Summary: 1 Peter calls believers to steadfastness in the face of adversity.
Through the New Testament 2006
The Fiery Trial
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
For most of us, the idea of persecution or suffering for our faith seems far-fetched. We live in a free society. No one we know has ever been jailed for professing Christ. However, that’s not true for lots of the world. Alam told us a few weeks ago what it meant to become a Christian in Pakistan. Last’s week film (China Crises) illustrated the adversity of being a believer in communist China.
Living free of adversity and persecution has not been the fate for much of Christian history. Unfortunately, it may not remain true forever even in our own land. It certainly wasn’t true for the First Century readers of our next book in our journey through the Bible. We are ready for the sixtieth of the sixty-six books of the Bible. We began this journey four years ago. Six more books and we will have covered the entire Bible library a book at a time.
1 Peter is the second of what is sometimes known as the General Epistles. The books of James through Jude are lumped together in a separate category for a couple of reasons. They were not written by Paul. The other letter-type books were. They are not addressed to a specific locale. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy and other books were addressed to Christians in a specific city or to a specific Christian leader. These letters, including 1 Peter, were written to Christians in general or at least believers spread over a large area.
Peter, the fisherman turned leader of the disciples, penned the book. The concluding paragraph credits help from Silas (Silvanus, the Latin name in some translations). Early Christian tradition claims that the book was written from Rome (note the symbolic reference to those who in Babylon, 5:13) shortly before Peter was put to death under the brutal persecution of Emperor Nero. That would place it in the mid 60’s of the first century. A reign of terror began in the capital city when Christians were falsely blamed for a major fire in Rome. Historians speculate that Nero himself ordered the burning because he wanted room to build a new palace. He needed an excuse so he said that Christians had started the fire or their unfaithfulness to the Roman gods has brought down judgment upon the city. He argued that if the city wanted the blessings of the gods they would have to take action against the Christian infidels.
The brutality that followed was unbelievable. The Roman historian Tacitus (not a Christian partisan) wrote, “Besides being put to death, [Christians] were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed” (Annales 15.44).
Believers who could scattered far and wide to escape the tyranny. Peter remained in Rome. Perhaps he was arrested early on. He witnessed the fate of his fellow Christians. He knows the fate he is about to face. Tradition says he would be crucified upside down within a year or two of the beginning of the persecution. However, his big concern is for his fellow believers. He knows that the local persecution will likely spread to other places. Perhaps as he awaits his own execution, he puts pen to paper to warn his brothers and sisters in Christ of what’s coming.
Listen to a sampling of this little book. It contains only one hundred-five verses in five short chapters. The message is the same throughout. Get ready, stand firm, always live for Christ no matter what happens. If you are arrested, let it be for faithfulness to Christ and never for actually doing something wrong. If you stand trial, speak the truth. May there always be enough evidence to convict you for being a follower of Jesus. This is how Peter makes that case:
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.