We have seen that the apostle Peter wrote this letter to the persecuted saints who were in need of encouragement. The oppression of government, the fear of death affected their outlook on life. With the light of the Christian hope shining upon their dark circumstances, they would focus more clearly upon their place in the world and the need to press on in the calling of serving the Lord.
Before we attempt to outline the letter, we should take note of the emphasis upon the subject of hope. Peter calls it a living hope (I Peter 1:3). It will be perfected in the coming of Christ at the end of the world (I Peter 1:13). It is sure and steadfast for it is fixed in God (I Peter 1:21). By being partakers of Christ’s suffering, they will also partake of His glory (I Peter 4:13). After they have suffered for a little while, Christ will make them perfect (I Peter 5:10). In the light of these passages, we may conclude that hope is precious, it is future, and it is certain.
The circumstances of life for these scattered strangers was difficult. They were unsure of anything, the dark clouds of persecution lowered upon them, their souls felt inner despair. How urgent it was for them to be reminded of this Christian hope. God would not let them fall. He loved them and that love was sealed in the unchangeable council of His election and in the precious blood of His own Son. He had prepared an everlasting hope in glory, where the tears will be wiped away and the former things passed away and the saints are able to serve God perfectly. That hope so lives in the child of God that it makes him a sojourner in this world. All that the world has to offer him cannot become the goal of his life. The hope is so emblazoned in his soul that he is spiritually separate from everything of this world and longs in a good sense for home (I Peter 2:19, 20). No wonder then that the world persecutes him. He is a stranger to them, for he testifies concerning their sin and the impending judgment of God that shall come upon them (I Peter 3:15, 16). Even their scoffs and threats, however, do not destroy the Christian’s hope. They cause him to see it even more clearly. It establishes him in his calling to serve God all the days of his life (I Peter 4:12-16). With such a message of hope there could be found joy in sorrow, light in darkness, even life over death (I Peter 5:4).
1. Introduction (I Peter 1:1, 2). Peter identifies himself as the author of this epistle, and as being an apostle of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:1). He directs it to the strangers, scattered throughout certain regions of Asia Minor who are further identified as elect according to the foreknowledge of God (I Peter 1:2). He pronounces upon them the apostolic greeting (I Peter 1:2).
2. He blesses God for the guarantee of salvation in the midst of trials (I Peter 1:3-12). He has begotten us unto a living hope through Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:3). That inheritance is identified and reserved for God’s people (I Peter 1:4). It is guaranteed because they are kept by the power of God unto that salvation (I Peter 1:5). This preservation includes the trials they must experience, for trials purify them like gold in the fire (I Peter 1:6, 7). When Christ shall come, they will receive the salvation of their souls (I Peter 1:8, 9). This salvation was the subject of the prophets’ inquiry as well as the content of the glorious gospel. The Spirit aroused this inquiry both in the prophets and apostles, and even in the angels (I Peter 1:10-12).
3. The pilgrims are to live holy lives in the face of opposition (I Peter 1:13-25). By taking control of ourselves through the power of grace, we are to be holy and not to fashion ourselves according to our lust, but as obedient to God’s command for a holy life (I Peter 1:13-16). Christ redeemed us by His own blood, and by His victorious resurrection from the dead He gives us spiritual power to live holy lives (I Peter 1:17-21). This produces in us a spiritual rebirth through the Word of God and is manifest in us by our obeying the truth and showing unfeigned love for the brethren (I Peter 1:22-25).
4. We as living stones are to serve Christ in His temple (I Peter 2:1-10). We are to desire the milk of the word as newborn babies (I Peter 2:1-3). This word is provided by Christ Who is the Chief Cornerstone in God’s temple. We too are living stones in that temple, and our priesthood is not earthly but spiritual (I Peter 2:4-6). As a chosen generation and royal priesthood, Christ is precious both to believing Jews and Gentiles. To others He is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (I Peter 2:7-10).
5. The apostle Peter refers to specific examples of the holy life of the pilgrim (I Peter 2:11-3:13). He points out that a pilgrim must abstain from fleshly lusts and live a God-glorifying life, especially among the Gentiles (I Peter 2:11, 12). They were to submit to government in order that those who ignorantly accuse them of being troublemakers may be silenced and God may be magnified in their obedience. “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (I Peter 2:13-17). He next instructs servants to be subject to the froward masters as well as the gentle ones. If they suffer for wrongdoing, it is no mark of faithfulness; rather if they do well and suffer for it that is acceptable to God (I Peter 2:18-20). He points out that this was true of our Savior, Who when reviled, reviled not again. He took abuse as God’s servant in order that He might accomplish His work of bringing His sheep into God’s fold (I Peter 2:21-25). The same word is directed to the Christian wife who has an unbelieving husband: she must be in subjection to him and be holy in her conversation in order that it might please God to win him unto Christ. Her beauty is to be the hidden man of the heart, in a quiet spirit. She may well turn to the women of the Old Testament as her examples (I Peter 3:1-6). The husbands are exhorted to dwell with their wives and give honor to them that their prayers be not hindered (I Peter 3:7). The same counsel applies to the whole congregation. They are to live as brethren, be courteous, render blessing for evil and refrain their tongue from evil because God cares about His children (I Peter 3:8-12).
6. We must expect suffering for righteousness sake. And the apostle instructs us how to prevail in the midst of suffering (I Peter 3:13-5:11). We must not become bitter when we suffer for righteousness’ sake, but be happy and confident (I Peter 3:13, 14). The fear of persecution must not silence us, but we must be ready to give an answer of the hope that is in us. By doing this, our enemies are put to shame (I Peter 3:15-17). Again, Christ is our example, for He too was unjustly accused, but He went by His Spirit and preached to the spirits in prison and announced His victory (I Peter 3:18-22). God preached His Word unto us for the express purpose that we should no longer serve the lust of the flesh, but the will of God. This means we are now spiritually different from our former friends (heathen Gentiles) and must expect their opposition (I Peter 4:1-6). To secure strength in dealing with them, it is important that we be sober and pray much, draw together as God’s people, and express love, hospitality, using all our spiritual gifts for the mutual benefit of all (I Peter 4:7-11). If we keep this in mind, we realize it is not strange to suffer, but we may rejoice in that we suffer with Christ. We are warned not to suffer for our own faults as evil doers, but as Christians. Judgment must begin at the house of God and this requires of us that we commit the keeping of our souls to God (I Peter 4:12-19). The office bearers must be diligent to care for each other and resist the devil who goes about as a roaring lion (I Peter 5:6-9). God will preserve us through this suffering, and all glory must be given unto Him (I Peter 5:10, 11).
7. Conclusion and farewell (I Peter 5:12-14). He mentions that Sylvanus (Silas) will bring the letter (I Peter 5:12). He refers to the writing of the letter as expressing God’s grace to them (I Peter 5:12). The church at Babylon extends their greeting as well as Marcus his son (I Peter 5:13). The concluding greetings are expressed (I Peter 5:14).
1. Consider how Simon Peter was especially prepared by God to write this letter about enduring suffering. Review some of the things in his life that prepared him for this.
2. Explain how the need was great at this time for a message of hope in the midst of fiery trials.
3. Scan the letter and indicate what it says about the Christian hope. How does this affect us as pilgrims?
4. Why did the Holy Spirit lead Peter to make references to the suffering of Christ in this connection? See I Peter 2:21-25, 3:18, 4:1, 5:13, 14.
5. Consider how the great doctrines of election, atonement, and sovereign grace relate to perseverance. See I Peter 1:2-6, 1:18-21, 2:4, 5, 2:24, 25, 3:12, 21, 5:10, 11.
6. What is the relationship between trials and temptations? See I Peter 1:6, 7. Cite examples of this from this letter.
7. Look through the letter and refer to those passages that emphasize that it is so important for the Christian to continue to be faithful to his calling, especially when he is persecuted for it. Explain why this is true.
8. The passage in I Peter 1:22-25 is used to support the idea of “mediate regeneration,” i.e., that we are regenerated by means of the preaching of the gospel. Does this passage teach this?
9. Another difficult passage is found in I Peter 3:17-22. Different explanations include: a.) That Christ went to purgatory after His death and before His resurrection. b.) That Christ preached to the spirits through the mouth of Noah already in his day. c.) That Christ announced, by His Holy Spirit after His glorification, to the wicked who are in hell, that He is victorious h (especially to those who persecuted Noah). Any preference?
10. Explain how judgment begins at the house of God and why the righteous are scarcely saved. See I Peter 4:12-19.
11. Give proof from this letter that the church has reason to be happy in the midst of persecution: Do these reasons apply to us who may live to see the day of the Antichrist?