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, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 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. 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. – 1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV
It is believed that Peter wrote this letter sometime around 64 A.D., and most likely while residing in Rome. This fisherman from the little village of Bethsaida, on the northern shore of the Sea Galilee, had come a long way. Three decades had passed since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. During that time, Peter had spent his life faithfully carrying out the commission Jesus had given to him and his fellow disciples. Immediately after the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter had proven to be a powerful witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching boldly to the Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.
“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.” – Acts 2:22-24 NLT
His message proved to be convicting and convincing, leading to the conversion and baptism of more than 3,000 individuals. Through the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, this man who had denied even knowing Jesus had been transformed into a bold and unapologetic messenger of the Kingdom of God. He would become one of the leading figures in the New Testament church, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Yet, as he wrote this letter, Peter was nearing the end of his life and, according to the words of Jesus, his own martyrdom.
“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God.” – John 21:18-196 NLT
According to the oral traditions of the early church fathers, Peter was put to death during the reign of Emperor Nero, and his manner of death was crucifixion. But it is believed that he chose to be crucified upside down, deeming himself unworthy to die in the same manner as His Lord and Savior. To his death, Peter remained a faithful follower of Jesus, dedicating his life to the proclaiming of the gospel but also to the ongoing edification of all those who came to faith in Christ. It was to that purpose he wrote this letter to the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
These people were living in difficult circumstances. They were most likely Gentiles who had converted to Christianity and were now suffering the unexpected consequences of their decision. Much to their surprise, the “good news” of Jesus Christ had produced some fairly bad outcomes. They were experiencing significant trials and persecution that had begun to produce doubt and despair. They were confused to find that their salvation had been accompanied by suffering. But Peter would remind them that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9 NLT).
So, as he opens up his letter, Peter attempts to refocus their attention on the core message of the gospel.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation… – 1 Peter 1:3 NLT
Their problem was that they had taken their eye off of the prize. They had become obsessed with their current circumstances and had lost sight of the future hope that Jesus died to make possible. Jesus had died, not to give them their best life now, but to guarantee the hope of eternal life to come. His death and resurrection had made possible “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). That was to be their “great expectation.”
Peter’s letter is eschatological in nature. In other words, it focuses on the end times – the age to come. His readers were living in Asia Minor, but he wanted them to remember that they were “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11), whose real home was somewhere else. They were having a difficult time understanding all that was going on around them and happening to them. The predominant culture in which they lived was pagan and antithetical to their faith. Many of them were suffering oppression and ostracism. Because of their decision to follow Christ, they had become social pariahs, facing the rejection of both family and friends.
But Peter wanted them to know that their salvation had a now, not yet aspect to it. Yes, when they had placed their faith in Christ, they had been immediately saved from their enslavement to sin and been provided full pardon and acceptance by God. But there was a future aspect to their salvation as well. And Peter reminded them that “God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:5 NLT). The resurrection of Jesus was the key to their salvation, but it would be His return that would fulfill its final phase. In the meantime, God was protecting them through His divine power. He would preserve them till the end.
The trials they were suffering could do nothing to change the outcome of their salvation. Their current circumstances were a lousy barometer of God’s faithfulness and power. As the author of Hebrews wrote:
For God has said,
“I will never fail you.
I will never abandon you.”
So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper,
so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT
That’s exactly the message Peter was trying to convey. In fact, he provided his readers with some rather strange-sounding advice:
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” –1 Peter 1:6 NLT
Peter’s counsel sounds eerily similar to the title of the 1986 song by the band Timbuk 3: “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” But to people who were undergoing intense personal persecution, his words must have come across as insensitive and unhelpful. They were having a difficult time seeing anything remotely bright about their future. The day-to-day affairs of life were weighing them down, and the constant pressures of living in a fallen world were taking their toll.
Sound familiar? It should. Because that is the all-too-familiar lot of every follower of Christ. Even now, we find ourselves wrestling with a steady diet of trials and tribulations that can leave us disheartened and disenchanted with the “good news.” A global pandemic, ongoing world strife, a steady decline in moral standards, and a growing anti-Christian sentiment have left many followers of Christ disillusioned and questioning the veracity of their faith. But Peter’s words are meant for us as well. He wants us to understand that “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT). He encourages us to endure because the outcome of our faith will far outweigh any loss we may suffer in this life.
…when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:7 NLT
The problem is that we live our lives as if this world is the end game. We mistakenly assume that Jesus died so that we might experience heaven on earth. We take His promise of abundant life (John 10:10) and turn it into a guarantee of a joy-filled, trouble-free existence right here, right now. And when He doesn’t deliver on our expectations, we begin to waiver in our faith and waffle in our commitment to His calling. But Peter would have us remember that our faith is meant to be focused on the end that God has in mind – “on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7).
And like the believers living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia in the 1st-Century, we have not seen Jesus. Yet Peter states, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). We claim to believe in a man we’ve never seen. Yet we struggle believing in the future He promised to provide. And Peter reminds us that our trust in Him and our hope in the truthfulness of His promise will not go unrewarded.
The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:9 NLT
Peter was not negating or dismissing the reality of our suffering. He was simply refocusing our attention on the joy to come. Our time on this earth is temporary but our future is eternal. That is why the believer must live with the end in mind. Our inheritance is secure. Our destiny is assured. And, as difficult as things may get in this life, we can rest on the words of the apostle John.
…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.