Some Jewish Christians would surely suffer wrongfully in Rome’s war against the Jewish state. They must not consider it strange, therefore, that they would undergo some wrongful treatment because they lived in the wrong neighborhood. Since some Roman soldiers made little distinction between believing and unbelieving Jews when engaging the insurrectionists, many knew enough about Jewish Christians that they understood that Christians did not live as insurrectionists to the Roman government. It was a time for Christians, therefore, to openly confess that one was a Christian, and thus, distinguish themselves from the radical unbelieving Jews.
A. Enduring fiery trials:
Peter speaks concerning the fiery trial in this context as if it was something specific, and not the general suffering that Christians generally undergo while living the life of a disciple (See At 14:22). This suffering was something that had before been revealed to them. Therefore, because the fiery trial was previously revealed to them, they must “not think it strange concerning the fiery trail that is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.”4:12
If we have assumed correctly that the social chaos that is soon to come upon them is in reference to the end of Israel, then the fiery trial was over thirty-five years before revealed by Jesus. It had been revealed centuries before through Daniel, and other prophets. In reference to what Rome was about to inflict upon national Israel, Jesus had previously prophesied, “Then they will deliver you up to be afflicted and will kill you. And you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Mt 24:9). Since this prophecy was in reference to those Jewish Christians who would suffer for the name of Jesus, then this persecution came from the unbelieving Jews. Now it was time for the unbelieving Jews to pay the price for their persecution of the family of God. Jesus went on to say in Matthew 24 that great tribulation would come on the Jewish persecutors: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world to this time, nor ever will” (Mt 24:21).
The horror that Rome would unleash on a nation would be a genocide that the world had not experienced until A.D. 70. From that time, no such genocide had ever been launched against an entire nation to take the population out of existence. We must not confuse this with the genocide of Jews of WW II. The WW II genocide was against a race of people, not against a state. Jesus and Peter were speaking of the elimination of the state of Israel.
B. Joy of the persecuted:
James wrote to the same Diaspora of Jews as Peter: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience” (Js 1:2,3). We must not forget, as someone wrote, that “trial is the structural steel that goes into the building of Christian character.” What is called reinforcement steel is embedded in the concrete that goes into building. It allows the concrete to withstand tremendous stresses. In the coming times of suffering, Peter and James wanted their readers to remember that spiritual structural steel was being embedded in their character through the struggles they would have to endure.
We must keep in mind that we do not deserve the final rest of heaven unless we endure the tests of this world. We must also remember Peter’s exhortations: “But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings ….”4:13 “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you ….”4:14 We should be as the apostles who survived the beating of the religious council of Jewish hierarchies in Jerusalem. They left the council, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (At 5:41).
The persecution that would come upon Peter’s readers should not be a strange thing if they believed what Jesus had prophesied thirty-five years before: “And you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Mt 24:9). At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He prepared His Jewish disciples to rejoice when they were hated.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven … (Mt 5:11).
If they are “reproached for the name of Christ,”4:14 then they are blessed. Their persecution was evidence that they were living the life of a Christian.
If one would “suffer as an … evildoer,”4:15 however, he would deserve the suffering that would come upon him. But if one “suffers as a Christian,”4:16 then he can take pride in the fact that his behavior as a disciple manifests that he is living the life of a disciple. If a disciple stood on trial for being a Christian, then there should be enough evidence against him for conviction. So we would conclude that in the midst of one’s suffering for Jesus, we must at least resort to the famous words of Winston Churchhill during the bombardment of England by Germany during WW II: “Never give in! Never, never, never, never!”
C. Doom because of disobedience:
If judgment bypasses the house of God because of God’s grace, then “what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”4:17 Peter asks this question because he knows his readers know the correct answer. The answer is that Jesus is coming in judgment on unbelieving Jews to take “vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th 1:8). And since the gospel is the good news about Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection for our hope, then there is no hope for those who do not obey the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (See 1 Co 15:1-4; Rm 6:3-6).
If “the righteous are scarcely saved” through their obedience to the gospel, then “where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”4:18 (See Pv 11:31). This statement places the meaning of what Peter is writing in 1 Peter in the historical context of the coming in-time judgment on unbelieving Israel. Peter used the word “scarcely” in reference to salvation. But this “salvation” is not a reference to our salvation at the end of time. In the final judgment at the end of time, the righteous will not “scarcely” be saved. They will of a certainty be saved by the grace of God because they have obeyed the gospel. Their salvation will not be based on meritorious works or perfect keeping of law (Ep 2:9,10). The salvation of the righteous will always be guaranteed on the basis of what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” There is no “scarcely” about the Christian’s salvation.
But when the Roman army showed up in Judea before A.D. 70, only a few unbelieving Jews were saved by the end of Rome’s suppression of Israel. In fact, Josephus, the Jewish historian, reported that only 80,000 Jews over the one million who endured the siege remained alive and were sold into captivity. One million died. The 80,000 were those who were scarcely saved alive. However, through their confession of Jesus as the Messiah, Jewish Christians would scarcely escape the sword, but it would not be so with the unbelieving Jews. Unbelieving Jews consigned themselves to be cut off from God because they refused to believe on Jesus.
On the medical records of a hospital in New York City in America is the story of a young 22-year old man who was brought into the emergency room with an arm that was almost severed, which arm was eventually amputated. It seems that the young man and his companion had broken a plate glass store front window in order to steal. When he reached his arm through the broken glass, some of the overhanging glass fell on his arm. Tatooed on the arm that was amputated were the words, “Born to lose.” And such will be the fate of those who are not born again (Jn 3:3-5).
The blessedness of the righteous is that they have entrusted themselves to the grace of God. Their trust is so strong that they are willing to “suffer according to the will of God.”4:19 Through their godly living they have manifested that they have given themselves to God who will faithfully deliver on His promises to them. They have been born again to win.
[Next lecture: SURVIVOR LEADERSHIP: January 30]