PETER 0N HOPE
The Epistles of Peter are called the letters of hope. Theologians and ministers have a field day with the concept “hope.” It is easy to project hope from behind a desk and a pulpit. Suppose one is persecuted and hides every night, in hope that one will see the sun rise once more. I remember my mother praying and pleading for delivery, but we had to use our feet to go and hide somewhere else every night for three weeks. Hope as a subject in one thing and hope in trouble is quite another. It is through the eyes of one that suffered persecution and feared death that one must look at hope. Peter had denied his Lord when it was most crucial to stand by Him and left Jerusalem before Herod had a chance to decapitate him, like he did James Zebedee. Peter wrote to people that suffered (I Peter 5:10), and he expected to lose his life any time (II Peter 1:14). His hope and faith were not just live a few days longer but to live in such a way that his soul could reach eternity. Peter did not have salvation in his pocket. The hardest stretch was still ahead. His spirit was willing but his flesh had caved in (Mark 14:38). It does not end until the Lord shall say to Peter, “Well done thou good and faithful servant” (Luke 12:41-43).
Hope for Peter was a “day at the time” situation. It was not a living hope but a life lived in hope. Translators do not agree on what Peter meant because they are not facing what he was facing. Things did not happen according to expectations. Jesus did not take over Israel’s leadership nor did He return as He had promised. Instead, the apostle found himself in exile and trying to put meaning into what he understood Jesus had in mind. He no longer is the big apostle he was in Jerusalem but a nobody that is being tested for his faith in the One that was no longer delivering him from imprisonments and death. The initiation into the “Spiritual Kingdom” through Pentecostal power had ended and like other men Peter had to endure with his fellow believers what their Lord endured. He must have pondered often what Jesus had said to him, “When you have converted, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Peter did experience a new birth and believed that his readers had also put their trust in the Risen Christ and the heavenly home He was providing. Suffering was merely testing their faith and freeing them from sin. It was with that in mind that he wrote:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith –- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire -– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:3-9).
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the Gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit” (I Peter 4:1-6). “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If any one speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very word of God. If any one serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever” (I Peter 4:7-11).
Peter was convinced that the world in which they lived was nearing its end. Their hope was not going to be in vain and their suffering would be rewarded, but they must persevere while their faith is being tested by various trials. They are asked to believe and love someone they had never met or seen. They were to trust in Peter’s words, one that had been with Jesus; yet no longer was being delivered from the hands of the persecutors himself as he was in Jerusalem. All Peter could do is insist that Jesus would reveal Himself and reward them for their faith in Him. Peter’s hope was no longer about being important in a kingdom but managing how to save one’s soul. It was a “Spirit–salvation” and not a “physical resurrection.” To mind came the words of the Master, “Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” Jesus would judge the living and the dead. The dead were those that lived prior to Christ’s incarnation. For Peter, Christ was put to death in the body but not in the spirit. The same spirit descended to the realm of the dead and preached the gospel to the spirits in prison that were hoping in a Messiah (I Peter 3:18-19; Ephesians 4:9). Peter does not suggest that sinners shall have a second chance. Their only chance is in Christ and in the here and now. There is no hope beyond the grave.