By Christopher VanDusen
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who are mistreated by unbelievers for living righteously need several things to endure persecution, and to persevere in right living. The apostle Peter describes these things in the last section of 1 Peter — verses 12-14 of chapter 5.
1 Peter is a letter that Peter wrote to multiple churches that had many members who had recently become Christians. Their conversions to Christianity required them to give up the sinful lives that they had practiced together with their unbelieving neighbors. Due to this, these neighbors had been mocking, insulting, criticizing, and even lying about them to persuade them to return to their sinful habits. Peter heard of this persecution, and wrote 1 Peter to encourage, comfort, and instruct these Christians he calls “aliens” to persevere in righteousness through their suffering.
To begin the letter, Peter describes the great blessings of the salvation that God has provided for them, emphasizing their hope of eternal happiness that will be ushered in when Christ returns. He then reminds them of the great anticipation that the Old Testament prophets had of this salvation, in order to emphasize their privileged position in history.
Then, he begins to explain how they need to respond to their hope of complete salvation by instructing them to be hopeful, holy, and reverent toward God. They’re to do this with regard to one another by loving one another passionately, since they’ve become God’s children. Peter begins chapter 2 by forbidding them from committing certain sins against one another, but to instead yearn to learn God’s Word, so they can become more like Him.
Next, he describes how they’re learning and practicing God’s Word. It’s by serving God through Jesus Christ as His holy priests. The way Peter says they’re doing this is by showing the unbelieving world around them the goodness of God. After this, he begins to work out how they need to do this by refraining from yielding to temptation, and by living righteously in front of unbelievers. The first way they’re to live like this is by submitting to every human institution of authority that’s over them, and by honoring everyone. Peter then applies these two general instructions to servants, wives, and husbands at the end of chapter 2, and the beginning of chapter 3. Finally, he wraps up this section by calling the aliens to be united, and to bless their persecutors.
In the next section, Peter explains how and why the aliens are to do what’s right while they’re persecuted for it. First, they need to do this because it’s how they’ll prove that they’re God’s children, and be completely saved. Second, they ought to do this because it’s the way that Christ received God’s blessing and honor. Third, the way they need to do this is by thinking about their suffering the way Christ did. This will persuade them that they can’t go back to their old, sinful, lifestyles, to avoid persecution. Peter concludes this section by reminding them that the end of the universe is close, so they should be self-controlled for prayer, and love one another by using their spiritual gifts.
In the last main section of the letter, at the end of chapter 4 and the start of chapter 5, Peter warns the aliens about even worse persecution to come, and explains how they’re to persevere through it. He first calls them to expect such suffering, and then commands them to rejoice in it. In the beginning of chapter 5, he instructs elders on how to lead their congregations, instructs those younger than them to submit to them, and urges all of them to be humble toward one another. Lastly, he ends the main part of the letter by commanding the aliens to humble themselves under God’s will, and to resist the devil while remembering that their brotherhood all over the world are suffering persecution, and that God will reward them for their suffering.
In verses 12-14, Peter ends the letter by saying this:
“12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” (ESV)
To close the letter, Peter describes 7 things that persecuted churches need in order to endure persecution:
- Proven Brethren (v. 12a)
- Prudently-Written Books (v. 12b)
- The Proclamation of God’s Benefits (v. 12c)
- To Be Planted in God’s Benevolence (v. 12d)
- Partnership with Other Bodies (v. 13)
- To Promote Brotherliness (v. 14a)
- The Peace of Their Benefactor (v. 14b)
They Need Proven Brethren
First, Peter teaches the aliens that they need tested brothers and sisters in Christ by saying that he wrote the letter, “by Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him”. The fact that he wrote the letter “by Silvanus” could mean one of two things. First, it could mean that this man simply wrote down what Peter told him to write. However, it could also mean that Silvanus put one or more ideas differently than Peter literally said, while still conveying what Peter had in mind. This is called “paraphrasing”. Either way, Silvanus, as a “faithful”, or “trustworthy” brother, accurately wrote down what Peter wanted the aliens to hear.
But who was Silvanus? The apostle Paul mentions this man in 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians. In these letters, he implies that Silvanus traveled with him on his second missionary journey in Macedonia and Achaia, which are in modern-day Greece. When we look at the Book of Acts, we see a man named “Silas” traveling with Paul during this journey. Since Silas is a man who was sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch, and then joined Paul on his missionary journey, and “Silvanus” is just a different form of “Silas”, we have to conclude that Silvanus and Silas are the same person. Hence, Silvanus wasn’t only known by Peter, but had helped Paul at Antioch, and on at least one of his missionary journeys. So, Peter had good reason to call Silvanus “a faithful brother”.
But why did Peter let the aliens know that he considered Silvanus to be a faithful brother in Christ? Probably because Silvanus was one of the people who delivered the letter to them. Thus, he wanted them to be assured that this man who claimed to be Peter’s helper was a trustworthy source of information about him, and about the letter. As “a faithful brother”, he was qualified to rightly interpret the letter.
They Need a Prudently-Written Book
The second thing that Peter teaches the persecuted aliens they need is a wisely-written book. He implies this by saying that he wrote “briefly” to them. Why did he write a short letter, rather than a long letter? Because letters at that time were written on a very expensive type of paper called “parchment”. As such, they didn’t have a lot of writing space, and needed to keep letters relatively short. The fact that Peter thought of his letter as brief implies that there was more he could have said, but chose not to. Nevertheless, what he wrote was sufficient for the aliens, and any additional information could be given by Silvanus.
They Need the Proclamation of God’s Benefits
The third necessity for the aliens that Peter describes is the character of the letter, which is “exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God”. First, Peter wrote the letter to “exhort”. The word “exhorting” is translated from a Greek word that literally means “calling near”. In the New Testament, it’s usually used in the sense of “encouraging”, “urging”, or “calling”. We can see all three of these actions in 1 Peter. In the letter, Peter encourages, urges, and calls the aliens to “set [their] hope completely on the grace to be brought to [them] at the revelation of Jesus Christ”, to “be holy”, and to “live in fear during the time of [their] exile” (1 Pe. 1:13, 15, 17). In order to do these things, he encourages them to endure persecution for pleasing God, so they’ll prove themselves to be His children, and be rewarded on Judgment Day for their faith.
The second characteristic of the letter is Peter “declaring that this is the true grace of God”. By “this”, Peter means the entire letter that he wrote “briefly” to the aliens. In other words, the main message of the letter is “the true grace of God”. The word “grace” comes from the Greek word charis, which literally means “benefit” or “favor”. When it’s God’s grace, it’s His undeserved blessing, favor, or benefit that saves, purifies, and transforms people. Peter calls the message of the letter the true grace of God, since the aliens were being tempted to give up on living righteously in order to avoid persecution. This wouldn’t be a true favor from God, but a false one, since He’d called them to please Him while suffering for it. However, He had promised to give them the grace to do it.
They Need to Be Planted in God’s Benevolence
To end verse 12, Peter tells the aliens what they need to do in order to endure persecution for doing what’s right:
“Stand firm in it [the true grace of God].”
The command “stand firm” was used at that time to describe soldiers who were to hold their position while facing an enemy attack. It meant to stay there at all costs, and to not fall back at all. In the same way, Peter’s urging the aliens to fix themselves, and their lives, on God’s undeserved favor, and to avoid wavering at all costs. This means that they are to trust in God’s grace to enable them to please Him while being persecuted for it, and to sustain their faith in Christ to the end of their lives. They mustn’t be distracted by other ways of living, but to resist temptation at all costs, and to seek to become more like Christ by learning His Word, and obeying it.
They Need Partnership with Other Bodies
The fifth thing that Peter teaches the persecuted aliens they need is the partnership, or fellowship, of other churches, in verse 13:
“She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.”
First, who is Peter talking about when he refers to “she who is at Babylon”? From the writings of the early church, and from the Book of Revelation, it’s clear that “Babylon” was a nickname for the city of Rome. It was called “Babylon”, since this was the major city in the Old Testament that represented the worst that the unbelieving world had to offer for sin, evil, and wickedness. This was due to the fact that it was closely related to the notorious city of Babel, where people tried to build a tower that reached “heaven”, where God dwelt. This was the first major act of combined human rebellion in a civilization, and it was later represented in the city of Babylon, capital of the evil Babylonian Empire. Likewise, Rome was the capital of the evil Roman Empire, and so Rome was called Babylon by Christians.
But who does Peter mean by “she”? Well, since Peter compares this “woman” to the multiple churches that he’s writing to by saying that she’s “likewise chosen”; the church is often pictured as Christ’s bride in the New Testament; and the apostle John picks up this metaphor in 2 John by calling a church “the elect lady”, and describing churches as “sisters”, we can conclude that the “she” is the church “at Babylon”, or Rome. This makes even more sense when we consider the fact that this is the only “person” he mentions in this section whom he doesn’t name. If it was an actual person, he should have named her, since he names Silvanus and Mark. Finally, if this was an actual person, then Peter would be implying that she’s the only female Christian “at Babylon”, which is absurd.
Peter calls this church “likewise chosen”, just as he’s already said that the aliens were chosen by God, in the beginning of the letter, to be atoned for by Christ’s blood, purified by the Holy Spirit, and to be obedient to Jesus Christ (1:1-2).
Hence, Peter says that the church at Rome sends the aliens “greetings”, which could be literally translated “favors” or “benefits”, since the Greek word is closely related to charis. By sending their greetings, the Roman church is expressing their care and concern for the aliens, whom they would have known at least partly through Peter.
Also, Peter sends greetings from “Mark, [his] son”. Nowhere does the New Testament say that Peter had any children, but it does mention a man named Mark several times. In the Book of Acts, Mark is called “John”, and the son of “Mary”, whose home is used by the first church led by Peter. Then, Paul and Barnabas take Mark with them on their missionary journey to Cyprus and Galatia. Third, Barnabas takes Mark back to Cyprus with him. Finally, Paul mentions him in more than one of his letters. Besides these specific mentions, we know that this same Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. Therefore, it’s clear that the Mark that Peter refers to is the same man. He calls him his “son” in the same way that Paul calls Timothy and Titus his sons. Mark’s his spiritual son in the faith, since they have a father-son relationship, even though they aren’t biologically related.
Peter tells the aliens that Mark sends his greetings to let them know that he’s not the only one in his circles that cares about them, but also those he cares about the most.
They Need to Promote Brotherliness
Peter begins verse 14 by teaching the aliens that they need to show their affection for one another by commanding them to,
“Greet one another with the kiss of love.”
In the aliens’ culture, kissing your friends on the cheek was common, but since they knew each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, the kiss of greeting had even greater meaning. It wasn’t just a kiss of greeting, but a kiss of love. It showed one another that they loved each other as members of God’s family, who shared the same Father in heaven.
They Need the Peace of Their Benefactor
Peter ends the entire letter by expressing his greatest desire for the aliens:
“Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”
Since Peter and the aliens were Jews, and familiar with the Old Testament, they understood “peace” to not simply refer to the absence of conflict or trouble, but to the enjoyment of success and blessing. It was a common Jewish greeting that referred to peace from God. Since it was from Him, it meant spiritual peace with Him, that provided the recipient with peace of mind, and peace with one’s circumstances. To put it another way, this peace could be defined as spiritual well-being from having peace with God. Since Peter wishes the aliens as churches to have this peace, he also wants them to have peace with each other.
However, Peter reminds them that they only have this peace because they’re “in Christ”. “Christ” is a title for Jesus that literally means “anointed One”. It describes Him as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of God’s ultimate Prophet, High Priest, and King of His people, who is “anointed”, or “poured upon”, by God the Holy Spirit to be those things. As Christ, Jesus is the Teacher, Savior, Mediator, and King of those who are “in” Him. To be “in” Him means to be identified with Him, or to be spiritually one with Him, and to share in His spiritual life, power, and blessing from God. Thus, this spiritual union provides the aliens with Christ’s peace.
Be Faithful, Wise, Encouraging, Steadfast, Devoted, Loving, and Peaceful
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, are you faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ by serving them, like Silvanus served Peter and Paul? Can your brothers and sisters in Christ call you faithful, trustworthy, and loyal?
Second, are you wise in the use of your resources to serve your brothers and sisters, like Peter was when he wrote “briefly”? Are you able to manage your resources effectively to serve your brethren, and your household, in the best way possible?
Third, do you encourage your brethren by reminding them of God’s grace?
Fourth, are you standing firm in God’s grace, and not in a counterfeit grace?
Fifth, are you devoted to your brothers and sisters through a biblically led and serving church, and are you concerned about churches other than your own?
Sixth, do you physically show your brothers and sisters that you love them by treating them like your brothers and sisters?
Finally, do you desire that every Christian you know have Christ’s peace, and enjoy it as much as possible?
If your peace with God isn’t entirely dependent on His grace, and upon Christ and what He’s done, then you have no peace with God, but are still His enemy, and heading for His eternal punishment. The good news is that He sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus the Christ, 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 to rule the universe as our Lord. He now commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Jesus as their Savior and Lord to receive His forgiveness, mercy, and peace, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish all His enemies in a place of eternal torment. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion against Jesus, and are trusting only in Him to provide you with God’s forgiveness, peace, and mercy. If you’ve done that, then He demands that all His people be plunged under water by one of His people as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and a profession of faith.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.