1 Peter 1

1 Peter 1  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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COMMENCING THEN OUR reading of the Epistle, we find the opening address in verses 1 and 2. To whom does he write? To “strangers scattered” (ch. 1:1) or “sojourners of the dispersion,” to people who were a standing witness to the fact that the Jew had forfeited his ancient privileges, to folk who had lost all the earthly foothold they ever had, though it was a big foothold as originally granted. Yet the sojourners he addressed were not by any means all the scattered Jews of those provinces, but such of them only as were “elect,” or chosen of God.
Three things are mentioned as to God’s choice of them, connected respectively with the Father, the Spirit and Jesus Christ. Note the prepositions used: “According to,” indicating character.
“Through,” indicating the means employed. “Unto,” indicating the end in view.
God’s choice of them—and of us, for both Jew and Gentile come into the same Christian blessings on the same ground, as Paul’s epistles show—was characterized by His foreknowledge as Father. What a comfort this is! How far removed it is from the blind fate which is supposed by some to preside over human destiny. God’s election is never capricious and the idea of a sinner earnestly desiring salvation, and yet prevented by an adverse decree, is a nightmare of human reason and not Scripture. God chooses, knowing the end from the beginning, and therefore His choice is always right and justifies itself in its results.
His choice is made effectual “through sanctification of the Spirit” (ch. 1:2). The root idea of “sanctification” is “setting apart for God” and the Holy Spirit is He who, by His inward life-giving work, sets apart the one who is the subject of it.
The end in view is that the one so set apart should be marked by the obedience of Christ—that is, obey even as He obeyed—and also come under the efficacy of His blood to this end. The words “of Jesus Christ” (ch. 1:1) refer to both the obedience and the sprinkling of blood, but why, we may ask, is this order observed; why not the reversed order, for do we not need the cleansing of His blood before we can obey at all? The answer is, because of the reference there is to Old Testament Scripture.
They belonged racially to the people who were God’s elect nation, chosen in Abraham, and sanctified, that is, set apart, as Ex. 13:22Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. (Exodus 13:2) testifies. Now read Ex. 24:3-83And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. 4And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. 6And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. 8And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words. (Exodus 24:3‑8), and you will observe there the order, first the obedience promised which the law demanded, then the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice in ratification. Peter, addressing believers who were very familiar with this, carefully observes this order, only showing that we Christians have these things on a far higher plane in a vital and spiritual way, and the blood of Jesus Christ instead of being like that of the sacrifices of Ex. 24:88And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words. (Exodus 24:8), which had a penal force (that is, it indicated that death was the penalty attached to disobedience to the law’s righteous demands) is wholly purifying, and the righteous basis of all our standing and relations with God. Sanctified by the Spirit and sprinkled by the blood of Christ we are committed to a life of obedience after the very pattern of Christ. With so exalted a course set before us we certainly need the multiplication of both grace and peace!
Verse 3 opens the apostle’s message in striking a note of praise to God, now revealed as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, since He has begotten us again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As belonging to the commonwealth of Israel they had formerly had national hopes which centered in a Messiah upon earth, but the light of those hopes was quenched in their hearts when He died rejected, crucified between two thieves. The story of the two going to Emmaus, as told in Luke 24, is a telling illustration of this; but, when those two had their eyes opened and beheld Him risen, a new hope dawned in their hearts which nothing on earth could quench. It was a living hope because centered in a Saviour living beyond the power of death. How aptly the very words of verse 3 would have sprung from their lips as they entered the upper room in Jerusalem to tell the news to the rest after their return journey of threescore furlongs! They were like men who had been born again into a new world of hope and expectation, in the great mercy of God.
Israel’s hopes, when brought out of Egypt, centered in the land that was to be given to them as their inheritance. The Christian’s hope also has an inheritance connected with it, as verse 4 shows, but what a contrast is here! Palestine as an inheritance proved a sad disappointment. The land itself was all that a land should be, still it was capable of being corrupted, and consequently it was speedily defiled by those who inherited it, since they were left to their own responsibility. Thus, bit by bit it was forfeited and it faded away. Our inheritance is reserved in the heavens and consequently it is beyond the possibility of corruption, undefiled and unfading; and we, for whom it is reserved, are being kept by the power of God for it. There shall, therefore, be no slip betwixt the cup of the inheritance and our lips!
The power of God keeps us and not our fidelity, yet God’s power works through faith. Faith is our side of the matter. God is sovereign in exercising His power, and we are responsible as to the exercise of faith. Many are puzzled as to how to put these two things, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility together, and regard them as quite incompatible and irreconcilable. Yet here, in this fifth verse, they are found going hand in hand, preserving the believer to the salvation that awaits him in the last time. The salvation mentioned here is future. It is the final deliverance that awaits the believer at the coming of the Lord. That final deliverance is a certainty before us; yet we cannot await it with self-confidence, for nothing short of the power of God is needed to keep us, nor can we await it with carelessness, for God’s power is effective through faith, on our side. How then do we await it? Why, with exultation; yet tempered with the heaviness of many trials, as verse 6 declares. The coming glory shone brightly before the faith of these early Christians and filled them with great rejoicing, so that they were like ships with sails set and filled with heaven’s breezes. On the other hand they had plenty of ballast in the shape of heavy trials. These trials are permitted in love, for they only come “if need be.” In one way or another we all do need them. If we try to rejoice in the world and its pleasures we need trials to dislodge us from the world by stirring up the comfortable nest we would fain build below. If we are exulting in the coming glory we need them as sobering and steadying ballast, lest our exulting should overbalance us.
The heavy trials, however, are “now, for a season,” (ch. 1:6) even as the “pleasures of sin,” (Heb. 11:2525Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; (Hebrews 11:25)) which charm the poor worldling are “for a season” (Heb. 11:2525Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; (Hebrews 11:25)). Soon the worldling will say good-bye to his pleasures, and the Christian to his trials.
Moreover, the very trials themselves are profitable as working in us—in our character and lives—the qualities that glorify God. Hence verse 7 declares that faith (which is much more precious than gold) being tested by the fire of persecution, will come out to the praise and honor and glory of God when Christ appears. Many a bold confessor, suffering fiery trial—even to death perhaps—may have been tempted to think that, their light being extinguished, all was lost. The apostle tells them that, on the contrary, all would be found in that day. Christ being revealed in His glory, everything to His praise and honor will come into the light and be displayed.
Then Christ will appear, or be unveiled, as the word is. At the present time He is unseen. These dispersed exiles had never seen Jesus in the days of His flesh for they had been driven far outside the land of Promise, nor were they then looking on Him. Yet they loved Him, and He was the Object of their faith, and this caused them to exult with a joy beyond words and full of glory.
We, like them, have never yet seen the Lord, but is faith as active with us? Faith, remember, is the telescope of the soul, bringing into the field of our spiritual vision what is unseen to mortal eyes. Then we see Jesus as a living, bright Reality, and our joy is filled with the glory of what He is and the hope of what He is going to be, which is beyond all human language. Believing we rejoice, and believing we receive the salvation of our souls, for soul-salvation is the end, or result, of faith in the risen Saviour.
Love, faith, joy and hope are all found in verse 8, though the last is inferred and not explicitly named. How excellent must be the spiritual state marked by these things! Yet all produced not by being occupied with one’s spiritual state, but by Christ Himself being the loved Object of faith’s vision.
Those to whom Peter wrote were quite familiar with the idea of a salvation which consisted of temporal deliverance, such as the deliverance of their fathers from Egypt, and they had expected a supreme salvation of that kind at the advent of their Messiah, as promised through the prophets; but by faith in the risen Christ (verse 3) a salvation of a spiritual sort affecting their souls had reached them, though they were externally still under the iron heel of Rome. Of this salvation the prophets had also spoken, for the theme of their testimony was twofold—first, the sufferings of the Christ, and second, the glories that were to follow. As the immediate result of His first advent to suffer there is a soul-salvation for those who believe. As the direct result of His second advent to reign in glory the bodies of the saints will be saved from the power of death and public and universal salvation will be established for those who enter His kingdom.
Three very important things should be noted in verses 10 to 12.
(1) The reality of inspiration, and its remarkable character. The prophets ministered, but the source of their prophecies, whether oral or written, was the Spirit. The Spirit in them testified through them, and He was so really the source of their utterances that they had to search diligently their own words and inquire as to their real force, only to discover that their full meaning was beyond the apprehension of the age in which they lived, and that they were really writing for the instruction of saints in a coming age—even for us.
(2) Though in the bygone age Christ had not been manifested, yet the Spirit in the prophets and speaking through them, could be spoken of as “the Spirit of Christ” (ch. 1:2). Christ was accordingly the Speaker by His Spirit even in Old Testament days. We shall see the bearing of this when we consider verses 18-20 of chapter 3.
(3) The strong difference drawn between the age before and the age after Christ. The soul-deliverance, which is the common possession of believers today, was for even the prophets of the bygone age a subject of inquiry; it is spoken of as “the grace that should come unto you,” (ch. 1:10) i.e., it was not come in the previous age. Further, the things now reported to us by the apostles and others who have preached the Gospel by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven are the things which were only prophesied before. Then predicted by the Spirit; now reported by the Spirit. Then the Spirit was in the prophets for the purpose of inspiration, but now the Spirit is sent down from heaven. The present age is marked by the sufferings of Christ having been accomplished and consequently by grace having come, soul-salvation being realized, things that angels desire to look into being reported, and the Holy Ghost having been sent down from heaven.
Having unfolded these great and blessed facts, the apostle turns aside to exhortation in verses 13 to 17. The great advance which marks Christianity as compared with Judaism entails a corresponding advance in the character of Christian life and behavior. We are now children and call upon God as our Father, but we are to be obedient. On the one hand, we are to be braced up mentally, marked by sobriety and confident hope; on the other hand, we are to avoid the old desires which mastered us when we were in ignorance of God, and to be holy in all our conduct as God Himself is holy. What God has revealed Himself to be sets the Standard for all our conduct. Moreover, the One whom we call Father is the impartial Judge of the work of each, hence, reverential fear becomes us. He is Judge, but He is our Father, and we are before Him, therefore, in filial fear.
These exhortations, which spring out of the truth unfolded in verses 1 to 12 (notice the word “wherefore,” commencing verse 13), are reinforced by the further details of truth expounded from verse 18 onwards to verse 10 of chapter 2., as witness the word “Forasmuch” with which verse 18 starts.
They knew, and so do we, that we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. Their fathers had been redeemed with silver and gold—a typical redemption carried out under Jewish law. Sometimes actual money was given as in Ex. 30:11-1611And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 12When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. 13This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord. 14Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the Lord. 15The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls. 16And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls. (Exodus 30:11‑16); Num. 3:44-5144And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 45Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. 46And for those that are to be redeemed of the two hundred and threescore and thirteen of the firstborn of the children of Israel, which are more than the Levites; 47Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:) 48And thou shalt give the money, wherewith the odd number of them is to be redeemed, unto Aaron and to his sons. 49And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites: 50Of the firstborn of the children of Israel took he the money; a thousand three hundred and threescore and five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary: 51And Moses gave the money of them that were redeemed unto Aaron and to his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses. (Numbers 3:44‑51). Sometimes it was by sacrifice, as in Ex. 13:13-1513And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. 14And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: 15And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. (Exodus 13:13‑15); still, even then, silver and gold were involved, since they were needed to purchase the animal used for sacrifice. Silver and gold are the least corruptible of metals, yet they are corruptible. The price of our redemption was incorruptible and precious.
The Jewish manner of life had degenerated into a matter of mere tradition received from their fathers. This was quite manifest in Isaiah’s day (Isa. 29:1313Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: (Isaiah 29:13)), and the Lord Jesus charged it home upon them, quoting Isaiah’s words, in Mark 7:6-136He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. (Mark 7:6‑13). Even the right things they did, they did not because they were enjoined of God, but because ordered by tradition. Thus their manner of life had become corrupt and most offensive to God. Our Gentile manner of life was pure darkness and lawlessness, and equally corrupt. Whether, however, it were we or they, we have been redeemed out of our old manner of life by the precious blood of the One who was typified as the unblemished and spotless lamb of Ex. 12:3-63Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. (Exodus 12:3‑6); only He was ordained not a mere matter of four days before sacrifice, but from before the foundation of the world. Our redemption, therefore, was according to the eternal counsels of God.
The Lamb of God was ordained in eternity, but manifested in time. He appeared “in these last times” (ch. 1:20)—the “end of the world,” (James 4:44Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. (James 4:4)) or the “consummation of the ages” (Heb. 9:2626For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)) of Heb. 9:2626For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)—and that not only as the Redeemer but as the Revealer. God was perfectly revealed in Him so that it is by Him that we believe in God. We do not believe in God by the wonders of creation, nor by the law as given through Moses, nor by visions of angels, but by Christ, once dead but now risen and in glory. Our faith and hope repose in God who is known to us as He who raised Christ up from the dead and gave Him glory. How wonderfully this fits in with Paul’s testimony in Rom. 4:23-2523Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:23‑25), and 10:9.
From this it is clear that if we desire to win the faith of men for God we must present Christ to them—Christ once dead; Christ as risen; Christ now in glory. Every other theme is useless. We may possibly find subsidiary matter elsewhere. Useful illustrations may abound in the fields of creation and providence. They may be furnished sometimes by the facts, or even the speculations of science—though as to the latter, the greatest caution must be exercised as they are mostly wrong, as witnessed by the ease with which the oncoming generations of speculators dispose of the hypotheses (or, guesses) of their predecessors. Still, the fact remains that if men really believe in God it is by Christ that they believe in Him. Let us therefore preach CHRIST, whether by life or lips or pen.
Redemption is, of course, a work accomplished for us. We need also a work wrought in us. Of this the apostle proceeds to write.
The truth of the Gospel had brought their souls into subjection and obedience in the energy of the Spirit. This had wrought a mighty work of purification. The purifications of the law had consisted in “divers washings” of water (Heb. 9:1010Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:10)), purely external. This was a soul-purification, a moral renovation with love as the outcome, for love is as native to the new nature as hatred is to the old.
If verse 22 presents the work wrought in them and us as it might be observed and described by man, verse 23 lets us into the real secret of it all, from a point of view impossible to man and only to be known because revealed by God. We are born again.
The necessity of this new birth for Israel was alluded to, though in veiled terms, in Ezek. 36:25-2725Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36:25‑27). The Lord Jesus yet more strongly enforced its necessity when speaking to Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus should have known the passage in Ezekiel, hence the Lord’s words, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (John 3:1010Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (John 3:10)). The teaching of the Lord is based upon Ezekiel’s words, though He greatly expands and clarifies them. Even so, the Lord did not drop all figurative language and still spoke of “water.” In the main, however, He stressed the Spirit’s sovereign action in new birth. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:66That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)).
Peter’s epistle was written in the full light of Christianity. It was not now the Lord Jesus on earth speaking to a Nicodemus, but the same Jesus, risen and glorified after the accomplishment of redemption, speaking through His inspired apostle to Christians. Hence, figures are dropped and the matter stands out with full clearness. Here the energy of the Spirit is only alluded to in verse 22 and the main stress is laid on what we are born of and by.
The life of Adam’s race, to which we belong, whether Jews or Gentiles, is utterly corrupted; its nature wholly evil. We must be not only redeemed, but purified. The Spirit of God works to this end and we obey the truth. The real inwardness of the matter, however, is that the Spirit uses the Word of God in such a way that we are born again of incorruptible seed. Consequently, we possess a new nature, springing from a divine source and beyond the taint of corruption. Here, then, is a purification of a most profound and fundamental sort brought about through the Spirit of God by the agency of the Word of God—the “water” of John 3 and Ezek. 36. It is not difficult to see how apt a figure “water” was.
You will find it helpful to glance at 1 John 3:99Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9), which carries the matter a step further. The expression “born of God” emphasizes the divine source whence we spring. The seed of God remains in us and is incorruptible, as Peter has told us. This is the essential character of our new nature, as will be plainly manifested when the last trace of the old nature is eliminated from us at the coming of the Lord.
Returning to our passage we note that the Word of God by which we are born again is living and it abides forever, and in this it is directly in contrast with ourselves as the children of Adam. All flesh is as grass which grows up and speedily withers. All man’s glory is as the flower of grass, which falls away and disappears even more rapidly than grass itself. Man’s glory speedily fades, and man himself passes away into death. The Word of the Lord lives and abides forever, and by it we are born again.
How wonderful this is! That which is born partakes of the nature and character of that which gives its birth. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:66That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)). It is equally true that that which is born of incorruptible seed is incorruptible, and that which is born by the living and abiding Word of God is living and abiding. And that enduring Word of the Lord has reached us in the gospel message that we have believed. We shall not be surprised therefore when in the next chapter we find ourselves spoken of as “living stones” and as connected with a “house” which is incorruptible and abiding.