1 Peter, like most of the books in the New Testament, can be read in a matter of minutes. When you read it in one sitting, I recommend reading two or three times in that same sitting. This is one of those books that challenges a lot of our American ways of thinking. What would our lives look like if we really took the whole book of 1 Peter seriously?
Your Time of Exile
Peter calls his audience “exiles of the Dispersion.” This idea typically referred to Israelite people who were scattered throughout various nations after the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires conquered and exiled them. Even the Jews who came back to Jerusalem were, in a sense, still exiles because a foreign empire ruled over them and occupied their nation. Being an exile wasn’t just about where you were living, but about the state in which you were living.
According to 1 Peter, all Christians have become part of the “Dispersion.” We are all exiles, waiting for our exile to be lifted and for all of us to be gathered together to receive our inheritance. But it is very important to note that Peter doesn’t talk about us receiving our inheritance by flying away to heaven. He seems to assume we will receive our inheritance by the things in heaven coming to us.
Peter never uses words that indicate we will GO anywhere when our exile is ended. He uses words like “appear” and “reveal.”
- Our faith will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
- Our inheritance that is guarded in heaven will be “revealed in the last time.”
- When Jesus “appears,” we will “receive the unfading crown of glory.”
- We will rejoice and be glad when Christ’s “glory is revealed.”
Like the Hebrew writer, Peter seems to picture Jesus, heaven, and our inheritance as things that are now hidden or unseen, but one day they will appear, become visible, be revealed. According to Peter, it does not seem Christians should be waiting to “go to heaven,” but that we should be waiting for the heavenly things to appear. This is when our exile will be over, when the “chief Shepherd appears” and gathers his dispersed sheep.
Responding to Mistreatment
The vast majority of this book deals with how Christians should respond when they suffer mistreatment. Modern readers, especially those in the United States, seem to have a very difficult time taking these commands seriously. We try to insert our own caveats, creating excuses for why we shouldn’t have to obey the instructions Peter gives to his audience.
There are no caveats. There is no nuance. No matter what sort of mistreatment a Christian is suffering, Peter tells them to respond the way Jesus responded, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” That is the simple and undeniable message of 1 Peter, do not respond in kind to those who revile and mistreat you.
But it even goes beyond just not retaliating. Peter writes, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” Peter tells his audience to “bless” (speak and do good to) those who do evil to them. Why should we be surprised 1 Peter is a book about doing good to persecutors and not responding violently to those who mistreat us? The entire New Testament preaches this message without fail.
This is the message of the cross. This is how Christians are to join with Jesus in overcoming evil: when we are mistreated we bless those who do evil to us, hate us, revile us, and even kill us. I admit, this isn’t very American. It certainly isn’t John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. It’s Jesus. This is what it looks like to follow Jesus.
The Word of God
Almost as a side note, we need to be very careful when we read the phrase, “word of God” and mentally replace it with, “the Bible.” Those two phrases “word of God” and “the Bible” are related, but not synonymous. When the biblical authors are talking about the “Scriptures,” they will say they are talking about the “Scriptures.” But when they are talking about the “word of God,” they are talking about something far more specific than all of the Scriptures.
Peter tells his audience they have been born again through the “imperishable seed” of the word of God. Peter references Isaiah 40:6-8, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…but the word of our God will stand forever.” In other words, God always delivers on his word. Peter is telling his audience that even though they are suffering right now, they can take confidence in the fact that they will be rescued from their suffering because God has spoken.
So when you read “word of God” or “word of the Lord,” don’t generalize those phrases by interpreting them to mean “Bible” or “Scriptures.” Understand that “the word of God” is something very specific, a promise or command that proceeds from God and accomplishes his will in the world. It is this “word” that John says “became flesh” (John 1:14). Jesus isn’t the Bible, but he is the word of God.
Saved by Baptism
When Peter tells his audience that baptism now saves them, what does this have to do with his overall theme of, “You’re suffering right now as exiles, but because you have been born again by the imperishable word of God, you should have confident hope”?
When we pull one verse out of context that says baptism saves us, we might think it means we are forgiven of our sins because of baptism. We are forgiven when we are baptized, but that is true because other passages say it (Acts 2; Romans 6), not because this passage says it.
In this passage, Peter seems to have a slightly different emphasis. He tells his audience they are being saved right now by the water of baptism the same way Noah and his family were saved by the waters of the flood. From what was Noah saved? Following the logic of Peter’s argument, Noah suffered mistreatment by disobedient people, “while the ark was being prepared.” The water of the flood came and saved Noah from those disobedient people.
In the same way, mistreated and suffering Christians can take heart that their rescue has already begun. The waters of baptism are now saving us. The waters of baptism separate those of us who are being saved, from those who are rejecting the message of Jesus. So we can confidently and peacefully live with mistreatment because we are being rescued from this life of suffering and our new life will soon be revealed.
I love you and God loves you,