The person “who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” in the sense that he has committed his life to being a disciple of Jesus.4:1 “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tm 3:12). For this reason, Paul and Barnabas revisited those who had dedicated themselves to living the life of a disciple, “teaching that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (At 14:22).
The life of a disciple should be characterized by what Peter instructs in 1 Peter 4:1-11. There were unique historical events that were transpiring among the Jewish Christians at the time Peter wrote these words. Peter’s message in the entire book is directed specifically to Jews who had been converted to Christ, which Jews were moving into some trying times in the near future (1 Pt 1:1). Since the termination of national Israel was looming in the near future, and thus the termination of all things in reference to his readers’ Jewish heritage, then there were some special exhortations of which these Christians needed to be reminded.
A. The life of confession:
Those who have committed themselves to live according to the will of God cease living a life of sin, but do not cease from committing acts of sin. Now “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). The disciple has ceased from a life of sin, but is not without sin. Nevertheless, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). To be cleansed of “all unrighteousness” means that we become righteous before God through the continual cleansing of the blood of Jesus (1 Jn 1:7). It is not that we have learned to live perfectly before God according to His law, but that we are justified by His grace because we have committed ourselves to His Son. Therefore, we would not say “that we have not sinned,” lest “we make Him a liar …” (1 Jn 1:10). On the contrary, the disciple of Jesus lives the life of continually confessing his sins before God.
B. The persecuted life:
Peter is continually conscious of the trying times into which his readers are headed. Jesus knew that He was headed for the cross, and thus He prepared His mind to suffer. As disciples of Jesus who suffered for us, Christians are to arm themselves “also with the same mind.”4:1 Peter’s readers had behaved sinfully in their former lives when they lived according to “the will of the Gentiles.”4:3 But since their conversion to Christ, all those unrepentant friends whom they had while doing the will of the Gentiles, “think it strange that you do not run with them in the same excess of riot.”4:4 The repentant disciple is thus mocked by his former friends in the flesh because he no longer enjoys a life of rebellion against God.
C. The prepared life:
Since we would stay in the historical context of both Peter and his Jewish audience, we would understand that Jesus in the near future was ready “to judge the living and the dead” in bringing judgment on Jerusalem (2 Tm 4:1). We do know that the Father has given the Son the right to judge at the end of time (At 17:30,31). But we must not forget that when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, it was then that the authority of all judgment was given to Him (See Dn 2:44; 7:13,14; Mt 28:18; Ph 2:9-11; Hb 8:1). He now reigns with the authority of all judgment over all things (1 Pt 3:22).
In the historical context of Peter’s audience, there was an in-time judgment coming upon unbelieving Jews who persecuted Jewish Christians simply because they left the heritage of the fathers in their acceptance that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jewish unbelievers went from city to city persecuting all those whom they considered traitors of national Israel (See At 8:1-3). But according to the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24 (See Lk 21), judgment would come upon unbelieving Jewish persecutors in the termination of national Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. Peter, James and Jude reflected on this coming judgment. James’ words are more precise:
Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth. And he has long patience for it, until he receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near (Js 5:6,7).
This “coming of the Lord” about which James wrote, was not the final coming of the Lord at the end of time. If it were, then the word “near” would mean at least 2,000 years and James would have deceived his readers into thinking that Jesus’ final coming would occur in their lifetime. Since both Peter and James were writing to the same Jewish audience (1 Pt 1:1; Js 1:1), then the coming of the Lord about which both referred was to happen in time. And in reference to the date of writing of both letters, this coming was going to happen within only a few years after they wrote their letters of encouragement to persecuted Jewish Christians. Therefore, their focus was on the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that He was terminating national Israel (Mt 24). The “end of all things” in reference to national Israel was indeed at hand.4:7
Since the unbelieving Jews “will give account to Him, … the gospel was preached [announced] also to those who are dead, so that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but living according to God in the spirit.”4:5,6 Jesus was not willing that any should perish (2 Pt 3:9). Therefore, the gospel was preached to those who were spiritually dead and unresponsive to the gospel. On their first mission journey, Paul and Barnabas had said the same to their rebellious Jewish audience:
It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you [Jews]. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles (At 13:46).
The Jews had their chance, both during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the early evangelistic efforts of the church. But they rejected the gospel, and thus, they made the choice to remain dead in their sins (Jn 8:21,24). They judged themselves unworthy of eternal life because of their refusal to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. In the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, over one million unbelieving Jews would die in their sins. The fact that these unbelievers died in the destruction was evidence that they had rejected the gospel.
However, those “men in the flesh” who “live according to God in the spirit,”4:6 were saved in that not one Christian is known to have died in the destruction of Jerusalem. Rome took her vengeance out on the insurrectionist Jews during the Passover/Pentecost feast of A.D. 70. Jewish Christians throughout the world had listened to Jesus and the New Testament prophets, and thus, they too stayed away from Jerusalem. The Christians believed Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. They had heeded the warnings, and thus stayed away from the end of Jerusalem. Jesus was judged just in bringing judgment upon the one million Jews who died in the war of Rome on Israel because the unbelieving Jews had rejected the gospel. That which could have saved them from doom had been preached in Jerusalem since A.D. 27, the time when Jesus first began His ministry.
D. Termination of all things:
Peter was not deceiving his readers when he made the statement, “But the end of all things is at hand.”4:7 This “end” was something that was going to happen soon, and in their lifetime. This statement does not apply directly to us today. It was a coming of the Lord in judgment in time, and thus, it applied directly to those to whom Peter wrote.
“All things” to Peter and his Jewish readers referred to their world of Judaism and national Israel. Encompassed in the phrase “all things,” were two millennia of history that began with Abraham. “All things” was a reference to their Jewish heritage that was coming to an end. The conclusion of all these things was in the prophecy that Jesus made during His earthly ministry when He spoke to the Jews concerning the termination of national Israel:
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple. And His disciples came to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mt 24:1,3).
“All these things” in the prophecy of Jesus was the same as the “all things” about which Peter wrote in 4:7. Reference was to God’s finalization of national Israel, for she had served her purpose of bringing the Redeemer into the world.
The termination of “all these things” was “at hand.” “At hand” did not refer to something outside the lifetime of Peter’s audience. The phrase did not refer to something that would take place over 2,000 years later. And thus, Peter, as James and Jude, did not deceive their first readers into thinking that Jesus was coming in His final coming to terminate this world within the lifetime of their immediate readers.
“At hand” means soon to happen. And concerning the time when Peter, James and Jude wrote, the Lord was coming with His messengers in order to reign down judgment on those Jews who rejected Jesus as the Son of God (See Jn 1:11). Jude used the prophetic words of Enoch that were originally used to refer to those unbelievers who were taken away by the flood of Noah’s day. He applied the statement of Enoch to the unbelievers who would be taken away by the destruction of national Israel:
Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment on all, and to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds that they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against Him (Jd 14,15).
In view of the fact that all things in reference to national Israel were drawing to a close, Peter exhorted that his Jewish readers “be sober and watch unto prayer.”4:7 Jesus said the same in the context of the end of national Israel during His earthly ministry: “Therefore, watch, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming” (Mt 24:42). The disciples were to watch and “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Mt 24:44).
Thirty-five years after this statement was made by Jesus, the disciples knew that the prophecy of Jesus was about to be fulfilled. But they did not know when Rome would make the decision to terminate national Israel. As the Roman army marched toward Jerusalem, the disciples were given only the warning that they would “hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Mt 24:6). These events would not be the end. “All these are the beginning of sorrows” in Judea (Mt 24:8). These events would be the warning to believing Jewish Christians that they should either stay away from Jerusalem, or if they lived in Jerusalem, to get out of town.
As for us today, when in times of struggle, the Holy Spirit’s advice is to maintain a sound mind. We must not fret, though it may seem that our world is coming apart. The root meaning for the word Peter uses, “sober,” means to be safe. In other words, he is exhorting his readers to keep their minds in a safe condition. When under either suffering or persecution, we must not react to the circumstances, but act safely and sensible.
[Lecture continues tomorrow with point E.]