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God's Pilgrim People

God's Pilgrim People poster

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied”—1 Peter 1:1–2

We have in these opening verses the apostolic salutation. He who had been commissioned by the risen Christ to feed and shepherd the sheep and lambs of his flock addresses himself to those who in years gone by were as sheep without a shepherd, scattered on every high hill, but who now had come under the loving care of the Great Shepherd who appointed under-shepherds to minister to their peculiar needs.

Peter addresses his letter “to the strangers scattered.” In accordance with the Lord’s instruction, Peter seeks to feed and care for these scattered sheep of the house of Israel, dispersed among the nations. The lands mentioned are all in what we call Asia Minor, north of Palestine and Syria and south of the Black Sea. In these countries many Jews were living who had been brought to know Christ through the ministries of both Paul and Peter. They had lost their old standing as Israelites in the flesh, part of an elect nation, which however had failed so grievously. Now, through infinite grace they belonged to a new company, all of whom were “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” There is nothing fatalistic or arbitrary about election as taught in the Scriptures. The Gospel is to be preached to all, and all who believe it may be assured that they are numbered among the elect. Through the Spirit’s sanctification—that is, His separating work, men are awakened and brought to see their need of Christ. When in the obedience of faith they appreciate the privilege of finding shelter beneath the sprinkled blood of Jesus, like the people of Israel on the Passover night in Egypt (who were safe within the houses, protected by the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels), they are forever safe from the judgment which their sins deserve. God said, of old, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). So today, all who are sheltered by the blood of sprinkling may be assured that they stand where the wrath of God will never reach them.

It was to such as these that Peter wrote, wishing that to them grace and peace might be multiplied. It was not the grace that saves which he had in view, but the grace that keeps; nor was it peace with God of which he wrote, but the peace of God which garrisons the hearts of all who learn to commit their way unto the Lord.

The Trials Of The Way

The next section, consisting of verses 3 to 12, constitutes the introduction to the Epistle and gives us the key to the understanding of all that follows.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:3–12).

It is noticeable how closely the words of verse 3 are linked to Ephesians 1:3. Both begin in exactly the same way, by blessing, or extolling the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But as the passages in the two Epistles continue they unfold two altogether different aspects of truth. In Ephesians the believer is seen as seated together in the heavenlies in Christ. This is the New Testament antitype of Canaan, the inheritance which is ours already. On the other hand, Peter shows us the believer as journeying on to Canaan rest which is at the end of the way. Both aspects are true, and the one never contradicts the other. As to our standing we are in Christ in the heavenlies: as to our state we are pilgrims marching on to glory.

Ours is a living hope, in contrast to Israel’s dead hope, because of their failure to fulfill the terms of the covenant entered into at Sinai. Our confidence rests not on any ability of our own to carry out certain promises, but is according to the abundant mercy which God has bestowed upon us, and which is assured to us by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

We are not seen here as already in the enjoyment of our inheritance, but we are journeying on toward it. It is reserved in heaven for us. Unlike Canaan it is incorruptible and undefiled, and shall never fade away. Even after Israel entered the land of promise they defiled it by their idolatry, and it became corrupted because of their gross wickedness, so that eventually they lost it altogether. It is far otherwise with our heavenly inheritance. It is being kept for us, and we are kept for it—“kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” in its complete and final sense which will be revealed in the last time—that is, when we reach the end of the wilderness journey. It is not the salvation of the soul of which he speaks here. That is ours already, as we shall see in verse 9. Salvation in its complete sense includes the redemption of the body.

In view of this blessed hope we are enabled to rejoice even though now for a season, if need be, we are in heaviness of spirit because of the many trials to which we are exposed. There is a “need be” (1:6) for every sorrow that the Christian is called upon to endure. Are we willing to trust the wisdom of God and to allow Him to plan our lives as He sees fit? Faith must be tested, otherwise it could not be verified. So we need not fear where our faith is exposed to trial that it indicates any displeasure on God’s part toward us. Rather it indicates His deep interest in and concern for us. For just as gold is tried in the fire in order to separate it from the dross, so faith, which is much more precious than gold that perisheth, must be tested in order that it may be found unto praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven.

Precious” is one of Peter’s special words. He writes of the precious trial of faith (1 Peter 1:7), the precious living stone (2:4, 7), precious faith (2 Peter 1:1), and precious promises (1:4). Do we appreciate all these precious things enough to suffer for them if called upon to do so? Are we as ready to suffer for the sake of our blessed Lord as we are to profit by His sufferings on our behalf? Even the philosophic worldling can endure suffering without complaining, but it is only the regenerated one who can glory in tribulation. Just as gold is purified by the fire that consumes the dross, so God uses trial and suffering to separate the believer from those things that hinder fellowship with God and growth in the spiritual life.

Faith endures, we are told elsewhere, “as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27); so, although we have never seen our blessed Lord with our mortal eyes, we love Him, and believing in Him we rejoice with unspeakable gladness and exalted joy. The expression “full of glory” is a peculiar idiom suggesting an exaltation beyond our power to express. What rapture fills the heart that is really taken up with the unseen Christ, in whom we have put our confidence, so that even here and now we know we have the salvation of our souls! We know this on the authority of the Word of God.

Of this salvation the prophets of ancient times spoke and wrote; but it was not given to them to know the fulness of grace as it has now been revealed to us. They wrote as the Spirit directed concerning “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow,” but they had no way of knowing the exact time when these things were to be fulfilled; nor could they see the long period (this entire present age) that was to elapse between the cross and the glory of the Redeemer.

It was revealed to them that their message had to do with a future day. What they reported by the Spirit’s inspiration is now the basis of our confidence and the first source of information for those who have preached the Gospel in our day in the energy of the Holy Spirit who was sent down from heaven at Pentecost to bear witness to these truths—things that had been hidden even from the angels, and which they now delight to look into. They are learning the wisdom of God in us, as we are told in Ephesians 3:10.

Redemption And New Birth

Just as Israel was redeemed by the blood of the lamb on the night of the Passover in Egypt, and that date became to them the beginning of months, when they were born as a nation, so Peter now asks us to consider the marvelous realities of our redemption and our new birth.

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:13–25).

God’s word to Israel, as given in Exodus 12 was that they were to eat the Passover with their loins girded and their shoes on their feet, ready to begin their journey to the promised land the moment the signal was given to evacuate Egypt. So, here, in addressing these sojourners in a world to which they no longer belonged Peter bids them gird up the loins of their minds—that is, bring every thought into subjection to the revealed will of God, for we are to have the loins girt about with truth (Ephesians 6:13). Sobriety is to characterize such, for it is a serious thing to be called out of this world to live for God in the very scene where once we dishonored His name. The hope is to be the guiding-pillar that leads us on to the end of the journey which will come when Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven.

No longer are we to conduct ourselves, or fashion our behavior as we once did when, in the days of our blindness and ignorance, we were under the domination of carnal desires. Like the Israelite about whose garments was to run a fringe of blue, the reminder that he was linked up with the God of heaven, and upon which he was to look and remember that he was called to exhibit the heavenly character, for God had said, “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” so we, too, are to manifest holiness in all our words and ways as becomes a heavenly people passing through a world of sin.

Neither carelessness nor indifference becomes those who, through infinite grace, are privileged to call God, Father; but reverent fear, lest we grieve His heart and reflect discredit upon His name.

We have been redeemed, not like Israel when they paid down the half sheckel of silver, as in Exodus 30:12–15, as a ransom for their souls, nor with gold so often demanded as a ransom by some victorious leader when he dictated terms of peace to a conquered people; but we have been purchased and freed from judgment by the precious blood of Christ, and should no longer be conformed to the empty behavior of the past, which, while in accordance with ancestral customs, was opposed to the ways that glorify God. Christ was the true unblemished and spotless Pascal Lamb—free from sin or fault of any kind, either inwardly or outwardly. Him God had foreknown before the universe was created, because redemption was no afterthought with Him, hastily arranged to patch up a wrecked world, ruined by man’s sin and rebellion against his Creator. But all had been foreseen and prepared for beforehand. God had not been outwitted by Satan. It was not however until man had been tested fully under various dispensations and proven to be utterly helpless so far as delivering himself is concerned that the remedy God had provided, the Saviour He had foreknown, was manifested. Through Him the Father is now made known in the fullness of His grace, and by Him we believe in God who, after Christ had finished His redemptive work, raised His blessed Son from the dead, and glorified Him by seating Him as Man at His own right hand, that our faith, or confidence, and our hope might be in God—the God of resurrection.

Redemption is a work which was accomplished by Christ Jesus on Calvary, and is therefore, so far as we are concerned, entirely objective. We could have no part in it except that we committed the sins that made it necessary, unless we had been left to die in our iniquities. But regeneration, or new birth, is subjective. It is a work done in us by the Word and Spirit of God. Of this Peter next speaks.

A great change has taken place within the hearts of all those who have obeyed the truth through the Spirit. The Word of God has been brought home to their souls in the convicting and convincing energy of the Holy Spirit, thus producing a new life and nature, the characteristic feature of which is love—the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, as Paul tells us, by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us (Romans 5:5). This produces love for our brethren in Christ, a love that is unselfish and pure, not contaminated by the evil desires of the flesh. For all who thus believe in Christ are born again, not a birth according to the natural order, not of corruptible seed; for “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:5). But this new birth is, as we have seen, the result of believing the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever. And this Word, we are told in verse 25, is that which is proclaimed by the Gospel.

The intervening verse 24, and the first part of verse 25 are parenthetical and emphasize the contrast between that which is human and that which is divine. Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6, 8 which declare that all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass, which appears beautiful and verdant for a brief season, and then is gone forever. For the grass soon withers, and the lovely flowers fade and fall; but the word of the Lord endures forever.

Theologians may wrangle about the necessity of a new birth by the sovereign act of God whereby the elect are first quickened and then enabled to believe unto salvation; but Scripture is clear that new birth is by means of the Word, which the Spirit of God brings to bear upon the heart and conscience. Apart from this there is no divine life. James also tells us that “Of His own will begat He us by the Word of truth” (James 1:18). Believing the Gospel we become children of God, and are responsible to walk as such in the place of realized dependence upon the Lord from day to day as we pursue our pilgrim course from the cross to the glory yet to be revealed.