God wrote His Word with a view to the many needs which His people have while they sojourn here below. This letter focuses upon the special needs of the pilgrim, especially the pilgrim who must face suffering for righteousness’ sake. The Holy Spirit assures him that there is good reason to have hope in the midst of fiery trial. We need this word today.
He identified himself in the opening verse as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:1). In I Peter 5:1 he places himself among the elders and mentions that he was witness of the suffering of Christ (I Peter 5:1). There is almost universal acceptance of Simon Peter as being author of this letter.
If we review a little what the gospels and Acts of the Apostles tell us about Peter, it will help us to appreciate the message he writes in this epistle. Going back to his early years, we find that he was a fisherman of Galilee, in the fishing business with James and John (Luke 5:10), evidently wealthy business men. His brother Andrew (a disciple of John the Baptist) called him to come to see Jesus, the Messiah; and when he came Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter, meaning a rock (John 1:40-42). He joined Jesus and the disciples as they toured Galilee (Mark 1:16-20). He had a wife (Matt. 8:14). Perhaps this accounts for his having a house in Bethsaida (John 1:44), and later in Capernaum (Mark 1:29). Later, when he was an apostle, his wife traveled with him (I Cor. 9:5).
From the gospel accounts we know Peter was in the inner circle with James and John, e.g., in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33). He was a leader, a fact that marks men who have impulsive natures. On the Mount of Transfiguration, he suggested that they build three tabernacles (Matt. 17:14). Similarly, when Christ asked, whom do men say that I am, the disciples offered suggestions, and when Christ asked, whom do ye say that I am, Peter spoke for them, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). He was the one who swung the sword and cut off the ear of Malchus (John 18:10). This also led to Peter’s darkest moment. After boasting of his strength to endure (Matt. 26:33), Peter denied his Lord three times (Matt. 26:69-75). He stayed with the disciples and joined them in search of the empty tomb (John 20:2-6). Good news came to him when the angels told the women to go tell the disciplesand Peter that Jesus had risen from the dead (Mark 16:7). He was restored to his apostleship at the Sea of Galilee when the risen Lord asked him three times, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” His instruction was, “feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). At this time Jesus was prophesied that Peter would become a martyr (John 21:18, 19).
Passing on to the book of Acts, we find Peter preaching the sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:14ff). Throughout the early chapters of Acts we are told that he preached and performed miracles around Jerusalem and throughout Judea. He also went to Samaria (Acts 8:14) and later to Caesarea when he brought the gospel to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-33). He rejoiced that the gospel was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Acts 10:34ff). He was imprisoned first by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1ff), and later by Herod (Acts 12:1ff), but the Lord delivered him. He was a powerful spokesman for the Jerusalem church, e.g., at the council to decide whether the Gentile converts should be circumcised (Acts 15:7). He evidently traveled much, and tradition tells us he was finally crucified, head down, at Rome under the persecution of Nero around A.D. 68.
E. Harrison in his Introduction to the New Testamentdraws from this background the following interesting conclusions regarding the epistle.
Certain autobiographical touches in the epistle can be readily linked with items of information contained in the Gospels. Peter’s own severe testing of faith
accords with his reference to the proving of his readers’ faith
I Peter 1:17,
and the Lord’s prediction that he will thereafter be able to strengthen his brethren meshes with the thrust of the epistle as a whole, including the language in which promise is given of divine assistance.
Jesus’ conversation with Peter in Galilee after the resurrection
seems to be reflected in the writer’s description of believers as sheep.
I Peter 2:25; I Peter 5:2, 3
Christian leaders are shepherds under the control of Christ as the Chief Shepherd, to Whom they are responsible.
Peter’s resurgence following his descent into the abyss of sorrow and humiliation because of his denial of the Lord is reflected in the language of
—begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection. The injunction to be clothed with humility
may involve the recalling of the Upper Room scene where Jesus girded himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. Peter’s description of Christians as living stones
may stem from Jesus’ prediction uttered over him at their first meeting that he would be called “stone.”
The epistle itself makes frequent reference to suffering: “ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations” (I Peter 1:6), they were “suffering wrongfully” (I Peter 2:19), which is called, “suffering for righteousness’ sake” and “suffering for well doing” (I Peter 3:14, 17). He encourages them not to think it strange if “fiery trials” come upon them (I Peter 4:12ff). This will be the mark of Christians throughout the world (I Peter 5:9ff).
This reference to suffering indicates to us that Peter wrote this letter at a time when such persecution was a serious concern. A confrontation had developed between the Roman government and Christians throughout the empire. Prior to this, the prevailing occasion for persecution was at the hands of the local Jewish authorities, especially in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was frustrated by Christ’s claim to Kingship and the disciples’ willingness to serve Christ no matter what the rulers of the Jews thought. During this time, the Roman government had no reason to fear the Christians. Christ had said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21). He also had said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Even Paul, when accused by the Jews, appealed for his protection to Caesar and publicly testified that he was not guilty of inciting to riot (Acts 24:12). Gradually, Rome began to change in its attitude toward Christians. The Christian church was distinguished more and more from Judaism. The gospel of Christ’s Lordship and the teaching of His return in victory over all nations was interpreted to mean a threat to Rome. Nero showed his contempt for Christians by subjecting them to a bloodbath in Rome. This quickly swept throughout the empire.
This is the background for this epistle. The Christian church was fearful of her life. Would they be wiped from the face of the earth? Could they resist? How could they possibly endure? To satisfy this deep spiritual need, God by the Holy Spirit moved Peter to write this letter.
He wrote it to “the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (I Peter 1:1, 2). These districts were located in Asia Minor. Representatives of Cappadocia in Pontus were in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). In all likelihood, they returned home with the good news of the gospel. This would indicate that the nucleus of the churches was Jewish. Paul visited this same region during his missionary journeys (Acts 16:6), including Galatia. At the time, the Spirit forbade them to go into Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6, 7). Perhaps they touched the northern parts of this region. It would seem that even though no specific mention is made of Peter’s visiting this area, there is no reason to say that he could not have done so. In any event, the Spirit led him to write to these people whether he knew them personally or not. From the epistle itself, we can conclude that the “elect strangers” were not limited to Jewish Christians, but included converted Gentiles. Peter applies the passage of Hosea 1:9 to them: “Which in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God” (I Peter 2:10). Furthermore, he refers to their former lusts in ignorance, including idolatry (I Peter 1:14). Now they should “have their conversation honest among the Gentiles (I Peter 2:12). Even though they formerly walked in such things as lusts, revelings, etc., they are now to abstain from them and expect the Gentiles to think this strange (I Peter 4:3, 4).
ORIGIN AND DATE
One more thing that we have to consider is that Peter wrote this letter from Babylon (I Peter 5:13). Quite naturally we ask, where was that city? Three suggestions are offered: 1. Babylon by the Euphrates in Mesopotamia. 2. Babylon in northern Egypt, a Roman military complex. 3. A reference to Rome, much like John used it in Revelation 17:5, a type of the Antichrist in her spiritual harlotry. In trying to determine which one is correct, it seems rather easy to eliminate the one in Egypt, as there is no reference to it in the Bible. The Babylon in the east seems so remote. Yet it would be in keeping with Peter’s direct form of address that he used it to refer literally to this Babylon. We know there was a Jewish church there. Some favor Babylon-Rome. We know that Mark was there with Peter (I Peter 5:13), and that he was in Rome about the time of Paul’s imprisonment (Col. 4:10). Silas would bring this letter (I Peter 5:12) from Rome to these regions. But, why didn’t he simply say Rome instead of Babylon? Two reasons are offered: 1. The persecution was centered in Rome. This was Peter’s way of using a code-name to protect the Christians in event of discovery. 2. It had spiritual symbolism for the spiritual pilgrims. Babylon was the symbol of evil, hostility, and captivity. The problem with this is that there is no proof that Babylon was used mystically twenty years before John did so in Revelation. It’s pretty difficult to draw a conclusion one way or the other. The Roman Catholic Church makes much of Peter’s presence in Rome, claiming he was the first Pope and founder of the church. There is no historical proof for any of this. Definite substantiation of Peter’s presence in Rome is limited.
The date can only be approximated from this evidence. If Mark was with Peter and the persecution of Nero was either imminent or already begun, the date most likely would be about A.D. 64, 65. Nero persecuted the church from A.D. 64-67. Paul was executed in A.D. 66. So that date would be pretty close.
Next time we will examine what the Holy Spirit had to say to the persecuted ones, namely, that they have hope in the Lord Jesus.