The Basis for Our Hope

| 1 Peter 1:1-9

Week of June 7, 2020

The Point:  Only hope in Christ is sure and certain.

A Living Hope: 1 Peter 1:1-9

[1] Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, [2] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. [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.  [ESV]

“Opening [1-2]. Peter designates himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The term apostle may simply mean ‘messenger’, but here the idea is that Peter is one of the twelve apostles, specially chosen by Jesus Himself for that office. What Peter writes, then, is not merely his personal opinion. As an apostle he is commissioned by Christ and writes God’s words to the churches. The letter is addressed to the elect exiles. To speak of his readers as elect means that they have been chosen by God. The word exiles introduces a crucial idea in the letter, that is, that God’s people are pilgrims, sojourners, and strangers on Earth. Again, a key theme of the letter is anticipated. The church is God’s suffering people, having no place of rest in this world. Believers are exiles, not because they are displaced from their homeland. Rather they are exiles because they suffer for their faith in a world that finds their faith off-putting and strange. They are exiles because they are elected by God, because their citizenship is in heaven rather than on earth. Those who understand themselves as God’s elect have the ammunition to resist the norms and culture of the society they inhabit. Divine election reminds the readers that they have status, not because they are so worthy or noble but because God has bestowed His grace upon them. Hence, they have the energy to counter accepted cultural norms and to live in accord with God’s purpose. The term dispersion was often used of Jews who lived outside Palestine, who were scattered from their homeland. In this instance, however, the word probably is used metaphorically. Peter was not writing to Jews but primarily to Gentiles, and hence he was hardly suggesting that they were the dispersed of Israel in the literal sense. And yet he signaled again that they were the people of God, who joined with believing Jews in the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Dispersion belongs with the word exiles in that it communicates again that believers are distinct from the world. The phrase according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, modifies elect exiles in verse 1. The word foreknowledge could simply mean that God foresaw whom would be His elect or chosen. No one doubts, of course, that such an idea is included. The question is whether the term means more than this, whether it also includes the idea that God ordains whom would be elect. We should begin by observing the covenantal dimensions of the word. The word ‘know’ in Hebrew often refers to God’s covenantal love bestowed upon His people [cf. Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2]. The rich associations of that term continue in the New Testament. That foreordination also is involved is clear from Acts 2:23, where foreknowledge is paired with predestination. Romans 11:2 drives us in the same direction. Paul writes God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. The terms rejected and foreknew function as antonyms. We could rephrase the verse, ‘God has not rejected his people whom he chose.” Paul wondered if God had set aside Israel, upon whom He had set His covenantal favor. The same notion informs Romans 8:29, where we see that God has foreknown those whom He predestined. God foreknew ‘people’, not objects or things. He has set His love upon them. Probably the most important verse for Peter is 1 Peter 1:20, where it says that Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world. Peter was not merely saying that God foresaw when Christ would come, though that is part of his meaning. He was also saying that God foreordained when Christ would come. Indeed, God had to plan when He would come since Christ was sent by God. Christ’s coming hardly depends on human choices. Therefore, when Peter said that believers are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, he emphasized God’s sovereignty and initiative in salvation. Believers are elect because God the Father has set His covenantal affection upon them. The second prepositional phrase, in the sanctification of the Spirit, also modifies elect. Not only does God the Father foreknow whom the elect will be, but the Spirit is the source of their sanctification. The term sanctification often refers to the progressive growth of holiness in the lives of Christians. In this context, however, the focus is on conversion. Peter explained how believers came to be part of God’s elect people. When believers are converted, they become God’s holy and set-apart people. As the gospel is proclaimed, the Spirit sanctifies some by bringing them to faith, by bringing them into the realm of the holy. The foreknowing work of God and the sanctifying action of the Spirit result in human obedience and the sprinkling of Christ’s blood. The obedience here probably refers to conversion and the initial obedience of receiving the gospel. The sprinkling of Christ’s blood refers to Christ’s work of cleansing and forgiveness. Thus two different sides of conversion are contemplated here – the believers’ obedience to the gospel and Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness. What Peter said here is important. Conversion is not merely an intellectual acceptance of the gospel, nor is it faith with a blank slate. Conversion involves obedience and submission to the gospel, what Paul called the obedience of faith [Rom. 1:5; 16:26]. To what does the sprinkling of blood refer? Exodus 24:3-8 is the most probable background to the passage. The covenant is inaugurated with sacrifices in which blood is shed and sprinkled on the altar. The people pledge obedience to the God of the covenant. The promise to obey matches the obedience Peter noted in the first part of the phrase in 1 Peter 1:2. Moses then sprinkled the people with the blood, stating, Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you [Ex. 24:8]. The blood of the covenant signifies the forgiveness and cleansing the people needed to stand in right relation with God. We see, then, that entrance into the covenant has two dimensions: the obedient response to the gospel and the sprinkling of blood. Similarly, God’s work of foreknowing and the Spirit’s work of sanctifying introduce the readers into God’s new covenant. Believers enter the covenant by obeying the gospel and through the sprinkled blood of Christ, that is, His cleansing sacrifice. The opening of the letter concludes with a prayer wish. Peter prayed that both grace and peace would be multiplied in the lives of his readers, asking God to fill them with His grace and peace.

A Promised Inheritance [3-5].  Peter begins with the theme of the entire paragraph. God is to be blessed and praised for the salvation He has given to believers. Blessing God is rooted in the Old Testament and is a pervasive feature of Old Testament piety. The blessing is directed to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The reason God is to be praised is now explained – he has caused us to be born again. The focus is on God’s initiative in producing new life. No one takes any credit for being born. It is something that happens to us. It is according to his great mercy. Believers deserve judgment and wrath, but God is a God of mercy and grace, bestowing life upon those who are opposed to Him. The goal or result of God’s begetting is now explained with the first of three clauses beginning with the preposition to. In verse 3 Peter mentions the living hope of believers, in verse 4 their inheritance, and in verse 5 their salvation. A living hope is one that is genuine and vital, in contrast to a hope that is empty and vain. Those who are suffering persecution in Asia Minor are not dashed to the ground by their troubles. They look to the future with the sure confidence that inestimable blessing awaits them. Nor is their confidence baseless superstition. It is grounded in and secured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their hope, in other words, is the hope of resurrection, triumph over death; hence, whatever happens to them in this world is trivial compared to the blessing of the future resurrection. The future hope of believers is described more fully in verse 4. Peter selects the language of inheritance to describe what is in store for Christians. In the Old Testament the inheritance is the land God promised to His people. Peter understood the inheritance, however, no longer in terms of a land promised to Israel but in terms of the end-time hope that lies before believers. This hope is still physical, for we learn from 2 Peter that it will be realized in a new heaven and new earth [3:13]. But it transcends and leaves behind the land of Palestine. Paul’s view of the inheritance was similar to Peter’s, for the inheritance is the eschatological hope of believers [Gal. 3:18; 4:30; Eph. 1:11,14; 5:5; Col. 1:12; 3:24]. We also see in the New Testament that the language of inheriting the kingdom is another way of saying that believers will receive eternal life. This inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This inheritance will not lose its luster and beauty. It will never become stained or filthy. This verse concludes with the promise that the inheritance is kept in heaven for you. The passive of the work kept is a divine passive, referring to God as the one who reserves the inheritance for believers. Peter emphasized in the strongest possible terms the security and certainty of the reward awaiting believers. The living hope of believers, according to verse 4, is their inheritance, and verse 4 emphasizes that the inheritance is imperishable, beautiful, and reserved for believers. Now in verse 5 Peter considers whether his readers will certainly receive the inheritance. Peter now describes the inheritance in terms of salvation, which can be defined as being rescued from God’s judgment or wrath on the last day [1 Peter 4:17]. In popular circles salvation is usually conceived of as a past or present possession, and both of these notions are found in the New Testament [Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:18]. In the majority of cases, however, salvation refers to the future glory believers will enjoy, and it is clear that Peter conceived of salvation in future terms here. Two pieces of evidence substantiate this judgment. First, it is clear in the context that salvation is another way of describing the believer’s inheritance, and the latter is certainly future. Second, the salvation is ready to be revealed in the last time. The passive of the verb revealed is a divine passive, indicating that God will disclose this salvation on the final day. Peter assured his readers that they will certainly receive this inheritance, that future salvation will be theirs. The reason for this confidence is that they are being guarded by God’s power. How does God protect believers? The text does not merely say that believers are protected by God to receive salvation. Peter added that believers are protected through faith. Obtaining the final inheritance therefore does not bypass human beings, as if we are mere automatons in the process. Believers must exercise faith to receive final salvation. Faith here is a continuing trust or faithfulness.  Peter did not conceive of faith as a single isolated act: genuine faith persists until the day of redemption. But if receiving the inheritance is dependent upon human faith, is it possible that some will fall short and be judged rather than saved? There is no final salvation apart from continued faith, and thus faith is a condition for obtaining the eschatological inheritance. It is imperative to understand that God’s protection cannot be kept in a separate compartment from our believing. We can get at the issue by asking, ‘How are we protected through God’s power?’ All of 1 Peter clarifies that we are not exempted from suffering or even death because of the power of God since the church experiences persecution. God’s power does not shield believers from trials and sufferings, but it does protect us from that which would cause us to fall away. What would prevent us from maintaining our allegiance to Christ until the end? Surely the answer is sin, and we know that sin stems from unbelief – in failing to hope in God during our earthly sojourn. If His power plays no role in our faith, then it seems that His power accomplishes nothing in our making it to the end – since it is precisely unbelief and failure to hope in God that causes us to fall away from God. If God’s power does not protect us from unbelief, it is hard to see what it does. How is God protecting us until the end if His guarding plays no role in our continuing faith? We are suggesting that 1 Peter 1:5 contains a glorious promise. God’s power protects us because His power is the means by which our faith is sustained. We should not use this verse to deny that believers must maintain their faith until the end. Its function is to encourage believers with the truth that God will preserve their faith through sufferings and the vicissitudes of life. Faith and hope are ultimately gifts of God, and He fortifies believers so that they persist in faith and hope until the day that they obtain the eschatological inheritance.

Joy in Suffering [6-9]. The main theme in verses 3-5 is that believers should praise God because of the certainty of their eschatological hope. The thought shifts slightly in verses 6-9. Now Peter focuses on the joy [6,8] and love [8] that fills the lives of believers, even though they are suffering. They are joyful because suffering is the pathway to a godliness that passes the test on the last day [7], because suffering results in eschatological salvation [9]. Verse 6 begins with in this which refers back to the entire content of verses 3-5, focusing on the eschatological hope of believers. They rejoice now because of the inheritance that most certainly awaits them. Believers rejoice despite suffering because they know that it will not persist forever. The diverse nature of the suffering is conveyed in the phrase various trials. Peter added the interesting phrase if necessary. The idea is that the sufferings believers experience are not the result of fate or impersonal forces of nature. They are the will of God for believers. The New Testament regularly sees sufferings as the road believers must travel to enter into God’s kingdom. We should not deduce from this that sufferings are somehow enjoyable or that a specific reason should be assigned to each suffering. Peter assured his readers, however, that God is working out His plan even in their anguish. Why is it God’s plan for Christians to suffer? Verse 7 provides the reason. Sufferings function as the crucible for faith. They test the genuineness of faith, revealing whether or not faith is authentic. If faith proves to be real, the believer will receive praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ returns. Again we see the indissoluble connection between faith and faithfulness. Those who truly believe will persist in their faith, continuing to trust in God when difficulties occur. In a parenthesis authentic faith is contrasted and compared with gold. Genuine faith is more precious than gold because gold is temporary and perishes. But faith is also compared to gold, for like gold it is refined and proved through fire. Peter reminds believers again that the test may be intense and stringent. Life as aliens is anything but easy, and yet by God’s grace the lives of believers are filled with joy, not gloomy moaning. The focus here is on the value of genuine faith in God’s sight on the day of judgment. The words may be found refer to the final judgment when God examines the life of each person. Praise and glory and honor are given on that day to the person whose faith has been tested and approved by fire. The eschatological reward will be given to them because of the genuineness of their faith, which is proved by the sufferings they endure. God brings sufferings into the lives of believers to purify their faith and to demonstrate its genuineness. The eschatological reward reveals that believers have been transformed by God’s grace, inasmuch as they rejoice in God so much they are willing to undergo pain. Thus, in a secondary sense, the praise and glory and honor redound to God since He is the one who empowers believers to persevere. The reward will be given at the second coming, at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Verse 7 concludes with the hope that animates believers – the revelation of Jesus Christ, His appearance at the second coming. The first phrase though you have not seen him relates to the past, indicating that Peter’s readers located in Asia Minor never laid their eyes on the historical Jesus. Nonetheless, they love him. Their sufferings have not made them morose and miserable. They are filled with love for Jesus Christ. He is precious and lovely to them. The believers have never seen the Lord Jesus, nor do they see Him now. Nevertheless, they believe in Him. Believing is not based on seeing. Seeing will be their portion at the revelation of Jesus Christ. In the meantime the Christian life is marked by believing. The main thought in this clause emerges with the verb rejoice repeated from verse 6. Believers rejoice and exult in Jesus Christ, even though they do not see Him now. The joy believers experience is a taste of heaven, an anticipation of the end, because it is inexpressible and filled with glory. Peter’s main point in the verse is clear. Believers who suffer are not dashed to the ground by their troubles. They love Jesus Christ and rejoice in Him, even though they have never seen Him and do not see Him now. Their lives are characterized by a hope that fills the present with love and joy. In verse 9 Peter explains why believers are filled with love and joy for Jesus Christ [8]. They have love and joy because of the prospect of future salvation. We should note that salvation is the outcome of your faith.” [Schreiner, pp. 49-71].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does Peter mean by elect exiles in 1:1? What does it mean to you that you are an exile? How does this impact the way you live? What is the meaning of God’s foreknowledge? What is the meaning of the word “know” as it is used in Scripture? Note the work of the Trinity in our salvation. According to 1:2, what role does each Person of the Trinity play in our salvation?
  2. In 1:3, Peter calls us to bless and praise God for our great salvation. In 1:3-5, list all the reasons Peter gives for praising God. Memorize these three verses and think about the attributes and actions of God mentioned here. According to Peter, what is the believer’s living hope? How does the believer receive this hope? What glorious promise is found in verse 5?
  3. Why does Peter write in 1:6-9 that our lives should be filled with joy and love even though we may be grieved by various trials? Why is it God’s plan for Christians to suffer [see verse 7]?
  4. Why is faith the key that enables the Christian to be at peace in the midst of tribulations? How does our faith grow stronger and purer when we are distressed by various trials?

References:

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

Let’s Study 1 Peter, William Harrell, Banner of Truth.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.