By Christopher VanDusen
In this world filled with enemies of God, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are constantly bombarded with lies and distractions used by Satan and sin to confuse them about who they are. This may be especially pronounced in times of the heightened persecution of Christians, which we seem to be living in, at least in the US. That’s why the apostle Peter began his first letter, called 1 Peter, by defining just who the Christians were to whom he was writing. Like most Christians today, they were being persecuted for their Christian behavior and beliefs, and they needed to be reminded of how God viewed them, and of what He had done to them and for them.
Peter begins 1 Peter, then, in the first two verses, like this:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (ESV)
In this introduction to his letter, Peter gives eight descriptions of himself and his audience:
- He’s an Apostle of Jesus Christ (v. 1a)
- They’re Aliens in the Dispersion (v. 1b)
- They’re in Asia Minor (v. 1c)
- They’re Elect by God’s Foreknowledge (vss. 1-2a)
- They’re Set Apart by the Spirit (v. 2b)
- They’re Obedient to Jesus Christ (v. 2c)
- They’re Atoned for by His Blood (v. 2d)
- They Abound in Grace and Peace (v. 2e)
An Apostle of Jesus Christ
To remind his audience of who he is, Peter describes the most important thing about himself as it relates to his audience. He calls himself “an apostle of Jesus Christ”. The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos, which literally means “one sent on a mission”.
However, Peter’s not just someone who was sent on a mission, but was sent by “Jesus Christ”. Jesus is the human name of the One who is both God and man. It literally means “the Lord is salvation”, so it describes Jesus as the Savior of sinners. “Christ”, on the other hand, is one of Jesus’s titles. It comes from the Greek word christos, which literally means “anointed one”. This alludes to the Old Testament officers of prophet, priest, and king, who were all “anointed”, or poured upon, with oil, to symbolize that they had been chosen by God to fulfill those roles. As the Christ, Jesus is God’s ultimate Prophet, High Priest, and King. As Prophet, He perfectly reveals who God is, and what His will is. As High Priest, He sacrificed Himself on the cross to take God’s punishment in the place of His people, and ascended into heaven as their Mediator between God and them. As the King, He is the King of the entire universe, and has control over all things.
Since Peter is an apostle of Jesus Christ, it follows that he is an authoritative representative of God Himself, since Jesus is God. Hence, anything he says in this letter must be taken as the very message of God.
But there’s also significance to Peter’s name, since it wasn’t the name given to him at birth. Rather, Jesus Christ gave it to him during His earthly ministry. It comes from the Greek word petros, which literally means “stone”. The Lord gave this name to him to signify that he was one of the foundation pieces of the church, since he was the leader of all the original twelve apostles. His birth name was Simon, but by using his apostolic or Christian name, he was demonstrating his allegiance to, and service of, Jesus Christ, as one of the leading apostles.
Aliens in the Dispersion
After describing himself, Peter next begins to describe his audience. Although he first calls them “elect”, he doesn’t complete this idea until verse 2, so we’ll begin by thinking about the next description. The ESV translates this description as “exiles of the Dispersion”.
The word “exiles” is translated from a Greek word that literally means “outsiders living alongside” or “resident aliens”. It refers to people who are living in a place outside of their homeland, and are therefore “strangers” or “aliens”.
But Peter’s audience aren’t just any aliens, but aliens “of the Dispersion”. The Greek word translated “Dispersion” is diaspora, which literally means “a scattering of seed” or simply “a scattering”. This same word is used in James 1:1, where the apostle James calls his audience “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion”. In the New Testament, there are two “dispersions”. First, there’s the dispersion that happened before Jesus came to earth, in which Jews left Israel, and spread across the Mediterranean world. Second, there’s the dispersion that occurred after the establishment of the church because of the persecution led by Saul of Tarsus. In this dispersion, many Christians left Jerusalem, and Israel, and settled in other areas near the Mediterranean, such as the city of Antioch. Since James refers to the first Dispersion in James 1:1, it’s more likely that this is the Dispersion that Peter’s referencing. In either case, this term reveals that the types of Christians Peter is addressing are Jewish Christians.
So, why are they called “aliens”? Because they were scattered from their homeland of Israel, and now live as strangers in lands that are unlike their home.
In Asia Minor
The second description of Peter’s audience is where they live. He says they’re in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”. These are Roman provinces located in the central and northern regions of what is now the country of Turkey. At that time, the land mass known as Turkey was called Asia Minor. These provinces made up most of this land.
The provinces of Pontus and Bithynia were in a thin sliver of land in the northernmost part of Asia Minor. To the southwest, forming the west coast of Asia Minor, was the province of Asia. To the east of Asia was the center of the land, known as Galatia. Finally, the eastern part of Asia Minor was Cappadocia.
It’s possible that Peter had preached to some of his audience on the Day of Pentecost, since Acts 2:9 says that some of the Jews who were visiting Jerusalem for that festival were from Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia. It’s possible that Peter had gone into all of the provinces he mentions, and had preached there, as well.
In any case, these Jewish Christians were living among mostly Gentile unbelievers, and were facing persecution, so Peter wrote to encourage and instruct them on who they were, what God had done, was doing, would do, and what they were to do.
Elect by God’s Foreknowledge
In verse 2, Peter finishes his third description of these Christians. He has already called them “elect”, but he goes on to say that they are “elect . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”.
The word “elect” is just another word for “chosen”. But how were they chosen? Peter says it was “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. By using the phrase “according to”, Peter is saying that God’s choice of them was based on His foreknowledge of them. Why do I say that it was based on His foreknowledge of them? Because this is how His foreknowledge is described in the rest of the Bible.
In 1 Peter 1:20, Peter says that Jesus was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (ESV). The use of the word “foreknown” without referring to a subject who’s doing it is called a “divine passive”. This means that Peter’s implying that God the Father is the One who foreknew Jesus. Notice that it’s not any impersonal thing that God foreknew, but Jesus that God foreknew.
Further, in Romans 8:28-29, the apostle Paul says,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (ESV)
Again, here God didn’t foreknow impersonal things, but people. And what was the result of Him foreknowing them? He “predestined” them “to be conformed to the image of his Son”. The fact that God “predestined” them includes the idea that He “chose” them, since He had to do that in order to act upon them. More than that, the word “predestined” simply means “determined beforehand”, and since God has control of all things, it follows that what He predestined was certain to happen. What was certain to happen? That those whom He “foreknew” would be “conformed to the image of His Son”, or made perfectly like Christ.
What Paul says here is similar to what Peter is saying by calling his audience “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. As we have seen, elsewhere, Peter uses God’s foreknowledge with reference to foreknowing Jesus, and Paul uses it in God’s foreknowledge of His people, or all Christians.
Also, in Jeremiah 1:5, God says to Jeremiah, “‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations'” (ESV). Here, God Himself is referring to His foreknowledge, or knowing beforehand. As is common in the Old Testament prophetic books, this passage uses Hebrew parallelism, in which each line explains the one that came before. He’s implying that because He knew Jeremiah before he was formed, He consecrated, or chose, him, to be “a prophet to the nations”. Another instance of this type of knowledge is seen in Genesis, where it says that “Adam knew his wife, and she conceived”. The knowledge here isn’t knowledge about Eve, but experiential knowledge of Eve, which results in a pregnancy!
Likewise, God the Father’s foreknowledge of Peter’s audience isn’t knowledge about them, but knowledge of them. And what does it result in? Him choosing them. Therefore, when Peter says that God the Father chose them “according to” His foreknowledge, he means that He chose them because He entered into an intimate personal relationship with them, in which He chose to bestow His grace, mercy, and peace on them.
Set Apart by the Spirit
After saying that God the Father chose his audience because of His forknowledge of them, Peter goes on to describe what He chose them for. The first thing Peter says God chose them for was “the sanctification of the Spirit”. Although Peter’s emphasis is that God chose them “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood”, since this sanctification results in these things, it follows that God also chose them for it.
So, what is “the sanctification of the Spirit”? The word “sanctification” is a translation of the Greek word hagiasmo, which literally means “setting apart”, or “purification”. Here, it refers to God the Holy Spirit’s act of setting apart people from the rest of the world by purifying, or cleansing them, of their rebellious hatred of God and His demands for them.
Why do I say that this sanctification is more than God simply setting these Christians apart for His special use? First, because Peter says this sanctification belongs to the Spirit. In the New Testament, it’s the Holy Spirit who effectively purifies and cleanses sinners, so that they are given new hearts, or affections and desires. For example, in the apostle John’s writings, there are multiple references to being “born of the Spirit”, which means to become a new person through the Spirit’s power. Second, Peter says that God chose his audience “in the sanctification of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ”. By preceding their obedience with this sanctification, Peter’s saying that the means by which they were enabled to obey Jesus Christ was “the sanctification of the Spirit”. Hence, this sanctification must be more than a change of status, but a change of character.
Obedient to Jesus Christ
The fifth characteristic of Peter’s audience is that God chose them “for obedience to Jesus Christ”. In other words, He chose them to be obedient to Jesus Christ. This is even clearer when we remember that they were chosen “in the sanctification of the Spirit”, or “by the sanctification of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ”.
But what does Peter mean by this? How exactly do they obey Jesus Christ? First, they obeyed Jesus Christ when they first became Christians, since the command of the gospel is to change one’s mind and trust in Jesus Christ as the risen Lord and crucified Savior. In fact, when Jesus gave His Great Commission, He said that His disciples were to “make disciples” by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20, ESV). The first thing that He commanded His disciples was to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). However, believers don’t stop with repenting and believing the gospel, but continue to obey Jesus Christ as His servants and slaves — as a way of life. This is part of what it means to be sanctified by the Spirit, and God chose Peter’s audience to do this.
Atoned for by Christ’s Blood
The final description that Peter gives of his audience is that God chose them “for sprinkling with [Christ’s] blood”. This is an allusion to the sprinkling of blood that was done by Moses when he gave God’s Law to Israel in the establishment of that covenant with the nation. The author of Hebrews describes this in Hebrews 9:18-22:
“18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (ESV)
By using this metaphor, Peter is communicating several things. First, just as Moses had to sacrifice an animal in order to use its blood to sprinkle Israel, so also Jesus had to sacrifice Himself in order to sprinkle His blood on His people. Second, just as Moses did this in order to establish a covenant with Israel, so also Jesus sprinkled His blood on Peter’s audience in order to establish a covenant with them. What is this covenant? Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8 calls it “the new covenant”. Third, just as the sprinkling of the blood by Moses purified Israel, so also Jesus’ sprinkled blood purified Peter’s audience. Finally, as the author of Hebrews implies by saying that there’s no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood, the sprinkling of Christ’s blood on Peter’s audience represents the fact that, because Christ suffered and died on the cross for their sins, their sins have been forgiven by God.
Hence, by being sprinkled with Christ’s blood, Peter’s audience are partakers of the new covenant Christ established through His death, making them part of His people, and are treated by God as innocent, or forgiven.
Abounding in Grace and Peace
To finish his introduction to this letter, Peter expresses his desire and prayer for his audience, which is guaranteed to come to pass, since all the things he’s just said about them are true. This is how he concludes:
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
First, Peter wishes that these things will “be multiplied” to them. The words “be multiplied to you” mean that these things will be theirs “increasingly” and “abundantly”.
But what are these things? First, he desires that “grace” will be multiplied to them. The word “grace” is translated from the Greek word charis, which literally means “benefit” or “favor”. In this case, he’s referring to God’s favor and blessing. So, first he wants them to have an increasing measure and experience of God’s favor toward them in blessing them. Second, he wishes them multiplied “peace”. Again, this is peace from God. Since they already have peace with God, what can it mean? Well, the biblical idea of peace from God doesn’t just mean the absence of hostility and conflict with God, but also spiritual well-being or prosperity from God, so they also have inward peace of mind, as well as peace with their circumstances, and with their fellow believers.
Again, since God has foreknown and chosen Peter’s audience to be sanctified by the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ, and to be sprinkled with His blood, His grace and peace will be multiplied to them.
God’s Chosen Aliens in the Dispersion
So, how does this passage apply to you if you’re obedient to Jesus Christ?
First, just as Peter’s audience were aliens who were scattered abroad away from their homeland, so we are aliens who are scattered across this earth, dwelling in a place that’s not our home. Paul says in Philippians that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, not on earth. This place isn’t our home, and we don’t belong to the rest of the world.
Second, just as Peter’s audience were chosen according to God’s foreknowledge to obey Jesus Christ by the Spirit’s sanctification, and to be sprinkled with Christ’s blood, so have we. This means, first, that God chose us before the foundation of the earth, as Paul says in Ephesians 1, to be His people. Why? Because He foreknew us to be His people, and determined to love us and bless us before we came into existence. Second, this means that we’ve been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, so that we’re now set apart from the world, and from the evil that once controlled us to rebel against God. Third, this means that we’re obedient to Jesus Christ, and God in fact chose us to obey Him! Finally, this means that we’ve been sprinkled with Christ’s blood, so that we’ve been cleansed from our guilt before God, and He now blesses us, since He has satisfied the wrath and justice that we deserve through Christ’s suffering and death.
Lastly, since God’s chosen, sanctified, and sprinkled us with Christ’s blood, His grace and peace will be multiplied to us. Every single moment we experience His grace and peace, since all we deserve is His hatred and punishment.
So, are you obedient to Jesus Christ, and experience God’s supernatural grace and peace? If you aren’t obedient to Jesus Christ, it’s because you’ve never obeyed His first command, which is to change you mind and trust in Him as your King and Savior. God sent Him to the earth from heaven to become a man, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take His punishment for our rebellion against Him. Then, He raised Him from the dead and made Him the King of the universe in heaven. He now commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Christ as their Savior from sin and His wrath, and as their King, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish His enemies for their rebellion against Him with eternal torment. Please make sure you’ve obeyed Jesus Christ, and have repented of your rebellion against Him, and trusted Him to provide you with God’s forgiveness, mercy, and peace. He promises to forgive and save all who repent and trust in Christ.