Peter, the lead apostle of the twelve who followed Jesus, wrote to Christians scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia – all areas in what is now Turkey. Many of these places are not recorded as being evangelised in the book of Acts. We are specifically told that the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from visiting Bithynia (Acts 16:6-8), but other Christians did go there.
It is likely that these were mostly Gentile believers according to 1:18, 2:10 and 4:4. But the areas would have included Jewish enclaves (some of whom attended Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost – Acts 2:5-11). Jewish converts would have understood and valued the many references to the Old Testament in the Letter.
Peter wrote to believers who were being persecuted for their faith (1:6-7; 4:12, 14-16). Persecution of Christians was increasing in Rome. Nero was blamed for not dealing with the fires that caused widespread damage to Rome in AD 64, so he accused the Christians of arson. If Peter was writing from Rome, as seems likely, it may be that he anticipated more persecution of Christians throughout the empire.
The clue to the place of writing comes in 1 Peter 5:13, ‘She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark’. Babylon was often a code word for Rome in the New Testament (notably Revelation 17); and this seems to be a reference to the church in Rome. His son, Mark, is not a literal son, but John Mark, the author of the second Gospel who is known to have depended upon Peter for its content.
Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering for their faith. They are ‘God’s elect’ people (1:1). Peter reminded his readers in chapters 1-2 that they are God’s chosen people, chosen for heaven. But their experience was that of ‘exiles’ (1:1): they were refugees, outsiders, rejected by society and even by their families. When living for Jesus brings hardship, it is tempting to abandon Christ or at least keep quiet. But Peter reminded these Christians that God has a plan for them because they are ‘sanctified through the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ’ (1:2). Peter teaches us how to live for Jesus in a world that is hostile - shining and speaking for Jesus.
Christians throughout history and in today’s world receive different kinds of persecution. When we suffer because we are trusting Jesus, we may want to give up or think that there is something wrong with us. Peter’s letter reminds us that God sees us as His very special holy people. If the world rejects us, remember that God has prepared the most wonderful future in heaven for us (1:3-13). Our future is secure because God has chosen us through the gospel to belong to Jesus and be part of His precious people (1:14-2:10). We have many reasons to rejoice even when life hurts (1:3, 2:9).
Despite the persecution theme, Peter gives us many reasons to rejoice. Throughout the letter, he shares his own joy at being a believer in Jesus, with the opening paragraphs one of the finest praise sections in the whole New Testament (1:3-9). If we are suffering, we can choose to focus on the Lord instead of on the pain.
One word that Peter uses several times is ‘submit’ (2:13, 18, 3:1). Jesus is our example and Peter shows us that, like Jesus, we must be willing to submit to God’s way, even if it results in suffering. He explains how this should apply in our response to leaders and governments (2:13-17), at work (2:18-25), in the family (3:1-7) and in the church (3:8). This does not mean that believing employers, leaders and husbands can demand that people to submit to them. They must be like Jesus, considerate, gentle, and gracious. This also applies to church leaders (5:1-5). He reminds them that they must follow Jesus and be kind, gentle shepherds, and not selfish, harsh dictators.
Some believers are persecuted because their behaviour is foolish or wrong. This is not approved by God. However, when we live like Jesus did, Peter warns us that this will result in suffering. He reminds us that Jesus’ suffering brought blessing. God can also use suffering in our lives and in the lives of others.
Peter insists that we make the most of conversations that arise from being a believer in Jesus. His encouragement to ‘give an answer for the hope that is within you’ (3:18) is an essential guide to thinking carefully about how we share our faith. In the last section (5:6-13) Peter gives a final encouragement to stand firm knowing that God will graciously strengthen us, and that one day we will be with Him in glory!
|1:3-2:12||Live godly lives in the light of your faith|
|2:13-3:7||Be submissive to those who are over you, especially God|
|3:8-5:11||Stand firm in suffering with Christ your example|