Strangers And Aliens (23e): Theology Of The Cross (1 Peter 5:6–11)

6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 6Ταπεινώθητε οὖν ὑπὸ τὴν κραταιὰν χεῖρα τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα ὑμᾶς ὑψώσῃ ἐν καιρῷ, 7πᾶσαν τὴν μέριμναν ὑμῶν ἐπιρίψαντες ἐπ᾿ αὐτόν, ὅτι αὐτῷ μέλει περὶ ὑμῶν. 8Νήψατε, γρηγορήσατε. ὁ ἀντίδικος ὑμῶν διάβολος ὡς λέων ὠρυόμενος περιπατεῖ ζητῶν [τινα] καταπιεῖν· 9ᾧ ἀντίστητε στερεοὶ τῇ πίστει εἰδότες τὰ αὐτὰ τῶν παθημάτων τῇ ἐν [τῷ] κόσμῳ ὑμῶν ἀδελφότητι ἐπιτελεῖσθαι. 10Ὁ δὲ θεὸς πάσης χάριτος, ὁ καλέσας ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν αἰώνιον αὐτοῦ δόξαν ἐν Χριστῷ [Ἰησοῦ], ὀλίγον παθόντας αὐτὸς καταρτίσει, στηρίξει, σθενώσει, θεμελιώσει. 11αὐτῷ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν.

vv. 10–11: After You Have Suffered A Little
Most of the errors and heresies that have plagued American Christianity have been re-runs of earlier errors. Most such errors have been reflections of the surrounding culture (e.g., Arianism reflects certain pagan assumptions about “the gods”) and the most distinctive American error is no exception: the health and wealth theology. It teaches that if we do x (have the right quality of faith or write a sufficiently large check), God will be obligated to reward us with prosperity.
American civil and economic life has offered a remarkably successful path to social and economic mobility. Dirt-poor farmers and the sons of alcoholics have become presidents, memorialized on currency and in statues. One of our great temptations, however, has been to turn the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Triune God, who spoke creation into existence ex nihilo (from nothing) and into nothing, who out of his free, sovereign grace, has redeemed his people from destruction, into a cosmic slot machine.

Because Americans are so industrious and busy we are not great readers of history. After more than 50 years of chipping away at the American educational system, most of us probably lack a strong sense of the uniqueness of the American political, social, and economic experiment. We also probably lack a clear sense that the prosperity and civil liberties that we have enjoyed are quite unique in human history. To the degree we lack the sense of the uniqueness of the American experience, we might assume that Christians have always enjoyed the sorts of freedoms that we enjoy (most of the time). Such an assumption would be false. Certainly when the Apostle Peter wrote these two epistles to the churches of Asia Minor, those believers enjoyed none of the liberties that we know and may take for granted. The believers to whom Peter wrote were largely made up of the underclass of Greco-Roman society. They were not prosperous. Many of them were not free. They were not influential. They were objects of misunderstanding, derision, and hostility. As I have been noting through this series, they were likely aware that some of their brothers and sisters had been covered with pitch and set afire in Rome simply because Caesar needed a scapegoat and the Christians, a despised, powerless minority, were to hand.

There was (and remains) a place where Christians, who existed on the margins of society, find refuge: “the God of all favor” (Ὁ δὲ θεὸς πάσης χάριτος). Whatever disfavor they experienced from their masters, co-workers, relatives, and society generally, they needed to know that Christians, those to whom God has given new life and true faith in Christ, are received freely for Christ’s sake.

Here Peter begins to conclude the epistle just as he began it: with a stirring reminder that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. For Christ’s sake God is favorable toward believers. This is Peter’s understanding of grace. It is not a medicinal substance with which we are infused. It is only God’s favor, his approval, his unconditional reception of his people, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake alone. Remember 1:3–5:

Blessed 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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (ESV).

Our hope is grounded in the work of Christ for us, in his resurrection. He who was raised was also crucified for us. He suffered for us (1:11; 2:23; 3:18; 4:11; 5:1). For Peter, Christ is the the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

The God who saved us is sovereign. It is he who has efficaciously, powerfully called (καλέσας) us out of spiritual death and into spiritual life. Peter refers not to the external call, the preaching of the gospel, but the internal, mysterious work of the Spirit within us. This is God’s effectual call whereby he exercised the same sort of power in us that exercised in creation. He spoke and it was so.

He has called us “to his eternal (αἰώνιον) glory in Christ [Jesus].” Again, this call is not a mere invitation that we may accept or deny. We have been drafted, as it were, to glory (δόξαν). The imagery here is not what we might assume, i.e., angels and harps. Peter was thinking of concrete, historical examples of glory, of the glory cloud that led Israel through the wilderness. In Peter’s scheme, Christians (Jewish and Gentile believers alike) are the Israel of God, delivered from slavery to sin. We have delivered to a spiritual promised land, in Christ. God’s typological, temporary people (national Israel) were surrounded by glory. That deliverance was an anticipation of the reality that is found only in Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ). Peter knows nothing of a dual-track salvation, one for Christians and another for Jews apart from Christ. Peter was a Jew to whom another Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, had given new life, whom Jesus had saved. Peter hard learned that salvation for Jews and Gentiles is found only in Jesus. Our Savior truly is the God of all grace.

Peter is a theologian of the cross, not a theologian of glory (e.g., earthly prosperity). The prosperity theologian, whether of the crass health and wealth sort or the slightly more subtle Christian Reconstructionists, for whom earthly prosperity is the normal state of believers, who anticipate a future glory age in which Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek will no longer be in force, offer a message that is incompatible with 1 Peter. According to Peter, as God’s Israel, we are on a wilderness journey. Suffering is the ordinary state of the Christian. We must suffer (παθόντας) a little (ὀλίγον) before glory. That “little” is the inter-adventual period.

Salvation means that we are freely delivered from judgment and condemnation. We are freely delivered into acceptance and fellowship with God but there is yet a life to be lived. There are earthly masters to serve and endure. There are opportunities to give witness to the salvation we have been given. There are opportunities to glorify God. So he himself (αὐτὸς) restores (καταρτίσει) us, supports ( στηρίξει) us, strengthens (σθενώσει), and even establishes (θεμελιώσει). We are on the move, in this life, and simultaneously being helped and founded on the rock who follows us through the wilderness; and that rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4). Peter is reminding us of what he had said in chapter 4. In Christ we are the temple of God, his dwelling place, spiritual stones, united to Christ.

The power (κράτος) to do all this is God’s forever (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας). Salvation belongs to the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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