Strangers And Aliens (2): Doxology, Suffering, And Salvation (1 Peter 1:3–9)

Sunset_in_the_Negev_Desert_near_Yeruham,_IsraelFor the Apostle Peter, Christians are delivered from Pharaoh, as it were, but we are not yet in Canaan. We are “in Christ” and with him we have been raised from the dead. We have an inheritance (below) we have not yet arrived to our home. We are pilgrims. Peter was not, however, a docetist, i.e., he did not think that the material world is an illusion or that it is not real. Rather, he would have us to think that this world is real but it is not ultimate. The very existence of these two epistles is testimony that our Christian life in the desert, as it were, is real. Were it the case that the considered it all an illusion he would not have bothered. He might have simply say, “get over it. Move on. It is not real.” The pressures felt by Christians in mid-to late 1st century in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) were very real. They were being harassed by non-Christians (pagans) and pressured by non-Christian Jews. Both groups were offended by the notion of worshipping a crucified man whom the Christians claimed to have been raised from the dead. Both were offended by the claim that Jesus is the one true way to God, the only Mediator between God and man. Both groups were offended, for different reasons, by the claim that Jesus is God the Son incarnate. The pagans could accept the notion that a man became a god. The adoptions heresy was was for them. They were quite ready to add gods to the pantheon. They were polytheists. The Jews were offended by the notion that God the Son became incarnate. They were, of course, offended that the Christians did not keep their traditions (the “traditions of the elders”) and they were offended that by the inclusion of Gentiles into their congregations.

Most of the pressure they felt was unofficial but there were sporadic outbreaks of official punishment of Christians. These two sources of external pressure plus the various internal sources of difficulty help explain much of Peter’s rhetoric to the congregations. It is one thing to suffer for being a Christian. It is quite another thing to suffer for breaking civil law. Peter was quite unsympathetic to the latter but he sought to encourage believers who faced the former.

In order to persevere through the desert, as pilgrims, between the Red Sea and Canaan, as it were, it is essential to have a clear understanding of not only where we are in redemptive history and where we are relative to Canaan (heaven)—”are are there yet?”—but also where we are with God. After all, if we are to suffer for Christ’s sake, if, in the mysterious providence of God, some of us are to die for the sake of bearing Christ’s name, we must know where we stand with God. Who is he to us and what are we to him?

1 Peter 1:3–9

3Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ κατὰ τὸ πολὺ αὐτοῦ ἔλεος ἀναγεννήσας ἡμᾶς εἰς ἐλπίδα ζῶσαν δι᾿ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκ νεκρῶν, 4εἰς κληρονομίαν ἄφθαρτον καὶ ἀμίαντον καὶ ἀμάραντον, τετηρημένην ἐν οὐρανοῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς 5τοὺς ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ φρουρουμένους διὰ πίστεως εἰς σωτηρίαν ἑτοίμην ἀποκαλυφθῆναι ἐν καιρῷ ἐσχάτῳ. 6ἐν ᾧ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὀλίγον ἄρτι εἰ δέον [ἐστὶν] λυπηθέντες ἐν ποικίλοις πειρασμοῖς, 7ἵνα τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως πολυτιμότερον χρυσίου τοῦ ἀπολλυμένου διὰ πυρὸς δὲ δοκιμαζομένου, εὑρεθῇ εἰς ἔπαινον καὶ δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν ἐν ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ· 8ὃν οὐκ ἰδόντες ἀγαπᾶτε, εἰς ὃν ἄρτι μὴ ὁρῶντες πιστεύοντες δὲ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε χαρᾷ ἀνεκλαλήτῳ καὶ δεδοξασμένῃ 9κομιζόμενοι τὸ τέλος τῆς πίστεως [ὑμῶν] σωτηρίαν ψυχῶν 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (ESV).

Peter begins the letter proper with an implicitly Trinitarian blessing (Εὐλογητὸς) or doxology. This is the sort of blessing (בִּרָכָה) or doxology that we see at the end of book 2 of the Psalter, in Psalm 72:18–19:

Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

We see the same sort of blessing in Luke 1:68–79. We know this passage, in ecclesiastical usage, as the Benedictus named after the first word in the Latin translation of vs. 68. The benedictus along with a few other biblical songs (e.g., the Song of Mary) has sometimes been included in collections of “canticles” to be sung in worship.

We know that he had a high view of the Holy Spirit, to whom he referred explicitly and repeatedly (1:2, 1:11,12, 3:18, 4:14; 2 Peter 1:21). The Father and the Son are named explicitly in the doxology, of course, and the reference to the Spirit in the doxology seems to be implied in the reference to the resurrection and “God’s power” (v. 5).

It is entirely clear that our salvation is attributed to God and to his mercy and grace alone. The first contrast is between we sinners deserve and the mercy, the withholding of consequences, that God has shown to us in Christ. In this case, however God’s great mercy (πολὺ ἔλεος) is more than the mere withholding of punishment. It means that he has given to us new life. Mark that well. According to Peter, new life is God’s gift to us. It is not only Paul who teaches that new life (regeneration) is the free, sovereign gift of God. The Apostle Peter taught the same doctrine. We have been renewed (ἀναγεννήσας) unto (toward) “a living hope” not by anything done by us or even in us. Peter turns to the objective, that which God has done for us in Christ. The objective accomplishment of our renewal is grounded in Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead (διʼ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκ νεκρῶν).

We have been renewed unto (toward) an incorruptible inheritance, i.e., eternal life. For Peter, our entrance into eternal life is not the consequence of our obedience. It is not even the consequence of our cooperation with divine grace. Our entrance into eternal life is a divine gift. That gift, that inheritance is being kept for us in heaven. We are those who are being preserved (φρουρουμένους) “through faith (διὰ πίστεως) unto salvation” (εἰς σωτηρίαν). Faith is the instrument of salvation, which is our inheritance. We possess the preserved inheritance, i.e., salvation, sola gratia, sola fide. That salvation is the eschatological, i.e., it is in heaven. It is awaiting revelation at the end (ἐσχάτῳ). Peter’s eschatology is both present and vertical (our present relation to heaven) and about the future and his expectation about the future is quite straightforward. There is no expectation of a re-building of the temple in Jerusalem nor of an earthly golden age. He is expecting the return of Christ, the judgment, and glorification about which we will say more later.

At present, according to Peter, we are in the desert. We have been redeemed but we are not yet in possession of our inheritance. We rejoice (ἀγαλλιᾶσθε) in the reality of our hope of heaven but we are not yet in heaven. We are still short of heaven. As we make our pilgrimage toward heaven, by grace alone, our faith is tested (πειρασμοῖς) by grief and trials which works toward our sanctification. Through them we learn the greatness of our sin and misery. Through them we learn to love this world a little less and we learn to look forward to heaven. Peter could see the day coming when Christians would find themselves standing before civil magistrates and being demanded to confess that Caesar is Lord (Caesar dominus est). Peter, however, who knew something about denying, Christ confessed that Jesus is Lord (particularly in 2 Peter). This is why Paul wrote “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3) and why Peter so anticipated the return of Christ and the empirical revelation to all of his Lordship (2 Pet 1:16).

Notice the value that Peter places on faith. It is not valuable per se but because of its object: Christ. Even though people mocked them, Peter wanted the Christians in Asia Minor to know that he knew that their faith was true faith, that they would stand when the persecutions that would come did arrive. That faith would be to the praise of the Savior upon his return.

Christ is bodily at the right and of the Father, in glory. According to Luke, he ascended bodily visibly, in the sight of the Apostles to glory:

as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went….” (Acts 1:9b–10a; ESV).

Even though Christ is bodily separated from us (or we from him), by his sovereign grace of Christ we (believers) are united to him by virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not see him now. We do, however, by his grace, believe in him. Again we see how central is faith as the instrument of our salvation and the Christian life in Peter’s theology. Because we are united to him, because we do commune with him by faith, we rejoice and are filled with joy and even glory. The reality of heaven, the reality of our salvation breaks into our Christian experience and consciousness. The objective truths of the gospel produce subjective benefits and experience.

The purpose, the end, the outcome of our faith (τέλος) faith is the salvation (σωτηρίαν) of our souls. Faith is the instrument of our salvation. The participle here (obtaining; κομιζόμενοι) clearly signals the instrumental role of faith in salvation. By “souls” (ψυχῶν) he may refer to aspect of our person which is capable of being separated from the body—”fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” Matt 10:28)— but in the context of the coming of Christ and final salvation the reference would seem to be more like the generic use of soul for “life” as in “there are 150 souls on board.”

Here are all the posts in this series on 1 Peter.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I’ve been told that some folk are heaping up for themselves many Puritans, I like to stay with the Elizabethan fountainhead:

    “Nothing within man, and nothing that man can do, either in nature, or by grace, concurreth to the act of justification before God, as any cause thereof, either efficient, material, formal, or final, but faith alone; all other gifts and graces, as hope, love, the fear of God, are necessary to salvation, as signs thereof, and consequents of faith. Nothing in any man concurres to any cause of this work but faith alone. And faith itself is no principal but only an instrumental cause whereby we receive, apprehend, and apply Christ and his righteousness for our justification.” William Perkins

Comments are closed.