The first verse of the letter begins, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Let’s spend a moment getting to know Peter as we begin our examination of his first letter. Peter was a fisherman along with his brother Andrew. Peter was selected by Jesus to be one of his apostles. He spent three plus years following Jesus. Peter ate with Jesus, traveled with Jesus, learned from Jesus, and could ask Jesus questions. Peter was there to see Jesus’ mighty miracles. Peter was part of Jesus’ inner circle. Peter, James, and John were three of the apostles Jesus chose to participate in things that the other apostles were not allowed to be part of. Peter saw Moses and Elijah on the mountain during the transfiguration of Jesus. Peter saw Jesus betrayed, arrested, crucified, and raised from the dead. When it is reported that Jesus’ tomb is empty, Peter is on of the first disciples to run to the tomb to investigate. After the resurrection, we see Peter with the eleven performing miracles and preaching to the crowds concerning the resurrected Jesus. This letter is believed to have been written around 64-65 AD. The setting would be near the time of emperor Nero’s persecution of the Christians in the city of Rome, blaming the Christians for the city’s fires.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, (1 Peter 1:1; ESV)
As is typical for a first century Roman letter, Peter next identifies his recipients. This letter is to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. A map will reveal that the location of these Christians is in the general regions of Asia Minor, Peter names most of the regions in this peninsula. But the question really centers on who are the “elect exiles of the dispersion?” Most scholars understand this phrase symbolically. This would mean that Peter is writing to Gentile Christians who are strangers on this earth looking forward to going home to be with God. The New American Standard Bible reflects this interpretation with its rendering, “To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout” the various regions. While the majority of scholars believe this to be the case, I believe the weight of the evidence stands against such an interpretation.
Six Reasons Peter’s Letter Was Written To Jewish Christians:
- Why take this phrase symbolically? What basis do we have given to us in this text that tells us that we are not talking about a literal people who could be classified as “exiles of the dispersion?”
- The Dispersion: this Greek word used, which the ESV translates as “the dispersion,” was a technical term found only in Jewish literature of the Hellenistic period to refer to the Jewish population living outside of Palestine after the Babylonian exile, according to the Baker Exegetical Commentary.
- “She who is in Babylon” (5:13). The reference to Babylon in 5:13 forms a bracketed argument with the term Diaspora in 1:1 and the Baker Exegetical Commentary declares this “makes it perfectly clear that Peter is alluding to the Diaspora of the Jews.” This reference also sets the parallel of the Jewish exiles under the world empire of Babylon with the Jewish Christians exiled under the world empire of Rome.
- This word is used two other places in the New Testament:
- John 7:35- “The Jews said to one another, ‘Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?’” (ESV) This is a reference to the Jews who did not live in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Jews are speculating that Jesus will go to Jews outside of the region.
- James 1:1- “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” (ESV) Again we notice that “the Dispersion” is a reference to Jews, particularly Jewish Christians.
- Though not a conclusive argument, it is worth pointing out that Peter was declared an apostle to the Jews while Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8).
- There are at least 18 quotations from the Hebrew scriptures in Peter’s letter. This is a significant portion considering the smaller size of the letter. It would not make sense for Peter to make so many arguments from the Old Testament to a group of people who are not familiar with the scriptures.
I believe the best way to understand this introduction is that Peter is writing from Rome (Babylon) to these Jewish Christian who formerly lived in Rome, but have been expelled to Asia Minor. It is difficult to pinpoint any particular historical event because Roman history records that such expulsions were quite common for various political reasons. This information sets the appropriate background for persecution and suffering we read the recipients enduring. By calling them “exiles,” Peter seems to be identifying their conduct and character to the exiles of the Babylonian captivity. Those exiles, like Daniel, lived in a foreign land but maintained their purity and righteousness as the people of God. So also, these Jewish Christians are exiles as they live in a different land, but are called upon to maintain their purity and righteousness as the people of God.
In summary, passages like 2:10 are a direct reference to Hosea 1-2 which referred to exiled and rejected Israel. Thus the words “foreigners and resident aliens” have a colorful background in reference to Israel of old who were rejected because of their immorality and scattered from their homeland. So now, these Jewish Christians, who had at one time given themselves over to the ways of the pagan world (4:1-4), but now have turned to Christ and obtained mercy – and have been scattered from their homeland, are also again in a very real sense “foreigners and resident aliens” or “exiles of the Dispersion.”
2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and |for the| sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (HCSB)
We would expect for the salutation to reside here if Peter followed the form of a typical New Testament letter. But Peter wants to say a little bit more and speaks about their election. They are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for the sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. There are a number of key concepts that Peter mentions that we will examine with the remainder of our time.
It really is a grand and fascinating concept to say that we have been chosen by God. God chose us. There are many times in life when we are not chosen. All of us want to be chosen, but how often we are not the chosen ones in this life. Some of us may have never been picked for anything. But God has chosen you. You may be rejected by your family but you are chosen by God. Your spouse may reject you but you are chosen by God. In our effort to fight error I think we have missed such a marvelous truth. We have been chosen by God!
For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! 9 Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, |then how| much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11; HCSB)
God chose us to come to him. We were not the ones that chose God. We were the enemies and God still decided to chose us. In spite of who we are, God still chose us. Why did God do that? Because God loves us. Because our God is merciful, loving, holy, and gracious. We are not. He is.
Peter says that we have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. Typically, the concept of the foreknowledge of God is taught that God looked down the telescope of time and knew that you would be born and knew that you would love him. Since God knew that you would love him ahead of time, God chose you for salvation. But that is not what the scriptures teach us.
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19; ESV)
Some teach that God in his great sovereignty decided before time began who he would save and who he would not save. They go further to say that God could have chose to save everyone, but decided to only save some. This teaching also violates plain scripture:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9; TNIV)
I believe the concept is fairly straightforward. God knew he would create the earth. God knew that he would create you. God knew that we would sin. God knew we would need a Savior for our sins. God knew that we would send his Son to die for our sins. God knew we would rebel and God knew we needed a Savior before he created any of this. This is the foreknowledge of God.
…this Jesus, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:23)
Set Apart By The Spirit
This is not some sort of mystical voodoo in the way the Holy Spirit operates. The active, living word of God, revealed to us through the Holy Spirit, makes us holy. We are called to be the distinctive, holy people of God. We have been set apart from the word, not by the Holy Spirit whispering in your ear, but through God’s revealed word. Peter goes on to say that we are set apart for obedience to Jesus Christ.
For Sprinkling With The Blood of Jesus Christ
This is a reference to the system under the law of Moses. We know that through the sprinkling of blood the articles of the tabernacle became ready for worship (or consecrated) (Hebrews 9:21). But the picture seems to be far deeper, reaching back to Exodus 24:1-8.
Notice the order: the people heard the book of the covenant. The people respond, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, declaring this to be the blood of the covenant that the Lord had made with the people. These three points are used by Peter: set apart by the Holy Spirit, which is the word of God, our response of obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Dear friend, God chose you. You may be rejected by everyone else and not chosen for a thing. But God has chosen you. He knew he would create the world, create people, and that you would sin. He knew he would send his Son to save us from those sins. He did this, not because we are deserving or have done anything good. Rather God loved us first and he did this by his mercy and grace. Jesus died, raised from the dead, ascended in the heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles who revealed God’s will. Those words of God set us apart from the world and prepare us to be God’s people. We must respond like the people of Israel responded, that we will do all that is written in the book. We will obey the Lord’s commands and in doing so, we are sealed in the blood of the covenant as our sins are washed away.