffering is the pathway to victory, vindication and glory. But in order to share in Jesus’ victory, we must persevere to the end. Christ is our example and model in our sufferings – ponder over HIs response and reaction in the midst of suffering and His willingness to suffer according to the will of the Father and for our sake and salvation. As we suffer, arm ourselves with the mind of Christ (4:1); endure suffering in the fear of God, knowing that judgement will begin with God’s people (4:17). Let us not suffer for wrongdoing but let us not be ashamed to suffer for doing good in God’s eyes.