Strangers And Aliens (21d): 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.17–19: Cross Before Glory
In 1986 Dennis Johnson argued persuasively that the “fiery trial” (πυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν) with which Peter began this section is actually an allusion to Malachi 3:1–4:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years (ESV).

Johnson notes not only verbal similarities between Malachi and our passage in 1 Peter but also similar thought structures. Malachi begins with the Levites and (in 4:1) turns to those who are outside the covenant community. So it is for Peter. Christ’s people (Χριστιανός; v. 16) are the house (οἴκου; v. 17) of God. The OT (LXX) background to the expression “house of God” (ὁ οἶκος τοῦ θεοῦ) is truly rich. The expression occurs approximately 81 times in the LXX. It refers to the tabernacle (Judges 18:31; 1 Chr 6:48) and the Solomonic temple (2 Chr 3:3; 4:19; Dan 5:3). This is the place where God dwells with his people, where he meets them, in the person of their representative, “face to face” (Ex 33:11; Deut 34:10). Thus, when Peter says that it is time for judgment to begin at “the house of God” he is invoking familiar and important OT categories and images and identifying the congregations in Asia Minor with that holy dwelling. Remember that the Holy Spirit hovered over the “face of the deep” (Gen 1:2). We see that same imagery in connection with the tabernacle (tent of meeting):

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out (Exodus 40:34–36).

The glory of Yahweh is a way of referring to the Holy Spirit, who manifested himself, under Moses, in a cloud, and in a pillar of fire (Ex 40:38; Nu 9:22). In the new covenant, after the fulfillment of the types and shadows, Holy Spirit no longer descends and departs, as it were. He has descended once-for-all at Pentecost upon his people. The true tabernacle, the true holy of holies is in heaven, where Christ is, seated at the right hand (Heb 9:11–12, 24‐27).

Now there is no more literal earthly temple or tabernacle. In Christ, we who believe, who gather on the Lord’s Day in the name of Jesus, we have become the temple (1 Cor 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21).

We live in the season or epoch (καιρὸς) of redemptive history, after the ascension and before the return of Christ, in which, from time to time, we face both informal and formal persecution for the sake of Christ. When Peter’s words might be understood to say, “For this is the season for judgment (κρίμα) to begin (ἄρξασθαι) from (ἀπὸ) God’s house…”. As Johnson notes, this is the pattern in Malachi. We might see also the whole history of national Israel from the beginning of the national covenant to its dissolution in the exile. The Lord repeatedly entered into judgment with his people and he began with them before he commissioned his (then) national people to commence holy war against the surrounding nations. These judgments were acts of purification of his people, which gets us back to the language of vs.12 above. The fire upon God’s house (following Johnson) is the fire of purification, of sanctification through suffering.

Unlike national Israel, however, who was in a temporary national covenant that could be broken (Jer 31:31–34), the new covenant cannot be broken. It is not national. It is not about a land. It is not about a national people. It is not provisional. It is the covenant to which Jeremiah was pointing the people. The old, Mosaic covenant was exclusive. The new covenant is inclusive. The old covenant was dominated formally by 613 commandments. The new covenant certainly entails God’s holy moral law but that law is not beat into us by types and shadows but graciously implanted into us by the Holy Spirit. The new covenant is the beginning of the realization of what was promised to Abraham.

With that background it is not surprising that the Christians of Asia Minor should be puzzled. Why should God’s new covenant people, united to his well-beloved Son by grace alone, through faith alone, united to him by the Holy Spirit, suffer at the hands of pagans? Peter is explaining the nature of inter-adventual life. The consummation of all things has begun but it has not been completed. Christ is reigning. He arranges all things by his providence. Informal harassment by employers, neighbors, and formal persecution by the government is part of that providence for his people. In it they learn to look for the heavenly city. Hebrews 10:32–36 speaks to a very similar situation:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (ESV).

The argument is from the lesser to the greater (qal wahomer). If this is what the Lord uses to refine his people who he loves (remember that about this same time, in Rome, Christians were being put to death in horrible ways merely for being Christians), how much more does he have in store those whom he has reprobated, who are disbelieving (ἀπειθούντων) the good news of God (θεοῦ εὐαγγελίῳ)? Note what is the ground of judgment here. It is true that there is possible ambiguity here. The verb he uses could mean “disobedient” let us consider the evidence. Forms of the verb occur 14 times in the NT. In John 3:36 it clearly refers to belief and unbelief. So too in Acts 14:2, 9, Romans 15:31. In Romans 2:8 and 10:21, 11:30 however, it seems to signal “disobedient.” In 1 Peter 2:8, 3:1, and 3:2o the ESV translates it reasonably as “disobedient” but how in those cases did people disobey? By not believing the preached gospel. In 2:8, 3:1, disobedience is to “the word” (τῷ λόγῳ ἀπειθοῦντες and ἀπειθοῦσιν τῷ λόγῳ). In 3:20 the context is disobedience to Noah’s message of the coming judgment. This is this the conceptual world (“as it was in the days of Noah”) in which Peter uses the verb here. To disobey is to refuse to believe the preached message.

What is their end (τέλος/outcome)? He does not say it here but he does address it in 2 Peter. It is reasonably clear that the judgment (κρίμα) in view is the final judgment. It has this sense frequently. The context here is similar to Hebrews 6:2. It is used in the same sense in 2 Peter 2:3 and Jude 4. See also 1 Timothy 5:12. Our Lord uses it in this sense in Mark 12:40.

This context explains his quotation of Proverbs 11:31. If the righteous man (δίκαιος) is barely saved (μόλις σῴζεται), how does the impious (ἀσεβὴς) and sinner (ἁμαρτωλὸς) appear (φανεῖται)? This is another example of the qal wahomer argument. When he says “sinner” he does not mean that no one who sins can ever appear before the Lord. Were that the case no one would be saved. Of course some are saved. Therefore this is hyperbolic language. This is the typical axiomatic language one finds in Proverbs. These are general classes and cases. In this context, the “impious and sinner” are those who disbelieve (and thus disobey) the gospel (good news) of God. The good news is that there is salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Thus, this verse does not mean that there is or can be no salvation.

Peter closes this section where he began. Those who who have been identified with Christ in baptism, who have professed faith in Christ, who confess him with God’s people, who suffer (πάσχοντες; should that be God’s will) must do so according to his revealed moral will (τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ) and not, as he has said, as a criminal. When Christians suffer righteously, we must commend (παρατιθέσθωσαν) ours souls (ψυχὰς) to God as our faithful (πιστῷ κτίστῃ) in doing good (ἐν ἀγαθοποιΐᾳ). There is no need to twist ourselves into knots over v.19. It never entered Peter’s mind that we might earn our status before God on the basis of doing good deeds. He knows nothing about appearing before God through good deeds. All that he intends to say here is that this is how we conduct our lives and, should it come to it, our death. We confess the faith and in that faith we obey the civil authorities and those whom God has placed in authority over us. We obey because we have been redeemed. In this way we commend our souls to God. We might translate παρατιθέσθωσαν as “commit” since it is used this way in Acts 14:23. In 1 Timothy 2:18 and 2 Timothy 2:2 it could be translated “commit” or “entrust” or “commend.” All these are different metaphorical ways of “setting before” which is the root idea. The is sense is that we conduct ourselves in a certain way because of who we are, what we have become by God’s grace. Those who have been chosen, brought to new life, and redeemed from the wrath to come (and included into the ark of salvation) must be marked by obedience and not by disobedience.

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