Peter and his First Epistle
Ray Dawes, Hillingdon
Peter was one of the three privileged disciples who were alone with the Lord Jesus on three important occasions, namely at Jairus’ house, Luke 8. 51; at Gethsemane, Mark 14. 33; and on the mount of transfiguration, Luke 9. 28. At Jairus’ house he witnessed the Lord giving life to a dead maid by the word of His power; at Gethsemane, he saw the Lord Jesus in His most agonising moments of suffering; and on the mount he glimpsed the wondrous glory of Christ. These occasions left a lasting impression upon the apostle, suggesting the dominant themes of his first Epistle, which are new life, sufferings and glory. Considering new life, he refers to the resurrection, the living hope and the living Word in chapter 1; the living Stone and the living stones in chapter 2; the grace of life in chapter 3 and the living and dead in chapter 4. He writes extensively of sufferings, in connection with Christ, 1. 11, 18; 2. 21-24; 3. 18, and the believer, 1. 6-9; 2. 18-21; 3. 6, 13-17, etc. Finally notice the references to glory, relative to our joy, 1. 8, relative to the Lord, 1. 11, to the Spirit, 4. 14, and to believers, 5. 1, 4, 10.
Further, one can trace in Peter’s first Epistle the experiences of his early life spent with the Lord Jesus which are recorded in the Gospels. He had learned deep lessons, and was now passing on to the believers the benefit of his personal experiences. Peter was a transformed person—the contrasts and comparisons in the Epistle with his former history are striking. This man who now exhorts believers to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”, 2 Pet. 3. 18, had himself developed into a mature Christian from a frail and failing beginning. Let us take heart from this, and learn the lessons that the Lord is teaching as He leads us through various trying circumstances; by this means He will produce in us those qualities that marked the apostle Peter in his later years.
His Commission, Luke 22. 32; John 21. 15-17. No doubt, recalling the words of the Lord Jesus on these two occasions, the apostle pens this letter to strengthen and feed the believers. He strengthens them by setting before them the greatness of their salvation, ch. 1; their privileges as priests, ch. 2; the example and the vicarious sufferings of the Lord Jesus, chs. 2-3, and by many words of exhortation finally raises their thoughts to the God of all grace who would “stablish, strengthen, settle” them. In this he was also feeding their souls by providing them with the “sincere milk of the word”.
His Calling, Luke 5. 8. Just before Peter was called to “catch men”, he underwent a profound moral experience, for in the presence of Christ he became conscious of his utter sinfulness. This humbled the proud fisherman, and left a mark upon him. Peter never forgot his personal unworthiness. He did not seek a position amongst the saints, as men imagine, but he humbly took his place as an elder with others, 1 Pet. 5. 1, and as such he exhorts all of them to humility, 5. 3-6. Thus he becomes a monument to God’s grace, and constantly alludes to the grace of God in its many manifestations:
- 1. 2: Grace multiplied to us - Present Grace.
- 1. 10: Grace prophesied of us - Past Grace.
- 1. 13: Grace glorified in us - Future Grace.
- 3. 7: Grace relative to married life - Grace of life.
- 4. 10: Grace relative to assembly life - Grace of gift.
- 5. 5: Grace relative to personal life - Grace of character.
- 5. 10: The source of Grace.
- 5. 12: The standing of Grace.
Observe how Peter’s thoughts of divine grace rise as he proceeds through the Epistle until he speaks of the source of it all, the God of all grace. Where sin had abounded in the previous life of Peter, where he had failed and denied the very Lord whom he had followed., grace had super-abounded, and Peter recognises now, not simply the God of grace, but more, the God of all grace.
His Confession, Matt. 16. 16. The Father had revealed to Peter the Person of Christ, and so he gave utterance to those immortal words, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Peter ever retained a reverent regard for, and an understanding of, the Person of Christ; this is evident from this Epistle where the Lord was always before his heart, as the Land) in death, 1 Pet. 1. 19-20; the Leader in life, 2. 21, 25; the Lord in resurrection, 3. 22. Moreover, being essentially practical, Peter looks on the Lord differently from John or Paul. John views the Lord in His eternal, divine character as Son; Paul views Him as the now risen, glorified and sooncoming Lord. But Peter regards Him more as the altogether perfect, but suffering Man. Notice that the Lord suffers as the spotless Lamb, 1. 19; as the sinless Sacrifice, 2. 22-24; and as the righteous or just One, 3. 18. How Peter fully understood the reasons for the Lord’s sufferings as they figure in each of the chapters! He tells us that the sufferings of Christ were prophesied, 1. 11; that they were necessary for Him to be our Substitute and Example, 2. 21; that He “suffered for sins”, 3. 18; that He “suffered for us in the flesh” to free us from the dominion of sin, 4. 1; and that he, Peter, had been a witness of these sufferings, and a partaker of the soon-dawning glory, 5. 1.
His Conversation. Peter’s sayings are largely recorded in the Gospels. His tongue was quick and sharp, and often he spoke foolishly. We may recall his words on the mount, Mark 9. 5-6, and when he dared to rebuke even the Lord Himself as He spoke of His sufferings and death, Matt. 16. 22. Such words did not express the mind of God at all; in fact, in the latter case, he was Satan’s mouthpiece. As a result, in his Epistle Peter is careful to say, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God”, 1 Pet. 4. 11. On other occasions in his conversation, Peter was not ready with suitable answers. When he was asked whether his Master paid tribute, Matt. 17. 24, Peter hastily replied, “Yes”, and had to be corrected by the Lord. Again, in the judgment hall where he denied the Saviour, he was not prepared to confess Him. Now in his Epistle he exhorts believers to “be ready always to give an answer to every man”, 3. 15. Let us heed this word, taking Peter’s earlier experience as a warning. After this, he not only denied his Lord, but it is recorded that he did so with oaths and curses, Matt. 26. 74. It appears from this that formerly he had a rough and evil tongue, but latterly, fearing that others should be so characterised, he inserts a warning that they refrain their “tongue from evil” and their “lips that they speak no guile”, and that they should contrariwise pray, since the Lord’s ears (though shut to every perverse word) “are open unto their prayers”, 1 Pet. 3. 10-12. Thus Peter’s conversation has become more guarded, and he desires that ours should be likewise.
His Courage, Matt. 14. 28; John 18. 10; Luke 22. 54. These three incidents are often used to reveal Peter’s failures, but, whilst they do contain elements of failure, nevertheless they tell us of Peter’s dauntless courage. None of the other disciples dared to leave the boat and walk upon the waters; no one else braved the armed mob when they came to take the Lord Jesus; all the other disciples fled, except John and Peter who followed afar off. Such was his natural courage, but this is not sufficient for true discipleship; courage without spirituality is a dangerous thing. Peter’s failures are seen in that he lacked faith whilst on the waters, he lacked the meekness of the Lord when he sought to smite with the sword, and he lacked true love and devotion when following afar off.
Faith. The things that he lacked, however, are qualities which he possessed later, for they are everywhere seen in this first Epistle. Peter now has faith, and he recognises it as that which alone is able to lay hold on the power of God to keep. He had known that, whilst his eyes were set believingly on the Person before him on the waters, he was kept from sinking by the power of God. This valuable truth he now passes on to us, 1 Pet. 1. 5. Faith, too, is something which the apostle now prizes above gold that perishes, and stormy circumstances are even welcomed, so that faith may be proved and “found unto praise and honour and glory”. Thus no longer does he feel himself sinking and crying “Lord, save me”, but rather he realises that he is receiving the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul, 1. 9.
Meekness. Having lacked this previously in his use of the sword, Peter now knows it to be a Christ-like virtue. Men still reckon it to be weakness as did Peter, but during this era of grace it behoves us to show a spirit of meekness, leaving any judgment to God. So, says the transformed Peter, let good works be your only defence against the accusations of men, and “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man” that is within the will of God, 2. 12-13 ; follow the example of the Lord “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously”, 2. 23. If we are to manifest such an attitude as this, never should a word be protested, or a hand be raised in self-defence, when we are falsely accused or wrongfully treated of men; we must leave the matter with the Lord.
Love that follows. Lastly, Peter says that the Lord has left us an example, that we should follow His steps, 2. 21; never again to follow afar off as of old, but to be so near to the Lord that His very footprints can be discerned. Only deep love for Christ and the devotion of a consecrated heart can answer to this. Long ago, Peter first heard those appealing words “Follow me”, Matt. 4. 19, and during those early days with the Lord Jesus on earth he had sought to be true, yet was dogged by failure in word and deed, until he denied his Master thrice. It seemed as if the devil had triumphed, and Peter’s service had ended. But again in matchless love the Lord takes up His servant and restores him in grace,, seeking his love afresh and once more challenging him to “Follow me”, John 21. 19. Made wise by his previous failures, Peter now goes on from strength to strength, enriching the believers by his own experiences and urging them likewise to follow in the steps of the Master.