Strangers And Aliens (18b): As It Was In The Days Of Noah

1Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (1 Peter 4:1–6; ESV) 1Χριστοῦ οὖν παθόντος σαρκὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς τὴν αὐτὴν ἔννοιαν ὁπλίσασθε, ὅτι ὁ παθὼν σαρκὶ πέπαυται ἁμαρτίας 2εἰς τὸ μηκέτι ἀνθρώπων ἐπιθυμίαις ἀλλὰ θελήματι θεοῦ τὸν ἐπίλοιπον ἐν σαρκὶ βιῶσαι χρόνον. 3ἀρκετὸς γὰρ ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι πεπορευμένους ἐν ἀσελγείαις, ἐπιθυμίαις, οἰνοφλυγίαις, κώμοις, πότοις καὶ ἀθεμίτοις εἰδωλολατρίαις. 4ἐν ᾧ ξενίζονται μὴ συντρεχόντων ὑμῶν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τῆς ἀσωτίας ἀνάχυσιν βλασφημοῦντες, 5οἳ ἀποδώσουσιν λόγον τῷ ἑτοίμως ἔχοντι κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς. 6εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη, ἵνα κριθῶσι μὲν κατὰ ἀνθρώπους σαρκὶ ζῶσι δὲ κατὰ θεὸν πνεύματι.

vv.4–6: It Is Strange To Them
When I first began working through 1 Peter (in the summer of 1985) the world in which (and to which) Peter was writing seemed foreign. Today, however, it seems much more familiar. In part that is due to thirty years of reflection. In part, however, it is because the world in which we now live is more like that in which Peter wrote and preached. In AD 65 the Greco-Roman world was almost entirely pagan. Virtually no one knew anything about Christianity and Christians, to the extent they were known, were largely misunderstood. Remarkably, the last century has seen a remarkable decline in the social status of Christians in the west. Two world wars, the dominance of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophies and theologies have radically changed the culture in which Christians exist. The Christian confession has not changed. We still confess the Apostles’ Creed but the setting in which we confess that holy ecumenical faith has changed dramatically. Even fifty years ago, even though they no longer believed it, theological liberals could still tell you what historic orthodox Christianity once believed. Most people in the West could tell you something about Christianity. Today, in a world where only about 10% of Americans actually attend church regularly and where only 5% attend church twice on Sunday it seems that a profound ignorance of Christianity has settled over the West. We have not moved but the culture has moved beneath our feet. Without packing up a single box, we have become strangers and aliens.

In this we share something with those Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, i.e., those regions in what today know as Turkey to which Peter addressed this epistle. There is not much evidence that they were literal pilgrims. Peter calls them “refugees” and “aliens” because, by virtue of God’s grace, they had become metaphorical refugees or strangers even though, most likely, they had not actually moved at all. In Christ, God granted the refugee status. This is why Paul says, in Philippians 3:20 (to Christians living in a Roman colony), “our citizenship is in heaven.” To be sure, we have a dual citizenship. We retain our earthly civil, political status but, like Abraham, “by faith” we are sojourning faithfully here and by faith we are “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:9–10; ESV).

All this is to explain the conceptual background behind Peter’s explanation to the Christians of Asia Minor of why they find themselves “on the outs,” i.e., at odds with those around them and the object of unjust suspicion. Peter says, “they [the pagans] are mocking (βλασφημοῦντες) you because it is foreign (ξενίζονται) to them that you do not rush with them (συντρεχόντων) into the excess of immorality [in which they spend their lives].” The verb Peter uses typically refers to hospitality to strangers but here, as in Acts 17:20, it has the sense of being unusual, strange or foreign.

Here we have a small window into the sorts of pressures these Christians were facing. As has been mentioned before, the Christians in Rome were facing actual, government-sponsored persecution. These Christians, however, were facing ridicule for being different. So it is with us. Fifty years ago the shoe was on the other foot. Those who had rejected the Christian faith perhaps felt “on the outs.” Now, pagans more or less dominate the culture (or so it seems) and Christians and Christian belief are subject to ridicule. We live at the end of Christendom, the state-sponsored enforcement of Christianity in the West. Judged on the basis of the New Testament, we should agree with Abraham Kuyper Christendom was a mistake. He argued that the state should protect religious pluralism. That new reality, however, will be uncomfortable for Christians especially when civil and public life seems now to be dominated by those who are intent on imposing upon all of us (pagan and Christian alike) a radical anti-nature agenda (e.g., regarding human sexuality).

The question the Christians in Asia Minor were asking was: how do we respond? Just about the time (or just after) Peter was writing to these Christians (AD 66), there would be a violent anti-Roman Jewish uprising. In 70 AD it would be crushed by an overwhelming Roman army. In the 130s AD there would be another large-scale uprising that would again be crushed by Roman military power. There is no evidence, however, in the New Testament or early Christian literature that the Christians organized any sort of resistance to Rome, even though Christians were unjustly murdered by Rome. Peter’s response to persecution and mocking was not violence or revolution but to remind believers of the final judgment: “They will repay (ἀποδώσουσιν) that word [e.g., mocking] readily to the one whose office it is to judge the living and the dead.” Christians around Jerusalem largely followed Jesus’ warning and left in advance of the wars fro 66–70 AD and we did not participate in the Bar-Cochba rebellion 132–35. Peter called them (and us) to look to the final judgment for vindication.

Previous periods of history have been characterized by historians as the “bronze age” (late 4th–early 3rd millennium BC). The 19th century was “the industrial age.” Ours has been called “the information” age but it might just as well be characterized as “the self-esteem age.” In such a time, when we have been taught to place so much value upon our self-esteem, we seems, ironically, less capable than ever before to absorb even the slightest insults. Take away the self-esteem culture and road-rage incidents would mostly disappear. In such an age, however, the temptation to lash out at the injustice of mocking (or worse) is great but Peter here implicitly calls us to wait on God. Enduring is an act of faith.

To help us understand where we are in history Peter again turns to the example and analogy of Noah. “For to this end also the gospel was preached (εὐηγγελίσθη) to those who are now dead, in order that they might be judged (ἵνα κριθῶσι) according to men (κατὰ ἀνθρώπους) in the flesh (σαρκὶ) but that they might live according to God (κατὰ θεὸν) in the Spirit” (πνεύματι). If we lose track of the analogy then this passage becomes more difficult than it need be. If we bear in mind the analogy, however, then it makes more sense. As we saw in chapter 3, the “dead” to whom Peter refers are not those in some intermediate state. They are those who were alive during Noah’s time, who are now dead. Who are those who are being “judged according to men”? If the analogy holds, and I think it does, they are Noah and his family. They were judged according to men, in the flesh. The reason this seems the right way to construe the analogy is because they were those who lived according to God in the (Holy) Spirit. They were given new life. They believed. They endured the taunts. They were saved by Christ the ark. It is possible that those who were judged are those who died but then we have a more difficult explanation for those who have lived according to God in the Spirit. We should also think that Peter is using Spirit here as he did in 3:18, “made alive in the Spirit,” i.e., in or by the operation of the Holy Spirit. In both passages, construing spirit as a reference to the human spirit makes the passages needlessly complicated.

Finally, we should note that for Peter, Noah was a gospel preacher. He was a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet 2:5), which included preaching the good news of free salvation available to all who recognize the greatness of their sin and misery and who turn in true faith to Christ, the ark of salvation from the judgment flood to come. The gospel is not restricted to the new covenant, nor to the Abrahamic covenant. For Peter, as for Paul, the gospel is proclaimed throughout Scripture in types and shadows, as it was in the ark itself, a wonderful type of Christ the Savior.

Here are all the posts on 1 Peter.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!