Christian Life in the Wilderness – 1 Peter 2. 4-12


Peter has drawn many parallels between the strangers and pilgrims of the wilderness generation and the generation of Christian sojourners in the Roman empire. The prospect of inheritance in Canaan typifies an incorruptible inheritance in heaven, 1. 4. The trials of the wilderness prefigure the trial of Christian faith, v. 7. Redemption by the Passover lamb is fulfilled in the blood of Christ, v. 19, and redemption by power seen at the Red Sea climaxes in the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus, v. 21. Peter then shifts to the corporate life of Christians, 2. 4-10, and again draws on wilderness imagery. Just as Israel were brought out of Egypt to corporately worship God, Exod. 5. 1, and dwell with Him, 25. 8, Christians have been redeemed to offer up spiritual sacrifices and meet with God in His spiritual house, the church, 1 Pet. 2. 4, 5.

Peter is dispensational in his outlook. He knows the church is a brand-new entity announced by the Lord Jesus Himself - ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’, Matt. 16. 18. Israel was a nation founded at Sinai many centuries earlier; it was genetically linked to Abraham and was under the law. None of these things are true of the church. It is a fundamentally new entity, distinct from Israel, Eph. 2. 20; 3. 5.

Peter knows that the church is not Israel rehashed or replaced. But he does identify common principles. Just as Israel had a house, priesthood, and sacrificial system, we have the same today. However, God now dwells in the church, not the temple; the established priesthood is not Levitical, but Christian; and the sacrificial system is spiritual, not tangible.

Verse 5 is a central plank in the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. New Testament assembly life knows nothing of a clergy-laity split that currently handicaps many Christian congregations across the globe. Every Christian is a priest, with divine gift, Rom. 12. 6, and is expected to worship and serve God. Clericalism in its hard (High Anglicanism) or softer forms (Evangelical Pastor) has no biblical basis.

Peter also distinguishes between the dispensational church and the local assembly. In speaking about the former, he is encouraging persecuted believers that they belong to a divine construction project. They are part of something huge and unshakable, no matter what happens on earth.

Living stone, vv. 4, 5

Peter moves from tasting that the Lord is good, 1 Pet. 2. 3 ESV; Ps. 34. 8, to a solid foundation for faith, 2. 4; Ps. 34. 8. He is a keen petrologist, using the divine title, ‘the Rock’, Deut. 32. 4, for the Lord Jesus - the ‘living stone’, 2. 4. The Old Testament reveals the ‘chief corner stone’, 2. 6; Isa. 28. 16, head stone, 2. 7; Ps. 118. 22, and stone of stumbling, 2. 8; Isa. 8. 14, but never the Living Stone.

The Living Stone is truth for a new dispensation. Although the Lord Jesus was ‘cast away … as worthless by men’, 2. 4 JND, at Calvary, God chose Him in resurrection and showed Him as precious in ascension. This means that there is a man on the throne of God. He is the only solid foundation for eternity, and His persecuted people can confidently rest in Him. The Living Stone shares His life with other stones, 2. 5, and in uniting us to Himself He has united us to one another.

Peter loves the building metaphor - a colossal edifice to the grace of God. He never uses the bride and body imagery like Paul, since the words of Christ are wonderfully lodged in his mind, ‘upon this rock, I will build my church’, Matt. 16. 18.

This positional truth has serious practical implications. We have been saved to build into the local assembly. There is no time to waste by building for this life, career, or hobbies. We must abandon materialism and apathy, and labour together with God in the local assembly, 1 Cor. 3. 9.

Corner stone, v. 6

Peter reverts to Old Testament prophecy to show persecuted Christians that a rejected Messiah was part of God’s sovereign purpose, and their hopes will never be dashed for trusting in Him, 2. 6. This elect foundation stone was laid in Sion, according to divine purpose, long before He was put to death at the cross. Men threw Him out as worthless, but He was ultimately delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, Acts 2. 23. Peter understands the paradoxical nature of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

The corner stone laid in Sion has connotations of a heavenly reality, Heb. 12. 22. The church is being built on this corner stone now. Isaiah shows there is a future aspect to Zion as well. After Israel’s covenant with death is annulled, Isa. 28. 15, 18, the corner stone in Zion will rule over a millennial earth.

Head stone, v. 7

Christ is precious to God, 1 Pet. 2. 6, meaning that God appreciates the worth and value of His Son and will honour Him in a future day. We who believe share in and receive the precious value of Christ, v. 7. Just as we share in His life as living stones, we share in His honour now. God views us as He views His Son; this is sublime grace.

We receive honour, but the builders who rejected Him are stumbled and shamed. They cast out their Messiah because He did not fit their sinful specifications. They wanted to keep their sin and have a military Messiah that would bring them national glory. They cast out Christ in unbelief, but God has made Him the head stone of the church, v. 7. Peter has equated the cap stone with a risen Christ before, Acts 4. 10, 11. He is the top [kephale] stone. This means He is like the other stones, but also distinct and unique - ‘conspicuous above a myriad’, S. of S. 5. 10 YLT.

Stone of stumbling, v. 8

Christ was also a stone [lithos] of stumbling and rock [petra] of offence. ‘The stone of stumbling is a loose stone in the pathway encountered many times in the (journey) … the rock of offence points to the calamitous impact of that rock on unbelievers’.1 Primarily, this refers to Israel. The builders, in contrast to men generally, v. 4, refer to the nation’s leaders, Matt. 21. 45, who represented the people in rejecting Christ. Salvation through Christ was an affront to a people seeking salvation by works of the law, 1 Cor. 1. 23; Rom. 9. 32. Such haughty unbelief caused them to fall over the Lord Jesus - ‘they stumbled at that stumblingstone’, Rom. 9. 32. Their temporary dispensational fall has meant blessing to the Gentiles, 11. 12, but there is coming a day when God will pick up the nation, and restore it to full glory, v. 12. Israel was appointed to this stumbling. They are responsible for the means of stumbling - disobedience, 1 Pet. 2. 8, but the end, the stumbling itself was appointed by God. There is a solemn mystery here, and the clay cannot ask the potter why, Rom. 9. 20.

Israel was described as ‘a peculiar treasure … a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation’, Exod. 19. 5, 6. The result of Israel being set aside temporarily is that God has a new entity for testimony on earth; Christians are now a royal priesthood and a holy nation, 1 Pet. 2. 9. Israel was supposed to represent God to the nations, Deut. 4. 6, 7, and will do so in a future day, Isa. 49. 6, but, at the moment, God is using the church to display His glory to mankind, 1 Pet. 2. 9, and the spirit realm, Eph. 3. 10.

Royal priesthood, vv. 9, 10

A holy priesthood is Godward in its function. We have been saved to worship. A royal priesthood is manward in its function, v. 9; we are the people of God, v. 10 - saved to serve. Eldad and Medad typify what Peter has in mind here. They saw the glory of God, and then proclaimed that glory in the camp, Num. 11. 26. Although these Christians were dispersed and persecuted, they were to herald the glories of Christ. In a day of rampant secularism, our faith cannot be private. It must be proclaimed. The primary means for doing this is preaching (heralding) the gospel and we must adhere to the God-ordained method of spreading His word, Mark 16. 15. It is vital that we maintain the scriptural means.

Dispersion, vv. 11, 12

The second half of chapter 2 reverts back to individual life. The wilderness imagery fades, and the dispersion [diaspora] of Babylonian captivity, Neh. 1. 9, is in the mind of Peter, 1 Pet. 1. 1. Peter writes from Babylon, 5. 13, and explains how Christians should relate to political powers, 2. 13-17, just as Israel once had new political obligations, Jer. 29. 7.

Peter starts by mentioning abstinence from fleshly lusts, 1 Pet. 2. 11, just like Daniel and his three friends abstained from the king’s meat and drink, Dan. 1. 5, 8. Good conduct was to mark these dispersed saints as they lived among a hostile audience, 1 Pet. 2. 12. The only way to silence the hostility, vv. 12, 15, was, like Daniel, to have an excellent spirit, Dan. 6. 3. Such was his exemplary character, they said, ‘We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God’, 6. 5.

The day of visitation, 1 Pet. 2. 12, is an incentive for believers to live a life of good works. When Daniel was vindicated by God sending his angel, Dan. 6. 22, his critics had their day of visitation in the lion’s den, v. 24. Similarly, there is coming a day of judgement when God will vindicate His downtrodden people and condemn the wicked. May we live for eternity and not time.



J. B. Nicholson, 1 Peter, What the Bible Teaches, Volume 5, John Ritchie Ltd., 1987, pp. 69, 70.


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