1 Peter - Chapter 1
Synopsis to the Books of the Bible
John Nelson Darby
INTRODUCTION & CHAPTER 1
The First Epistle of Peter is addressed to believers among the dispersed of Israel found in those provinces of Asia Minor Which are named in the first verse; the Second Epistle declares itself to be a second addressed to the same persons: so that the one and the other were destined for the Jews of Asia Minor (that is, to those among them who had the same precious faith as the apostle).
The First Epistle is founded on the doctrine of the heavenly calling (I do not say of the assembly on earth, (1) which is not brought before us here) in contrast with the portion of the Jews on the earth. It presents Christians, and in particular Christians among the Jews, as pilgrims and strangers on earth. The conduct suited to such is more largely developed than the doctrine. The Lord Jesus, who was Himself a pilgrim and a stranger here, is presented as a pattern in more than one aspect. Both epistles pursue the righteous government of God from the beginning to the consummation of all things, in which the elements melt with fervent heat, and there are new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. The first gives the government of God in favour of believers, the second in the judgment of the wicked.
Nevertheless, in presenting the heavenly calling, the apostle necessarily presents salvation- the deliverance of the soul in contrast with the temporal deliverance of the Jews.
The following is the description which the Spirit gives of these believers. They are elect, and that according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. Israel was a nation elected on the earth by Jehovah. Here, it is those who were foreknown of the Father. The means by which their election is carried out is sanctification of the Holy Ghost. They are really set apart by the power of the Spirit. Israel was set apart by ordinances; but these are sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ and for the sprinkling of His blood, that is to say, on the one hand to obey as He obeyed, and on the other to be sprinkled with His blood and thus to be perfectly clear before God. Israel had been set apart for the obedience of the law, and for that blood which, while it announced death as the sanction of its authority, could never cleanse the soul from sin.
Such was the Christian’s position. The apostle wishes them grace and peace-the known portion of believers. He reminds them of the blessings with which God had blessed them, blessing God who had bestowed them. Believing Israelites knew Him now, not in the character of Jehovah, but as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That which the apostle presents as the fruit of His grace, is a hope beyond this world; not the inheritance of Canaan, appropriate to man living on the earth, which was the hope of Israel, and is still that of the unbelieving nation. The mercy of God had begotten them again for a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from out of the dead. This resurrection shewed them a portion in another world, and the power which brought man into it, although he had been subjected to death: he would enter it by resurrection, through the glorious triumph of the Saviour, to share an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. The apostle is not speaking of our resurrection with Christ; he views the Christian as a pilgrim here, encouraged by the triumph of Christ Himself in resurrection, which animated him by the consciousness that there was a world of light and happiness before him, and a power which would bring him into this world. Consequently the inheritance is spoken of as ’reserved in heaven.’’ In the Epistle to the Ephesians we are seated in the heavenlies in Christ, and the inheritance is that of all things of which Christ Himself is heir. But the Christian is also in fact a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth; and it is a strong consolation to us, in our pilgrimage, to see this heavenly inheritance before us, as a certain pledge of our own entrance into it.
Another inestimable consolation is added. If the inheritance is preserved in heaven for us, we are kept by the power of God all through our pilgrimage that we may enjoy it at the end. Sweet thought!-we are kept here below through all our dangers and difficulties; and, on the other hand, the inheritance there, where there is no defilement or possibility of decay.
But it is by moral means that this power preserves us (and it is in this way that Peter always speaks), by the operation in us of grace, which fixes the heart on objects that keep it in connection with God and with His promise. (Compare 2 Peter i. 4.) We are kept by the power of God through faith. It is, God be praised, the power of God Himself; but it acts by sustaining faith in the heart, maintaining it in spite of all temptations above all the defilement of the world, and filling the affection with heavenly things. Peter, however, always occupied with the ways of God respecting this world, only looks at the share that believers will have in this salvation, this heavenly glory, when it shall be manifested; when God will, by this glory, establish His authority in blessing on the earth. It is indeed the heavenly glory, but the heavenly glory manifested as the means of the establishment of the supreme government of God on earth for His own glory and for the blessing of the whole world.
It is salvation ready to be revealed in the last times. This word ’ready’ is important. Our apostle says also that the judgment is ready to be revealed, Christ is glorified personally, has conquered all His enemies, has accomplished redemption. He only waits for one thing, namely, that God should make His enemies His footstool. He has taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, because He has accomplished everything as to glorifying God where sin was. It is the actual salvation of souls-the gathering together of His own, which is not yet finished (2 Pet. 3: 9 & 15); but when once all they who are to share it are brought in, there is nothing to wait for as regards the salvation, that is to say, the glory in which the redeemed will appear; (2) nor consequently as regards the judgment of the wicked on earth which will be consummated by the manifestation of Christ. (3) All is ready. This thought is sweet for us in our days of patience, but full of solemnity when we reflect upon the judgment.
Yes, as the apostle says, we rejoice greatly in this salvation, which is ready to be revealed in the last times. We are waiting for it. It is a time of rest, of the earth’s blessing, of the full manifestation of His glory who is worthy of it who was humbled and who suffered for us; the time when the light and the glory of God in Christ will illumine the world and first bind and then chase away all its evil.
This is our portion: abundant joy in the salvation about to be revealed and in which we may always rejoice; although, if it be needed for our good we may be in sorrow through divers temptations. But it is only for a very little while-only a light affliction which passes away and which only comes upon us if it be needful in order that the precious trial of faith may have its result in praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ for whom we are waiting. That is the end of all our sorrows and trials; transitory and light as they are in comparison with the vast result of the excellent and eternal glory towards which they are leading us according to the wisdom of God and the need ofour souls. The heart attaches itself to Jesus: He will appear.
We love Him although we have never seen Him. In Him, though now we see Him not, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is this which decides and forms the heart, which fixes it and fills it with joy however it may be with us in this life. To our hearts it is He who fills all the glory. By grace I shall be glorified, I shall have the glory; but I love Jesus, my heart pants for His presence-desires to see Him. Moreover we shall be like Him and He perfectly glorified. The apostle may well say ’ unspeakable and full of glory.’ The heart can desire nothing else: and if some light afflictions are needful for us we endure them gladly since they are a means of forming us for the glory. And we can rejoice at the thought of Christ’s appearing; for in receiving Him unseen into our heart we receive the salvation of our soul. This is the object and the end of faith; far more precious than the temporal deliverances that Israel enjoyed although the latter were tokens of the favour of God.
The apostle goes on to develop the three successive steps of the revelation of this grace of salvation-the full and entire deliverance from the consequences, the fruits, and the misery of sin: the prophecies; the testimony of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; the manifestation of Jesus Christ Himself when the deliverance that had been already announced should be fully accomplished.
It is interesting to see here how the rejection of the Messiah according to Jewish hopes, already anticipated and announced in the prophets, necessarily made way for a salvation which brought with it that of the soul likewise. Jesus was no more seen; the earthly portion was not realised by His first coming; salvation was to be revealed in the last times. But thus a salvation of the soul was unfolded the whole extent of which would be realised in the glory about to be revealed; for it was the spiritual joy of the soul in a heavenly Jesus who was not seen and who in His death had accomplished expiation for sin and in His resurrection, according to the power of the life of the Son of God, had begotten again to a living hope. By faith then this salvation was received-this true deliverance. It was not yet the (glory and the outward rest; that salvation would indeed take place when Jesus appeared but meantime the soul already enjoyed by faith this perfect rest, and in hope even the glory Itself.
Now the prophets had announced the grace of God which was to be accomplished for believers and which even now imparts to the soul the enjoyment of that salvation; and they had searched into their own prophecies which they had received by inspiration from God, seeking to understand what time, and what manner of time, the Spirit indicated, when He testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow. For the Spirit spoke of them both by the prophets, and signified consequently more than a temporal deliverance in Israel; for the Messiah was to suffer. And they discovered that it was not for themselves nor for their own times, that the Spirit of Christ announced these truths with regard to the Messiah, but for Christians. But Christians, while receiving the salvation of the soul by the revelation of a Christ seated in heaven after His sufferings and coming again in glory, have not received those glories which were revealed to the prophets. These things have been reported with great and divine plainness by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven after the death of Jesus: but the Spirit does not bestow the glory itself in which the Lord will appear; He has only declared it. Christians have therefore to gird up the loins of their mind, to be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that (in effect) will be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ; Such are the three successive steps in God’s dealings: the prediction of the events relating to Christ, which went altogether beyond Jewish blessings; the things reported by the Spirit; the accomplishment of the things promised when Christ is revealed.
That, then which the apostle presents, is a participation in the glory of Christ when He shall be revealed; that salvation, of which the prophets had spoken, which was to be revealed in the last days. But meantime God had begotten again the believing Jews to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead; and by means of His sufferings had made them comprehend that even now, while waiting for the revelation of the glory, realising it in the Person of Jesus, they enjoyed a salvation of the soul before which the deliverances of Israel faded away and might be forgotten. It was indeed the salvation ’ready to be revealed’ in all its fullness; but as yet they only possessed it in respect of the soul. But,
being detached from the manifestation of the earthly glory, this salvation had a yet more spiritual character. Therefore they were to gird up their loins, while waiting for the revelation of Jesus, and to acknowledge with thanksgiving that they were in possession of the end of their faith. They were in relationship with God.
When announcing these things by the ministry of the prophets, God had Christians in view, and not the prophets themselves. This grace was in due time to be communicated to believers; but meantime, for faith and for the soul, the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven bore testimony to it. It was to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was the guarantee of the accomplishment of all the promises and the power of life for their enjoyment, had begotten them again unto a living hope; but the right to enjoy the effect of the promise was founded on another truth. To this the exhortations conduct us. They were to walk as obedient children, no longer following the lusts that had led them in the days of their ignorance. Called by Him who is holy, they were to be holy in all their conversation, as it is written. Moreover, if they called on the Father, who, regardless of man’s pretension to respect, judged according to every one’s work, they were to pass the time of their sojourn here in fear.
Observe, here, that he is not speaking of the final judgment of the soul. In that sense ’ the Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son.’ The thing spoken of here is the daily judgment of God’s government in this world, exercised with regard to His children. Accordingly it says, ’the time of your sojourn here.’ It is a judgment applied to christian life. The fear spoken of is not an uncertainty as to salvation and redemption. It is a fear founded on the certainty that one is redeemed; and the immense price, the infinite value of the means employed for our redemption-namely, the blood of the Lamb, without blemish and without spot-is the motive for fearing God during our pilgrimage. We have been redeemed at the cost of the blood of Jesus from our vain conversation: can we then still walk according to the principles from which we have been thus delivered? Such a price for our deliverance demands that we should walk with circumspection and gravity before the Father, with whom we desire to have intercourse both as privilege and spiritual relationship.
The apostle then applies this truth to the Christians whom he was addressing. The Lamb had been ordained in the counsels of God before the world was made; but He was manifested in the last days for believers: and these are presented in their true character, they believe in God by Jesus-by this Lamb. It is not by means of the creation that they believe: although creation is a testimony to His glory, it gives no rest to the conscience and does not tell of a place in heaven. It is not by means of providence, which, even while directing all things, yet leaves the government of God in such profound darkness. Nor is it by means of the revelation of God on Mount Sinai under the name of Jehovah and the terror connected with a broken law. It is by means of Jesus, the Lamb of God, that we believe; observe that it is not said, ’ in Him,’ but by Him in God. We know God as the One who, when we were sinners and dead in our trespasses and sins, loved us, and gave this precious Saviour to come down even into the death in which we were, to take part in our position as lying under this judgment, and die as the Lamb of God. We believe in God who by His power, when Jesus was there for us-in our stead- raised Him up from the dead and gave Him glory. It is in a Saviour-God therefore, a God who exercises His power in our behalf, that we believe by Jesus, so that our faith and our hope are in God. It does not say in something before God, but in God Himself Where then shall any cause for fear or distrust arise as regards God, if our faith and hope are in Himself ? This changes everything. The aspect in which we view God Himself is entirely changed; and this change is founded on that which establishes the righteousness of God in accepting us as cleansed from all sin, the love of God in blessing us perfectly in Jesus, whom His power has raised from the dead and glorified-the power according to which He blesses us. Our faith and our hope are in God Himself.
This places us in the most intimate of relationships with the rest of the redeemed: objects of the same love, washed by the same precious blood, redeemed by the same Lamb, they become-to those whose hearts are purified by the reception of the truth through the Spirit-the objects of a tender brotherly love, a love unfeigned. They are our brethren. Let us then love one another fervently with a pure heart. But this is based on another essentially vital principle. It is a new nature which acts in this affection. If we are redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb without spot, we are born of the incorruptible seed of the word of God, which lives and abides for ever. For the flesh is but grass, the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, its flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever. This is the word of the gospel which has been preached unto us. It is an eternal principle of blessing. The believer is not born after the flesh to enjoy temporary rights and blessings, as was the case with a Jew, but of an incorruptible seed, a principle of life as unchangeable as the word of God Himself. The prophet had told them so, when comforting the people of God; all flesh, the nation itself, was but withered grass. God was unchangeable, and the word which by its immutable certainty secured divine blessings to the objects of God’s favour, wrought in the heart to beget a life as immortal and incorruptible as the word which is its source.
(1) I add ’on earth’ here, because the assembly as built by Jesus Himself and not yet finished, is spoken of in chapter 2, where the living stones come to Christ.
(2) The doctrine of the gathering together of the saints to Jesus in the air, when they go to meet Him forms no part of Peter’s teaching, any more than does that of the assembly on earth with which it is connected. He speaks of the manifestation of the saints in glory, because he is occupied with the ways of God towards the earth, although he is so in connection with Christianity.
(3) See 2 Thessalonians 1: 9, 10.
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