By Christopher VanDusen
The Lord Jesus Christ promised His disciples, on the night of His arrest, that “in this world [they would] have tribulation”, or trouble (John 16:33 ESV). Likewise, the apostle Paul promised Christians in Acts 14:22 that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (ESV). Further, he told his son in the faith, Timothy, that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (ESV). In short, the Christian life is a life of suffering and trouble.
So how do Christians endure this suffering? When they are going through constant troubles that have no end in sight, and are tempted to give up obeying Christ, since this is what leads to their troubles, what gives them hope that it’s worth it? In 1 Peter 1:3-9, the apostle Peter explains to his audience what they have in store for them in the future, because of what God has done to them in the past, and what He’s doing for them and through them in the present. In this way, he gives them multiple reasons why their suffering for following Christ is worth it.
Peter wrote 1 Peter to many churches in a large area of what is now Turkey. They generally consisted of Jewish Christians who had either recently, or long ago, been forced to leave Israel, and settle among non-Jews, or Gentiles. Now that they had become Christians, they were being persecuted by these Gentiles through what it seems to be mostly insults and false accusations. In order to encourage them to remain faithful to obeying Christ, he wrote this letter that is full of hope and instruction.
To begin the letter, Peter describes himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Then, he reminds his audience that they are aliens in the Jewish Dispersion; residents of the area of Asia Minor; chosen by God’s foreknowledge; set apart by the Spirit; obedient to Jesus Christ; atoned for by His blood; and abounding in God’s grace and peace. After this greeting, he summarizes who God is; what He’s done, is doing, and will do for them; and what their response is to this in verses 3-9:
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 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. 8 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, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (ESV)
In this passage, Peter describes four of God’s characteristics, and four of the Christian aliens’ responses to them:
- God is Praised (v. 3a)
- God has Produced Them for a Living Hope (v. 3b)
- God has Provided a Lasting Inheritance (v. 4)
- God is Protecting Them for the Last Hope (v. 5)
- They are Pleased while Languishing in the Heat (v. 6)
- They are Proven to Be Lavished with Honor (v. 7)
- They Spiritually Love the Holy One (v. 8a)
- They Perceptively Leap for Happiness (v. 8b-9)
God is Praised
Peter begins this passage by praising, or blessing, God:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
The word “blessed” can mean “approved”, “happy”, or “commended”, and in this case the ideas of “approved” and “commended” are what Peter means. In other words, Peter is saying that God ought to be, and is, praised for who He is, and what He’s done.
So, who is this God? Peter calls Him “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This isn’t just any God, but is the God whom Jesus worshiped on earth by loving and obeying Him. This doesn’t imply that Jesus is only a man, since the fact that God is “the Father of” Jesus means that they both share the same nature. Just as a merely human child shares the human nature of his father, Jesus shares the divine nature of His Father. Further, the fact that Peter calls Jesus “Lord” implies that Jesus is God, since this means that Jesus has all authority over everything in the entire universe, and controls it all. Nevertheless, Peter maintains that Jesus is also a human being, since “Jesus” is the name given to Him by His earthly “father”, and God the Father is called the God “of” Jesus Christ.
But what does it mean that Jesus is “Christ”? This is just another word for “Messiah”, which literally means “anointed one”. It alludes to the Old Testament practice of anointing prophets, priests, and kings with oil to symbolize God’s appointment of them to those offices. Jesus is God’s ultimate Prophet, High Priest, and King, and as such, is the only Savior of mankind.
To sum up, by describing God in terms of His relationship to Jesus, Peter is implying that God exists in at least two Persons, and that it’s only through the Lord Jesus Christ that Peter’s audience worship God as their Father.
God has Produced Them for a Living Hope
In the second part of verse 3, Peter begins to explain why God ought to praised by describing the new birth of the aliens:
“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .”
First, Peter says the motivation of God doing this to them is “His great mercy”. By “mercy”, Peter means “compassion” or “pity”. Seeing Peter and his audience in their misery and bondage to sin, God had mercy on them by saving them from these chains. Why is this mercy “great”? Because God had no obligation to be merciful toward them, since they deserved their suffering and sinfulness, and because what His mercy moved Him to do was incomprehensibly wonderful.
So what did God do because of His great mercy? First, He “caused [them] to be born again”. According to Jesus and His apostles, all people are born children of the devil, and of Adam. As such, they can do nothing but sin, since even their good deeds are done for wrong reasons. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes non-Christians as “dead in trespasses and sins”. That is, they are in a state of spiritual death, so they can’t do anything that pleases God. In fact, Paul says this very thing in Romans 8:8 — “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (ESV). In verse 7, he says that the minds of such people are “hostile to God”. Because people are born spiritually dead, in order to know and love God, they need to be born again. This means that God changes a person’s heart, so they’re no longer hostile to Him, but love Him, and no longer enslaved to sin, but able to please Him.
However, Peter doesn’t stop there. He says that they were born again “to a living hope”. The word “to” is translated from the Greek word eis, which literally means “into”. It can also be translated “for”, or “because of”. Whatever the precise meaning is here, Peter says that God gave them spiritual birth “into” or “for” “a living hope”. By hope, he means a confident expectation, since this future prospect is promised by God. By calling it “living”, he’s implying that this hope is rooted in the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Finally, Peter explains how God gave them a living hope. It’s “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. They have hope because Jesus has been raised from the dead with a perfect body. Because He’s been raised from the dead, they too will one day be raised, and have perfect bodies that are incapable of being used to sin, and will allow them to enjoy God fully.
God has Provided a Lasting Inheritance
In verse 4, Peter further describes the hope that he and his audience have by saying they’ve been born again “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”.
Again, the word “to” in connection with the new birth and their inheritance simply implies that they possess this inheritance in promise, or hope, form. But what does Peter mean by “an inheritance”? The idea of an inheritance is something that’s promised to be given to a family member when the promiser dies. Since Jesus died, and He’s the One who promised this inheritance to His disciples, and His church, through the new covenant, Peter and his audience are sure to get it. According to the New Testament, the inheritance is eternal life in a perfect body, on a new earth, living in perfect harmony with Jesus and His people.
Peter uses three words to describe the perfection of this inheritance. First, it’s “imperishable”, or will never decay, or become less enjoyable. Second, it’s “undefiled”, or is completely separate from this world, and anything that can harm it. Finally, it’s “unfading”, or never able to be taken away in any sense.
Finally, Peter says that this inheritance is “kept in heaven for you”. The Greek word translated “kept” could also be translated “protected” or “guarded”. Obviously, the One who is protecting this inheritance is God, since it’s protected “in heaven”. Heaven is the spiritual realm where God’s presence is most fully manifested, and where Jesus currently lives.
God is Protecting Them for the Last Hope
In verse 5, Peter describes the last main work of God for his audience by saying that,
“. . . by God’s power [they] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Here, Peter explains that it’s ultimately not up to the aliens to keep trusting in Jesus, and obeying Him. Rather, it’s God who “guards” them so they’ll remain His children, and be judged worthy on judgment day of the inheritance He’s promised them.
However, He doesn’t do this without their involvement. The means or instrument that He uses to protect them from giving up Christianity is their “faith”. In the New Testament, whenever “faith” is used as a means for salvation, especially when preceded by “through” and when used without “the”, it always refers to believers’ faith in Christ. Another way to think of this faith is “trust” or “reliance”.
But what is the purpose of God protecting them? Peter says that He’s doing so “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”. Although they’ve already been saved from God’s wrath, the punishment they deserve from Him, and enslavement to sin, they’re still awaiting salvation from the presence of sin, and it’s influence in their lives through the world and its temptations. When this salvation is revealed, they’ll be saved from their sinful bodies, and from the sinful world, and given perfect bodies like Christ’s. This salvation will be revealed when Christ is revealed “in the last time” of this present evil age through His second coming.
They are Pleased while Languishing in the Heat
In verse 6, Peter describes the first response of his audience to God’s salvation of them, and promises to them, by saying,
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials . . .”
Their first response to God’s work of giving them spiritual life, promising them a perfect eternity, and protecting them from giving up is to “rejoice”. This means to feel an inner happiness that expresses itself through physical actions. However, it’s only dependent on faith in, and knowledge of, the truth about their salvation. Their earthly circumstances have nothing to do with this rejoicing.
This is why Peter reminds the aliens that they’ve “been grieved by various trials”, while at the same time they rejoice in their salvation. The word “grieved” implies that they’ve suffered sorrow from their trials. However, Peter says that this has happened “for a little while”, and is “necessary” for them. By “a little while”, Peter isn’t suggesting that their trials have lasted a short time, and are now over, but that in comparison with the eternity that’s ahead of them, it’s only “a little while”.
They are Proven to Be Lavished with Honor
In verse 7, Peter explains why it’s necessary that the aliens are grieved by trials in this life:
“. . . 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.”
First, Peter implies that suffering is necessary so that their faith will be “tested” and “found” “genuine”. In James 1, the apostle James teaches that suffering trials tests the faith of believers, so they’ll eventually be completed at the end of their lives. Here, Peter’s saying a similar thing, but is relating it to the final judgment of believers.
Not only is the testing of the aliens’ faith necessary, but the resulting endurance of their faith after testing, or genuineness, is “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire”. Peter here compares their faith to the most valuable metal in the ancient world, and says that although gold is tested by fire before it’s used, it will still end up being destroyed when the whole universe is destroyed by God. Not so with his audience’s faith. Although their faith is tested, it will last until they meet the One they’re trusting face to face.
Finally, Peter says that the testing of their faith is necessary, so it’s genuineness can “be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. By “the revelation of Jesus Christ”, Peter is again referring to Christ’s second coming to bring in the “last time” of this age. Why will the genuineness of the aliens’ faith be found to result in praise, glory and honor when this happens? Because God will judge them worthy of receiving the inheritance that He promised them, since they kept trusting in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
But is the praise, glory, and honor directed toward God, or toward them? The answer is both. The Lord will praise His faithful servants with “well done, good and faithful servant”, and God will give them the glory and honor that Jesus has as a man. However, this will cause them to praise, glorify, and honor God and Jesus, so ultimately all the recognition will go to God for His work of saving, protecting, and perfecting His children through trials.
They Spiritually Love the Holy One
In the first sentence of verse 8, Peter proves to the aliens that their faith is genuine by reminding them that they love a Person whom they’ve never seen:
“Though you have not seen him, you love him.”
Peter points out the fact that they’ve never seen Jesus Christ, since he’s just said that Jesus will be “revealed”. Further, genuine faith in the gospel needs no physical proof of who Jesus is, but only God’s message about Him.
But how does someone know if they trust in Jesus as Lord and Christ? The proof of genuine faith in Him is love for Him. In the New Testament, this love isn’t a feeling about Him, but devotion and commitment to Him as Lord. The proof of such love is obedience to His commandments in His Word, as the apostle John says in 1 John. By telling the aliens that they loved the Christ whom they had never seen, Peter was assuring them that their faith was genuine, and would stand the test of their trials.
They Perceptively Leap for Happiness
Peter finishes this passage by reminding the aliens that their joy is supernatural, since it’s based on their faith in God’s promise of salvation:
“Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
First, he again reminds them that they can’t see Jesus. Nevertheless, they “believe in him”. This is simply another way of saying “trust in him”. In other words, they believe that He’s their God, Lord, and Savior from sin and God’s wrath. Secondly, they rejoice with joy that can’t be expressed, and is “filled with glory”. The facts that this joy can’t be expressed, and is full of glory, or beauty, show that it’s supernatural.
Finally, Peter explains why they rejoice in such a way. It’s because they’re “obtaining the outcome of [their] faith, the salvation of [their] souls”. Here, Peter is at least referring to the current salvation from sin’s power that his audience is experiencing. That is, God is currently saving them increasingly from sin’s power over them, and making them more like Christ. This salvation is a guarantee of their future, perfect, salvation, that God has promised. By saying that their “souls” are being saved, Peter simply means that their entire “persons”, without any part missing, are being saved. “Souls” is used in this way in Acts 2, where Luke says that 3,000 “souls” were saved on the Day of Pentecost. However, here, Peter’s at least referring to the aliens’ progressive salvation, and probably also to their final salvation at Christ’s second coming.
Rejoice in Your Living Hope
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, you’ve been born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Christ, so you now know God, and love Him.
Second, God has promised you an inheritance that can’t decay, can’t be ruined, and can’t be taken away, since He’s protecting it in heaven for you.
Third, God is protecting you through your faith for a salvation that’s ready to be revealed on the last day.
Fourth, you rejoice in God’s salvation of you, even though you may have been saddened by various trials.
Fifth, your trials are necessary and will only last a short time, so that your faith can be proven to be genuine, so God will give you praise, glory, and honor when Jesus is revealed, so that you can give Him praise, glory, and honor for what He did to you and through you.
Sixth, though you haven’t seen Jesus, you love Him and trust in Him.
Finally, you rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, since you’re obtaining the outcome of your faith, which is the salvation of your soul!
If you have no joy at all when thinking of your salvation, or don’t love Jesus, then you haven’t been born again, you don’t have an inheritance in heaven, you aren’t being protected by God for salvation, and you don’t have genuine trust in Jesus. If that’s you, then you’re an enemy of God, and are on the path to eternal punishment. However, the good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become Jesus, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take God’s punishment for our rebellion against Him. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as our King. He now commands everyone to change their minds about Him and themselves, and to trust only in Jesus as their Lord and Savior from their sins and God’s wrath, to receive His forgiveness. He gives this command as a warning, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish all His enemies for their rebellion against Him for eternity. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion against Jesus, and are only trusting in Him to provide you with peace with God, and His full forgiveness, because of His death and resurrection. If you’ve done this, then be baptized in water by someone who believes the same things to profess your faith to others.