I’ve read through 1st Peter maybe four or five times now, and each time I read I’m reminded again of the sheer towering authority of Scripture. I have the task of writing an introduction, or an overview that would help people understand and appreciate this letter, and I am entirely unequal to the task!
First of all, the letter’s author identifies himself as Peter, the disciple of Jesus. (Though scholarly speculation has analysed the content and debated pseudonymous authorship, there is nothing which seriously undermines the author’s proposed identity.) So this is written by a guy who was one of the human beings closest to Jesus Christ- the incarnation of God Himself. Now, he was still just a human being, and we should not let our respect for his appointment lead to idolatry of his person. Nevertheless, you know that when you pick up one of his letters to the church over which Jesus appointed him leader, you are going to get some pretty deep stuff.
So reading it, I’m reminded just how rich the content is. My eyes get unfocussed by a distracting thought, and I’ve just passed glibly over some foundational aspect of Christian doctrine. Even taking the whole day to pore over each chapter would still leave us plenty to think about. Were we to memorize the whole letter, we would still struggle to comprehend the full implications of what is written therein.
It’s not that the meaning of the text is unclear (though some of the longer sentences of dense theology may require slow reading). But the text is thoroughly profound: it not only discusses issues of incomparable importance, but it sheds light on them as well. Scripture is the ultimate, perpetual source of context for the Christian, and, as such, it remains profoundly relevant to us in our daily lives.
So when writing an introduction, the temptation is to take the subject matter and make something less of it: to turn it into something easily digestible. The ideal is to illuminate the content, and reveal it for what it is. And this is the task which I am incapable of really doing!
With that caveat in mind, I would encourage everyone to read this epistle with reverence, trusting that God himself speaks through it. There’s no substitute for the text itself. D.A. Carson’s notes might help with one or two key elements, but they’re not comparable to the masterpiece in front of you.
This letter, amongst other things, presents the dual nature of reality: reconciling that which is seen and that which is unseen. It reminds us of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the most explicit revelation of God’s character to mankind. The letter was a circular to Christian churches who were facing outbreaks of verbal and physical attack. It exhorts Christians facing persecution to recognise that this is no less than we should expect. Endure and conduct yourselves according to the truth that has already been revealed to you. Thus, the letter reminds us where our encouragement and motivation springs from. It points to Christ as our example, and helps us to see Christian suffering in its true light: as a tool God uses for disciplining and purifying his adopted and loved children. It is crucial for enduring suffering that we understand its benefit.
There is urgency in the letter of 1 Peter. We are living in “the last days” when Christ’s return may happen at any time. We have an honour and a duty as soldiers of Christ, and it is not hard to hear in this concise and powerful letter the rallying call of a captain leading his troops into battle.
What profound truths do you get from reading this letter? Share your encouragements and discoveries with your brothers and sisters in the faith. Use the phone, or email, or meet up. Or failing that, post a response to this blog post.