For those acquainted with Peter’s earlier years – back when he was still called Simon – the book of 1 Peter might seem a little unlikely. We first meet him in the gospels making a haphazard but enthusiastic attempt at following Jesus, with moments of brilliance (naming Jesus as the Christ) interspersed between running around denying Jesus and cutting people’s ears off. Still, Jesus renames him Peter (‘Rock’) and promises that he will lead the early church, so I guess there’s hope for any of us.
Fast forward a few decades and we do find Peter leading the first believers as they spread through the Roman Empire and beyond. This letter, commissioned by Peter and written by his co-worker Silas while they were in Rome, was sent to multiple churches in the province of Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey. These churches were largely made up of non-Jewish believers facing opposition and persecution from the Romans. To these suffering new Christians, Peter offers encouragement in three main ways:
- He affirms their identity as the people of God, relating their plight to that of the exiled nation of Israel in the Old Testament. This is a deliberate strategy to help these Gentile believers see themselves as part of God’s family and his wider story.
- He explains how they can use their situation to witness to Christ, responding to oppression with love instead of retaliation.
- He points to their future hope of glory, which is permanent (in contrast to their suffering, which is only temporary).
If you’re reading this, you may not be facing the same kind of persecution – the worst things that happened to me this week were a sore throat and the potential health risks associated with eating full Christmas dinners three nights in a row (it wasn’t easy, but someone had to do it) – and it is worth recognising that books like 1 Peter were not written primarily for those of us who are feeling comfortable and secure. But life doesn’t tend to stay that way with any permanence and all of us hurt at some point, whether through misfortune or mistreatment, and when those harder times come Peter has encouraging words for us:
Look beyond your current circumstances to see your part in the bigger picture of God’s people and story.
Look to Jesus, using everything as an opportunity to witness to his self-giving love.
Look ahead to your future with him, kept unfading for you until he returns.