Friday, July 06, 2007

Blessed Be God

Peter tells his readers to “Bless” God. That phrase is very similar to what we saw in our study of Psalm 103:1-4, where David said: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” Peter begins this passage the same way and instead of offering the praises to God by himself, he calls on all of God’s children to join him. Notice what he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4). These words are very important to those whom Peter refers to as “pilgrims of the Dispersion” (v.1) because they are words of hope in the midst of suffering.“ Suffering” is the theme of this epistle as seen by the “seven different words used for it” (Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Handbook, p.796).Three of the seven words: “suffer, “ ”suffering,” and “suffered” appear a total of 14 times in this letter. Chapter 5, verse 13 tells us that this letter was written from Rome when it says, “She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son.” “Babylon” is used here in a figurative sense as it is used in the book of Revelation to refer to Rome where “Peter ministered...until his martyrdom” (Life Application Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Peter and Jude, p.8).

“Some of the most severe...persecutions came at the hands of Nero. This Roman emperor became obsessed with eliminating Christians and their faith” (Ibid., LABC). Four years before his death, “a large part of Rome was destroyed by fire, probably started at Nero’s order. The emperor publicly accused the Christians in the city, giving him an excuse for [the] terrible atrocities” that followed (Ibid., LABC). The Roman historian Tacitus said, ‘Besides being put to death, [Christians] were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed’ (Annales 15.44 quoted in the Life Application Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Peter and Jude, introduction). So when Peter writes this letter to those who are scattered in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1), he is writing “to those living in Rome and throughout the Roman province of encourage [them] to remain strong” in the midst of persecution. He does that by focusing their attention on their future “inheritance” that is “reserved in heaven for [them]” (1:4).

Peter identifies himself in verse 1 as the author. Verses 1 and 2 follow the customary salutation of that day which included: the writer, readers, and the greeting. The writer is “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” The readers are “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” also referred to as the “elect” in verse 2. Verse 2 ends with the greeting: “Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

Now in verse 3 Peter begins his letter by talking about the salvation of the believer. As we have seen in the past, we see again here that God is the one who initiates salvation by choosing or electing those whom He would save before the foundation of the world. He says in verse 2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Some believe that “foreknowledge” is God looking down through the corridor of time and seeing who would believe and therefore choosing them. But that is not the meaning of “foreknowledge.” The Greek word for “foreknowledge” (prognosis) refers “to God’s eternal, predetermined, loving, and saving intention. It “means that God planned before, not that He observed before (cf. Ex. 33:17; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Matt. 7:23).” “God pre-thought and pre-determined or predestined each Christian's salvation” (The MacArthur Study Bible, 1 Peter 1:2). In 1:20, Peter used the related verb “foreordained” or “foreknown,’ a form of proginosko, in reference to God’s knowledge from eternity past that He would send His Son to redeem sinners. Usage of this verb cannot mean that He looked into future history and saw that Jesus would choose to die, so He made Him the Savior. In the same way that God the Father foreknew His plan for Christ’s crucifixion from before the foundation of the world, (Acts 2:23; cf. 1 Peter 2:6), He foreknew the elect. In neither case was it a matter of mere prior information about what would happen. Therefore foreknowledge involves God’s predetermining to have a relationship with some individuals, based on His eternal plan. It is the divine purpose that brings salvation for sinners to fulfillment, as accomplished by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, not merely an advance knowledge that observes how people will respond to God’s offer of redemption” (John MacArthur, 1 Peter, pp.19-20). God brought the salvation relationship into existence by decreeing it into existence ahead of time. Christians are foreknown for salvation in the same way Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world to be a sacrifice for sins (cf. Acts 2:23).

Verse 3 essentially says that “God and Father...according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Spoken in similar manner as Ephesians 2:4-5, Peter states that our salvation is entirely the work of God. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” This truth causes Peter launch into praise to God for our salvation and, again, is a offer of hope to his readers who are presently suffering or will suffer at the hands of the Roman emperor Nero.

What better words could be offered? When you’re suffering do what Peter did—bless God!