1 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. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV
Peter was one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus. The name he uses in addressing the recipients of this letter was the one given to him by Jesus. When Jesus had called him as a disciple, he was known as Simon Bar-Jonah or Simon, son of John. But in Matthew 16:18, we have recorded the occasion when Jesus changed Simon’s name, using the Aramiac word for “rock” – Cephas. From that day forward, Simon would go by the Greek version of his new name: Peter, which also means, “rock.” From all we can read about Peter in the gospels, he was a somewhat impetuous, quick-spoken individual who was anything but shy. He was a natural-born leader who assumed a position of authority among the other disciples and who was always the first to speak up, usually without much in the way of forethought.
On the night that Jesus celebrated His last Passover meal with the disciples, they left the upper room and were on their way to the Mount of Olives, when Jesus warned them that they would all eventually desert Him. Peter quickly spoke up and claimed, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33 NLT). But Jesus responded to Peter with news that must have caught him totally by surprise. “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me” (Matthew 26:34 NLT). But Peter was insistent, he boldly countered, ““No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Matthew 26:35 NLT).
Peter was the one whom Jesus ignominiously called, “Satan.” It was earlier in their relationship and Jesus had just told the disciples that He was going to be going to Jerusalem where He would “suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT). And Peter, always prone to put his mouth in gear before his brain was engaged, spoke up, saying: “Heaven forbid, Lord. This will never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). And that was when Jesus shockingly called Peter, “Satan.” His actual words were, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT).
This well-intentioned young man would eventually betray Jesus, just as the Lord had predicted. But he would also go on to become one of the most out-spoken and evangelistically minded leaders of the early church. His fiery sermons, preached under the influence of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, would lead to the salvation of countless individuals. Peter was an impulsive, flesh-focused fisherman who was radically transformed by his relationship with Jesus and, when filled with the Spirit of God, became a force with which to be reckoned in those early days of the New Testament church. Peter became the missionary to the Jews, while Paul was commissioned by Jesus to minister to the Gentiles. Both had highly effective ministries.
Peter refers to himself as an “apostolos” – a Greek word that refers to “he that is sent.” Like the other disciples, Peter was a messenger of the gospel, the good news regarding Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They were deliverers of the divine plan for man’s salvation. Jesus was the resurrection and the life. He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and it was the job of Peter and the rest of apostles to make that news known. Peter took his job seriously. And in this letter, he addresses “God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1 NLT). The Greek word Peter uses when referring to these individuals is parepidēmos and it can be translated “pilgrims” or “strangers.” He wanted his readers to see themselves as aliens, not residents. They needed to understand that, as followers of Jesus Christ, they had become citizens of a new Kingdom. This world was no longer their home. He refers to them as the diaspora or scattered ones. This was typically a term reserved for referring to Jews who had been dispersed and scattered from their homeland of Israel. But in this case, Peter is probably using it to include both Jewish and Gentile Christ-followers who find themselves scattered throughout the various provinces he mentions: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter’s letter was intended to be an encyclical, to be circulated throughout the various regions listed. It would have been delivered to each and every church located in this provinces, read out loud, and then delivered to the next closest congregation on the list. The recipients of this letter would have been relatively new converts to Christianity who found themselves living in difficult circumstances, surrounded by unbelievers who would have been hostile to their newfound religion.
Peter refers to his readers as “elect exiles.” The Greek word he uses is eklektos and it can mean “elect” or “chosen.” This will be an important theme throughout Peter’s letter. He wanted his readers to understand the incredible significance of their status as children of God. This had been God’s going. He tells them that they were chosen by God, “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” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). Peter is not saying that God somehow looked into the future and saw those who would accept Christ as their Savior. No, Peter is saying that God chose them because He had already determined to do so, even before they were alive. God had pre-determined their status as His children. The apostle Paul supports this view.
29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV
4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. – Ephesians 1:4-6 NLT
This was a game-changer. What Peter wanted the believers to whom he wrote to understand was that their status as sons and daughters of God had not been up to them. It had been the foreordained will of God Himself. He had chosen them, not the other way around. And that distinction would be important when it came to any suffering they may find themselves encountering along the way. Peter knew they would find themselves tempted to give up their faith when the going got tough. They would face difficulties in life that would lead them to think that walking away from God would make things easier. But Peter wanted them to know that their salvation had been God’s decision and they were His, whether they liked it or not. Their position as His children was permanent because it was based on Him, not them.
And Peter wanted them to know that part of God’s purpose behind His choosing of them was their ongoing sanctification or growth in godliness, made possible by the shed blood of Jesus and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. God had supplied them with all that they needed to increase in spiritual maturity and grow in Christ-likeness. And Peter asks God to fill them with more and more grace and peace. Even those two things were going to have to come from God.
Peter is preparing his audience to understand the radical significance of their God-ordained salvation. It had not been a matter of personal choice, although each of them had made a decision to follow Christ. This was a case of divine selection. And this viewpoint was important, because the believers to whom Peter wrote were suffering greatly because of their faith. If their “Christianity” had been their choice, it would be easy for them to “choose” to leave it behind, in an effort to make their lives easier. If choosing to become a Christian had resulted in suffering, then choosing to walk away from Christianity made sense. But Peter wants them to know their Christianity wasn’t up to them. It had been God’s choice. They belonged to Him. And any suffering they endured was part of His plan for their lives. Rather than give up, they needed to wake up to the reality that they were the recipients of God’s gracious, undeserved merit and favor. And they would need even more of His grace and peace in the days ahead.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.