1 Peter: An Overview
Happy New Year! Praise God for His faithfulness in 2009 and praying for a fruitful, closer-following, deeper-loving, better-serving 2010! I am excited to begin a new series in the book of 1 Peter as we begin this year. This is our fourth book study and I am praying it will really minister to our souls! But first a word of encouragement and exhortation:
Studying God’s Word is like putting money in a bank. You will get back as much as you put in and sometimes more with interest. So for me, I have the privilege of being the greatest recipient of God’s blessing as pour myself into teaching and preaching God’s Word week after week. Honestly there are times I am amazed I get to do this for a living. But I don’t want us to miss out what God has for us as a church in this book. Much is required to whom much is given. As God serves His food to us, whose responsibility is it to chew? Ours!
So we have a choice. We can go through this book or have this book go through us. So I encourage you to dig. Do not be a spectator. Be a participant. Some of you are good about this, taking notes and not just wanting to fill in blanks, but really engaging with the text. I do try to print outlines for you to help you with this. But it discourages me to see them lying around the sanctuary during the week. I do not say this because I do not want you to litter or I am consumed with my outlines, but because I hope and pray that this is not your attitude toward God’s Word. That concerns me more than anything. When I was attending Harvest, I would take my notes from each sermon and put it in a small binder. To this day I still go back to it. I know others write in a notebook and that’s fine too. The point is: do not miss out what God has for you in this book! I want everything God has for me! I hope that is your prayer as well.
Secondly, I decided I am only going to eat one meal a week to start the New Year. I’m not really hungry a lot during the week you know? One meal should suffice. What do you think? That is seriously unhealthy! Yet that’s how some of us are every week. I’m just going to come Sunday and have the pastor spoon feed some of his food he chewed up during the week and have him put some of it in my mouth. So again I would encourage you to get on the Bible Reading Plan again if you have fallen off. If that doesn’t work for you, you better have something that gets your face in God’s book and what a better time to start than now!
What I want to do today is do an overview of this book for us to whet our appetite and dig in next time.
I. The Author
The author is Peter according to internal evidence in 1 Pet. 1:1 and 1 Pet. 5:1. As for external evidence, one scholar says, “The epistle has been well known and consistently acknowledged as Petrine from the second century well into modern times. . . .Aside from the four Gospels and the letters of Paul, the external attestation for 1 Peter is as strong, or stronger, than that for any NT book. There is no evidence anywhere of controversy over its authorship or authority.”
Peter, the son of Jonas (Matt 16:17), was a native of Bethsaida, a village on the northeastern tip of the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44). After his marriage, he and his wife apparently moved to the nearby town of Capernaum (Matt 8:5; cf. 8:14). You may remember Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39). Peter made his living as a fisherman, along with his father Jonas and his brother Andrew (John 1:40). The brothers’ business was a successful one (although every time Jesus is there, he never catches anything) which allowed them to own a spacious house in Capernaum (Mark 1:29, 32–33; Luke 4:38). Did you know that Peter’s wife accompanied him on several travels, which we know nothing about? (1 Cor. 9:5).
Andrew was one of the first to become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and he personally introduced his brother Simon to Jesus (John 1:41-42). Peter’s given name was Simon, but Jesus, upon meeting him, said he would be called Cephas (in Aramaic), which translated means Peter (Greek) or “rock” (John 1:42).
Warren Wiersbe notes, “Peter was a man with three names. Nearly fifty times in the New Testament, he is called “Simon”; and often he is called “Simon Peter.” Perhaps the two names suggest a Christian’s two natures: an old nature (Simon) that is prone to fail, and a new nature (Peter) that can give victory. As Simon, he was only another human piece of clay; but Jesus Christ made a rock out of him!”
Sometime after this initial meeting, Christ called Peter to be a full-time disciple (Matt 4;18-20; cf. Mark 1:16; Luke 5:1-11). Peter was ordained as one of the twelve disciples (Mark 3:14), and latter, Jesus appointed him a member of the innermost circle of three, comprised of Peter, James and John. These three disciples witnessed events the others did not. They accompanied Christ to the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-5), to the house of Jarius’ dead daughter who Christ raised (Mark 5:37), and the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46). Peter served as the leader of the Twelve, in that he continually acted as the spokesman for the group.
In addition, his name always appears first in the in all of the lists of the apostles (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). Peter was prominent in the early years of the church as well. After the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Peter was the one who took the lead in preaching, and became the principal person attacked by the Jewish religious leaders. He was present at the first church council in Jerusalem in A.D. 49. Later he went on to Antioch, where he compromised with the Judaizers and was condemned by Paul (Gal 2:11). According to reliable tradition, Peter spent the last decade of his life in Rome.
Turn to 1 Pet. 5:13 Peter indicated that he wrote this letter “at Babylon” where there was an assembly of believers. According to Warren Wiersbe, “We have no evidence either from church history or tradition that Peter ministered in ancient Babylon which, at that time, did have a large community of Jews. There was another town called “Babylon” in Egypt, but we have no proof that Peter ever visited it. “Babylon” is probably another name for the city of Rome, and we do have reason to believe that Peter ministered in Rome and was probably martyred there. Rome is called “Babylon” in Revelation 17:5 and 18:10. It was not unusual for persecuted believers during those days to write or speak in “code.” Later, Peter died as a result of being crucified upside down (saying he was not worthy to die like His Lord) in Rome about A.D. 67-68.
II. The Book
A. The Date
We are not sure, but it seems like Peter wrote his letters toward the end of his life (2 Pet. 1:13-15), so probably around 62-63 AD. See timeline.
B. The Setting
Peter was writing to Christians who were persecuted and suffering. Commentator Karen Jobes writes, “Peter’s readers were experiencing various kinds of trials that were causing them varying degrees of grief and suffering. Their Christian faith was being slandered and maligned. Their social status, family relationships, and possibly even their livelihood were threatened. When one’s Christian faith is criticized and even mocked, it is natural that one may begin to doubt the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is, after all, extraordinary to believe that the body of a dead man was raised to some kind of new eternal state of being. Ancient people no less than modern might understandably find that claim outrageous.”
Macarthur adds, “What began as the isolated acts of the Jewish authorities, or Jewish and Gentile mobs, gradually evolved into the official policy of the Roman government, which saw the refusal of Christians to participate in the state religion as a form of rebellion. As Peter penned this epistle, the dark clouds of the first great outbreak of official persecution, instigated by the insane Emperor Nero, were already gathering on the horizon. Seeking scapegoats to divert the public’s suspicion that he had started the great fire of July, a.d. 64 that devastated Rome, Nero pinned the blame on the Christians, whom he already perceived as enemies of Rome because they would worship none but Christ. As a result, they were encased in wax and burned at the stake to light his gardens, crucified, and thrown to wild beasts.”
And you thought you had it rough? How should these Christians respond to rising hostility? Peter gives us the purpose of his letter.
C. The Recipients
The audience is said to be people from “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1). This is modern day Turkey. This is a vast area of approximately 129,000 square miles (J. H. Elliott 2000: 84). As a comparison, the state of California covers about 159,000 square miles.
So this letter was circulated from church to church in that area. The readers were a mix of Gentiles and former Jews who were scattered there (so they were not in the Holy Land). They are learning what it means to be Christian in an area controlled by the Romans and the influence of their culture, which often directly contradicted what they knew were true as believers in Jesus Christ.
D. Key verse
Turn to 1 Pet. 5:12. Here we see Silas (the same guy we hear of in Acts who was a partner to Paul in his travels) recorded this and/or delivered this letter Peter tells us the purpose of his letter: “Exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” Do not quit. Do not fall into despair. Do not even stand wobbling, but allow God’s grace to help you stand firm in the face of suffering and persecution. There are two definitions to grace. One is God’s unmerited favor. This is like the saying that grace stands for God’s riches at Christ’s expense. But the other definition of grace is: power and motivation to do God’s will. Divine enablement. This is God infusing you with strength and motivation to do what He wants. Anyone need that? I sure do! We need it especially when we are going through some rough patches.
So his purpose is to strengthen His readers by reminding them what a great salvation they have in Christ, how sure their heavenly inheritance is, who they are in Christ, the new community they are part of because of His work on the cross and to look at Christ’s suffering as their example. This stuff is not head knowledge as it pours into your heart and hands from your head to show you how this affects your relationships, your work, your marriage and even in serving in the church, as they wait for the Lord’s return. John Macarthur adds, “Peter wanted his readers to live triumphantly in the midst of hostility without abandoning hope, becoming bitter, losing faith in Christ, or forgetting His second coming. When they are obedient to God’s Word despite the world’s antagonism, Christians’ lives will testify to the truth of the gospel (2:12; 3:1, 13–17).” I also like Achtemeier who says that the letter is intended “to strengthen the readers in the ‘now’ of their suffering and persecution by assuring them that the future of glory will transform their present condition as surely as their present situation transformed them from their past.”
E. Unique Characteristics
This book, in 105 verses, uses more quotations proportionately from the Old Testament than any other book in the New Testament (1 Pet. 1:16, 24–25; 2:3, 6–10, 22; 3:10–12; 4:18; 5:5). Although this may lead us to believe that his audience consisted of mostly former Jews. However, there is strong evidence that there were a lot of Gentiles as well. In addition, the word “suffering” is used more in 1 Peter than any other book (16x—see chart and this is not including other words that relate to suffering like “trial”). Other than Job, no other book deals as often and as extensively with suffering than 1 Peter.
Moreover, Peter is an apostle and an older shepherd and father-like as he uses 34 commands in his letter. Like James, 1 Peter is also written to believers scattered in different geographical areas.
So what does this mean for us? The theme of this series is “Hope for the Living: Growing when the going gets tough.” Surely we cannot relate completely to these first century Christians being persecuted and ostracized to that degree, but we can understand how difficult it is to persevere and wait for the Lord in hard times. As I close I want to give four quick reasons why we as a church need 1 Peter (and it’s not just because our name is “Living Hope”).
III. Why 1 Peter?
A) Because we need living hope when we fall into despair
In some areas of our lives, we may given up hope. The word hope is a key word that occurs five times in this book (1 Pet. 1:3, 13, 21; 3:5, 15). Now if Paul is “the Apostle of Faith,” since he talks more about being justified by faith than anyone else, and if John is “the Apostle of Love,” since he talks more about loving God and others more than anyone else, then Peter is “the Apostle of Hope,” since he talks about hope in the midst of suffering than anyone else. Maybe some things you have been praying for a long time have still not been answered. Maybe some things never seem to change. Maybe you feel like you are paralyzed with your circumstances, pushed into a corner, leaving you confused and discouraged. Despair can easily steal our joy and make us ineffective and fruitless in our faith.
All of us could use some hope! Not just to survive or just make it, but hope that helps us thrive and grow in the midst of our circumstances. How can flowers grow through the rocks of life? How can you find triumph in the midst of tragedy? This was Peter’s desire for the believers he was writing to. How do we cultivate this living hope? How do we claim it for our lives? We will look at that in this series.
B) Because we need to know what perseverance looks like
Usually when we are going through trials, we are often told, “Hang in there” or “It will all work out in the end” or “Wait on God” or “Be strong.” We all mean well when we say these things, but sometimes we want to know what does it mean to wait on God? What does it mean to persevere in the midst of suffering? What does it look like? What does it mean in all of our relationships? What does it mean as we serve at church? So this book will help us with that.
C) Because we need to know that no matter how big our suffering, that Jesus is bigger
Unfortunately, it is easier to collapse under the strain than to endure. It is easier to stop serving the Lord to look at our circumstances and throw a pity party than to rise up triumphantly and realize that we are worshipping the same God who took the worst act of mankind in history and turn it around to make it the greatest demonstration of grace and love this world has ever seen.
As a church, we need to mature in our faith this year as a community with a bigger view of Christ. In Philippians we read that Paul says that he wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…but finish that verse….and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10). Paul says part of knowing Christ is not just about having power, but also partaking in the Lord’s sufferings. The word “know” there is of deep, intimate, personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. We may know Jesus as the forgiver of our sin and the Savior King, but do we know Him as the fellow partaker of our suffering? Do we know that no matter how much the waters of life are over our head that it is still under His feet? I pray this book will help us with that.
D) Because we need to know God’s grace is sufficient
Peter says the reason he’s writing is for us to stand firm in grace. Often in suffering or trying circumstances, don’t you feel so weak and helpless? In this book, we will find how God’s grace will give you courage. Other times we often feel like we need to step in make the change. We often take matters into our own hands. In this book, we will find how God’s grace helps to depend on God more and be humble in the process. His grace is sufficient.
His grace is sufficient even when we are mocked for our devotion to Christ. Pastor Mark Driscoll says, “Like so many college students who weary of being mocked by their professors for being Bible-believing Christians, husbands who are mocked for not looking at porn or partying with their buddies, wives who forego a professional career to stay at home and be a wife and mother, [and] singles who are the butt of jokes at the office for waiting until marriage to have sex…their resolve was tried.” In this book, we will find that God’s grace is sufficient to keep standing for the One who stood for us when no one else would.
Often one of the worst things that happen is that we become a bad witness to others when we collapse in our trials. There are people always watching us, to see what a difference following Christ has made in our lives. So if we are going to call ourselves “Living Hope,” we better show others what that means in a world full of dead despair. And God’s grace is sufficient to help them stand and even die if needed, rather than give in to compromise and sin. So a lot of his letter will deal with practically living out our faith in way to honor God and experience His joy, despite how hard our circumstances.
So with God’s help, I would like to use a gardening image to help us understand the book. We will be looking at how to cultivate living hope (1 Pet. 1:1-2:10), the fruit that results from that cultivation (1 Pet. 2:11-3:12) and the pruning of suffering that goes along with it (1 Pet. 3:13-5:14). Are you ready for this ride? Warren Wiersbe says, ““Hope is not a sedative; it is a shot of adrenaline, a blood transfusion. Like an anchor, our hope in Christ stabilizes us in the storms of life; but unlike an anchor, our hope moves us forward, it does not hold us back.” May the Lord give us a fresh shot of it and propel us to move forward, by the power of the Spirit
Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software.
MacArthur, J. (2004). 1 Peter (4). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.:Victor Books.
Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (42). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
MacArthur, J. (3)
As quoted in Schreiner, T. R. (2007). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (electronic ed.).Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (45). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Feldmeier, Reinhard (2008). The First Letter of Peter (2). Waco: Baylor University Press.
Driscoll, M. (2009). Trial: 8 Witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter (11). Seattle, WA: Mars Hill church.
Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). Vol. 11: I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (2). Nashville,TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.