THE APOSTLE PETER
Peter names himself as the author of the two letters that carry his name. Peter is a very prominent figure in the Gospels and Acts. We could write much about his life. For a more complete biography of Peter, see a Bible dictionary. He is known by three names. His original name was Simon, short for Simeon; Jesus gave him the name Cephas, Aramaic for “rock;” his most common name, Peter, is Greek for “rock.” With his brother Andrew, Peter was a fisherman by occupation. Two towns on the Sea of Galilee served as his hometowns, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Peter was a married man. At first Peter was probably a disciple of John the Baptist. Then Jesus called him as his disciple and told him that he would make him a “fisher of men.” Together with James and John, Peter was one of the disciples of Jesus’ “inner circle.” The three had the privilege of being especially close to Jesus and accompanied him at times when the others did not. Peter was often the spokesman for the disciples. Speaking for the disciples, it was Peter who made the strong confession to Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:16). In the four lists of the disciples, Peter is always named first, indicating his prominent place among The Twelve. At the time of Jesus’ passion, Peter is very visible. He helped prepare the Passover Feast, objected when Jesus wanted to wash his feet, insisted he would never fall away from Jesus, and slept while Jesus prayed at Gethsemane. He defended Jesus with the sword and then became very weak and denied Jesus. Later he repented, witnessed Jesus’ sufferings, ran to the open tomb Easter morning, and was the first of the disciples to whom Jesus showed himself alive. At the Sea of Galilee, Jesus reinstated Peter and told him to feed his “lambs” and “sheep.” From the Gospel accounts we can gather that Peter was naturally impulsive, that is, he was often quick to speak and act without first carefully thinking. We can also see that at times he was very self-confident and bold, and at other times weak and cowardly. Peter’s total humanness comes through clearly in the Gospels. Jesus took this totally human man and made him into one of the “pillars” in His church, as we see in the first 12 chapters of Acts. It was Peter who preached the sermon on Pentecost Day when about 3,000 were added to the church. It was to Peter that God gave a special vision and the realization that in Christ He accepts Jews and Gentiles alike. In the Epistles we also find a few references to Peter. We learn that Paul needed to correct Peter in Antioch because of his inconsistent way in associating with Gentiles. Peter evidently received Paul’s correction in a loving, brotherly way (Gal. 2:11-21). A reference in 1 Cor. 9:5 indicates that Peter did much traveling for the sake of the Gospel and that on his travels he was accompanied by his wife. We have no further Biblical information about Peter besides his own words in his two epistles. Tradition says that he died as a martyr in Rome during the persecutions under Nero and that, like his Savior, he was crucified. (While the Roman Catholic Church insists that Peter was bishop in Rome for 25 years and served as a first “pope,” there is no New Testament evidence for this. Peter would not have reached Rome until near the end of his life.)
PETER’S FIRST EPISTLE:
To whom was it written?
Peter addressed his first epistle this way: “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” All of these provinces are located in Asia Minor, particularly the northern part. There is a question whether the Christians in these provinces were Jews or Gentiles. Peter was primarily the apostle to the Jews (Gal. 2:7-9), but there are a number of passages in this letter that make it sound like his readers were Gentiles (2:9-10; 4:3-4). Perhaps there were both Jews and Gentiles among the people addressed by Peter. Who was the missionary who first reached these people with the Gospel? Again we do not know. Perhaps it was Paul, although we do not hear of him going to the northern provinces of Asia Minor. Perhaps it was Peter himself.
From where and when was it written?
Peter calls the place that he was writing from “Babylon” (5:13). It is commonly thought that this name was applied figuratively to the city of Rome. Just as Babylon was the great enemy of God’s people in the Old Testament, likewise Rome with its paganism and persecutions was the enemy of God’s New Testament people. Therefore Rome may have been called “Babylon.” If this is so, then Peter was writing from Rome perhaps shortly before the persecutions under Emperor Nero; perhaps he wrote about 64 A.D.
What was the occasion for 1 Peter?
The Christians addressed by Peter were suffering some kind of persecution. Perhaps their lives were not being threatened but they were being slandered and abused by the people around them (3:16-17; 4:4; 4:16 etc.). What was Peter’s purpose in writing to these Christians? Peter himself answers this in 5:12: “I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” From the rest of his letter it also is clear that Peter wanted to encourage the Christians by giving them hope in their trials. He wrote also to admonish them to live lives that are worthy of their Savior who bought them by his blood. What are the special characteristics of 1 Peter? 1) It is filled with words of hope for Christians under trial. “A living hope” is what Peter says we have by Christ’s resurrection. Furthermore, a Christian’s suffering is only “for a little while;” then comes our inheritance in heaven. Peter not only encourages suffering Christians to have hope, but gives them solid reasons for their hope. For this reason, 1 Peter has been called the “Letter of Hope.” 2) 1 Peter has few words, but those few words contain much rich spiritual truth. For example, read 1:3-6 to see how much Peter can pack into a few words. Peter’s style is a good example for preachers who think they have to produce a great number of words to say something important.
“PETER ENCOURAGES SUFFERING CHRISTIANS WITH A MESSAGE OF HOPE”
SOME KEY PASSAGES FROM 1 PETER:
“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1:3-4). “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1:18-19). (Compare with Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Creed.) “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2:9) .”Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15). “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (4:14). “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (5:7). “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (5:8).
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