1 Peter 4:12-17, 5:6-11


Try to imagine yourself back in the days of Peter. Crucifixions took place frequently throughout the Empire. It was punishment reserved for criminals and the cursed. In those trying days, there were those who claimed to be god. (Cf. Herod Agrippa, Acts 12:20-23, and Jim Jones in Guyana, a few years ago.)

Imagine what it was like when the Apostles claimed that this Jesus of Nazareth, though crucified, cursed, despised, was true God and offered all people eternal life! It was not easy to be a Christian at that time.

But, it is no easier to be a true Christian now. Is it easy to suffer? Is it easy to be tried severely, as if by fire? Is it easy to be insulted, to have your name dragged in the mud? Is it easy to witness judgments (of purification) taking place in the church? Is it easy to see divisions in the church (which God uses to make the true Christians stand out, 1 Corinthians 11:19)? Is it easy to resist the devil when he comes to me with the same allurements with which he tempts unbelievers, maybe to me even more so? IT IS NOT.

1 Peter is the Epistle of Hope, the firm assurance that everlasting life is mine. 1 Peter is the Epistle of  Suffering, a blessing, an asset, not a liability. 1 Peter is the Epistle of Glory. (The word occurs in 1 Peter with higher frequency, in comparison to the length of the book, than anywhere else in the New Testament). Peter mentions the glory which is mine now and forever more often than he does the glory which is due God for what He has done for me. The two texts chosen for Easter VII admirably sum up the contents of 1 Peter. The two texts can be preached either together or separately. We leave that up to the preacher.

1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

Read verses 7-11 for yourself first. Peter had just spoken of Christian wisdom, sobriety, prayer, love, hospitality, speaking the Word of God, serving fellow-Christians. In this way God, through Jesus Christ, is glorified among men. Only twice in this Epistle does Peter use the term "dear friends," here and at 2: 11. In the latter reference he warned them against fleshly lusts. They attack all of us.

Now the subject is "fiery trial, fiery ordeal, painful test."  Lenski and Selwyn are quite sure that Peter is speaking specifically of the Christian persecutions under the Emperor Nero. Others, for example Rienecker, Bengel and Stoeckhardt, do not mention the Neronian persecutions.

Sooner or later, in every generation, painful trials come to each and every Christian. Note the thrice repeated word "you."  Note again the three points:

  1. Fiery ordeals peculiar to Christians;

  2. For the purpose of testing them for their good;

  3. The trials very real.

Peter is assuming that his hearers (like all of us) will come up with two objections:

  1. This strange thing ought not be happening to such a (nice) person as I am;

  2. and, God has lost control. It is an accident.
Rienecker: 'Fiery trial', the word was often used in the sense of a purifying or refining fire.
Bengel: A taste of the divine power, of which preceding verses speak, forbids us to be offended as by a strange thing. . . . It is not strange, for it is adapted to purify them. . . it only appears to be accidental.
Stoeckhardt: Since the fire of tribulation serves to test, purify, preserve their faith (1 :7), they should rejoice.
Lenski: His calling them 'beloved' is due to the subject matter now presented, the severity of the sufferings that may come upon some of his readers.

Note that all verb forms in this verse are present tense.

"Cease considering it a strange thing."  They already were doing so. Christians are quick to throw up their hands and cry: "This is happening ONLY TO ME! This is happening BECAUSE GOD HATES ME!"  Such are the words and thoughts of the flesh and of Satan, the Adversary, not of the Word of God.

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

"But" means "quite to the contrary."  What he's going to say now is the very opposite of our fears and fleshly thoughts. Acts 5:41 is a wonderful commentary.

Stoeckhardt: Christians, like their Lord and Master, are hated and persecuted by the world.
Lenski: The readers are only in fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. This is a thought that is prominent and fully carried out by Paul in Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:7; 4:10; Philippians 1:29; 3:10; Colossians 1:24. It goes back to Christ's word (John 15:20-21). We fellowship Christ's sufferings when we suffer for his name's sake, when the hatred that struck him strikes us because of him. . . . In Matthew 5:12 persecution places us in the company of the persecuted prophets; here it places us in the company of Christ himself.
Selwyn: Compare the verba Christi in Matthew 10:24-25; John 13:16 and John 15:20.

We think that "glory" is both genitive of possession, denoting the glory now fully used by His human nature, and subjective genitive, for He will give everlasting glory to Christians who, at that time, will "glory"  denoting rejoicing with exultation. We aren't speaking merely of emotion or what pleases us. Peter is speaking of something which we now have by faith and which we taste now and then. But the real experience still lies ahead.

Rienecker: The participle with the imperative is emphatic, to rejoice with rapture.
Bengel: With exceeding joy, free from all suffering.

That should not be forgotten. In this life I'm never free from the prospect of suffering.

Stoeckhardt: Whereas 1:7-8 speaks of the revelation of Jesus Christ, our passage speaks of the revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ, of the glory which should also be revealed in us, Romans 8:18. Then will joy that is still latent, still mingled with sadness, change into bright, serene joy, into loud shouts of exultation and triumph.
Lenski: Here he uses 'the revelation of Christ's glory' the tremendous opposite of 'the sufferings of Christ' during the days of his humiliation. Peter has in mind what Jesus says in Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:11-12.

1 Peter 4:14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

From the hope and prospect of the future, Peter turns back to the present. This verse is a fact condition, a condition of reality, followed by a causal clause. Translate: "If, as is the case, etc." 

Rienecker: The word is used in the LXX for reproaches heaped on God and his saints by the wicked and in the New Testament becomes associated with the indignities and maltreatment which Christ has to endure.

Look at Matthew 5:11-12.  "Because of the Name of Christ." means everything that Christ is and stands for. Unbelievers do not revile and make fun ignorantly. They KNOW what they're making fun at.

"Blessed"  denotes the condition of those whose relationship to God and His son is correct and leads to eternal life. Why are they "blessed"? "Because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you."  Thus KJV, NKJV, NIV, AAT and NASB. However, we hasten to add that there is more. BAG correctly points out that "rest" means more than "to rest upon."  It also means "to refresh."  Therefore we translate:  "(You are blessed) because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you and refreshes you." 

What is Peter talking about? Very simply, what Christ promised at John 14:16-17; 14:26; 15:26; 16:8-11; 16:13-15. Behold how exultant the Spirit made the Apostles at Acts 5:41-42 after they had been beaten and had been forbidden to preach the Gospel!!

In 1 Peter 4:14 we take "the Spirit of glory" to mean "the Spirit Who holds eternal glory before our eyes."  And "the Spirit of God" means "the Spirit Whom the Father sent at Jesus' request." 

The Spirit gives rest through the Gospel.

Bengel: The Spirit is upon the righteous even before they suffer reproaches.
Stoeckhardt: The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, proceeding from the Father as well as from the Son. He knows God's heart and mind and so makes known to Christians that, although men revile and reject them, they have God at their side, that they belong to God. . . . Truly, Christians profit greatly from their suffering. It brings them into the closest relationship to Christ, whose companions in suffering they are, to the Spirit, who surrounds them with comfort, through the Spirit to God, their God and Father, vouchsafes unto them a foretaste of future glory.
Lenski: From our enemies come reproaches, from the Spirit comes the glory that makes us blessed. . . . Every reproach causes our ears to hear a voice from heaven crying 'Blessed, blessed!' upon us.
Selwyn: For St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, the Gospel is the gospel of the glory of the Messiah.

True. And 2 Corinthians 3:18 clearly states that the Spirit of the Lord is advancing us from glory to glory already in this life. The words "beloved, sufferings, rejoice, exult and blessed," found in verses 12-14, affect the emotions and senses of Christians. Christians are not affectionless robots. But they go far beyond emotions. Each of these words is hallowed and blessed by our Lord Jesus. Rich promises are attached to each of these words. There are times when suffering is so painful that the Christian is left numb. BUT HE IS BLESSED!! God says so.

1 Peter 4:15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.

Verses 15-17 hang together as a unit. Verse 15 is both a warning and a prohibition; verse 16 involves us in a condition of reality, a prohibition (this time not a warning) and then an imperative; and, verse 17 states a very important principle to clear our thinking when we get the idea that God is punishing us.

In addition to that, it amounts to a lesser to greater argument, stated as a rhetorical question which answers itself. Verse 14 means suffering innocently. If and when we suffer for sins committed knowingly and willingly, verse 14 does not apply. Perhaps verse 15 involves us in a mild hyperbole, at least the first part. To be punished for being a murderer or a thief is obvious even to an unbeliever, much less to a believer , but nonetheless, the latter must be reminded. These are crimes punishable by law.

The translations reflect the various suggestions for  "meddler" : Concealer of stolen goods; spy, informer; one who meddles in things that do not concern him; revolutionist; one who infringes the rights of others.

In the opinion of the author of these  Notes  in 1 Peter 4:15 we have a gradation from crude, punishable crime to a "meddling" sort of evangelism. Murder must be punished by law. Thievery , though punishable, often goes unnoticed and is not punished.  "Evil-doing" can cover a host of sins from crime to sinful pranks. But the sneakiest of all is the last one.

Selwyn: 'Meddling' denotes tactless attempts to convert neighbors, or to improve those who are already converted.

Exactly. The former would be represented by the so-called evangelist who makes the unbeliever feel inferior, unduly terrified, etc. The latter would be represented by the so called charismatic who tries to make the believer feel incomplete.

It is possible that these things were actually going on and that Peter is warning his hearers that suffering for such actions and attitudes does not glorify God nor carry His promise with it. Bengel comments that all four nouns in verse 15 are disgraceful. True.

Stoeckhardt: Also tried and true Christians are still in need of such strong words of admonition and warning, which, as mentioned earlier, belong to the means God uses to keep His elect from backsliding and apostasy.

We do not agree with Lenski who considers all four nouns in this verse as punishable crimes. He translates the fourth as "political agitator whom the authorities must squelch."  But we cannot prove Lenski wrong.

1 Peter 4:16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Note the similarity between this verse and verse 14:

  1. Both have  "name" ; and

  2. Both involve suffering.

But there the comparison ends. From there on it's contrast:  "But" distinguishes the innocent sufferer from the guilty sufferer, whereas verse 16 informs the innocent sufferer that he should not feel guilty or that God is shaming him, but on the other hand he should thank God and clothe Him in splendor for the very fact that he is suffering as a Christian.

The first part of verse 16 means: "If, as can be expected, he suffers as truly being a Christian."  Like Christ Himself, this man is innocent. It could mean: "because he is called by this name (Christian)" or "because of what Christ stands for and has done for him."  Stoeckhardt translates:  "in this case, in this respect, in this regard."  Selwyn translates:  "by virtue of bearing this name." 

Bengel: Let him not be ashamed although the world is ashamed of shame. Let him glory: Peter might have said, antithetically, 'Let him esteem it an honor to himself.' but he teaches that the honor is to be given to God.

Lenski is of the opinion that the words  "as a Christian," by analogy from verse 15, implies the Neronian persecution, at which time it was a crime to be a Christian. That may be true.

1 Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Verses 14 and 16 speak of the innocent suffering of the Christian. Verse 15 speaks of the just punishment of the criminal. Verse 17 carefully distinguishes the two both as to God's purpose and their outcome.

Note that the church is called "the house of God."  On this look at Hebrews 3:6. It surely speaks of the church of all ages.

Is this verse speaking of the visible or invisible church? We leave that unanswered but surely 1 Corinthians 11:32 applies. These   Notes   assume that  "judgment" has two meanings here: In the stated case, severe judgment (perhaps the Neronian persecution) on the church which cleansed the church of false adherents. The same external sufferings come to both believers and unbelievers. But God's motivation, in each case, is different. It is remarkable that the "judgment" comes FIRST for the church:  "But if, as is happening the judgment begins with us etc."  Perhaps reading verses 18-19 will help you at this point.

The  Apology , Tappert 206.151: The saints are subject to death and to all the common troubles, as Peter says at 1 Peter 4: 17. As a rule, these troubles are punishment for sin. In the godly they have another and better purpose, that is, to exercise them so that in their temptations they may learn to seek God's help and to acknowledge the unbelief in their hearts. So Paul says of himself (2 Corinthians 1 :9) 'We felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises chastening upon them' (Isaiah 26: 16); that is, troubles are a discipline by which God exercises the saints.
Stoeckhardt: 'Judgment' according to the context, is the solemn judgment that befalls the unbelievers, the judgment of condemnation, of damnation. This judgment begins already in time. . . . The beginning of the judgment is evidently the present suffering of Christendom. . . . Christians now in this time experience a little something of judgment. Suffering does really affect Christians; it hurts the flesh; Christians feel and painfully experience God's mighty hand pressing down upon them. 1 Peter 5:6. But, this is not a judgment of wrath but a judgment of purification. . . . Christians should not be ashamed but should glorify God since the day is drawing near when their enemies will succumb, while they will triumph.

In conclusion, note well that "judgment"  BEGINS FIRST WITH CHRISTIANS, not because God wants to punish them, but wants to save  them. God threatened both Israel (722 B.C.) and Judah (606 B.C.) with political captivity. Why? To chasten them. But, in both cases, the captors (the Assyrians and the Babylonians) were severely punished and disappeared from history. Communism was godless and atheistic. It plagued the world. God is refining His own and punishing those who reject Him. Many other instances could be cited. It goes on all the time, everywhere in the world.

1 Peter 4:18 And,  "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" 1 Peter 4:19 So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. 1 Peter 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 1 Peter 5:2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 1 Peter 5:3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

"Therefore"  actually introduces the conclusion to the entire Epistle. The whole letter can be summarized with the word "humility."  It is more than obedience. But note how it also refers back to verse 5, which begins with obedience and then blossoms into humility.

"The mighty hand of God" is frequent in the Old Testament. All men are under "the mighty hand of God."  This mighty hand resists the arrogant but is gracious to the humble.

The command in verse 6 cannot be understood synergistically, as if man has the natural ability to humble himself. For the believer "the mighty hand of God" is the hammer of the Law which crushes his heart of stone and makes him speak words such as are found in the penitential Psalms. Only God can lift up, exalt. He does this with the Gospel.

It is true that "due time" is primarily eschatological, pertaining to the end of the world, but only in the sense that at the end of the world repentance will no longer be necessary.

Stoeckhardt: The apostle looks back--as indicated by the word 'therefore' ---on the one main theme which he has pursued throughout the entire letter, through suffering unto glory. The expression 'under the mighty hand of God' points back to 4:17, to the beginning of God's judgment. He means that suffering which God sends on Christians. It lies heavily upon them. It weighs down the soul. We should willingly bow down under the hand of God, patiently bear all the grievous designs of divine Providence.

A Christian is not frivolous when it comes to his views of divine Providence.

Lenski: 'In due season' implies that God will let the lowly remain in their lowly condition here on earth; the time for their exaltation is the last day.

Selwyn calls attention to the fact that 'humility' is a general principle of the Christian's relationship to God. The Magnificat breathes this humility.

1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

This verse is a quotation of Psalm 55:22. And don't fail to study the parallel passages noted at Matthew 6:25. Furthermore, study Proverbs 3:5-8. Worry, anxiety, distractions, which simply amount to lack of faith and trust in the promises of God in Christ Jesus, are very devastating for man.

By the way, humility is a lot more than self-effacement, or lowliness of mind. Do not separate verse 7 from verse 6. A man becomes humble when he begins to realize his total dependence on the Lord. Look at Peter at Luke 5:8 or the woman at Luke 7:36-50.

There is so much worry. Mankind worries from morning 'til night and even in his dreams. Worries likely cause nightmares.

Rienecker: The true Christian attitude is not negative self-abandonment or resignation, but involves as the expression of one's self-humbling the positive and trusting of one's self and one's troubles to God.
Bengel: God provides, therefore be not anxious. The devil seeks, therefore watch.
Stoeckhardt: Affliction, especially persecution, brings with it all sorts of worries.
Calov: We should not grapple for any length of time with the burden of our cares but at once rid ourselves of the burden by an earnest desire of our heart and by inner sighing.
Luther: Oh heavenly Father, you have created me; and now things are not going the way I want them to go. Go now and carry out the work of your calling, says God, and let me care for you.
Stoeckhardt: God Himself and of Himself, without anything on your part, is mindful of you; He will sustain you.

1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Note that verses 6-11 form a major paragraph in the Greek text. Note also that the editors have rightly divided these six verses into three subparagraphs: 6-7; 8-9; 10-11.
  1. The first subparagraph deals primarily with our proper attitude toward God;

  2. the second deals with our awareness and defense against THE enemy;

  3. the third subparagraph deals with the wonderful prospect of what the God of all grace will do for us, ending with a doxology.

Verse 8 begins:  "Be sober. Be vigilant."  Here the enemy is called the Adversary, Accuser, and is referred to under the metaphor of a roaring, hungry lion.

Selwyn: Peter's use of more than one title for the Devil here is illustrated by Revelation. 12:9-10, where no fewer than five titles are piled up for the sake of what we may call fullness of theological identification.

We add that at Revelation 12:9-10 where Satan has five titles, his utter defeat is spelled out. Peter is quoting Psalm 22: 14(13) in the LXX, a Messianic Psalm. It is comforting to know that Jesus suffered the full brunt of Satan's lion-like ferocity. Look at Ezekiel 22:25 and 2 Timothy 4:17; Job 1:7. Satan is the prince of this world. Because of the fall of man, this world has become the devil's domain. He is out to devour mankind. He is a murderer and liar, John 8:44. He is very powerful.

Rienecker: Confidence in God must not lead to slackness; the spiritual warfare which they (the Christians) wage demands vigilance.
Bengel: Satan attacks especially the faithful, Job 1:8, . . . He plots by the sorrow arising from worries, which injure faith.
Stoeckhardt: In this verse the suffering of the Christians is traced back to Satan. God at times, if it so pleases Him, permits Satan and the world to grieve, terrify the Christians, and, if need be, to harass and torture them, inflict martyrdom upon them. To be sure, these enemies of God and the Christians cannot go one step farther than God allows. . . . Peter himself experienced how quickly Satan is able to cause the downfall of a disciple. A little bit of ridicule by a timid maid so terrified and overcame him that he denied his Lord.
Luther: A Christian is like a traveler who stops overnight in an inn where all the people are thieves and murderers. In order to survive he must arm himself and stay awake all night.

1 Peter 5:9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Selwyn: The command 'to resist the devil' occurs in Ephesians 6:11-13; James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9 and nowhere else in New Testament.

In Ephesians 6:16 we read:  "Above all, take the shield of faith by which you will be able to quench all the fiery arrows of the wicked one." 

Peter means by  "faith" the active faith, not the doctrine.

Bengel: The apostle's meaning is: the same sufferings which befall your brethren, befall you. Look at Matthew 5:12; 2 Corinthians 1 :6; Philippians 1:30. Therefore it is not a bad sign, if the devil harasses one with sufferings.
Stoeckhardt: Faith is here the specifically Christian faith. It grasps and holds fast to Christ and His Word. Suffering for Christ's sake takes place in the whole brotherhood. . . . Knowledge of mutual suffering, knowing that the entire host of God's children scattered throughout the world mutually suffers and struggles, serves to compose and strengthen the individual Christians and Christian communities.

Christians often feel lonesome. They should not. They are alone neither in suffering nor in believing, nor in conquering.

1 Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

"And" is something like "and don't forget."  "God"  is the Triune God. "Called" denotes the effective call in conversion. The "call" began with conversion and will last into all eternity. Christ is the meritorious and effective cause of our salvation.

The Triune God is the Author of this glory, which here means the glorious gift of everlasting life. Note the emphatic: "He Himself." Repeat it with each verb. The four future verbs means literally: will repair (what is broken), will fix (what is anchorless), will strengthen (what is weak), will foundation (what is built on nothing).

Rienecker: Will make whole, will fix firmly, will strengthen, will ground firmly.

What promises!!!

Bengel: Of all unmixed grace, which begins and completes, which calls and settles. It is an act of grace, even when God afflicts us. . . . without human aid.
Stoeckhardt: Grace is the favor of God, His love to sinners. . . . The purpose of our calling is eternal glory . . . Since He led Christ to glory, God has given you the definite assurance that you will attain future glory . . . Through suffering unto glory . . . Incipient, converting grace guarantees preserving, consummate grace. God is faithful, remains just as He is, does not leave His work a hopeless situation but will complete the work which He has begun in you until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 1:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:24. . . . God will do this, He Himself, He Alone. . . Grace is mightier than the combined strength of the evil forces and the evil world, stronger also than our own heart.
Lenski: Only 'a little while' endures the suffering, but the glory is 'eternal'.
Selwyn: Grace is sufficient for every occasion and need. Look at Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17.

1 Peter 5:11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

"Power" which means "might" occurs twelve times in New Testament, eleven of God and only once of the devil, Hebrews 2: 14. This doxology hardly needs comment. It explains itself.

Follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 133-135. Used with permission.

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