Advent in 1 Peter (1:1-13)
This week begins the Advent season, a time in which we anticipate the celebration of our Lord’s incarnation and entrance into this world. Though I highly doubt that Jesus was actually born on December 25 (there is no reasonable argument I have seen for this), yet it is right for us to remember the great historical-redemptive events, especially those connected with the life and ministry, death and resurrection of our Lord. And so I think it is right for us to set aside some time to remember these things more purposefully and intentionally.
Now it is true that 1 Peter is not exactly perhaps the text you might think of going to first when contemplating Advent. However, there is this phrase in 1 Peter 1:20, that does point us in this direction. Speaking of our Savior, the apostle Peter writes, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” When the apostle refers to the fact that our Lord “was made manifest in the last times” he is referring to the entrance of our Lord into this world and the life that followed.
It is important for us to recognize that Peter's point here is not that Jesus is revealed in the preaching of the apostles: in this place it is history that he is referring to. “In the last times” points to the fact that for Peter and the Christians of the first century, the incarnation of our Lord marked a turning point in history, so that all the days that followed are the “last times.” We live in the last times, not because the Second Coming is necessarily going to happen tomorrow (though I would be overjoyed if it did!), but because the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the last great redemptive event in history before the Second Coming and the Final Judgment. This is important to remember for this reason: Christianity is not about man’s attempt to ascend to heaven through piety and penance and philosophy, but it is about God’s descending to earth in our time and space universe in the person of his Son in order to save men who could not save themselves.
And that ultimately is what Christmas is all about, or at least should be. In our day, any semblance of the Christian content of the holiday is fading fast as our culture becomes increasingly secular. But as Christians, we need to remind ourselves that remembering our Lord’s birth is not about family get-togethers and food and presents. It is not even about peace in this fallen world or about a cute baby in a manger. Rather, it is about the fact that the world in which we live is so bad, so corrupt, so fallen, so wicked, that it took the God-Man Jesus Christ invading our world to rescue his people not only from the present fallenness, but from the everlasting misery which must inevitably follow our rebellion against heaven.
Jesus didn’t come into this world because it is a swell place. He came because it stinks. It stinks up to high heaven, and one day he is going to replace it. He came to redeem his people from their sins so that they would be delivered from this present evil generation and be able to enjoy the age to come in a new heavens and new earth. So Christmas is not about the goodness of this world, which is ultimately how the world presents it. It is about the badness of this world and the fact that it needs to be redeemed.
This is shown partly in the fact that when our Lord came into this world, he was not welcomed or treated with the respect that he deserves. Rather, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa. 53:3). We are told repeatedly in the gospels that, confronted with the authority and power and holiness of our Lord, people became afraid. They were afraid because they recognized that Jesus Christ was unlike them. Of course, this is mostly due to the fact that he is the Son of God, and they were not. But it is also due to the fact that he was holy and they were not. He was a stranger in this world – in the world, yet not of it – holy, harmless, separate from sinners. He was an exile in the very world that he made.
It is important for us to remember this as we come to the celebration of our Lord’s birth. We need to remember that our Lord didn’t come into this world to make it better for us. He came to redeem us out of this world. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there is nothing good in this world. Fallen as it is, it is still the handiwork of God, his creation that speaks his Name to all who would listen. Men, fallen as they are, are still made in the image of God. And that means two things. First, that it is not wrong to enjoy God’s creation. It is not wrong to celebrate God’s gifts to us in the here and now. But second, it means that this world is pointing to something much, much better. There are glimpses, even in its fallenness, of God’s greater purpose. And so, though we rightfully enjoy God’s created gifts with thankfulness – like family and friends and material provision – we should also long and look forward to the prize that is set before us in the age to come.
What has this to do with 1 Peter 1, you might ask, apart from this fleeing phrase in verse 20? In this first chapter, the apostle lays out a doctrinal foundation that supports the exhortations that follow. As he does so, we cannot help but notice the centrality of Christ and his redemptive work. None of this would be possible apart from what our Lord has done. In particular, he spells out the hope that we have in Christ. Our hope is living because of the resurrection of Christ from the dead (3), and it culminates “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (7). As a result, Peter’s readers, the Christians of Asia Minor, love him even though they have not seen him (8).
This hope, this salvation, which centers around “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (11), was prophesied by the Spirit of Christ in the OT (10-12), good news “into which angels long to look” (12).
When the apostle then comes to his first exhortation in verses 13-21, we note again that these moral imperatives are rooted in the work of Christ for them. They are not to go back to their former way of living, since they were redeemed from that by the precious blood of Christ (19). In fact, we hope in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, since God “raised him from the dead and gave him glory” (21).
To sum up, our hope and our obedience as believers are unimaginable apart from the person and work of Christ. They are inconceivable apart from the advent of our Lord.
But what is this hope that animates our obedience? In other words, what is it that this Advent season ought to be pointing us to? This is what Peter spells out in verses 3-12. I want you to see what is the hope to which you are called. Next time we will consider how this works to produce the fruit of holiness in your lives.
The grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ
Our hope, which is spelled out in verses 3-12 is summed up in verse 13 at “the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This revelation is not a reference to the first, but to the second coming of our Lord. It has not been brought but will be brought. Having come once in fulfillment of OT prophesy, we can be sure that he will come again in fulfillment of NT prophesy. We long for the grace that will be brought to us at that time. It is called grace, because there is no way we could ever earn or merit it. We don’t become saved by grace and then stay saved by works. We begin and end by grace, which makes our confidence all the more sure.
The thing that is important to notice in verse 13 is the fact that Peter tells us to set our hope “fully on the grace that will be brought to you.” This hit me recently as I was reading this chapter again. In fact, this is the real reason I am preaching this message today. We are not told to set our hope partly on God’s future grace but fully on God’s future grace. How is this possible? How can we leap over earthly hopes – like the hope of a better job or better marriage or better whatever – and reserve our highest hopes for something which is not only future but which belongs to another world completely?
We had better understand this, because Peter grounds his call to holiness upon this reality (13). To understand this, we need to go back and understand what is our hope that Peter outlines for us in the previous verses. How can we get to the place where we will set our hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to us at Christ’s Second Coming?
Understand your Identity (1-2)
Peter begins this epistle with these words: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with this blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” I want to focus on the phrase “elect exiles of the Dispersion.”
“The Dispersion” was a phrase that was usually used to refer to the Jews that had been scattered throughout the world as a result of their exile from their homeland in Judea, in particular to the Greek-speaking Jews throughout the Roman Empire in Peter’s day. However, there are good reasons to see this as referring, not to Jews only but also to Gentile believers who lived in Asia Minor. The apostle is spiritualizing this description and turning it to a reference to believers in the Lord. They are dispersed throughout this world, but like the Jews, they were not in their homeland. For our home ultimately is not in this world but in the world to come.
This is why Peter also calls them “elect exiles.” The King James Version translates this word, exiles, as “strangers.” According to Wayne Grudem, perhaps the best translation is “sojourners.” (A similar word is used in verse 17, which the KJV translates as “the time of your sojourning.”) The word “always refers to a temporary resident in a foreign place.” As Christians, that is what we are. No matter how rooted we may begin to imagine ourselves in this world, we are at best temporary residents in it. But that is true of everyone. What makes the difference and distinguishes the Christian from those who are not, is that we recognize the face that we are not only temporary residents, but residents in a foreign place. As believers in Christ, we need to face up to the reality that this world is not our home. We are not to find our identity in this world, in our jobs, or in our families, or in our country. We are to be like Abraham and the patriarchs, who “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:13-16).
Peter does not drop this description of these believers by accident. This is on purpose. He wants them to see that the significance of their lives does not depend on how they are perceived in this world. It does not depend on what other people think of them, or how they usefulness is rated by others. Our home, and the place in which we will find ultimate rest, is heaven.
These believers were being persecuted. So they were acutely aware that they were being rejected by their neighbors and the authorities. They were seen as being traitors to their country because of their faith. This is hinted at in verse 18, when the apostle says that they were “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” In other words, in their conversion to Christ, they were turning their backs on their heritage. They were almost certainly seen as being unpatriotic and disloyal. So there would have been this tremendous pressure on them to repent of their repentance. So Peter is telling them, “Look, don’t worry too much about being rejected by your neighbors. For remember that you are a resident alien. You live here and rub shoulders with these people, but this is not your home. This is not your country. You don’t owe your allegiance to a culture which is in revolt against God, who is your true King and to whose Country you belong.”
You will never set your hope fully on the grace that is coming with the End, if your allegiance is to this world. And your allegiance will land here unless you see that you are an elect exile, a stranger and a pilgrim, a sojourner.
But we also need to remember that pilgrims can do great things. One thinks of the Pilgrim Fathers of our own nation. They were a very small group of people, described by some historians as fundamentalist nuts. They were branded as such by their own countrymen. They had been “harried out of the land” by the religious leaders of their nation. They were not wanted. They were not appreciated. They were not respected. And there were barely 100 of them when they reached the New World, and then half of them died in the first winter. What could such people do? Yet it was their bravery and pilgrim spirit which laid the foundation for those who would follow. So don’t worry about being a pilgrim, a sojourner, an exile. God uses pilgrims in the establishment of his kingdom, too. Find your identity as an elect exile.
And then there is that word “elect.” God is of course the one who chose them. You might be rejected by your countrymen, but if God is for you, who can be against you? Peter further elucidates what he means by this, when he says that they were elect exiles “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This does not mean that they were chosen by God because he foresaw certain things about them, or that he chose them because they chose him first. That sense of the word doesn’t hold, for example, in its application to Christ in verse 20. Rather, what it means is that they were loved by God with the love that a father has for his children. Let the whole world reject you if God the Father has received you into his fatherly care. And he is not like some earthly fathers, who are arbitrary in their displays of love towards their children. Rather, we know that God the Father is relentlessly faithful and loving toward his children. What more security could anyone ask for? And what a foundation for your identity!
By the way, when we adopt the attitude of sojourners and strangers in this world, we are following the example and pattern of our Savior, who was the ultimate Exile in this world. How could we expect any different, when following Christ? “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:13-14).
Rejoice in your Inheritance (3-6)
What Peter does here is to show them that what God has promised them is infinitely better than anything that this world can offer. It is the fruit of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, sealing his redemptive work with victory over death. As a result of this, we are, according to the mercy of the Lord, “born again to a living hope” (3). I don’t think I really understood what this meant until just the other day. Perhaps I am just dull. I guess when I read “living hope” I just understood that to mean a vibrant, exuberant hope. And probably that is included in the meaning. But the fact that our hope is “living” also surely means that it is growing. For it is the property of living things that they grow. This stands in stark contrast with the things of this world. We may start off having bright hope in something, like a new political party, or a new job, or a new friend, or a new church. But then over time we begin to learn that there is nothing in this world that is without fault and failures. Our hopes diminish over time, or at least become more damped over time. With the Christian hope, it is the opposite. It grows, because this hope does not make one ashamed (Rom. 5:5). Those who hope is in Christ will never be disappointed.
What is the content of this hope? Peter tells us: “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (4-5). Here Peter gets at the heart of that grace that is to be brought at the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of history. He tells us five things about it.
First, it is an inheritance. Canaan was described as Israel’s inheritance. But this pointed to the greater inheritance that we have in Christ. An inheritance is not something that we obtain because we saved up enough money for it. An inheritance is something bequeathed, something given. Israel certainly didn’t deserve the land of Canaan. It was nevertheless given to them because God had promised it to Abraham. In the same way, we don’t obtain heaven because we deserve it. It is bequeathed to us by grace. For that reason, our inheriting it does not depend upon us but upon the grace of God that gives it (cf. Eph. 1:11).
Second, it is imperishable. This again stands in stark contrast to everything in this world. Everything here ultimately disintegrates. People die. Machines break down. Flowers fade. Houses fall down. Governments crumble. Stock markets crash. But the kingdom of God endures forever. It is imperishable. The gates of hell will never prevail against it.
Third, it is undefiled. I suppose that imperishable is not necessarily desirable on its own. But this inheritance is also undefiled. That is, everything that might cause it to become stained with sin is absent from it. Remember that everything in this world that is bad – all the pain and suffering and injustice – ultimately comes from the fact that sin is now part of the warp and woof of this world. That is all gone in the age to come. There is therefore nothing undesirable in that land. It is pristine and lovely in its holiness. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).
Fourth, it is unfading. That is to say, it can not only never be destroyed, but its pristine glory will never fade either.
Finally, it is kept in heaven for you. These are two of my favorite verses in the NT (4-5). I like the KJV better: “reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” This is not like a hotel reservation, which completely depends on you getting there on time. Rather, not only is heaven kept for us, but we ourselves are kept, not by our own feeble efforts, but by the very power of God. This is one of the reasons why I get upset when I hear people downplay the perseverance of the saints. It borders on blasphemy, because it basically says that God’s power is insufficient to keep God’s people to the very end. Grudem comments that the word can mean “both ‘kept from escaping’ and ‘protected from attack’, and perhaps both kinds of guarding are intended here: God is preserving believers from escaping out of his kingdom, and he is protecting them from external attacks.”
But this is not apart from faith: we are kept by God’s power, yes, but it is through faith. We must preserve this balance. There is no hope for those who abandon the faith. That is because those who are kept by God’s power are not kept apart from faith, but through faith. This is why the phrase “the perseverance of the saints” is better than the “eternal security of the believer” or “the preservation of the saints.” Both of the latter descriptions are helpful, but the perseverance underlines the fact that we are secure and preserved by God as we persevere in the faith.
But even our faith is supported by our faithful God. We must never imagine that our faith depends solely upon our own fickle resources. We are ultimately kept by God’s unwavering, unstoppable power. We could never be more secure. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29).
What Peter is doing here is to show us that the inheritance that is ours through Christ is both incomparable and infinitely desirable. His readers had already found it so: “In this [inheritance] you rejoice” (6). This is what Christ came to purchase for us. He did not come to give us this world, but the world to come. This does not mean, of course, that believers can’t be successful here. But that is not the promise, and it certainly should not be what our hope is in. Those who are rich in this world are exhorted to not “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
But what about suffering? (6-7)
One of the biggest problems with a future inheritance is that present suffering can often cloud our hope and hide it from our eyes. Since Peter’s audience were in fact suffering, I think he found it necessary to point out a very important truth that he will come back to: that our sufferings are not pointless, but are ultimately for our good (cf. 4:19). And so he says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (6-7). Note that the joy that we have in Christ is not a plastic smile that we dutifully wear on our faces. Rather, it is something so real and so deep that it is perfectly consistent with grief and sorrow. Far from being insulated from the assaults of this fallen world, we can expect to be “grieved by various trials.” Don’t let anyone tell you that if you’re a faithful Christian, then you should not have to worry about trials in your life. Peter says the exact opposite: that these trials (I love the fact that Peter leaves them unspecified – “various trials” covers all the sorts of testing that we meet with in this world) are “necessary.” When he says “necessary” I think he means from God’s perspective. This doesn’t mean that we will know, but we can rest in the confidence that our sovereign God in his providence is working this trial for our good and his glory.
By the way, I think this is a real test for any religion or worldview. How does it deal with suffering? If it has to ignore it or deny it or infuse it with meaning that doesn’t exist in that worldview, then something is wrong. When I look at the secularist mindset, there is no place for meaning in suffering. It cannot handle it except to say, “Que sera, sera.” Any meaning in suffering has to be imported from somewhere else. But this is not so in the Christian worldview. We know there is meaning in our suffering, not because we pretend it is so, but because we know that God is both good and sovereign. And we can rest in that, even if we will never understand it this side of heaven.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t know anything. There are two things, according to the apostle, that must inevitably result from our suffering. The first is that our faith will be shown to be genuine: he speaks of “the tested genuineness of your faith.” This is not only for the benefit of unbelievers, who by seeing our steadfastness might begin to look into the gospel, but also for ourselves. There is always the question, “Will I endure?” Then suffering comes, the Lord brings us through it, and our hope is all the more strong.
The second thing is more important, and is the main thing Peter aims at: “might be found to result in praise and glory and honor” – when and where? The answer: “at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Our sufferings will produce the fruit of praise and glory and honor. Though it is true that we will give all praise and honor to the Lord, yet it is also true that God has promised to give praise and glory and honor to his people. However, and this is important, this does not happen now, but “at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” that is to say, at his Coming. It may be that our suffering has no meaning if we confine our viewpoint to the limited perspective of the present. But if we allow God’s word to widen it to the breadth of eternity, then we can be sure that our suffering will be brimming over with meaning and purpose and good.
Love your Savior (7-12)
The “praise and honor” that the believer will find in the future inheritance is inseparable from the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (7). That is because what ultimately makes the inheritance imperishable and undefiled and unfading, or secures the reality that “no longer will there be anything accursed,” is due to the fact that “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3-5). Christ is the sun whose light makes everything beautiful in heaven. To want the inheritance without Christ is like wanting the sea without water, bread without flour, or the morning without the sun.
This is why, though Peter says that they rejoiced in their inheritance, he says something stronger when he comes to their delight in the Lord: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (8). You don’t have to know Greek to see the difference. Their rejoicing in the inheritance is a step down from their rejoicing in Jesus because their possession of the inheritance is only meaningful in light of their possession of Christ. Like Paul, they believed that to depart and be with Christ was far better than any blessing that could be experienced in the here and now (Phil. 1:23).
We often judge the worthiness of something by how other worthy people view it. If a well-known artist admires a piece of art, well then, it must be worthy of admiration. If a talented musician praises a concerto, then we might try to enjoy it ourselves. If a successful writer of fiction whose works we’ve enjoyed tells us that he has modeled his writing after someone, then we will probably try to find the works of his inspiration. Well, apply this to Christ, and the only thing to conclude is that he is worthy of your worship. For who has admired him? Peter tells us that the great men of the OT, the men anointed by the Holy Spirit himself to write Scripture “searched and inquired carefully” what the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating about the future coming of the Messiah (10). Peter ends this paragraph by saying that these are “things into which angels long to look” (12). Prophets and angels strain every nerve to know more about Christ. Angelic beings who minds are not afflicted with infirmity or darkened by iniquity want to know nothing more than the person and work of Jesus our Lord. Shall we not then take their example to heart? Something is wrong with us if we are blind to the glory of which the wisest of men and purest of angels delight to see.
If you want to be the kind of person who sets his or her hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you, then you must do these three things: know your identity, rejoice in your inheritance, and love your Savior. Know that you are strangers and pilgrims in this world. Know that your inheritance does not belong to the here and now, and yet is infinitely better and desirable than any earthly portion. And know that Christ is worthy of your strongest admiration, your strictest attention, and your supreme affection.