After the many letters of Paul and the one letter of James you now have a letter of another writer in front of you. The writer is the apostle Peter. He is the disciple about whom there has been the most written in the four gospels, of all the disciples who traveled through Israel with the Lord Jesus. He was also given a special task by the Lord to strengthen and encourage his brothers; those are in the first place his Jewish fellow believers. Peter receives the apostleship to the circumcised, meaning: to the Jews (Gal 2:7). By the writing of his two letters Peter fulfils the order of the Lord: “Strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32b).
To be able to fulfill this ministry he had to be educated and shaped. For that purpose God also used satan. Satan had asked God for the disciples that he may sift them as wheat (Lk 22:31). He got God’s permission to do that, whereby as with all temptations, God determines the limits. In that way satan had been an instrument in God’s hand in order to carry out His plans with Peter. The painful experience that Peter had to undergo – that he denied his Lord – was used by the Lord to make him fit for the ministry He had for him. The Lord made sure by His prayer that Peter’s faith should not fail (Lk 22:32a). The evidence of this are his letters.
Peter has learnt a lot from his fall and restoration. He knows from own experience that satan is a terrible enemy and he knows God’s restoring hand that leads out of the depth. His failure reminds him of how great the grace and faithfulness of God are. That is also the way he concludes his letter. As a kind of conclusion he says to his readers “that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1Pet 5:12). His whole letter is a testimony of that grace. What God wants to teach you with the grace that He shows, is that you may subject yourself to His will. That was the case with Peter.
After Peter’s restoration in the midst of the other disciples, he receives from the Lord his threefold order (Jn 21:15-17). The lambs and sheep that the Lord entrusts him with He emphatically calls: “My lambs” and “My sheep”. It refers to the lambs and the sheep from the stable of Israel. The Lord knew about what His sheep would have to fear from the unbelieving Israelites. That’s why he entrusted them to Peter, who had been a straying sheep himself, but now has returned (Psa 119:176).
Peter calls the sheep that the Lord entrusts him with “those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout …” (1Pet 1:1). Scattering or dispersion is always a judgment of God due to the unfaithfulness of His people. At the same time the grace of God had taken care of them, for the promises of the Old Testament were made to them. They returned, not to the land, but to “the Shepherd and Guardian” of their souls (1Pet 2:25). Peter can help and guide his brothers, who came from a nation that just as he had denied the Lord (Acts 3:13) and who now live outside of Israel.
Just like the other apostles Peter also has a particular issue that characterizes his letters. Paul often presents the believers as members of the church, which means as members of the body of Christ. John sees the believers as members of the family of God. Peter can be called the apostle of the kingdom of God. ‘The kingdom of God’ is actually the main issue of both of his letters (although the expression itself does not appear). That means that he sees the believers and addresses them as servants in the kingdom of God.
In a way Paul also has spoken about the kingdom of God, but Peter is still the one who received the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:16-19). (Just for the sake of clarity: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are the same, but with a different accent.) He used the keys in Acts in order to open the door of the kingdom successively for the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8) and the Gentiles (Acts 10).
In that way Peter has not been made the head of the church or the heaven’s gate keeper. The kingdom of heavens or the kingdom of God is a kingdom on earth. But what is that kingdom actually? When you think of a kingdom you think of a king and subjects. Therefore the kingdom of God is the kingdom that is ruled by God. He rules over everything that is His; that is the universe with everything that belongs there.
You cannot see that yet, but that is the intention of God to soon put everything under the feet of the Son of Man. What you do see is that the Lord Jesus has already been crowned as King (Heb 2:8-9). In the Old Testament the kingdom of God is something to come, for it is related to the coming of the King, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus (Dan 7:13-14). The Lord Jesus is the Heir of all things. But when He came to earth He was rejected. Therefore the kingdom in its announced shape, in which the Messiah will publicly reign, has been delayed for an indefinite time.
Nevertheless the kingdom exists, but actually in a special shape. This shape is unexpected and is not announced by the prophets. The particular thing about it is that the kingdom is not public, but is hidden. Therefore the Lord Jesus speaks about the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 13:11). It is a hidden realm, because the King of that realm is hidden. The subjects, those who confess the Lord Jesus as Lord, are not hidden, but He, to Whom they subject themselves, is.
The world doesn’t see the living Lord of Whom the Christians are subjects, for the world has rejected and crucified Him. The world is not subjected yet. The world is still hostile and is still resisting against the believers as it once did to the Lord Jesus. Peter is focusing the eyes of the readers on the glorified Lord and on the future, when He will appear to reward the ones who are His (and to condemn His enemies, but he will write about that in his second letter).
Another theme is the suffering of the believer because of his identification with the rejected Lord. The suffering is presented in such a way that you can conclude that it is due to the following of Christ. Thereby you can discern different kinds that you encounter in this letter:
1. Suffering as a test of the faith (1Pet 1:6-7);
2. suffering for the sake of the conscience (1Pet 2:19);
3. suffering for the sake of righteousness (1Pet 3:14);
4. suffering for the sake of Christ and for His Name’s sake (1Pet 4:13-14);
5. suffering from the side of satan (1Pet 5:8-9).
As the prophets already announced, suffering is an intermediate stage to glory. Like the Lord Jesus has come to glory right through the suffering, in that way it applies also to you. Therefore you are pointed to the inheritance that lies before you. The glory in this letter is not the Father’s house, but that you will be sharing Christ’s glory in the kingdom. Just like you are suffering with the rejected One now, you will be reigning with the glorified Christ after His return.
In order to understand the letter well, you should always consider that it is addressed to Jewish Christians. They know the Old Testament, they are looking forward to the kingdom and the glory of the Messiah and His government; they know about the judgment over the enemies. Now they believe in a Messiah Who they could not see, while the ungodly ones of the people have not been judged. On the contrary, both the ungodly Jews and the Gentiles cause the Jewish Christians to suffer. Everything is so much different than what they have believed from their childhood. They are being mocked by that, why there is no salvation by their Messiah. Due to that their faith may be wavering.
You are not in the same position, but there are many similarities between your position and that of them. It can also be hard for you to continue to trust in an invisible Lord. That trust in the invisible Lord can also result in different forms of suffering. It applies also to you that through this letter Peter focuses your heart on Him Whom you have got to love, although you do not see Him now.