We have two letters in the Scriptures whose authorship is attributed to Peter. And although many scholars and preachers have assigned Peter the role of “apostle to the Jews” (in contrast to Paul who was “the apostle to the Gentiles”), his letters are clearly addressed to a mixture of the two (as are most of Paul’s letters). Peter’s letters are written against the backdrop of a turbulent time. Claudius is emperor and his desire to return to the Roman state religion has stirred up hostility against all “foreign” religions. Persecution of Christians has risen out of this movement and will reach its peak under Claudius’ successor, Nero. But for the present suffering and persecution for the faith is most certainly on every believer’s mind. Peter’s concern then is to encourage the faithful to first expect the suffering to come, but also how to live a life that reflects Jesus Christ in spite of the turmoil in the world around them.
Four grand themes emerge in Peter’s first epistle. The first is “New Birth” which produces a living hope thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:3). This hope enables believers to endure suffering (1:4-9) because they know what lies ahead. The second is submission which is illustrated through a number of relationships: to those in secular authority (1 Pet. 2:17-18), by those in a marital relationship (3:1-7) and within the church (1 Pet. 5:5). The third is suffering. Peter observes that in general a person who does what is right may not suffer (3:13), but that we live in a world that crucified Christ, so it should not surprise us if we do suffer (2 :18-21; 4:12-19) and if we do suffer, our goal is to endure it because this finds favor with God (2:20). The last theme to emerge in this short but powerful letter is the example of Christ. He endured suffering as well and has become the example of how we should approach our own suffering should we experience it (2:21; 4:1-2). Peter admonishes the recipients of this letter to live this way because “the end of all things is near” (1 Pet. 4:7). Living a Christ-like life is a strong testimony to those who are lost in the throes of their own sinfulness (1:13-16; 2:11-12; 4:14-16).
The second letter of Peter turns its attention to the topic of false teachers and the impending judgment upon those who promote false teaching and those who follow it. Peter underscores these themes by citing OT precedence and by looking forward to a judgment that is to come (2 Pet. 2:5-9; 3:1-13). As a result of this impending judgment, Christians are encouraged to be on the alert for false teachers (2 Pet. 1:3-21; 2:1-22) and to resist their influence by living under the grace of God (2 Peter 3:14-18). The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible notes, “2nd Peter is an epistle stressing the importance of knowledge. The words know and knowledge are used 16 times in this short letter. Knowing the truth is the answer to false teaching.” No truer words could be written or spoken. With this in mind it adds to the impact of Peter’s words concerning the writings of Paul (2 Pet. 3:14-15).
I am often struck by how many Christians I know that read the latest “how to” Christian book, but not the Scriptures. I confess it annoys me when I see their enthusiasm over what I call the latest “Christian fad book” without holding its author up to the measuring stick of false teachers in 2 Pet. 2:1-22 or its pop culture subjects to the entire teaching of the Bible. Like the believers in the early church we live in tumultuous times. Therefore it is even more important that we stand on the truth of God’s Word, not on what someone thinks or feels about it. Take a close look at what you’re reading these days. Then consider Peter’s letters as if he has written them to you. Ask yourself, “Am I following the right teacher?” as you view the author and subject through the lens of 1st and 2nd Peter.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 12/13/2015