The Epistles of Peter
In the five chapters of his first epistle, Peter describes the Lord Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb (chap.1), the Smitten Rock (chap. 2), the Suffering Substitute (chap. 3). the Steadfast Example (chap. 4), and the Sympathetic Shepherd (chap. 5).
We have, then, in these five chapters five aspects of the sufferings of Christ. We also have, as the result of our identification with Him, five aspects of the sufferings of the saints. In chapter 1, He suffers atoningly for His people’s sake in the light of the glory to follow. They, in the same chapter, are seen suffering for His sake in the light of the glory that awaits them. In chapter 2, He suffers for meekness’ sake with a view to assuming a priesthood on behalf of His people. As the Holy Priest, He is the Antitype of Aaron; and as the Royal Priest, He is the Antitype of Melchisedec. His people too are seen suffering for their meekness with a view to the exercise of their priesthood. As a holy priesthood, in identification with Christ, they minister before God. As a royal priesthood, on behalf of Christ, they minister among men (vv. 7 and 9).
In chapter 3, He suffers for righteousness’ sake. His holy character exposed the crookedness of human nature in the world. His people, reflecting in some measure the image of the Master, suffer because of their character from the same persecuting world. In chapter 4, He suffers for His obedience to the will of God. In this chapter “the will of God” and “the will of the Gentiles” are seen in absolute contrast to each other. The children of God, ceasing from a life of sin, suffer in the flesh because they have been brought into the current of the will of God. In chapter 5, He suffers as the Great Shepherd of the sheep from the malice and hate of the devil. All of the saints with a shepherd’s heart will suffer from the malice and hate of the devil.
The cares of God’s people are to be cast upon Himself for He cares for them. The epistle thus teaches us that wherever there is a suffering saint there is a suffering Saviour. Wherever we are called upon to drink the bitter waters of Marah, there is always a tree to make those waters sweet.
Chapter 1 may be divided according to the five great words that are used to describe God’s grace to His own; namely, election, salvation, sanctification, redemption and regeneration. Shall we briefly consider these together.
Election and the purpose of God result in hope (vv. 1-5). The Divine Trinity begets souls unto a living hope (v. 3), unto an inheritance which in substance is incorruptible; in purity, undefiled; in beauty, unfading (v. 4); and unto salvation in all its completeness.
In election we have the Father’s choice according to His foreknowledge. Here let us avoid the serious error of Calvinism which teaches that God’s foreknowledge is His fore-determination or His will. This has resulted in a doctrine of fatalism which has deceived many of God’s people. We may keep the biblical record clear if we keep in mind that election has nothing to do with our choice.
We also here have the Spirit’s work in leading a soul to the obedience of faith. When the soul is brought into contact with Christ it is immediately rendered safe by the Blood of Atonement (v. 2). The same order as appears here is seen in 2 Thess. 2:13 where the thought of “obedience” in 1 Pet. 1:2 is described as “belief of the truth”. In both of these portions the sanctification of the Spirit is preparatory to regeneration. The sanctification of the Father is positional and permanent (Jude 1. Heb. 10:10), but the sanctification of the Word is practical and progressive (John 17:17).
Salvation appropriated by faith results in joy (6-12). This salvation is the hope of the future (3-5), the joy of the present (6-9), and the theme of the past (10-12). A salvation so great can surely uphold in their trials the saints who through faith endure because they see Him who is invisible (v. 8). For such endurance there will be rewards: even praise, honour, and glory at His appearing. Words of praise from our Lord, honour before all, and glory or the outshining of a life that has been purified in the furnace of affliction. Glory therefore, or true greatness is reached by the valley of humiliation here. Yet such a path is not without its compensations even now (vv. 8-9).
Here we learn that our joys find their springs in God, and that they manifest themselves in the various activities of the three Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. Faith believes, rejoices in, and endures the trial which is precious in God’s sight. Love entwines itself around our absent Lover, the Lord Jesus, while hope awaits the grand release at the coming of our Lord (v. 9). Trials are sent only if we need them (v. 6), and in all suffering God points the saints to their future glory (v. 7), the example of Christ (2:21), and their future reward (1:6, 4:13).
Sanctification with its holy adjustments, results in holiness (13-16).
There are three adjustments mentioned in these verses: selfward, worldward, and Godward.
Selfward (v. 13): As the pilgrim’s garments are gathered up and held in one place by the girdle, so our thoughts are to be concentrated and trained on one object, even Christ. It is our communings that make our character. To think of earth is to become carnal, to think of Christ is to become like Him.
Worldward (v. 14): We are not to model our lives after our former principles as when we lived in sin; yet, we must have some model before us. The model that God sets before us is Christ.
Godward (15-16): We have pointed out that the word “conversation” is found 8 times in these two epistles. The word pictures our whole manner of life as it should be for God: holy, honest, good, winning, and chaste. There are four incentives to holy living in Peter’s writings which emphasize this; namely, the character of God (1:15), the work of Christ (1:18), the example of Christ (3:16-18), and the prospects that lie before us (2 Pet. 3:11). Practical sanctification therefore is wrought by the formative power of the indwelling Spirit. This power enables the believer to cultivate the holy desires and virtues of the “New Man” which after God is “created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Redemption and its cost result in godly fear (17-20). Life is but a sojourn for God’s people. As strangers they are away from home and as pilgrims they are going home. Their pilgrimage is to be marked by godly fear lest they grieve Him along the way. They are to fear in the light of the cross. Christ’s precious Blood was shed for our Redemption. He was foreordained before the world began for such a sacrifice. As the Lamb of God He was inwardly and outwardly pure. When Atonement was made God raised Him from the dead as the seal of the acceptance of the sacrifice that their faith and hope, based on Redemption, might be in the God of resurrection.
Regeneration and its purification, result in love (21-25). In verses 8 and 9 faith, hope, and love, the secrets of our joy, spring forth as the virtues of a new creation. Here in verses 21 and 22 faith, hope, and love are seen again. Faith and hope are centred in the God of resurrection, but love goes out to all the brethren. The new birth cleanses the soul of hate and pride, for it is a washing (Titus 3:5), and implants in it the nature of God which can only love. This love has three excellent marks: it is genuine, unfeigned love is love without hypocrisy; it is pure, it springs from a heart that has been purified by faith; and it is fervent, for there is no half-way measures in God’s nature.
In reviewing this chapter Mr. Samuel Ridout has said, “We have an incorruptible nature based on an incorruptible redemption and marked out for the enjoyment of an incorruptible inheritance.”
Before closing this chapter it seems only proper that attention should be drawn to the fact that the glory of God and the glory of man stand here in vivid contrast (vv. 24- 25). The first is an unfading glory, the second is a vanishing glory. In the latter we have a creation that will decay but in the former we have a quality that will abide forever.