By Rev Dr Clive Chin
First Peter was a circular letter sent to multiple churches dispersed in Asia Minor (i.e., Turkey). These churches were comprised mostly of Gentile converts, who were harassed and persecuted by their Roman neighbours for their Christian faith (2:12; 3:16; 4:16). Under pressure, many were tempted to relapse morally and to give up their faith. Peter wrote to them to encourage them to endure persecution and suffering by giving themselves entirely to God (5:12). The letter is essentially a powerful reminder that believers are born again into a living hope through Jesus (1:3). God is calling all people into a new family with a new identity and a new hope of a world restored by God, when Jesus returns as King. Peter insists that suffering strengthens one’s faith (1:7) and makes his argument by pointing to three key aspects of God’s grace in past, present, and future dimensions.
In 1:13-2:10, Peter takes OT images and applies them to persecuted Gentile Christians. By doing so, Peter is placing their suffering in a new storyline. As believers in Jesus Christ, they stand in continuity with the “people of God” in the OT, who suffered in bondage and were delivered by the grace of God.
Peter then turns his attention to the suffering Christians in 2:11-4:11. Peter says that their persecution can bring clarity to their mission in the world to bear witness among the nations (2:11-12). This is demonstrated by Peter’s discussion about Christian submission to secular government, and believing members of the household witnessing to their unbelieving family members by showing love and generosity. Peter is hopeful that this imitation of Jesus would give power and credibility to their words.
The future dimension of salvation is noted in 4:12-5:9. Peter recalls how Jesus himself was unfairly persecuted and murdered by corrupt human powers. Later, he was vindicated and given resurrection life by the Spirit. Now Jesus is exalted as King over all human and spiritual powers. Therefore, it is an honour and joy for Christians to be persecuted just like he was (4:12-14). In spite of persecution, believers should fix their hope in future vindication and exaltation.
As one can see, Peter encourages suffering Christians by reminding them of God’s faithfulness in the past and their future vindication and hope. This is instructive for us, as we seek to discern what God is saying in the current pandemic and global recession. My former professor famously said, “He who does not have a past, does not have a future. If you have neither a past nor a future, you have no present.”