Letters in the first century began by introducing the author. This one is no exception. Peter's name provides variations on a theme! His given name was Simon or Simeon, but it was the Lord who gave him this extra name and indicated its significance (John 1:42, cf. Matt. 16:18). Petros is the Greek form of the name, meaning 'a stone'. The Aramaic, which was Peter's native language, would be Cephas. So in the New Testament he is variously referred to as Simon, Simon Peter or Peter.
This was the Galilean fisherman who by the grace of God became one of the earliest leaders of the Christian church.
an apostle of Jesus Christ. A simple yet magnificent declaration. He is an apostle; his authority has a divine source, but he lays no claim to be the leader of that unique body of God-appointed men, or even to set himself above these fellow believers to whom he writes. This sets the tone for the epistle in which the author keeps himself firmly in the background. For some this confirms Petrine authorship, for others it presents a question mark.
He had been the spokesman for the disciples in confessing Jesus as 'the Christ, the Son of the living God' and at that time received the Lord's special promise concerning the building of his church (Matt. 16:16,18). He had preached the first Christian sermon on the Day of Pentecost and seen thousands repent and believe and become some of the first members of that Church to which Christ had referred (Acts 2). His name is always first when the apostles are listed.
But Peter clearly understands that the Church of Jesus Christ is not built on him alone. Rather the basis of the church is the unique foundation of the apostles and prophets. Paul confirms this truth when he speaks of the church as 'God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together' (Eph. 2:20). Just as God's people of the Old Testament were founded on the twelve tribes of Israel so the 'new Israel', the church, is built on the divinely chosen and gifted agents of God's revelation: the prophets of the Old Testament and their New Testament equivalents, the apostles. That Church comprises as its equal members all who have made a similar confession to Peter's, having received a similar revelation from God (see again Matt. 16:16,17).
An 'apostle' signifies a person sent by another, a messenger or a representative. Might there be a twofold meaning here? First and primarily, he was unquestionably sent by Jesus Christ, but was he not also sent to serve and proclaim Jesus Christ?
The phrase of Jesus Christ is not used as a suffix to any other office in the church. Apostleship was a distinctive appointment, and in its New Testament sense confined to the first century. It seems to be clear that a requirement of a New Testament apostle was that he had seen the risen Lord (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 9:1).
Peter does not need any added confirmation of his apostleship, unlike Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1), since Peter's claim to the title has never been in question.
It is important to underline again the grace of God in elevating Peter to this position. This is the Peter who denied Jesus Christ with curses but who is now a representative of, and a messenger from, this same Christ. How significant were the angel's words to the women on that resurrection morning 'Go, tell his disciples and Peter' (Mark 16:7). This was and is 'amazing grace.'
to God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. Peter has been economical when speaking of himself, but he says much more about his readers. As to their geographical location, they are Christians in the area covering much of what we call Turkey today, the northern parts of that vast district of Asia Minor. The actual order of place names may have been the route that the carrier of the letter would take.
In contrast, many of Paul's letters were sent to a local church, but here Peter writes to a much wider congregation. Paul often dealt with specific problems within a church; Peter has a much broader purpose. I have written to you... encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it (5:12). The kind of suffering which his readers are to face does not always lead to victory and success. There are those in every generation who have failed under testing. Peter certainly knew that! Therefore these believers need not only encouragement but the challenge to stand fast.
Their relationship with God is underlined first of all. They are God's elect which links closely with verse 2: who have been chosen. And they are also referred to as strangers in the world, scattered throughout...
This latter expression usually refers to Jews living in Gentile lands. His readers are believers and as such are strangers or 'aliens' because essentially they are passing through (Greek, parepidemos). Old fashioned though it is, the word 'sojourners' would perhaps provide a more accurate understanding of the Greek since some of his readers have lived all their lives in that area, and in that sense are not 'strangers' as we understand that term. The word translated 'strangers' here is a different one to that used in verse 17 where the emphasis is more on remaining in a land but not taking up citizenship there. 'Sojourners' suggests that these believers are only temporary residents wherever they reside; their home is in heaven. However much they are rejected, wherever they are living on earth, they do belong somewhere!
The word for 'scattered' is the word diaspora or 'Dispersion' and is often used of Jews in a Gentile environment. These two phrases seem to present a strong argument for a Jewish readership, but though Christian Jews may be among his readers, there are too many other references in this epistle which would point away from an exclusively Jewish readership.
This makes Peter's initial declaration all the more amazing. As a God-fearing Jew he would not have a kind word to say about a Gentile, and certainly not in the area of religion. A traditional Jew would begin his daily prayer by thanking God that he had not made him a Gentile and secondly that he had not been made a woman! We remember the significance of Peter's unwillingness to obey God when on the rooftop prior to his visit with Cornelius (Acts 10). At that time Gentiles being 'God's elect' would have been furthest from his thoughts.
Now he knows that the essential ingredient in 'true religion' is an individual's relationship with Jesus Christ the Son of God. When you belong to the Son of God, you belong to the people of God from whatever stock you may have come. Peter surely remembered the Lord's words, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean' (Acts 10:15).
Whoever his readers are, Peter honours them with the title God's elect. The New International Version has added God's which is not in the Greek. This serves to confirm the link with the Old Testament teaching on the unique position which Jews in that dispensation enjoyed. New Testament believers can enjoy a similar designation. So part of Peter's purpose in writing this letter is because his readers, God's elect, are not living in peace and safety but scattered, and in an hostile environment.
Edmund Clowney remarks: 'Peter is writing a travellers' guide for Christian pilgrims. He reminds them that their hope is anchored in their homeland. They are called to endure alienation as strangers, but they have a heavenly citizenship and destiny.'
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (v. 2). Now here is the doctrine of election clearly stated. An all-knowing God does of course possess forward knowledge about every inhabitant of the earth, but the foreknowledge of God which Peter refers to here is much more than prior information. God did not simply predict their conversion—he predetermined it.
The correct understanding of the word foreknowledge includes that idea of predetermination. These believers had been selected according to the sovereign will of God the Father. As Davids suggests: 'The cause of their salvation is not that they reached out to a distant God, but that God chose to relate to them and form them into a people, his people. Thus the use of the term "Father" for God is especially apt, for it indicates the loving concern with which God chose to know them.'
Remember, too, that we believe that Peter is also addressing Gentiles! The Old Testament emphasises God's special choosing of the Jewish nation. Now Peter is underlining the point that Gentiles were not added to make up the numbers following the failure of Jews to respond wholeheartedly to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather Gentile Christians were among those chosen from eternity past to receive the blessings of salvation. What a glorious truth with which to assure these believers. These are the things they need to hear in their current situation. Essentially 'election here means the selecting them out of the world and joining them to the fellowship of the people of God'.
We believe that God is the One who we are told, 'works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will' (Eph. 1:11), but in this context it is all about God choosing people.
Paul majors on this great theme of election by informing us that 'those God foreknew he also predestined... and those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified' (Rom. 8:29,30). One infallible step here is securing the next infallible step. In that passage foreknowledge leads without fail to glorification; everyone foreknown in that way will be glorified. But since it is obvious that not every individual will ultimately be glorified, therefore not everyone is foreknown in the precise sense that Paul suggests here. The apostle implies more than a simple advance knowledge.
Peter applies the word foreknowledge in just the same way, to indicate that these Gentiles were included with the people of God before time began, because of the personal love which God had set upon them (Eph. 1:4-5; cf. Amos 3:2; 1 Cor. 8:3). The love of God is always the cause of God's favour toward his children in every generation.
This is the underlying security which every true believer can enjoy, and when the pressure increases Peter's readers will certainly need to be reassured of that fact.
through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The will of God the Father is accomplished through the activity of the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13). The root of the word for sanctifying includes the idea of cutting or dividing, which leads to our understanding of the biblical concept of separation. So the Spirit of God sanctifies, or sets apart, those whom God has chosen, so far as their allegiance and affection is concerned, though they remain in this world. The same Spirit will also be instrumental in the cleansing necessary for sustained fellowship with a holy God, and for that daily walk of separation before God.
for obedience to Jesus Christ. This is the design for which they have been chosen by God and sanctified by the Spirit. The primary evidence of unbelief is disobedience to God (Isa. 53:6; Heb. 4:6,11). Therefore obedience to God will be the evidence of the work of the Spirit, and the proof that we are God's elect and chosen. Henry Ward Beecher divided people into two categories: the 'whosoever wills' and the 'whosoever won'ts'. We can tell which we are by a simple test. Have we become obedient to him?
But though we are called to a life of obedience surely here, Peter is emphasising that initial obedience necessary to salvation; the obeying (of) the truth mentioned in verse 22.
So in these three phrases he provides a Trinitarian basis for our salvation. Following the Sovereign choice of the Father and the setting apart by the Spirit, the Christian life begins when we obey the truth by repenting of sin and turning in faith to Jesus Christ.
And the means by which we can be cleansed? sprinkling by his blood. Peter reaches back to the sacrificial system employed in the Old Testament. Not now the sprinkling of the blood of an animal but rather that of the lifeblood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:5-7). The death and resurrection of the Son of God was sufficient to absolve our debt to God by making atonement for our sins, thus turning aside the wrath of God on sin and so providing the ground for our justification. So extensive was the merit of Christ's sacrifice that through it God is not only able to deal with the past, but also to provide for our present and future need (Heb. 10:22; 12:24).
In his great hymn Rock of Ages Augustus Toplady recognised the comprehensive cleansing provided through the death of Christ when he wrote:
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
So in this verse Peter states clearly the part each Person of the Trinity plays in the salvation of sinners.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. The Greek and Hebrew greeting would appeal to all his readers. Bentley says that 'Peace was a characteristic of the Old Covenant; it spoke of well-being. Grace is the watchword of the New Covenant; it speaks of the free unmerited favour of God.'
In fact the phrase was probably a common Christian greeting. It was certainly familiar to Jews because of its popular use in the temple (Num. 6:22-27). We find it repeated throughout the New Testament.
Grace in the biblical sense is the free favour of God toward those who have forfeited it. I remember hearing Stuart Briscoe say: 'Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting all you deserve. Grace is getting what you don't deserve.'
Peace is that inner pleasure we experience because of the exercise of God's grace toward us. It has been said that 'peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ'. The disciples found this to be true when they were in their boat on Galilee. They still had to face a violent storm; the difference from previous occasions was that Jesus was with them and was able to say, 'Be still!' (Mark 4:39). These first century believers would need just such an assurance.
Peter's wish is that they should be immersed in the blessings of grace and peace. May they be yours in abundance he says. As Ellicott remarks, 'There are some good things of which we cannot have too much'.
In truth this greeting sums up Peter's intentions for this letter. His desire is that they may more fully understand God's grace toward them, and understanding that, they might know his peace in their trials.