The First Letter of Peter
As to the historical background of Peter’s first letter, Nero set Rome on fire in AD 64 but he insisted that Christians did it. With Christianity increasingly moving away from Judaism — a religion allowed in the Roman Empire (Tenney 1985:344-345) — Christians now faced severe suffering and persecution from the world. How should Christians behave as sojourners and exiles in a world governed by (such) an emperor (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11-17; Romans 13:1-6)? As Peter’s wife was crucified in front of him, he encouraged her with the words “Remember the Lord”. When Peter’s own fiery trial came, he insisted on being crucified upside down to honour the name of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-19).
Purpose, content and themes
In this book Peter wrote the same exhortation to fellow elders that Jesus gave him just before Christ’s ascension: ‘Tend the flock of God which is among you’ (1 Peter 5:2a; cf. John 21:16; Fruchtenbaum 2005:374). The epistle provides the reason why it was written: ‘I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it’ (1 Peter 5:12). Born again believers have ‘a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3). The epistle encourages believers to face persecution for your faith in Christ by standing firm (Bailey & Constable 1999:556). Peter wrote this book just before or after the burning of Rome in AD 64 (Raymer 1983:838).
It is therefore understandable to find references in 1 Peter to aliens, pilgrims and sojourners (1:1; 2:11; cf. 5:9). Suffering is frequently mentioned (1:11; 2:19-21, 23; 3:14, 17, 18 (?); 4:1, 13, 14-16, 19; 5:1, 9-10), as are trials (1:6; 4:12) and testing (1:7; 3:9). It is important to also find references in 1 Peter to the glory that will follow. Glory is frequently mentioned (1:7-8, 11, 21; 2:12; 4:11, 13-15; 5:1, 4, 10-11) as are doing good works (2:12, 15, 18, 20; 3:11, 13, 16-17; 4:19).
Structure of 1 Peter
The main sections of this epistle are separated by the word ‘beloved’ (2:11; 4:12). The Introduction (1:1-2) and the Concluding salutations (5:12-14) envelop the book. The main section is about the believer’s conduct and responsibilities as suffering sojourners en route to glory (2:11-4:11), considering our mission (2:11-12), various duties — be it to government (2:13-17), as servants (2:18-25), in the home (3:1-7) or in general (3:8-12) — as well as various sufferings — be it our own (3:13-17), Christ’s example (3:18-22) and in general (4:1-6) — before emphasising our mission again (4:7-11). Believers’ conduct is based on our identity, status and calling (1:3-2:10), so that we can suffer the fiery trial and partake of the coming glory (4:12-5:11). There are elements of chiastic structuring in this epistle.
Application and conclusion
Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (4:19). During our time of exile, we are to conduct ourselves with fear for the Father judges impartially (1:17). Born again believers have a salvation which God will reveal completely in the last time (cf. 1:3-4). When Christ suffered he continued to entrust himself to him who judges justly (2:23). When the Chief Shepherd appears, some will receive the unfading crown of glory, bringing us all to God (3:18; 5:4).
During the coming tribulation, the Antichrist is going to set the world on fire. The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers (4:7). Christians can expect increasing persecution in a world system headed by Satan and his demons. But remember the Lord if you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (4:13). If a person suffers as a fiery trial as a Christian, be not ashamed, but glorify God in that name (4:16).
Bailey, M.L. & Constable, T.L., 1999, Nelson’s New Testament Survey, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2005, The Messianic Jewish Epistles, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.
Raymer, R.M., 1983, ‘1 Peter’, in J.F. Walvoord & R.B. Zuck (eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, pp. 837-858, David C Cook, Colorado Springs.
Tenney, M.C., 1985, New Testament Survey, revised edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids.
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