1 Peter 1:1-2
This short book is a letter written by the Apostle Peter to the Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor. I want to start by giving some of Peter’s personal history. When I began to do this, I liked what Jamieson-Fausset-Brown had already done. So, I want to clarify that I am indebted to their commentary for the outline of Peter’s life.
Peter’s given name was Simon. The name Peter was a nickname given to Him by Jesus, and we will cover the meaning of that name as we go.
Peter was born and raised in a town called Bethsaida on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. His father’s name was “Jonas,” “Jonah,” or “John.” Jonas was a fisherman, and Peter and his brother Andrew helped their father in the family fishing business. The business seems to have been in Capernaum.
Peter was married and lived in Capernaum. Tradition says that his wife’s name was “Concordia” or “Perpetua.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Peter’s wife’s mother, his mother-in-law, was healed of a fever by Jesus when Jesus and His disciples went to Peter’s house.
Peter met Jesus because of his brother Andrew. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and started following Jesus when John pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. (John 1:35) Andrew went and brought Peter to Jesus, saying, “We have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41) When Jesus looked at Peter, He said, You are Simon, the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas.” Peter is the English version of the Greek for “Cephas,” which was the Aramaic. Once again, Cephas is the Aramaic word for Peter. Both words mean “stone.”
For many centuries, a misunderstanding of this name that Jesus gave Peter has plagued the Church. This misunderstanding divides the Church between Catholic and Protestant. The misconception is this. “Petros,” the name given to Peter, means stone, a stone that you can throw or use in a slingshot. In Matthew 16, when Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded,
Matthew 16:17–18 (NKJV) 17Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
The misunderstanding occurs in what Jesus said to Peter. When Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” He used a different word than Peter’s name. He said, “You are ‘Petros,’ and upon this ‘petra,’ I will build my Church. “Petros” is a small stone, but “petra” is a huge boulder or cliff. The massive boulder that the Church is built on is the thing that was revealed to Peter, i.e., the confession that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. Nobody builds anything on a small stone.
Peter was a remarkable man. He made his confession of Christ and was the only one who got out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. However, Peter was overconfident in His own commitment to Jesus, showing this when He said, “Even though all the rest should desert You, I never will.” He drew his sword in the garden and was ready to fight. But, in the face of a servant girl, he denied he knew Jesus. Peter showed a tendency to worry about what others thought of Him so that in Galatians, Paul mentions Peter acting like a hypocrite and separating himself from the Gentiles for the sake of visiting Jews. (Galatians 2:11-14)
Whatever his faults, Peter was a solid and courageous leader. The power of the Holy Spirit transformed him, and God used him in the establishing of the Church.
His love and zeal for the Lord showed itself in a willingness to suffer for the Lord. (Acts 5:40) When he was arrested for preaching the gospel, he expressed his readiness to suffer if necessary. King Herod Agrippa had him arrested. The king planned on executing Peter, but an angel came and led Peter out of jail. (Acts 12)
Although Paul is called the Apostle to the Gentiles, Peter was the first to preach the gospel to the pagan world when he was sent to the house of the Roman centurion, Cornelius. (Acts 10)
As prominent as Peter was, he never claimed to be the chief of the Apostles. In Acts 15, when the Church leaders met in Jerusalem to determine the issue of Gentile circumcision, James was the president of the council, not Peter. Jesus had an inner circle made up of Peter, James, and John. Paul recognizes these three as pillars of the Church, and having been closest to the Lord; these three were a foundation from which the Church grew.
In 1 Peter 5:12-13, Peter gives greetings from “Babylon” and names some companions, all of which tell us that he was in Rome when he wrote the letter. And, tradition has it that Peter died in Rome under the persecution of Christians carried out under Nero.
Because Peter denied Him on the night He was betrayed, Jesus restored Peter when He met with the disciples after the resurrection. This was why Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-19)
The Peter we meet in the gospels is a man like us. He was a working man and had strengths and weaknesses, failures and successes. Because of this, his letter to the Church is practical and helpful. Grace is the core of Peter’s letter. He explains how grace affects our lives and what it means to us as Christians. Peter’s life is an example of what grace does, and because of this, he is the right person to tell us what grace means. He is eminently qualified to tell us about grace because he experienced it in full measure in his life.
In his opening, the NKJV translates Peter as saying he is writing to the “pilgrims of the Dispersion.” I prefer the interpretation given to his words by the Amplified Bible.
1 Peter 1:1 (AMP) Peter, an apostle (special messenger, personally chosen representative) of Jesus Christ, to those [elect—both Jewish and Gentile believers] who live as exiles, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia [Minor], and Bithynia, who are chosen…
Peter uses two identifiers to describe us Christians: 1) sojourners or pilgrims and 2) chosen or elect
Sojourners means travelers or temporary residents, and elect designates us as the chosen people of God.
Many, and at one time I, have taught that Peter wrote to the Jewish Dispersion. However, several passages in the letter make it clear that he is writing to all believers. For example, in 1 Peter 2:10, he says:
1 Peter 2:10 (NKJV) who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Saying that we were once not a people echoes Paul’s words:
Ephesians 2:12 (NKJV) that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
The New Testament calls Christians by several names, i.e., saints, believers, disciples, and elect (chosen). In 1 Peter, believers are called chosen in the introduction and in chapter 2 verse 9.
1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
John 3:16 (NKJV) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Eternal life comes by believing in the One and only Son of God, and attached to eternal life are many blessings. Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
Ephesians 1:3 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
One of the blessings we enjoy is our election or being chosen. The blessings of being God’s chosen people are more than we can tell or count. So, we will limit ourselves to just a couple that Peter points out in 1 Peter 1:2.
1 Peter 1:2 (ESV) 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:
We are talking about the blessings of being God’s chosen people, blessings that accompany the eternal life that is ours by believing in Jesus. However, we cannot ignore that Peter tells us that we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. The word “according” is a translation of the Greek word “kata.” The root meaning of the word “kata” is “down from.” God’s choice comes down from His foreknowledge.
Think about this. Did God get it wrong when He chose David to be king of Israel? After all, David was an adulterer and a murderer. Did God make a mistake when He chose Peter? After all, three times Peter denied he knew Jesus.
No, God was not wrong, and He knew all these things would happen. This is what grace means. Grace means giving us kindness and blessings that we do not deserve. God loves us despite our failures.
Peter says that in addition to the foreknowledge of God, the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us. Sanctifying means that He is conforming us to the image of Jesus. (Romans 8:29) He is setting us apart for Himself. God’s choice does not depend on our goodness, and if it did, no one would be saved.
Peter says we are chosen for two blessings: 1) obedience to Christ and 2) sprinkling with His blood.
The first blessing is obedience. Until we learn obedience to Christ, we are slaves to sin. We Americans think we are free, but we are one of the most enslaved generations ever. We are working ourselves to death, addicted, and overrun with vices of every kind. Even many in the Church are slaves of sin. This week I read of yet another very famous Christian leader who was enslaved to sexual sin. If our leaders are so sick, how can we sheep be healthy? The only way to be free is to be obedient to Jesus. We are all familiar with the phrase, “the Truth will set you free,” but here is the whole of what Jesus said:
John 8:31–32 (NKJV) 31Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Abiding in His words is the condition set for knowing the truth. Abiding means obedience. We were chosen for obedience so that we can be free. Obedience is the way of blessing. The obedience that brings blessing is obedience to Jesus Christ, not to men or the principles of men.
However, we all were slaves to sin before we met Jesus. This is why Peter says we were chosen “for sprinkling with His blood.” Without the shedding of Jesus' blood, there would be no forgiveness of sin. But since Jesus died on the cross, we know that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). We all need this cleansing. We all need to be sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Peter experienced both the blessings of obedience to Christ and of sprinkling with His blood and could speak firsthand of this grace. He ends his greeting with the words:
1 Peter 1:2 (ESV) May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
The letter that follows these words is about God's grace, how it is multiplied to us and what that means in practical terms.