Strangers And Aliens (20a): Be Not Surprised By Fiery Trials (1 Peter 4:12–19)

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12–19; ESV) 12Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ ξενίζεσθε τῇ ἐν ὑμῖν πυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν ὑμῖν γινομένῃ ὡς ξένου ὑμῖν συμβαίνοντος, 13 ἀλλὰ καθὸ κοινωνεῖτε τοῖς τοῦ Χριστοῦ παθήμασιν χαίρετε, ἵνα καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀποκαλύψει τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ χαρῆτε ἀγαλλιώμενοι. 14 εἰ ὀνειδίζεσθε ἐν ὀνόματι Χριστοῦ, μακάριοι, ὅτι τὸ τῆς δόξης καὶ τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ πνεῦμα ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς ἀναπαύεται. 15 μὴ γάρ τις ὑμῶν πασχέτω ὡς φονεὺς ἢ κλέπτης ἢ κακοποιὸς ἢ ὡς ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος· 16 εἰ δὲ ὡς Χριστιανός, μὴ αἰσχυνέσθω, δοξαζέτω δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ. 17 ὅτι [ὁ] καιρὸς τοῦ ἄρξασθαι τὸ κρίμα ἀπὸ τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ δὲ πρῶτον ἀφ᾿ ἡμῶν, τί τὸ τέλος τῶν ἀπειθούντων τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίῳ; 18 καὶ εἰ ὁ δίκαιος μόλις σῴζεται, ὁ ἀσεβὴς καὶ ἁμαρτωλὸς ποῦ φανεῖται; 19 ὥστε καὶ οἱ πάσχοντες κατὰ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ πιστῷ κτίστῃ παρατιθέσθωσαν τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν ἐν ἀγαθοποιΐᾳ.

vv.12–13 We Are Foreigners But Fiery Trials Are Not Foreign To Us
The Apostle Peter has been making the case that, “as it was in the days of Noah” (Luke 17:26), so it is in our day. He has been making the case throughout that Christians, by virtue of their dual citizenship, are, in certain important ways, refugees and aliens (2:11) because we are “elect exiles” (1:1). In 1:7 he has already hinted what he begins to explain now in more detail. He begins with a play on words. In 4:4 he said “it is foreign (ξενίζονται) to them,” i.e., the pagans, that we do not behave as they do. In v. 12, however, he says to believers, “do not think it foreign (ξενίζεσθε) when a “fiery trial” (πυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν) or literally, “when with burning unto a trial occurs (γινομένῃ) among you” (ἐν ὑμῖν).

Peter was a theologian of the cross, a theologian of suffering, not a theologian of glory. He would never understand those theological systems that anticipate an earthly glory age (e.g., Dominionism, Reconstructionism, Prosperity theology), whether a literal 1000 years (chiliasm) or a figurative millennial glory brought on by gospel preaching (modern post-millennialism). According to some of the Christian Reconstructionists/Dominion theologies, suffering for Christ is only until we gain political power. They tend to treat passages such as these in a quasi-Dispensational fashion, as if turning the other cheek is “for then” but not “for now.” By contrast, For Peter, suffering is the natural state of the Christian in the last days, i.e., that period of redemptive history inaugurated by the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. This approach is also quite opposite that of modern “prosperity” preachers. Theirs is a false gospel, i.e., to say no gospel at all. The gospel is not that God will financially prosper those who do whatever the prosperity preachers tell them to do. The gospel is that Jesus is our representative, that he obeyed the law in our place, that he was crucified in our place, that he was raised for our justification, and that he ascended and is reigning now. We receive the benefits of his work for us by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide). In his mysterious providence, God sometimes materially prospers his people (e.g., Abraham) and sometimes he makes them sit on an ash heap while they scrape their wounds (see Job). There is no magic prayer and no donation to a prosperity preacher has anything to do with Christian faith, piety, or practice. To confess that sinful human beings can control God is nothing but paganism.

The good news for the Christians of Asia Minor is that Peter calls them “beloved” (Ἀγαπητοί). This must be the beginning of our thinking about God’s mysterious providence. Certainly Christians must have wondered how it benefited the gospel ministry to have Christians harassed (see below) or even, as was happening in Rome about this same time, to have Christians martyred for Christ and his gospel. Nevertheless, that was God’s will for his people. Contrary to our expectations, over the course by the early 4th century, Christianity had grown from an obscure Jewish sect to a significant presence in the Roman empire. The third-century North African theologian Tertullian (c. 155–c.240 AD) said “The more often we are mown down by you [pagans], the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed” (Apology, ch. 50). That captures Peter’s teaching.

Peter confirms this when continues, “as if something foreign (ξένου) is happening (συμβαίνοντος) [to you].” The participle Peter uses echoes Mark 10:32, where our Lord was walking with the disciples up to Jerusalem and explaining to them the things that were about happen (συμβαίνειν) to him. Just as Peter remembered following Jesus to Jerusalem, so now he says, we follow Christ. The world does to us what it can no longer do to the ascended Jesus.

For Peter, the question is not whether Christians shall suffer but how we will respond. In v. 13 he says a quite remarkable thing: “but rejoice because you share (κοινωνεῖτε) in the sufferings (παθήμασιν) of Christ…”. Rejoicing is the appropriate response because it means that when the pagans look at us they are seeing Christ. When they treat us as they treated Christ, we are being identified with him. In that way we are sharing in his sufferings. There is a distinction, however. Jesus’ sufferings were propitiatory, i.e., they turned away God’s wrath for his people. Contra the dogma of the Roman communion our sufferings are not propitiatory. They are, however, sanctifying. Neither is our participation in Christ’s sufferings ontological. We are not becoming a part of God. Peter always maintains a clear distinction between the Christ (the God-Man) and the Christian. Nevertheless, we are identified with him and, in that way, we do participate in his sufferings. We are united to him and to his suffering for us.

This is a great privilege. Thus, Peter says that we are to rejoice (χαίρετε) in order that (ἵνα) exulting (ἀγαλλιώμενοι) we also may rejoice (χαρῆτε) at the revelation (ἀποκαλύψει) of his his glory (δόξης). In short: now is the time for the cross, as it were, for occasional persecution, for suffering, even for martyrdom. When Christ returns, however, that shall be the time of glory. Peter knew how attached we become to this life. This is why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom (Mark 10:25). Wealth leads to attachment to this world and often grows out of it. Of course wealth is not evil per se and there are godly wealthy people who use their gifts to advance Christ’s kingdom but wealth presents a significant challenge, as any honest rich man will admit. If nothing else, it requires time and attention to administer the wealth, to deal with the endless requests for help.

Certainly Peter’s view of the nature of the Christian life between Christ’s ascension and his return is quite different from that taught by the so-called Prosperity preachers. Peter is no “dominion” theologian nor is he a reconstructionist of any kind. He anticipated a coming judgment but he knew nothing of a new Christian civilization emerging from the ashes of a collapsed world. All those are sub-species of the theologia gloriae (theology of glory), that looks for earthly conquest and power and glory. Each of them, in their respective ways, has more to do with the theology that drove the scribes and the pharisees to persecute Jesus all during his earthly ministry. It is the theology that hailed Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on colt and called for Bar-Abbas when he disappointed them.

Christians see (or should see) things differently. We should see Christ’s glory now where it is least expected: in his cross, in his tomb (empty though it be) and in his is coming, when the pharisees shall see the glory they once demanded.

Here are all the posts on 1 Peter.

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  1. (Peter) ‘would never understand those theological systems that anticipate an earthly glory age’

    And it’s just so obvious that this was the ‘Apostles’ doctrine’ which the early church steadfastly followed (Acts 2:42). And what disastrous errors would not have been committed in history if only the Church had steadfastly continued to do so, instead of ignoring the Apostles’ doctrine in so many areas of Christian life and witness, and tragically carrying on in the spirit of OT Jewish Dominionism, that spirit that wants it all now, without any cross-bearing.

    • Allan,

      We should not attribute dominionism to the OT. The land promises were temporary. The holy war against the Gentiles was temporary. The believers of the OT were looking for a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10). The Pharisees weren’t faithful to what Scripture actually taught, as our Lord repeatedly taught (e.g., John 8).

  2. I was thinking of the Apostles’ dominionistic theology when they asked the post-resurrection Jesus; “Lord are you now going to restore the kingdom (dominion) to Israel?” How different was their later doctrine, as we see in Peter. No triumphant Jewish millennium for them, but a new creation, and a new heaven & new earth.

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