THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER, CALLED
O U T L I N E
The Hebrew-Christian Epistles. The Hebrew-Christian epistles are written to Jews who had believed the gospel, including those who had made a profession. These epistles - Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter - are given to help the Jewish believers in their special circumstances, dealing with the challenges they would have because of their background.
- James was written to “the twelve tribes”, written the earliest (circa A.D. 45). James does not call the Jewish believers to leave the Jewish system, as in Hebrews. Instead it was written to people just like those at the time of our Lord’s ministry, who knew the basic truths of Christianity, but at the same time were keeping the law and the ordinances (see Acts 21:18-24). The danger was that Christianity would become a dead religion to them. There were a mixture of those of faith and those without faith, but James encourages the real believers to let their faith be manifested by their works! In other words, without calling the faithful to leave Judaism, James calls the believers to distinguish themselves by living out their faith!
- Hebrews was written much later (circa A.D. 63) to Jewish people who had made a profession of Christianity. The epistle is written generally to real believers, yet recognizing that there were some mixed among them who were not real, and would later apostatize; "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak." (Hebrews 6:9). Hebrews sets forth the superiority of Christ and Christianity to all that the Jews had under the law. It served as a clear and persuasive call to the Hebrew-Christians to totally separate from Judaism, which the writer calls "the camp"!
- Peter wrote still later from Rome during the the Neronian Persecution (A.D. 65-67). He wrote two epistles to Jewish believers who had been scattered from Israel; "the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1 Peter 1:1). Peter wrote to strengthen and encourage these believers who had already made the step of leaving Judaism, and were feeling the loss of all the things they held dear (Luke 22:32). Peter in his own way takes up the better place the Hebrew Christians now had, presenting to them the "better promises", etc.
The Hebrew-Christian epistles therefore have this progression: James (A.D. 45) calls the Jewish believers to distinguish themselves by living out their faith, Hebrews (A.D. 63) calls them to leave Judaism completely, and Peter (A.D. 65-67) encourages them in their pathway, they what they have in Christ is indeed far better! A common theme through all of these epistles is the reality of faith lived out in the believer's life. None of these epistles are written to the church as such, nor are they based on the doctrine of the Church in her union with Christ. The Church is hardly mentioned all! The "church of the firstborn" in Hebrews pictures the saints as individuals in connection with Christ, rather than as His body. They were not ready for the “strong meat” (Heb. 5:12-14). Hebrews is based on the doctrine of the Person and Work of Christ, presenting Jesus to the Jewish remnant as their Messiah, no longer on earth but now glorified in heaven. Hebrews does not even go as far as to unfold the believer's relationship with God as Father.
The Author. The author makes his identity known in the first verse; “Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ”. Peter, whose given name was Simon the son of Jonas, or “Simon bar Jona”, was probably born around the time of Christ’s birth, perhaps around A.D. 1. He lived in Galilee, and the city of Bethsaida, and was a fisherman by trade, working with his brother Andrew and their partners James and John. Simon’s name was changed to Peter by Jesus, and he is frequently referred to as Peter or Simon Peter. He was converted on his own fishing boat after the miracle of the fishes, where Peter seemed to see who Jesus really was for the first time. Peter was a natural leader, and was characterized by boldness, impetuosity, and passion. His life is full of wonderful experiences, including incredible highs like walking on water, his confession, and the mount of transfiguration. He also experienced incredible lows when he blundered through human wisdom, but most seriously when he denied the Lord three times. Yet Peter experienced forgiveness and restoration, and once again took the lead among the apostles in early days of the Church. His first sermon was used to convert 3000 souls. The “the gospel of the circumcision” was committed to Peter as that of the uncircumcision was to Paul (Gal. 2:7), and he was numbered with James and John as three pillars of the church in Jerusalem. He was a married man, and was known to lead about his wife with him on journeys in the Lord’s service (1 Cor. 9:1) and it is possible that “she that is elected with you in Babylon” was his wife (1 Pet. 5:13). The Lord’s words to Peter, “establish thy brethren” (Luke 22:32), and finally “Feed my sheep”, were taken seriously by Peter, who ministered to the Jewish believers scattered throughout the Roman empire. Peter penned two epistles under Divine inspiration that unfold wonderful truth for us as Christians, and also show us something of the work God accomplished in Peter’s heart. Read more…
Matthew 16 and 17. The events of Matthew 16 and 17 form the basis for Peter’s first and second epistles, respectively. In his first epistle, Peter brings out that we are living stones built upon Christ the cornerstone into a spiritual house, as we have been “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). This directly correlates to the Lord’s words in response to Peter’s confession in Matt. 16. In his second epistle, Peter recounts the kingdom glory of Christ on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17) as a proof that the outcome of prophecy is sure.
Overview and Themes of the Epistle. The first epistle of Peter is written to believers of the Jewish dispersion; i.e. those that that been scattered from Palestine, but then saved through the preaching of the gospel. They had left Judaism and were suffering persecution from the Gentiles around them, and also from their natural Jewish brethren. However, the epistle is not written to a specific assembly, and therefore it is categorized as a catholic or general epistle, although the designation ‘catholic’ is somewhat misleading, because the epistle is really addressed to Jews who had been scattered throughout the world; “the sojourners of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1). This was a region that Paul had labored in and evangelized. The assemblies in those parts were largely Gentile, but Peter addresses the Jewish element among them. Peter’s ministry does not clash with Paul’s, but rather complements it. Further, 1 Peter is mainly pastoral in character, and therefore full of practical instruction and encouragement. We might think of this epistle as Peter’s obedience to the Lord’s command; “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). It is part of Peter’s ministry as the “apostleship of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:7). Peter’s first epistle centers around a number of themes:
- A Heavenly Calling. The Jewish Christians were keenly aware of what they had given up in leaving Judaism. Peter writes to them as an apostle of the circumcision to encourage and establish these believers in their special circumstances. He wanted them to know that, in leaving Judaism (or “the camp”), they had gained something incomparably greater; i.e. the full blessing of the Christian position, “exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which ye stand” (1 Pet. 5:12). He speaks of a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead” and “an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance, reserved in the heavens for you”. Though considered outcasts by their natural brethren, Peter says they are built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a chosen race, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession. But this heavenly inheritance is coupled with a pilgrim character on the earth. Peter exhorted the Jewish believers to live as strangers and pilgrims in reference to the world; 1 Peter is a “wilderness epistle”, in which the saints are viewed as on earth, travelling to heaven, and salvation is seen at the end of the pathway (1 Pet. 1:5, 2:2).
- Righteous Conduct. All through the epistle, but especially in the last half, the primary exhortation is to righteous conduct. We are called to reflect the character of God in this world as the people of God. Then, we are called on to be “well-doers” even if we must suffer in the process. We are in the house of God, and there is a conduct that suits that place of privilege. Our conduct should be a stark contrast to that of the world around. In order to motivate righteous conduct, Peter gives the example of Christ on earth, as One who did no sin, and more than that, He suffered for our sins to bring us to God. Then there is the government of God, reminding us that God is faithful and impartial in His judgment with respect to our conduct. Peter also presents the appearing of Christ as a future reward for those who live righteously at the present time.
- The Government of God. Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and so he is occupied in both epistles with government. Always, the full establishment of the righteous government of Christ at His appearing is “ready to be revealed”. Even now we live in view of that day. Further, the moral government of God is presently active in this world. In his first epistle, Peter presents the government of God in the lives of believers, and in his second epistle, God’s government in the world.1 In his first letter, Peter wanted to instruct the saints in the truth of God’s moral government in the lives of believers. The government of God is one thing that hadn’t changed for these Jewish converts. There is scarcely a more practical and foundational subject in that Word of God than the subject of God’s government in the lives of sinners and saints. Paul nicely summarized the government of God in a few words, illustrating it with the example of agriculture: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Peter gives his own concise summary in 1 Pet. 3:10-12. The government of God works positively and negatively.
- Suffering. Another theme in the first epistle of Peter is the theme of suffering, especially in connection with glory. First of all, Peter speaks of the sufferings of Christ in every chapter (1 Peter 1:11; 2:21; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1). But in addition to the sufferings of Christ, Peter looks on the “the glory that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:11). This is a pattern for us, although there are some aspects of Christ’s sufferings that we cannot follow. In ch.1, Peter speaks about the trial of our faith, suffering that God allows in our lives for our blessing (1 Pet. 1:7), in ch.2 he speaks about suffering for wrongdoing and welldoing (1 Pet. 2:19-20), in ch.3 he speaks of of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14, 17), in ch.4 of suffering in obedience (1 Pet. 4:1) and as a Christian (1 Pet. 4:16), and in ch.5 of suffering in resisting the devil (1 Pet. 5:10). But if suffering is a normal part of the Christian experience, the hope of glory is constantly before the believer (1 Peter 1:7; 4:13; 5:1; 5:4).
The first epistle of Peter was most likely written around A.D. 63, shortly before the Neronian persecutions which are thought to the precipitator of Peter’s martyrdom several years later. The epistle was written from Babylon while Peter was with the “elect sister” (perhaps his wife) and Marcus (John Mark), Peter’s son in the faith. The second epistle was written to the same believers (2 Peter 3:1).
The Three G’s of 1 Peter. There are three key principles of Christianity in Peter’s ministry that all begin with the letter “G”. Similarly, there are three in John’s ministry that begin with “L”; life, light, and love.
- Grace (1 Pet. 5:12). Grace is God’s unmerited favor, not only in salvation but in constant, tender, sustaining help; the activity of divine love in the midst of evil. An appreciation of God’s grace is vital to our preservation. Without it we get hardened toward God, cold toward our brethren, careless about sin, and self-confident. The believer’s standing before God is characterized by grace.
- Glory (1 Pet. 5:10). This really has the goal in view, the prospect of being with and like Christ, and manifested with Him in His kingdom. The assurance of glory is what sustains the believer in suffering. Without the glory shining before us, we lose hope, become discouraged, and begin to settle for the false earthly glory the world affords.
- Government (1 Pet. 4:17). God’s moral government ever before us positively encourages us in well-doing, and also buttresses us against temptations of wrong-doing. If we lose sight of God’s government in our lives we will become careless in our walk and ways.
If we get lose sight of any of these three, we will grow unbalanced in our Christian walk.