Chapter 1.
The Pilgrim Journey

In the opening verses we have the apostolic salutation. Peter had been commissioned by the risen Christ to feed and shepherd the sheep and lambs of His flock (John 21:15-17). He addressed his letters to those who in years gone by were as sheep without a shepherd. They had been scattered on every high hill, but now had come under the loving care of the great Shepherd who appointed under-shepherds to minister to their peculiar needs.

The Salutation (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Peter addressed his Letter, "To the strangers scattered." In accordance with the Lord's instruction, Peter desired to feed and care for these scattered sheep of the house of Israel, dispersed among the nations. The lands mentioned in verse 1 are all in what we call Asia Minor, north of Palestine and Syria, and south of the Black sea. In these countries many Jews were living who had been brought to know Christ through the ministries of both Paul and Peter. They had lost their old standing as Israelites in the flesh, part of an elect nation, which however had failed so grievously. Now, through infinite grace they belonged to a new country, and were "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father."

There is nothing fatalistic or arbitrary about election as taught in the Scriptures. The gospel is to be preached to all, and all who believe it may be assured that they are numbered among the elect. Through the Spirit's sanctification—that is, His separating work, men are awakened and brought to see their need of Christ. When in the obedience of faith they appropriate the privilege of finding shelter beneath the sprinkled blood of Jesus they are forever safe from the judgment which their sins deserve. They are like the people of Israel on the Passover night in Egypt, who were safe within the houses, protected by the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door-posts and lintels. God said, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Exodus 12:13). So today, all who are sheltered by the blood of sprinkling may be assured that they stand where the wrath of God will never reach them.

It was to such as these that Peter wrote, wishing that grace and peace might be multiplied to them. It was not the grace that saves which he had in view, but the grace that keeps. Nor was it peace with God of which he wrote, but the peace of God which garrisons the hearts of all who learn to commit their way unto the Lord.

The Trials of the Way (1 Peter 1:3-12)

This section constitutes the introduction to the Epistle and gives us the key to the understanding of all that follows. It is noticeable how closely the words of verse 3 are linked to Ephesians 1:3. Both begin in exactly the same way, by blessing or extolling the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But as the passages in the two Epistles continue they unfold altogether different aspects of truth. In Ephesians the believer is seen as seated in the heavenlies in Christ. This is the New Testament antitype of Canaan, the inheritance which is ours already. On the other hand, Peter described the believer as journeying on to Canaan rest, which is at the end of the way. Both aspects are true and the one never contradicts the other. As to our standing we are in Christ in the heavenlies; as to our state we are pilgrims marching on to glory.

Ours is a living hope in contrast to Israel's dead hope because of their failure to fulfill the terms of the covenant entered into at Sinai. Our confidence rests not on any ability of our own to carry out certain promises, but is according to the abundant mercy that God has bestowed on us, and which is assured to us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

We are not seen here as already in the enjoyment of our inheritance, but we are journeying on toward it. It is reserved in Heaven for us. Unlike Canaan it is incorruptible and undefiled and shall never fade away. Even after Israel entered the land of promise they defiled it by their idolatry, and it became corrupted because of their gross wickedness so that eventually they lost it altogether. It is far otherwise with our heavenly inheritance. It is being kept for us, and we are kept for it—"kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" in its complete and final sense. It will be revealed in the last time—that is, when we reach the end of the wilderness journey. It is not the salvation of the soul of which he speaks here. That is ours already, as we shall see in verse 9. Salvation in its complete sense includes the redemption of the body.

In view of this blessed hope we are enabled to rejoice even though "now for a season, if need be, [we] are in heaviness" of spirit because of the many trials to which we are exposed (1:6). There is a "need be" for every sorrow that the Christian is called to endure. Are we willing to trust the wisdom of God and to allow Him to plan our lives as He sees fit? Faith must be tested, otherwise it could not be verified. So we need not fear when our faith is exposed to trial that it indicates any displeasure on God's part toward us. Rather it indicates His deep interest in and concern for us. For just as gold is tried in the fire in order to separate it from the dross, so faith, which is much more precious than gold that perishes, must be tested in order that it may be found unto praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ from Heaven.

Precious is one of Peter's special words. He writes of the precious trial of faith (1 Peter 1:7), the precious living Stone (2:4, 7), precious faith (2 Peter 1:1), and precious promises (1:4). Do we appreciate all these precious things enough to suffer for them if we are called to do so? Are we as ready to suffer for the sake of our blessed Lord as we are to profit by His sufferings on our behalf? Even the philosophic worldling can endure suffering without complaining, but it is only the regenerated one who can glory in tribulation. Just as gold is purified by the fire that consumes the dross, so God uses trial and suffering to separate the believer from those things that hinder fellowship with God and growth in the spiritual life.

Faith endures, we are told elsewhere, "as seeing him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). So although we have never seen our blessed Lord with our mortal eyes, we love Him and believing in Him we rejoice with unspeakable gladness and exalted joy. The expression "full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8) is a peculiar idiom suggesting an exaltation beyond our power to express. What rapture fills the heart that is really enthralled with the unseen Christ in whom we have put our confidence, so that even here and now we know we have the salvation of our souls! We know this on the authority of the Word of God.

The prophets of ancient times spoke and wrote of this salvation; but it was not given to them to know the fullness of grace as it has now been revealed to us. They wrote as the Spirit directed concerning "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow," but they had no way of knowing the exact time when these things were to be fulfilled. Nor could they see the long period (this entire present age) that was to elapse between the cross and the glory of the Redeemer.

It was revealed to those ancient prophets that their message had to do with a future day. What they reported by the Spirit's inspiration is now the basis of our confidence and the first source of information for those who have preached the gospel in our day. They preach in the energy of the Holy Spirit who was sent down from Heaven at Pentecost to bear witness to these truths—things that had been hidden even from the angels, and which they now delight to look into. They are learning the wisdom of God in us, as we are told in Ephesians 3:10.

Redemption and New Birth (1 Peter 1:13-25)

Just as Israel was redeemed by the blood of the lamb on the night of the Passover in Egypt, and that date became to them the beginning of months when they were born as a nation, so Peter asked us to consider the marvelous realities of our redemption and our new birth.

God's word to Israel, as given in Exodus 12, was that they were to eat the Passover with their loins girded and their shoes on their feet, ready to begin their journey to the promised land the moment the signal was given to evacuate Egypt. So Peter, in addressing these sojourners in a world to which they no longer belonged, urged them to gird up the loins of their minds—that is, bring every thought into subjection to the revealed will of God, for we are to have the loins girt about with truth (Ephesians 6:14). Sobriety is to characterize God's people, for it is a serious thing to be called out of this world to live for God in the very scene where once we dishonored His name. Hope is to be the guiding pillar that leads us on to the end of the journey, which will come when Jesus Christ is revealed from Heaven (1:13).

No longer are we to conduct ourselves or fashion our behavior as we once did when in the days of our blindness and ignorance we were under the domination of carnal desires. The blue border that fringed the Israelite's garment was a reminder to him that he was linked up with the God of Heaven. As he looked upon that border he remembered that he was called to exhibit the heavenly character, for God had said, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." In the same way we are to manifest holiness in all our words and ways as becomes a heavenly people passing through a world of sin. Neither carelessness nor indifference is appropriate for those who through infinite grace are privileged to call God "Father." Rather we are to display reverent fear, lest we grieve His heart and reflect discredit upon His name.

We have been redeemed, not like Israel when they paid down the half-shekel of silver as a ransom for their souls (Exodus 30:12-15). Nor were we purchased with gold so often demanded as a ransom by some victorious leader when he dictated terms of peace to a conquered people. But we have been purchased and freed from judgment by the precious blood of Christ, and should no longer conform to the empty behavior of the past, which while in accordance with ancestral customs was opposed to the ways that glorify God. Christ was the true, unblemished and spotless paschal Lamb—free from sin or fault of any kind, either inwardly or outwardly. God had foreknown Him before the universe was created, because redemption was no after-thought with Him, hastily arranged to patch up a wrecked world ruined by man's sin and rebellion against his Creator. All had been foreseen and prepared beforehand. God had not been outwitted by Satan. It was not however until man had been tested fully under various dispensations and proven to be utterly helpless to deliver himself, that the remedy God had provided—the Savior He had foreknown—was revealed. Through Him the Father is now made known in the fullness of His grace, and by Him we believe in God who raised His blessed Son from the dead after He had finished His redemptive work. He then glorified Him by seating Him as Man at His own right hand, that our faith, or confidence, and our hope might be in God—the God of resurrection.

Redemption is a work that was accomplished by Christ Jesus on Calvary, and is therefore, so far as we are concerned, entirely objective. We could have no part in it except that we committed the sins that made it necessary, unless we had been left to die in our iniquities. But regeneration, or new birth, is subjective. Peter next speaks of this work done in us by the Word and the Spirit of God (vv. 22-23).

A great change has taken place within the hearts of all those who have obeyed the truth through the Spirit. The Word of God has been brought home to their souls in the convicting and convincing energy of the Holy Spirit, thus producing a new life and nature. The characteristic feature of this new nature is love—the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us (Romans 5:5). This produces love for our brethren in Christ, a love that is unselfish and pure, not contaminated by the evil desires of the flesh. For all who believe in Christ are born again—not a birth according to the natural order, not of corruptible seed; for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:6). But this new birth is, as we have seen, the result of believing the Word of God that liveth and abideth forever. And this Word, we are told in verse 25, is that which is proclaimed by the gospel.

Verse 24, and the first part of verse 25 are parenthetical and emphasize the contrast between that which is human and that which is divine. Peter quoted a portion of Isaiah 40:6-8 declaring that all flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of grass, which appears beautiful and verdant for a brief season and then is gone forever. For the grass soon withers and the lovely flowers fade and fall; but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Theologians may wrangle about the necessity of a new birth by the sovereign act of God whereby the elect are first quickened and then enabled to believe unto salvation; but Scripture is clear that new birth is by means of the Word, which the Spirit of God brings to bear on the heart and conscience. Apart from this there is no divine life. James also tells us that, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth" (James 1:18). Believing the gospel we become children of God, and are responsible to walk as such, relying upon the Lord from day to day as we pursue our pilgrim course from the cross to the glory yet to be revealed.

—H.A. Ironside Expository Commentary