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20 July 2019

The Coming of Jesus in First Peter

Jesus Holds the World
In his first epistle, Peter portrays Christians as participants in a worldwide suffering community of assemblies (5:8-9). A dominant theme is his call for perseverance through suffering and persecution. His references to the future coming of Jesus serve to encourage suffering Christians by reminding them of the believers of rewards to be received at his arrival.
     The congregations addressed include many Gentile believers, former pagans. They had inherited “futile ways” from their progenitors and lived in “darkness” (1:18, 2:9), and previously were a “no people” and idolaters that engaged in the sins and carnal excesses typical of their Gentile neighbors (1:14, 4:3).
     Peter applies language from the story of Israel to his congregations. Christian assemblies are the “elect sojourners of the diaspora,” alienated from the surrounding society, “strangers in a strange land,” and resident aliens in their native homeland (1:1, 1:17, 2:11, Deuteronomy 23:7, 28:25, 30:4, Psalm 39:12).
     Peter offers thanksgiving for the incorruptible “inheritance” and glorious promises God has bequeathed to Christians “according to His great mercy, having regenerated us unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead” (1:3-12). From the start, Peter anchors all that Christians receive in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
     Disciples will receive their full salvation “in the last season” when Jesus returns from heaven.  In the interim, the promise is “reserved in the heavens” waiting to be “revealed in the last time.” The Apostle Paul expressed a similar idea in Colossians 3:3-4:  For ye died and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ our life shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.”
     In the meantime, Christians find themselves “in manifold tests that the proving of their faith…by means of fire may be found for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter links the future “revelation of Jesus Christ” with Christian salvation and rewards to be received on that day by the faithful.
     In light of all this, Christians must keep sober and direct their hope to the grace that is “being borne along to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” They must persevere through trials and “become holy in all manner of behavior.”
     Peter's congregations are comprised of “sojourners and pilgrims” who no longer belong to this evil age.  Considering their future hope, they must “abstain from fleshly lusts” and reflect “honorable behavior among the Gentiles,” so that their pagan neighbors may “glorify God on the day of visitation.” This indicates that both believers and unbelievers will be present when that day arrives.
     Christians should not be surprised by trials and sufferings. By persevering, believers participate in Christ’s sufferings and therefore ought to rejoice. At “the revelation of his glory,” they will indeed rejoice with exultation. For believers, that will be a time of glory and joy.
     Disciples who endure persecution “as Christians” should not be ashamed of their suffering but, instead, “glorify God in this name” because “it is the season for the judgment to begin with the house of God.”  This refers to a judgment that will occur at the end of the age.  Christians also undergo judgment, the examination of their faithfulness.
     But if judgment begins first with the house of God, “what shall be the end of them who yield not to the gospel of God?” Once again, the theme of the judgment of the wicked on the day of Christ’s “revelation from heaven” is presented. Peter does this to motivate Christians to holy living.
     Peter exhorts church “elders” to properly shepherd God’s flock in light of “the glory about to be revealed” in which they will have a share.  Elders who shepherd the Church will receive “an unfading crown of glory” on that day when “the Chief Shepherd is manifested” (cp. Colossians 3:4; 1 John 2:28).
Peter does not delve into any details about the coming of Jesus and related events. That is not his purpose, which is to encourage Christians to persevere in suffering and to live holy lives in the sight of their neighbors.
      Throughout this letter, Peter’s faith is forward-looking.  Christian rewards and salvation are received in the future when Jesus arrives from heaven.  That day will mean rewards for faithful believers but loss and condemnation for the wicked.  Final judgment occurs when Jesus is revealed from heaven.
     Peter refers to only one future coming of Jesus, not two, an event that will impact both believers and unbelievers.  There is no discussion of the church departing from the earth or the space-time continuum as disembodied souls to receive their rewards “in heaven.”  Believers receive salvation and glory at the end of the age when Jesus returns from heaven.

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