Lesson One – Reading I & II Peter

Reading I & II Peter

Please review Part I, “Reading James,” item A, entitled, “Biblical principles for reading and interpreting a letter.”  We will apply these same principles for reading Peter’s letters.  In fact, we cannot properly read his first letter until we understand his prophesies in his second letter.  They are about what the church should expect to encounter from inside and outside.  His purpose for writing both letters was the same – “prepare your minds for action.”  I Pet. 1:13; II Pet. 3:1.  However, the content and intent of the letters are different.

Peter used the first century standard form for both letters.  This form was also regularly used by the Apostle Paul.  The following are the first four items in Peter’s letters.  Comments have been added for those who may not fully understand some doctrines the recipients knew well.   This is another principle for reading a letter:  We must know what the recipient knew.  Since Peter wrote to mature Christians, they knew, and were well grounded, in the gospel of Jesus Christ (II Pet. 1:12).

Item oneThe introduction of the writer.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.”  I Peter 1:1.

“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.”  II Pet. 1:1.

James introduced himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Jas. 1:1.  There was a vast difference in the roles Peter and James fulfilled in their service to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Peter was an apostle.  This was a unique office for which Jesus trained twelve disciples.  Eleven of the Twelve, along with a new appointee, were confirmed as apostles to serve after Jesus returned to heaven (Acts 1:9, 26).  Paul later received a special call (Acts 9:4-6, 15, 16).  Apostles were given authority over various churches (II Cor. 10:8).  If indeed, James was his Lord’s half-brother, both he and Peter served as elders in a congregation (Acts 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 1:19; I Pet. 5:1).

Elders serve as overseers, but only in the church over which they were appointed (Acts 14:23).  An apostle assumed oversight over the churches he co-built with the Lord as he was directed by Jesus via the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15; Acts 18:9-11; I Cor. 3:10, 11; II Cor. 10:13; 12:19-21).  Of course, all Christians can serve the universal (catholic) church but each person must also function in the body of the congregation in which they have membership (Rom. 12:4-8; I Cor. 12:12-27).  James introduced himself as a servant.  Peter added servant to his identity as an apostle in his second letter.  He served as an elder in a local church in addition to his apostleship; therefore, he wrote as an apostle and an elder.

The manner in which an author introduced themselves can influence the way we read their letters.  For instance, Peter emphasized his presence on a mountain in Galilee with Jesus “when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am pleased.”  II Pet. 1:17; Luke 9:28-36.  He made this connection with Jesus in context with his prophetic statements about his “soon putting aside the tent of this body.” II Pet. 1:13, 14.  This is the credentials of the writer of the letter we will study.

Item twoThe introduction of the recipients.

First letter. “To God’s elect, strangers in the world.”  1:1.

Second letter.  “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.” II Pet. 1:1.

“Elect” has been translated from the Greek word eklektos.  It is made up with two words, ek,  means “from,” lego, to gather, “means to gather, to pick out.”  See Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical WordsConsequently, God has “picked out” the people who have faith in the grace and true gospel of Jesus Christ.  Having been chosen by God, Christians are identified as “God’s elect.”

Jesus was also chosen by God (John 1:17; Luke 23:35).  He is “a chosen and precious corner stone” for developing God’s “chosen people” as sons of God.  See I Pet. 2:4-10.  God made His own choices without the aid or influence of mankind.  This is the point Paul made in Rom. 9:10-29 for the benefit of the saints about the true identity of the Israel of God (Rom. 11:7).  God’s choices about the truth and grace “in Christ” were made before the foundation of the world.  The truth about why God created mankind is to have children in His eternal kingdom (Eph. 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:29; II Tim. 1:8-10; I Pet. 1:20, 21).            

Peter believed “God’s elect,” the recipients of his letter, needed only to be reminded of certain truths.  “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I think it is right to refresh your memory.”  II Pet. 1:12, 13.  He did not write because they had a doctrinal or spiritual growth problem.  Awareness of why he did write should be maintained during our study of both letters.  He did not write because they were stumbling but to keep them from stumbling (II Pet. 1:10).  The purpose of his letters was to warn the elect to “be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.”  II Pet. 3:17.

Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even among your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”  Acts 20:29, 30.  Peter wrote after Paul had written most of his letters.  Ignorant preachers and teachers were already distorting Paul’s teachings for their own destructive greedy agenda (II Pet. 3:15-18).  Peter wrote to strengthen the members of the church to withstand their satanic onslaught (I Pet. 5:8).

One way he chose to strengthen the recipients was to help them with their new Christian identity.  Please read I Pet. 2:9, 10 for the believers’ true identity.  Since they were God’s elect, they lived as “strangers in the world.”  Christians identify with God, not the world (John 18:36, 37; Jas. 4:4; I John 2:15-17).  We cannot be “the chosen” in the world and the “chosen by God,” simultaneously.  Our identity is by grace.  It is the truth about those who have faith in the gospel.  The gospel is the truth about grace; however, it includes many other truths from God for mankind.

All people become sinners and die spiritually after they mature in mind and conscience.  The recipients had lived in Satan’s kingdom in the world realm without grace and truth before being born again (I Pet. 1:14; 2:3, 10; 4:3; II Pet. 2:20).  They had remained in sin and ignorance of true life for some period of time (I Pet. 2:9, 10, 14, 18; 2:25; 4:2).  This is why it was necessary for them to be born again.  They became sons and daughters of God during their new spiritual birth (John 1:12, 13; II Cor. 6:17, 18; I Pet. 1:23).  The identity of Christians as children of God is very important for our spiritual growth.   Identity as a son of God is so essential; God has given the Holy Spirit to bear witness with Christians’ spirits.  Because of His presence we are aware of who we are at all times (Rom. 8:16).  This how we know we are “in Christ” and Jesus is in us (I John 3:24).  “Your life is hid with Christ in God.”  Col. 3:3.

The “preciousness of a Christian’s faith” is the subject Peter introduced in the prayer in the fourth item of the form of his first letter (I Pet. 1:3-5).  His prayer, like Paul’s, flowed into the body of his letter.  This prayer of praise to God and Jesus may have been offered to assure the recipients of the security of their inheritance in heaven.  It also assured them; they were people “who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”  I Pet. 1:5.  This is one way Peter was preparing the Christians for the false teachers and atheistic philosophers they would encounter.

The satisfaction for mankind’s higher innate needs of our soul’s security, honor and glory demands a goal for each Christian past our physical death or the return of Jesus.  Peter reminded his recipients of where this goal existed – it is in heaven.  Our inheritance will satisfy our inherent needs that cannot be satisfied in a world to be “destroyed by fire.”  II Pet. 3:10.  This goal for the satisfaction of the recipients’ higher needs, plus their “spiritual identity,” is how he began the task of his letters.  He taught them how to live the remainder of their lives in this world without “being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  II Pet 1:8.  Living effective and productive lives is the way Christians make our “calling and election sure.”  II Pet. 1:10.

The calling of God and faith in “His glory and goodness” precedes His choosing us as His elect people on earth (I Pet. 1:1; II Pet. 1:3).  If we fall short of our calling we are in danger of losing our status of “the elect” and eternal life as God’s children.  Peter then moved the challenge of “spiritual thinking” to the highest level for a human being while “in Adam, in Christ.”  Christians are to “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”  II Pet. 1:4.  Our spirits came from God; therefore, anything less than “divine nature” does not compliment the purpose for our being created.  Because Christians are still “in Adam” with the knowledge of good and evil, we need to continually be clothing ourselves “with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  Rom. 13:14.

Item three:  “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.”  I Pet. 1:2b.

“Grace and peace … .” II Pet. 1:2a.

The Apostle Paul included this line in each of his letters for the third item of his standard form letter.  The Apostle John inserted it in his Revelation but left it out in his epistles.  A thought repeated sixteen times in the New Testament letters and Revelation must not be ignored as mere “form.”  Grace is a powerful reigning force in a Christian’s life.  Its “reign is through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Rom. 5:21.  Grace does not reign through Christians’ own righteousness.  Its reign is through God’s righteousness manifested because He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the cross  for sinners (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-26; 5:17).

God’s faithfulness to His own righteousness was revealed by His willingness for Jesus’ physical life to be sacrificed for the sins of mature faithful people in the world (Heb. 9:15).  The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross gave mankind the opportunity to be “born again” of an imperishable seed which is the enduring word of God (I Pet. 1:17-23).  We have been begotten by God; however, because we are still “in Adam,” we need the grace of “justification by faith.”  The result of having our sins “remembered no more” in our new birth and living on the mercy seat because of justification by faith, allows Christians to have guilt free consciences while we strive to overcome our sins of ignorance and weakness (Acts 2:38; Rom. 3:21-26; 4:25; Heb. 6:17-20; 8:10-12).  We have peace with God; therefore, His Holy Spirit fellowships and strengthens us (Rom. 5:1, 5; Gal. 4:6).  Truly grace and peace is ours in abundance because we have faith through our knowledge about grace and truth from God through Jesus, our Lord.

Item four:  Praise or prayer:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  I Pet. 1:3.

Praise has been translated from the Greek word eulogetos (eu – well. Logos, to speak).  It means good speaking.  The Apostle Paul used this word in II Cor. 1:3 and Eph. 1:3; however, he used the Greek word eucharisteo in I Cor. 1:4 and Phil 1:3.  It means to be grateful – to give thanks.  Jesus used the same word in Matt. 15:36 when he gave thanks for the “seven loaves and the fish.”

Peter followed the standard letter form in his second letter although his prayer is found in the sentence with the “grace and peace” pronouncement.  “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.”  NIV.  II Pet. 1:2.  “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.”  NASB.  “Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.”  KJV.  The Greek sentence from which the foregoing has been translated flows like this:  Grace and peace “may it be multiplied” (this is one word in the Greek) by “a full knowledge” (one word).  We may understand this to mean Christians do not merely have knowledge about God; we know God and Jesus as we would a friend or relative (I Pet. 1:15-17; I Cor. 1:21).

In both cases it was a declaration about what God, our Father, is doing for Christians because of our knowledge about what is the true potential life of a human being.  The knowledge about this life comes from knowing God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3; Heb. 1:3).  True life and eternal life is of the same quality.  “In Him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of men.”  John 1:3.    In his first letter, Peter continued to remind the recipients of their “new birth” and their “inheritance that never can perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.”  I Pet. 1:4.  In the second letter, he led the recipients into spiritual heights about Christians who “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”  II Pet. 1:4.

The content of these praise statements may have been at the “top of Peter’s list” about the many graces and promises the recipients had been enjoying.  They had “tasted that the Lord is good.”  I Pet. 2:3.  They had been greatly rejoicing in the teachings (doctrines) they had received, “though for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”  I Pet. 1:6.  Peter developed a long list of topics for them to think about in his letters.  He wrote these things “as reminders to stimulate you (them) to wholesome thinking,” so they would be prepared for the false teachers and scoffers who were coming.

In our next lesson we will explore the fifth and sixth items, the body and close, of Peter’s letters.

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