Strangers And Aliens (21b): 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.

v.14 The Spirit of God Rests On Us
Christians in the West are gradually learning what Christians in other parts of the world (e.g., Nigeria, China, and Turkey) have long known: it can be very painful to be a Christian in a hostile culture. The Christians of Asia Minor c. 65 AD were facing informal pressure to abandon the faith. Their brothers and sisters in Rome, at this very time, were facing a violent persecution as part of the the emperor’s attempt to cover up a botched urban redevelopment plan. Gauging by the tenor and language that we have already seen in 1 Peter, when Peter says “if” (εἰ) he is not imaging a remote, unlikely condition or possibility. The verb Peter uses here (ὀνειδίζεσθε) is the sane verb used by Matthew and Luke in their accounts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:11; Luke 6:22): ” “Blessed are you when (ὅταν) others revile (ὀνειδίσωσιν) you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” 1 Peter 4:14 is a commentary upon or application of our Lord’s words. If so, then perhaps we should understand the conditional (εἰ) to mean something more like when than if. It is true that Peter could have used the same particle that Matthew and Luke used (ὅταν), thus eliminating ambiguity so perhaps it is best to say that the most likely sense here is “when.”

Peter makes explicit the basis for the reviling of Christians. It is their identity with the name of Christ. Today, of course, we take it for granted that believers in Christ, i.e., those who have initiated into the visible church, who are members of his body, who have publicly professed faith in Christ, who have been given new life by God’s sovereign grace (see 1 Peter 1:1) are called Christians but, it seems that “Christian” (Χριστιανός) was an title given to us by others. It happened during the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch. Luke reports:

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:25&nash;26; ESV).

The title Christian has become rather more complicated and ambiguous since it was first used in Antioch. It can mean “baptized person” without any reference to a personal faith in Christ. As Christianity spread westward, missionaries “converted” civil leaders (e.g., local tribal kings) and thus entire villages were said to have been “converted” and baptized. As Christendom developed entire nations were said to be “Christian” by virtue of the imposition of a state church. Among Muslims “Christian” is used as a synonym for any Westerner, regardless of whether that person is baptized or has professed faith in Christ. In this last three instances, the meaning of Christian has become rather remote from the original sense. Thus, as Christianity is steadily marginalized in the West it is necessary for us to use the title carefully. We should remember to distinguish as Paul did (Rom 2:28; 9:6) between an outward relation to the covenant people (e.g., by baptism) and an inward relation to the covenant people by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide).

In this instance Peter’s language (ἐν ὀνόματι Χριστοῦ) makes clear the cause. Christians were being (or were to expect to be) reviled (given his earlier comments it seems most likely that he is responding to concerns they have already expressed about what they have already begun to experience). They are suffering “in the name of Christ” or for the name of Christ. In the institution of holy baptism, our Lord gave us a formula. We are baptized “into the name” (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). We are outwardly identified with him. This is how Paul thinks about baptism in Romans 6:3, where he exhorts us to live as those who have been “baptized into Christ” (ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν). We have been outwardly identified with Christ’s death. He uses this same frame of reference in Colossians 2:11–12 where he connects circumcision and baptism with Christ’s death. We have been identified with Christ. We trust Christ alone for salvation. We profess and confess faith in Christ and a faith about Christ (e.g., 1 Tim 3:16). For these reasons we are distinguished from pagans. We have been set apart. We have been given a new name: Christian. So, the Apostle Peter exhorted the Jews to repent, believe, and to be baptized in the name (ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι) of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:38). In Acts 4:18 and 5:40 we see the apostles being commanded to stop teaching in the name of Christ. In Acts 10:48 we see people being baptized “in the name of Christ” (ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι). Luke uses a variety of expressions to communicate the idea of being publicly identified with Christ.

It is for this reason, this identity with Christ, that we are not just insulted but reviled. Mark 15:32 uses the same verb, which the ESV translates with “revile:” “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him” Matthew 27:44 says simply, “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.” Given the strong connection that Peter is evidently (see below) making between the way the criminals with whom he was crucified mocked Jesus and the way Christians expect to be treated, we should also translate ὀνειδίσωσιν as “if they revile you” or “when they revile you…”. There is good reason for making this connection since, like our Lord, Peter also says that such reviling is a sign of divine blessing (μακάριοί). All three passages use the same adjective. Both Peter and our Lord are envisioning is the same context and the writers use the same language. In our context to say “insulted” may signal banal comments about one’s shoes. Both our Lord and Peter intended something rather stronger, rather more pointed, something that revealed a deep hostility against God the Son incarnate, against the Savior and his saved. The reviling of Christ crucified reflected disgust. It was demeaning.

The way Matthew, Luke, and Peter use “blessed” (μᾰκάριος) suggest that the move to translate it as “happy,” at least in these contexts, is misguided. Happiness is a subjective experience that we associate with some degree of euphoria. What our Lord and his apostle are saying has little or nothing to do with a subjective emotional state. They are speaking of an objective state of being. As we know from our experience it is not a happy thing to be mocked, insulted, reviled, or persecuted (formally or informally) for the sake of our identification with Christ. It is disconcerting, disorienting, and frightening to be mocked for the sake of Christ. It is, however, an indication of divine blessing. It is so because, perversely, it ratifies that we are really identified with Christ. We are being treated the way Jesus was treated.

The blessedness of the reviled Christian is not a mere theory or state of mind. It is much more than that. Peter explains specifically how the church is blessed in the midst of profound spiritual and even civil opposition: “Because (ὅτι) the Spirit (πνεῦμα) of Glory (δόξης) and of God rests (ἀναπαύεται) upon you (ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς).” Peter is invoking what should have been familiar imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures. In Exodus 40:34–35 we see the Glory cloud covering the tent of meeting (which the LXX calls the “tent of witness”) and the Glory of Yahweh fills the tabernacle such that Moses was not able to enter because of the present of the glory of God. The is a the basic image of the Glory settling upon the meeting place with God. We see similar imagery in 2 Chronicles 7:1, 3 where, after Solomon’s prayer, fire comes down from heaven to consume the offering and “the glory of Yahweh” fills the temple. The people see the glory (כְב֥וֹד)‏ of Yahweh resting “upon the house” (ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον; 2 Chron 7:3; LXX).

The New Testament picks upon on this imagery and makes explicit what was implicit in those narratives. The glory (δόξα) that descended upon the tabernacle and upon the upon temple was, in fact, God the Spirit. Paul, reflecting on Moses’ meeting with Yahweh in the tabernacle, describes his ministry as a “ministry of death” (2 Cor 3:7). He contrasts the glory that radiated from Moses’ face with the glory of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:8). The difference is not that Moses’ ministry was without the Spirit but rather that it was veiled. The ministry of the New Covenant—Paul identified Moses with the Old Covenant— is unveiled. If we understand that the background to Paul’s use of “Lord” (κύριος) in 2 Corinthians 3:17 is Yahweh, the passage makes perfect, Trinitarian sense. “Yahweh is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In contrast to Moses (the Old Covenant), our faces are unveiled and we are being transformed from glory to glory (v.18) because this comes from Yahweh (κύριος), “who is the Spirit.” Paul unambiguously identified the Glory, who descended upon the tabernacle and the temple with the Holy Spirit. If we trace out Paul’s use of “Spirit” and “glory” in Paul’s usage we see that they were closely associated (e.g., Eph 1:17; 3:16; Phil 3:3; 1 Tim 3:16).

Here Peter capitalizes on this association, with which he was well familiar, to communicate to the Christians of Asia Minor that, far from abandoning his people when they are being tried by persecution and reviling, it is in those very moments that he is nearest to them and to us. We are the house, the tabernacle, and the temple of God. We are the dwelling place of his Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of Glory is said to “rest” upon us. The Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures (LXX) uses the same verb (ἀναπαύεται) to describe the Sabbath rest and Israel’s rest from her enemies. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 6:18 to refer to rest (or “refreshment”) for his spirit (see also 2 Cor 7:13; Philemon 7, 20). The Holy Spirit, the Glory of Yahweh, is refreshing us even in the midst of opposition from unbelievers because, by his grace, he has made us his people and his dwelling place and together, we meet the glorious Son of God even as Moses did and more than Moses, as noted, we do so with an unveiled face.

Here are all the posts on 1 Peter.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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