Getting Started in 1 Peter

Lessons on Living as Exiles, Part 2

First Peter. Just an orientation — wish we had time to argue more fully for it — but in A.D. 64 in July, Rome burned just a huge conflagration. Some people suspected Nero, the emperor, set the fire so that he could rebuild it gloriously, more gloriously. As a scapegoat, he blamed Christians, and you have those horrible stories of putting Christians on poles and covering them with oil and lighting them like lanterns around the city to light it.

The Coming Fiery Ordeal

Peter died in that persecution in late 64 or 65 A.D. So this letter was written before that. And the letter, as you read it — and I’m presuming now on some familiarity, but we’ll see it — the letter doesn’t read like that kind of persecution is happening in the churches. It looks like it’s written with the smell of that on the horizon. That’s what it looks like: “Do not be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes upon you” (1 Peter 4:12). Like, “Hmm, you must be sensing something on the horizon?”

So most people think this book was probably written mid-60s as Peter, in his last days or years, was in Rome. There’s a reference to Babylon in 1 Peter 5 at the end — which is a code name, you can see it in Revelation, for Rome. And he was writing to the churches in today’s Turkey. So let’s look at this.

Let’s back up here. This gizmo that I’m using here — this is an iPad — and the app costs $10, and it’s called neu.Annotate, N-E-U Annotate. No proprietary stuff here. If you want to use this, if you want to do it in Sunday school, it’s yours. Just go to the store and buy it. I think it might be free — neu.Annotate is free. Neu.Annotate+, I think, which is what I’m using, I think it costs $10. So if this is helpful, there it is for you.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Now where’s that? That’s where he’s writing to churches or exiles. We’ll talk about that in just a minute, and here’s the map. So Pontus, that’s right there. Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia. That’s the order. It’s like he’s going in a clockwise motion. Sometimes Galatia is drawn a little differently. So it’s Turkey. It’s the churches that are in contemporary Turkey, which is sad, isn’t it? When you think about the 52 million people who are almost all Muslim in Turkey today, but not all.

Elect Exiles of the Dispersion

That’s where it’s going: to the Roman provinces and the Christians out there. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles.” So right off the bat, the question is, What do you mean “exiles of the Dispersion?”

The dispersion, or the diaspora, could be Jews exiled from Palestine, or could be Christians exiled from heaven. Those are the two options that are usually weighed here. Is this a Jewish? When he says all those Christians scattered through all those Roman provinces, those are all Jews he’s writing to. He was the apostle to the circumcision. Or is this more generally to Gentiles?

The Case for a Gentile Background

I have argued — those are the two options there — Jews away from Palestine, or Christians away from heaven. I have argued that it’s Christians away from heaven, and we’re going to go fast now and not satisfy anybody as far as the basis of this goes.

He talks as though the diaspora were Gentiles. But I want you to see that Paul in Philippians, the writer to the Hebrews, talks this way.

Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)

They all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)

So the New Testament outside 1 Peter has this concept that Christians are citizens of heaven, and here is not our home. We are exiles. We are strangers. We are just passing through, in a very significant sense.

Then you have this passage in 1 Peter 4:

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery. (1 Peter 4:3–4)

Almost all scholars and interpreters read that and say, “That is not the description of a former Jewish background.” The Jews were attractive to pagans who lived like that, precisely because they didn’t.

So when it refers to Gentiles here, it doesn’t mean, “That you weren’t part of that group.” It means, “You were, and you shouldn’t be any longer. You’ve got a new identity. Your citizenship is not here anymore. You’re no longer participating in these things which you did.” And therefore, this is very likely a Gentile background group of churches.

That’s the way I’m taking the word “exiles” here — “elect exiles of the dispersion.” “Exiles of dispersion,” meaning, “Identify yourself, Christians. All Christians, everywhere on the planet, you are exiles, you are sojourners, you are immigrants, aliens. Your home, your citizenship, the key defining locus is heaven.”

Christians Are Exiles

People often ask me, “If you could choose any place at all to live, where would you live?” I’d say, “Wherever they want to study the Bible.” I mean I just have — I don’t know why I’m wired — zero geographical proclivities. I just don’t even think that way. So, “Oh, you’re retirement age. You could go to Phoenix.” I don’t know anybody in Phoenix. This is baffling to me that people choose to live places because you can play there. I don’t get that at all.

So we are exiles, and our dispersion is not outside Israel, it’s outside heaven. That’s what I think that means. Then, “elect,” very controversial doctrine. And I’d love to teach a whole course on it, but I’m just going to point it out that Peter just foregrounds it as your identity. He foregrounds it. Just, “Hello elect! That’s who you are, chosen. You didn’t choose me, I chose you. Feel chosen, feel your identity. I’m a chosen one.”

Then if you begin to feel that, then you need the doctrine of unconditional election. Otherwise you’re going to be snotty-proud, right? Zero in you prompted that election. But that’s a whole course to itself, and I am simply asking you to ponder why he would do that.

He’s going to come back to it. He’s going to say it again. He’s going to say “a chosen race” when he gets over to 1 Peter 2. So he’s not going to leave that behind, but he wants them to know that they are chosen as exiles. And I think those two words need to go together to make sense of what’s coming now.

Divine Foundation

Three prepositional phrases:

  1. according to the foreknowledge of God
  2. in the sanctification of the Spirit
  3. for obedience to Jesus Christ

And I think all of those are modifying that you are “elect exiles according to foreknowledge.” You are elect exiles in the sanctification of the Spirit. You are elect exiles for obedience to Jesus Christ, and for — those two to go together — sprinkling with the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:2). Trinitarian, right? God the Father, the Spirit, Jesus Christ. That’s remarkable.

Peter wanted, just right out of the chute, he’s making sure that they hear powerful identifying traits of who they are. They are elect exiles, and this election as exiles unto exile-status is they were known by God before the foundation of the world, they are sanctified and set apart by the Spirit — that’s why they’re exiles, right?

How do you become an exile? You look like you belong. Everybody else in Birmingham looks like you. The Spirit sanctifies, and thus sets you apart, and now your citizenship is elsewhere. So this elect as exiles is by the Spirit that comes into being by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and it is unto the obedience of Jesus Christ for sprinkling.

Now that’s very odd. That’s really odd — “for obedience.” I get that. I am chosen for obedience, chosen to be an exile for obedience. Got that? That really makes sense. Why are you chosen for obedience to Jesus and for sprinkling with his blood?

Infinitely Precious Sprinkled Blood

I’m jumping ahead here to 1 Peter 1:17. “For obedience and for sprinkling” (1 Peter 1:2). Now look at this. This was the best clue for me. What in the world does “for sprinkling” mean? You are elect exiles for sprinkling with his blood, not baptism, with his blood.

Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:17–19)

So what were you ransomed from with the blood of Christ? Futile ways. So you’re starting to get the connection. The blood was shed, by it you were ransomed, and what you were ransomed from is ways, futile, empty, damnable, dead-end, suicidal, Christ-dishonoring ways. And another name for that to where you’re going is obedience, right?

So when he says we are elect exiles “for obedience and for sprinkling,” he’s not saying two different things, right? The sprinkling is the blood being applied to me day by day, by which I’m set free from the old futile ways into obedience. And the thing that’s added here is that I am reminded of what it costs to get me to obey.

So if there are any patterns of life that you are walking in that are not obedient to Jesus, you know what that means? It means you are scorning the blood because Peter draws attention to the worth. The worth! “Knowing you were ransomed not from futile ways, inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as mere silver, gold” — like Fort Knox” — “but blood” (1 Peter 1:18).

So when you choose to walk in the ways from which you were ransomed, you're thumbing your nose at the blood — which is infinitely valuable, which means it's an infinite offense, which means you may not be saved if you stay in that attitude. So this is big, and I think “the sprinkling of the blood” here is not a different goal than obedience but one that underlines it.

The Linear Thought in 1 Peter

One last thought before we leave 1 Peter 1:2. Let’s see if I can. You are elect exiles of the dispersion, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience.

So this is, “from,” “through,” “to,” right? So, “From foreknowledge,” that was a long time ago, “In the sanctification,” that’s how it’s coming about. And, “for” is the goal. Peter thinks that way. We’re going to see it again just a minute. Exactly the same pattern.

Now, the reason I pause here to draw your attention to it is that you care about the nations, cultures. Not all cultures think that way. Linear — this is very linear. Foreknowledge, exile according to foreknowledge, through sanctification, unto obedience. I love it. That’s my culture. That’s my mind. I think that way. I put pieces together that way. Give me a cause, give me a means, give me a goal. I can live. I just love it. I flourish with causes, means, goals. “Yes, the American way,” and the Biblical way.

Embracing Diversity in Thought

Now, my question then, culturally, is, so what if you bump into a culture where they think like this? They think in circles, or they think in staccato, proverbial their minds just don’t function this way. What should they do when 1 Peter’s being taught to them?

And here’s my answer: they should add it to the repertoire of their ways of thinking, not replace. There are lots of ways of thinking. I’m right now trying to memorize John 17. You’d think, “John 17, good grief.” David Platt memorizes whole books, right? And I’m trying to memorize one chapter in the Bible and I’m finding John 17 (forgive me) maddeningly hard. You know why? I don’t think that way?

I mean, just read John, read Romans, then read John, you’re in two different worlds. You’re in two different linguistic thought-form worlds. You really are. Isn’t that wonderful that the Bible has both kinds of culture or literary way of thinking. John is just, “This and this and this and this and this,” and Paul is, “This in order for that, although that because of this.” Connectors, I get that, hanging everything with connectors that make it fit logically into a puzzle. Sherlock Holmes is what you do with Romans!

And what you do with John, I’m just, I don’t know. I spent four years trying to preach through John and I loved it. I am committed to memorizing that chapter because it’s so different. I want to add it. I want to add it to my Pauline brain. I have a Pauline brain, not a Johannine brain. I consider myself weaker for that.

Biblical Ways of Viewing the World

Now, I wouldn’t replace the two. I want both. My mother who’s now in heaven, I never remember her quoting Romans to me in a letter. She wrote me weekly in college and in graduate school, and she’d always sign with Proverbs.

My mother was not a logic-driven thinker. My dad was. She loved nuggets, quips, proverbs, and there they are. They’re in the Bible for people like her. I don’t know whether she ever read Romans, I presume she did. So all that to say, when you see structures like this in the Bible, don’t overstate your case. Don’t say, “Ah, that’s the Bible way to think,” because you’re showing how naive you are.

Because the Bible has other. The book of Proverbs is in the Bible. Psalms is in the Bible, John is in the Bible. And as you go into the world, you may need to start with another book. But don’t, here’s the reverse mistake. The reverse mistake is to say, “Oh, it’s all relative. And it doesn’t matter which way you choose to think. The Bible has a little bit for everybody. And if you don’t like one part, you don’t have to understand it.”

I don’t believe that. I think the Bible says the whole book is inspired and profitable for teaching, for correction, reproof, for training in righteousness that you might be fully equipped. So if I find Proverbs difficult to use, or if I find, better, John difficult to follow and understand, that’s my problem. And I need to devote a lifetime if necessary to getting into me that biblical way of viewing the world, okay? More time there than I should have spent, but there it is. We’re not going much faster than in Vancouver. In fact, this is not good.