Peter to the Dispersion 1

Peter’s epistles correspond with Peter's personal experiences. In contrast with Paul, he was a devout Israelite who accepted the Messiah at the beginning of His ministry, not a fierce persecutor after His ascension. His name was changed from Simon (Hearing), the son of John, to Peter (Rock), the son of Jonah (Dove). As such he becomes the foundation on which the Circumcision ecclesia is founded. He was the chief of the twelve apostles, yet was superseded by the Lord's brother, James, who was no apostle, when the Pentecostal ecclesia became sectarian. He was given the keys to the kingdom, repentance and baptism, and he used them in opening its proclamation. He was chosen to open it to proselytes, as Cornelius, but obeyed only after receiving a special vision. His course was much criticized by the Jerusalem ecclesia.

If it were not for his epistles we would be much puzzled as to "what had become of Peter", for he (as well as the rest of the twelve apostles) vanishes from the history in the book of Acts soon after Paul becomes prominent.

The character of Peter's epistles is indicated by the personal commission given him by the Lord after His resurrection (Jn.20:15-19). They are based on his special fondness for his Lord. In these, he carries out the command to graze the lambs and tend the sheep of His flock. And in these, he reflects the sufferings with which he himself was about to glorify His Lord. These epistles are especially suited to the believing remnant in Israel who suffer and die in the terrible persecutions which precede the inauguration of the kingdom. They are in contrast with John's epistles, in that he and his writings are especially in point for those who (like himself, in spirit) live through the time of trial and enter the kingdom without dying.

The special occasion of Peter's writing seems to have been the great persecution of the Christians under Nero, because of the false charge that they had burned Rome. Not only were they put to terrible torture in the imperial city but the persecution spread to the provinces throughout the sphere of Roman rule.

Peter wrote to the expatriates of the dispersion in the upper provinces of what is now called Asia Minor. This conclusively confines it to the Circumcision, for the gentiles were never scattered there from their own land. This cannot, however, refer to the general dispersion of the Jews, for few of them were of the faith. It doubtless refers to the fact that, from the dispersion at the stoning of Stephen, continuous persecutions in the land had driven many Jewish Christians into exile. After seeking an asylum from their fierce fellow countrymen among the idolators, they now find that these, too, turn persecutors because of Nero's edict.

While these epistles can have no present interpretation, they doubtless will find their fullest application to the sons of Israel after the present economy of God's grace has passed by, and God deals once more with the Circumcision at the opening of the day of the Lord. Then judgment will begin at the house of God, and they will be beset with trials, such as these epistles foretell and provide for. Only in such an atmosphere and at such a time will the message Peter brings be fully appreciated and really understood. Just as it was difficult for him to apprehend the epistles of Paul (2 Pt.3:16), so it is only by an earnest effort to place ourselves in the position of those to whom these epistles are sent, that we shall be able to partially apprehend their message.

Peter received his commission to write these epistles from the Lord, after His ascension. On the shores of the sea of Tiberius, after the miraculous draught of fishes, he is charged to graze His lambkins and to tend His sheep (Jn.21:15-17). This is the ministry which he fulfills in these two pastoral epistles.

The people addressed, unlike "the church which is his body", are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation".

I Peter 1:1-24

1 Note the contrast between Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus. Peter proceeds on the ground of His present rejection on earth, Paul on His exaltation in heaven.

1 The expatriates were those Jews who had left their homes in the land of their fathers, probably as a result of persecution. Since then the Jews have been scattered all over the earth. Peter's epistles will have a special appeal for those of them who, at the time of the end, after the Lord once more begins to deal with His people Israel, are chosen among the nations, and suffer for their faith.

4 The allotment of the Circumcision is heavenly in character and source, but will be enjoyed on earth. A concrete example is the heavenly Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven, all prepared for their dwelling on the new earth. The kingdom is called the kingdom of the heavens, not that it will be in heaven, but because the heavens will rule.

5 There are two distinct salvations brought before us in this passage, neither of which refers to what is usually intended by the term. The first one is the salvation which the faithful of Israel have long desired, that deliverance which comes to them at the advent of their Messiah. It is not salvation from sin, but from the nations and from Satan, and from the judgments of the time of the end. It ushers in the millennium. It was not a present possession, but is to be revealed at the unveiling of Jesus Christ.

9 The other salvation was a present experience. We seldom read of the salvation of the soul in Scripture. The soul is the sentient part of man, that which feels, that which suffers and enjoys. Ultimately all salvation will result in satisfying and delicious sensations. In the time of trial to which Peter refers, there seems to be little place for such a salvation, yet it is found in the joy and exultation of faith.

10 The prophets foretold the salvation proclaimed by Peter; the grace which has come to us was hid from them (Eph.3:8-9).

11 The sufferings pertaining to Christ were clearly foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in such types as Joseph and Moses, David and Hezekiah. His earthly glories were also revealed, including His exaltation as the Son of Man and the Son of David. He receives the place supreme on earth, but there is no hint of heavenly headship. These are the traceable riches of Christ. The prophets knew nothing of "the untraceable riches". These consist in His heavenly exaltation, and were revealed to Peter and Paul. Peter tells us that He has "gone into the heavens, messengers and authorities and powers being made subject to Him" (3:22). Paul gives Him the place of universal supremacy, and tells of a time when all in the heavens as well as on the earth will be headed up in Him (Eph.1:10). Of this the prophets are silent. It was a secret or "mystery" unrevealed until the heavenly destiny of the ecclesia which is Christ's body was made known.

13 The grace which is for us comes before the unveiling of Jesus Christ, at His presence in the air, previous to the apocalyptic judgments which accompany His manifestation. Not so with those to whom Peter writes. It is only after His unveiling that the blessings which they expect will become theirs. The unveiling itself is God's means of bringing in the kingdom and all its accompanying benefits.

20 The fact that Christ's sacrifice was foreknown even before the disruption throws a marvelous light upon God's plan and purpose. It shows that sacrifice is not an afterthought intended to repair an unforeseen disaster, but that it precedes sin, and that sin was introduced to give it occasion. Speaking as a man, there never would have been sin unless God had previously prepared a Sacrifice, and neither should be considered by itself, but as one of the necessary factors in God's great purpose to reveal the deep recesses of His love and the boundless expanse of His affection.

23 Regeneration is a requisite for entrance into the kingdom (Jn.3:3). In spirit, we skip the kingdom and enter the new creation (2 Co.5:11), which will not become a physical reality until after the thousand years. There is a vast difference between the two. Paul does not proclaim the new birth. That is not nearly sufficient to describe the great change necessary for fitting us for our celestial destiny. In the resurrection, we shall not only be renewed but changed (1 Co.15:52). As at present constituted we could not enter into our celestial allotment. Hence we are the subjects of a radical re-creation. The Circumcision in the kingdom on the earth will need no such great change to adapt them to conditions as they will be in that day, so the figure used of them is that of regeneration. The Lord spoke of the kingdom as "the renascence" (Mt.19:28), during which the old creation will be renewed, the curse removed, the law observed, by a people who have a "change of heart" (Jer.31:36), and the old earth will enjoy its sabbath. So renascence is not the creation of a new man but the regeneration of the old.

24 Isa.40:6-8.

I Peter 2:4-21

4 Our Lord, speaking to the chief priests and elders, told them that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits, in proof of which He also quotes Ps.118:22-23. The parable of the vineyard was spoken to them on this occasion (Mt.21:33-46). They fulfilled this parable in rejecting Him, and He takes the kingdom from them and gives it to those who receive Him, and who form the nucleus of the believing nation of that day.

6 Isa.28:16.

7 Peter himself, soon after the day of Pentecost, before the chief priests, charged them with rejecting the Stone which was to be the head of the corner (Ac.4:11).

9 When Jehovah brought His people to Himself on eagles' wings, He purposed that they should be His peculiar treasure above all peoples, and that they should be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex.19:4-6). Hitherto, through unbelief, they have not realized this ideal, but those who receive Christ shall fulfill it in the coming kingdom. As kings, they will then rule the nations for God and as priests bring the nations to God.

10 The phrases "not a people" and who "have not been shown mercy" are usually referred to the gentile nations, in contrast with Israel. This passage is then adduced in favor of applying Peter's epistles indiscriminately to all men at all times, especially to the present ecclesia which is Christ's body. But a closer consideration will show that this passage proves the very opposite, for it quotes from the prophecy of Hosea, who speaks of the sons of Israel, and cannot possibly be interpreted of any other people. One passage reads as follows (Hos.1:9-11):

And He is saying :
"Call his name 'Lo Ammi' [Not My people],
For you are not my people
And I will not be yours.
And the number of the sons of Israel
Shall be as the sand of the sea
Which shall not be measured And shall not be numbered.
And it shall occur, in the place where it is being said to them
'You are not My people.’
It shall be said to them 'Sons of the living Deity.'
And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel
Shall be gathered together as one,
And shall place over them one head,
And ascend from the land, For great is the day of Jezreel."

The companion passage is equally plain (Hos.2:23):

"And I compassionate the uncompassioned,
And I say to Lo Ammi [Not My People]'
'You are My people !'
And he shall say, 'My God !' "

By no means may these quotations refer to any people but the chosen nation.

12 "Your behavior among the nations," or gentiles, confirms our conclusion that Peter is addressing those of his own nation outside the land.

13 The word "creation" here is the same word which is always so rendered in every other occurrence. Possibly the idea that creation is a prerogative of God led our translators to alter to "ordinance" here. Yet such contexts as this are the very ones which the English reader needs to correct his conception of this word, for according to this passage, man can create, and the word does not mean to bring into being that which heretofore had no existence.

21 Following in the footprints left by our Lord while He was on earth is often taken as the ideal of human deportment for believers in Christ. And so it is--for the Circumcision, to whom Peter writes. His path may be copied by them, for they find themselves in similar circumstances and under identical conditions. Not so with the nations in this economy of God's grace. In preparing Paul for his part as the channel through which the truth for today was to be revealed, God kept him from contact with Christ during our Lord's life on earth, both before and after His resurrection. It was only after His ascension into glory that He called Saul, and changed his name to Paul, and made him the medium for the special truth which is in force during the apostasy of Israel. Saul's call might have occurred long before, but it was deliberately deferred so as to conform to the truth with which he was entrusted. He, and we, know Christ only as ascended and glorified. If we were connected with His earthly life, then we, like the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk.7:26) could get nothing more than a few crumbs from Israel's board. He does not act in glory as He acted on earth. Now He makes no distinction between Jew and gentile, but lavishes unutterably greater grace on both than was possible when He was the Servant of the Circumcision (Ro.15:8). The key to conduct which pleases God is to copy His present attitude toward us in our relations with our fellow men. It is not reasonable to follow in His steps when He came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and kept Himself from contact with the outside nations. His walk in the land is no model for our conduct outside the land. Hence we are exhorted to be imitators of Paul, as he is of Christ (1 Co.11:1), for he knew Christ ascended and glorified. And we are exhorted to be imitators of God, as beloved children (Eph.5:1). Such a place we, sinners of the gentiles, did not have when Christ confined Himself to the favored nation.

I Peter 3:1-21

1 The duties of the marital relationship are treated by Peter and Paul with characteristic difference. Paul (Eph.5:21) enjoins submission and love in the light of the relation between Christ and the church; Peter points back to Sarah and Abraham.

9 Like our Lord in His sermon on the mount, the apostle sets a much higher mark than the law for the conduct of those who are candidates for the kingdom. Compare Mt.5:39, etc., and Lu.6:27, etc. An eye for an eye, or strict justice, gives place to a forgiving spirit. This is carried even further in connection with the present grace. We are to vanquish evil with good (Ro.12:21), and to heap embers of fire on the heads of our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Ro.12:14). In a word, we are to be walking in love (Eph.5:2).

10 This quotation from Ps.34:12-16, without any introductory phrase to show its relation to the subject in hand, clearly indicates that the Psalms as a whole are perfectly in accord with the administration to which Peter and the twelve belonged. Our experience should harmonize with them to a certain point, but should rise far above their highest conceptions of conduct. To "love life and see good days" is a much lower motive than is presented to us.

14-15 In view of the coming storm of persecution Peter quotes and varies a word from Isa.8:12-13 spoken in similar circumstances, but with the significant substitution of "the Lord Christ" for "Jehovah of Hosts". Remembering Jewish reverence for the letter of Scripture and the intense dread of having any God but one, we see how firmly Peter is convinced that Christ is the Jehovah of the Hebrew Scriptures.

18 A grasp of the apostle's argument here will help us through this difficult passage. The subject is suffering for doing good. The Example is Christ and those sufferings which came to Him as they come to His disciples, because of the sin which surrounded Him. The argument is that He, though put to death, has now been exalted, even over the messengers and authorities and powers of the spirit realm (22), therefore those who suffer for doing good will also be exalted in due time.

With this in mind, it is evident that it is not the evangel which is proclaimed to the spirits in prison, for that would be entirely out of line with the argument. It would imply that, as a result of their sufferings, their enemies will be evangelized. Such grace is foreign to Peter's epistles. The word here used is not evangelize, but herald or proclaim. It tells us, not that they were blessed, but that He was exalted. And what is more likely than that, after His ascension, He should be proclaimed the universal Suzerain to all creation, obedient or rebellious?

19 Who are these imprisoned spirits? Are they not the same that Peter mentions in his second epistle (2:4) who were thrust down to the gloomy caverns of Tartarus, and the messengers of Jude's epistle (6), who kept not their own sovereignty and left their own habitation?

The fact that they are called spirits, assures us that they are not human. The proclamation was not made to them during our Lord's death, but after He had been made alive. It was a token of His exaltation. In due time all will be subjected to Him, not only Israel on the earth in the kingdom, and all the rest of humanity in the resurrection, but all sovereignty and authority and power in the spirit realm, so that, at the consummation, God may become All in all.

21 Baptism, with repentance, are the two essentials for entrance into the kingdom (Ac.2:38).

I Peter 4:6-15

6 This difficult passage depends, for its interpretation, on the force of the interjected "indeed", which is usually omitted in translation. Even when present in the English, its force is not readily perceived. It must be evident to all that there is a turn in the argument, for the evangel is not the precursor of judgment from God, nor is it according to men. This judgment, then, is not God's but man's. Men judged them according to their own standards. They are judged, "indeed", but not in the judgment of the living and the dead just mentioned (5). The next statement, that they should be living according to God, makes it evident that the evangel was not preached to them after they had died. Men could not judge them, in flesh, nor could they live according to God, in spirit, after they had died. They are dead now, but the preaching and judging and living were all a part of their experience before they fell asleep.

8 The human love that covers over the sins of those on whom it is placed is but an intimation of the divine love which is the source of all affection. But human love is limited, both in its ideals and its performances. There is a striking similarity, however, between the expression of divine love under the law, before the sacrifice of Christ, and the love here spoken of. In both cases sin was covered, not put away or pardoned, much less justified. As we hide the misdeeds of our loved ones, so the blood of slain animals served to cover over the sins of Israel. Propitiation is not for us. Paul refers to it but once, and then in reference to the sins of the past (Ro.3:25). It is for the Circumcision and the nations in the day of the Lord (1 Jn.2:2).

9 All other graces flourish where love is found. It not only stimulates their growth but enhances their quality. To do what is loving is well: to do it in a loving way is better. The manner of hospitality means more than mere hospitality itself. Gracious giving glorifies the gift.

12 Peter is the representative of the suffering saints of the Circumcision, and his ministry is especially intended for such. The persecutions of the first century were foretastes of the terrible time which precedes the coming of the kingdom. Hence these exhortations fit both occasions equally well. Then judgment will begin from the house of God, as detailed in the second and third chapters of the Unveiling.

15 Paradoxical as it may seem, only Jews are Christians in the Scriptures. The term is never applied to the nations, but only to Jews or proselytes. Paul never uses the name in his epistles. It occurs only in Acts, which is concerned with the past rejection of the kingdom, and in Peter, which looked forward to its future realization. It is a notable example of the manner in which Scriptural terms have been utterly perverted from their original use.

I Peter 5:2-13

2 The beautiful picture of a shepherd with his flock is peculiarly appropriate to God's earthly people. Even In ancient times, they alone were the flock of His pasture. In the wilderness, He guided them like a flock (Ps. 78:52). When the Lord came, Israel was as a flock having no shepherd (Mt.9:36). He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb.13:20; 1 Pt.2:25). As the Good Shepherd He laid down His soul for the sheep (Jn.10:11). As the Chief Shepherd He will reward the undershepherds for their work when He comes again in the day of His manifestation (5:4). It must be remembered that, in the East, a shepherd does not drive his flock, but leads them. He does not send a dog after them, but calls them each by name. His care and protection is symbolized by his crook and his club, the former for the sheep and the latter for their enemies. The nearest that Paul ever comes to including the nations in this figure is the single occurrence of the word "shepherd" or pastor (Eph.4:11), but its context shows that it is there a faded metaphor and has lost its figurative meaning, just as its Latin equivalent "pastor", which once also meant a shepherd. A pastor is not now a literal shepherd.

5 The apron was a part of a slave's uniform which distinguished him as a slave and which he put on when he went to work. Humility serves (Jn.13:1-16) and service tests humility.

7 The writer was loath to lose this precious promise when he began to see his place in Paul's epistles. How restful to toss all his worries on Him, and confide all to His care! But he soon found that he forfeited nothing by "losing" this passage, for the truth found in Paul's epistles eclipsed it and made it inoperative. Paul takes higher ground, and says, "Let nothing be worrying you, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, that is superior to every frame of mind, shall be garrisoning your hearts and your apprehensions in Christ Jesus" (Phil.4:6-7). If, then, I allow nothing to worry me, how can I toss all my worries on Him? This is a specimen of the constant differences between the ministries of Peter and Paul.

10 The grace of God is indicated by the short seasons of suffering and the long eons of glory to which they are the preparation and the prelude.

13 Peter in Babylon is exceedingly suggestive of the apostasy of Israel. He should have been ruling in Jerusalem. Instead, we find him in the great world capital which has always been the enemy of God's people, yet which, at the time of the end, will be the center and stronghold of Israel in their final and most fearful stand against Jehovah.