Life in Anatolia
Peter’s readers lived in Anatolia (which means “east”) at the eastern end of the Roman Empire which comprises most of Turkey today. The people of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia had multi-cultural origins and diverse national identities.
They were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Synagogues, idols, stone pagan temples, mass sports and entertainment complexes and emperor worship surrounded them along with the lure of commercial wealth via local and major international trade routes. Religious and secular forces posed significant moral, spiritual and physical threats to new Christians. Thus Peter addresses them as aliens, scattered and chosen (1:1), separated and saved for a new and different life in Christ.
As a result of their faith, Christians in Anatolia experienced trials, distress and sufferings (1:6–7; 2:19–20; 3:14, 17; 4:13, 16; 5:19–20). Simultaneously, through God’s mercy, grace, peace, the sanctifying work of His Spirit and the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, they also experienced foretastes of glories in the midst of their sufferings. Peter speaks more intensely of the connection between sufferings and glories than any other Bible book.
God the Father
God the Father is ever present in the thoughts of Peter, including His eternal will and His understanding of His people’s sufferings and their ultimate outcome in glories.
Throughout 1 Peter, God the Father reveals His purposeful choosing of His people by His own foreknowledge (1:2). God the Father’s eternal purposes include: saving and protecting His people (1:3–5), seeing them walk in Jesus’ footsteps and following His example of patient endurance in suffering and service (2:18–25), having His people blessing others and inheriting a blessing (3:9), having them cease from sin and live for His will (4:1–2) and grasping and applying His purpose for prayer (4:7).
God’s purposes begin and find fulfillment in eternity. God’s eternal foreknowledge precedes time. He protects His people through time. He holds their imperishable inheritance beyond time in eternity. The central event of His redemptive purpose in time and eternity is the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son. The truths of God the Father’s eternal plan that 1 Peter reveals, helps his readers understand their present plight and their future relief, vindication and glory.
Jesus’ sufferings and glories and their temporal and eternal dimensions are central in the lives of Peter’s readers. Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and sprinkled blood are the foundation of their salvation and future “living hope” (1:3; 3:18; 4:1). His sufferings and glories inspire “faith and hope in God” (1:17–21). Jesus is the Suffering Servant of God of whom Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 53:9; 1 Peter 2:22). Jesus receives glory from His Father and makes the glorification of His people possible.
Jesus also makes sense of their present predicament which otherwise would be incomprehensible from a worldly point of view. Jesus’ example in suffering magnifies their appreciation and love for Him: “though you have not seen Him, you love Him” (1:8a).
Through His example, Jesus forges the new identity of Peter’s readers’ as the people of God and their purpose in His mission (2:9–10). His intentional example of suffering is a key motivator for Peter’s readers to engage in the work God has for them and to steadfastly endure. Jesus is the perfect model for living in time with a view to eternity.
Through Jesus Christ and His Spirit, the eternal strength of God comes to aid Peter’s readers in the present time. Jesus sufferings and glories strengthen them to bear up “under sorrows when suffering unjustly” as Jesus did (2:19).
Jesus Christ demonstrates His total commitment to His Father and His people by bearing their sins “in His body on the cross” (2:24). The cross of Jesus and His sufferings on it are the central focal point and object of their faith which in turn empower Peter’s readers to endure.
Victorious over death, Jesus gives the people of God cause for rejoicing and the certainty of eternal victory and vindication. The fact that 1 Peter’s readers live in an entirely new Messianic era is a profound dimension of 1 Peter. His readers’ apprehension of God’s Messiah and God’s eternal purposes change their perspectives on eternity and the meaning of life in the present.
God’s Holy Spirit works powerfully in the lives of Peter’s readers through their present sufferings in preparing them for future glories. In the present, He works continuously to sanctify them (1:2). God’s Spirit living in them from this point on immediately sets them apart from their former lives of sin and those still living in it. He affirms God’s choosing them. From this point on, the Spirit’s ongoing sanctification moves them farther away from the licentiousness of their past and further into the holy character of God and living in reverent fear of Him (1:13–17).
It is by the Spirit’s power they have hope of obeying Jesus (1:2) and living the sanctified life God requires of them. He sets them apart for God and His exclusive use for His mission. This means monumental change in the internal and external lives of those becoming Christians from out of the world. This change creates conflict without at the same time as God can bring forth hope, peace “in the fullest measure” (1:2), and glorious inexpressible joy within (1:8).
In the past, according to God’s foreknowledge and work in His prophets, “the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1:10–11). God sent His Holy Spirit from heaven as the One by which His servants preached the gospel to them (1:12).
God’s blessing of the “Spirit of glory and of God” rests upon them as they suffer when being “reviled for the name of Christ” (4:14). This is a profound reality and paradox in several ways.
First, His people are never alone in their sufferings. God’s Spirit is inwardly present but invisible both to Christians and those reviling them. The radiance and splendour of God’s glory manifests itself visibly and invisibly in the moral excellence of His people. This is part of their new identity and purpose in Christ: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9b).
Second, the fact He “rests on them” (4:14) through the reviling is a powerful affirmation of God’s ongoing presence and His graceful sustaining power to endure.
Third, since He is the Spirit of glory, God’s glory is manifest to His people and to their opponents. In the end, at the revelation of Jesus Christ, these antagonists will ironically by their slander bring glory to God through the morally excellent steadfast behaviour of His people who have suffered with and for Him (1:7; 2:12).
In addition to the Spirit of Glory, only Peter reveals God’s promise that, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (5:4).
Identity, Consolation and Purpose Now and to Eternity
As an Apostle and elder, Peter is keenly aware of the present realities his readers face daily. Their sufferings are real. Sufferings bring their focus sharply to the present. Suffering arouses strong desires for immediate relief through an end to its causes and effects as soon as possible whether from persecution for the gospel, pain, disease, or whatever adverse conditions life brings.
From a human perspective, suffering in the past and the future seem distant from present sufferings. From God’s perspective, however, the past and the future are crucially relevant to enduring sufferings according to God’s will in the present and to fulfilling His eternal mission. The future hope of glory and with it total relief from suffering are built squarely upon the foundation of Christ’s past sufferings and the knowledge of the glories that awaited Him. These are now a proven and secure eternal reality for His people.
The sharing of sufferings and glories among Christ and His people add significantly to our understanding of God and His purposes for His people, past, present, and future. To this end, 1 Peter is one of God’s most powerful transforming tools for his people.
Through the revelations of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in 1 Peter, God gives His people a whole new identity in Christ. He shows them how vastly better they have become as His royal priesthood versus the limited temporary rewards of their former lives. God has broken open for them whole new infinite vistas of understanding, first of all regarding who He is, and second of all, who they have become in Him.
Leaving the physical stone temples of Jerusalem, of local idols and of emperors behind, they have become spiritual stones in a living spiritual house with Jesus Christ as the Chief Corner Stone (2:4–8). Christians no longer have to fear what their neighbours fear. With this new identity comes power to overcome. God gives His consolation in their present sufferings which enables them to look and move forward.
Further, God gives purpose and meaning to their lives. Christians of all ages have crucial roles to live out with Him in fulfilling His mission to reach out, proclaim the gospel and His excellencies and to call others into His marvelous light.