SIMON PETER IN BABYLON
The First Epistle of Peter ended with this greeting, “With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ” (I Peter 5:12-14).
Peter’s greeting from Babylon with Mark and Silas suggests that Paul and Peter had met up in Rome. We know that Paul was taken to Rome to answer to Caesar (Acts 28:16). Before he went to Rome, Silas was his companion (Acts 15:40). In Rome, Luke is present and Mark is on the way (II Timothy 3:11). But, Mark and Silas are also with Peter, who is no longer in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). The word Babylon stood for Israel’s long-term enemy and the Roman Babylon, ruler of many nations, that would destroy Jerusalem and dissolve Israel as a nation during the Apostle’s generation (Mark 13:1-2). The use of the word also hid the place where Peter and his companions lived. But more than anything else, Babylon stood for captivity, punishment and death. The absence of Paul and Luke suggests that the Romans had them shipped off into eternity. The severe and relentless persecution of Christians and Jews appears to be behind Peter’s concern (Acts 18:1-4). Far too many were giving up on grace and were in dire need to be encouraged. How does one stand or remain in grace during a time when faith and life are difficult? How can grace and peace abound during an unbearable situation?
The unbearable situation was the suffering for being Christians. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (I Peter 4:12-19).
Peter used the name Jesus gave him and he wrote as only one of the apostles and not because of some special privilege people began to assign to him. He was like all the other fellow sufferers for Christ, hanging on to grace. The fact, in the eyes of the religious elite, he was uneducated and ordinary (Acts 4:13), he demonstrated a profound insight into God’s way of grace. It took the Rabbi Paul thirteen Epistles to say what Peter said in two short letters. He was an answer to Jesus’ prayer, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me of my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then Jesus turned to his disciples and privately said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Luke 10:21-24). In particular, to Peter Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Who were the recipients and what were their identifying marks? “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (I Peter 1:1-2). Peter’s words are a direct reference to what Jesus had told his disciples while He was with them. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). There are three reasons why Jesus will not turn away those that (1) have been sprinkled with His forgiving blood, (2) allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify or purify them and (3) they obey Jesus’ teachings and deeds. It was to those that had deeds that Jesus said, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). It shall not be only the praises men sing, but the works that honor the Lord will gain men entrance into God’s eternal kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus who knew what was in the human heart left this message (John 2:24-25), “I tell you the truth you are not looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:26-27).
Peter, and so do we, live in a world (Babylon) where following Jesus never has been beneficial, convenient, or fashionable. It is a world where when one does good or what is right must expect to suffer. Evil has become good and good has become evil (Isaiah 5:20). He was in the world but no longer of it (John 17:16). And that is precisely what Peter told his sheep and lambs, “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. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires, which are against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (I Peter 2:9-12). “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (I Peter 3:8-12). For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil'” (Psalms 34:12-16).
“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (I Peter 3:13-17). It was a remarkable encouragement from a man that once was first to strike with the sword (John 18:10), now lived by the Sermon on the Mount and urged others to do likewise (Matthew 5-7). The rocky Simon had become “Peter the Rock” and he was setting the example how followers of Jesus could live under Babylonian rule. Unlike in his early years, when he challenged the Jewish leaders law to whom they should obey (Acts 4:19), Peter now urged his fellow believers not to disobey the authorities, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish me. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect for everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (I Peter 2:13-17). Peter’s advice became the policy for becoming noble citizens and it led the followers of Jesus to become the masters of Rome (Babylon) in three hundred years. No other mortal was granted more power by men to a man than was to Peter. He became the “Vicar of Christ” and treated emperors and kings as mere servants. Yes, it is unbelievable, but true.