We’ve heard of persecution. When the general public disagrees with or even derides our views on various issues we may even think we experience persecution. Imagine, however, that God sends a prophet to you to tell you everything will be stripped away from you. The prophet tells you—on God’s authority!—that your people will be taken away from their ancestral homeland and forced to live and work in a strange and foreign land where none of your people’s values and cultural expressions are appreciated or even tolerated. This was the message Isaiah gave to king Hezekiah in Judah (see Isaiah 39:1–8). Even some of Hezekiah’s sons will be carried off to Babylon.
Even though the prophetic word was dire, there was the promise that it will not always be this way. A better day is coming, one in which God’s people will dwell in safety and security. Despite the troubles that will soon come, all suffering has an expiration date, even if that date is known only to God. The reason God’s people can have confidence in their future, while recognizing the suffering that will come, is God’s word stands forever. God’s word cannot fail. As he said through Isaiah,
A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”Isaiah 40:6–8 ESV
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
How can the people know their suffering will end in victory? He is unlike his people, for his word is eternal and cannot fail. It is no surprise, then, that Peter uses this language when writing to Christians who are suffering. In his first letter he uses similar language to describe the people of God. They are exiles (1 Peter 1:1). They have been chosen in Christ (also 1:1). It is because of God’s great mercy—his covenantal love—that they can be assured of their salvation (1 Peter 1:3). He is the one who has caused them to be born again. This is God’s active work to save his people. For this reason there is an inheritance waiting for them in heaven, though soon to come to earth.
When we read Scripture we cannot help but read it through our own cultural lens, our innate understanding of the world, and this often obfuscates the meaning in the text. This can blind us to the very real weight of what the author is claiming. Consider this text from Peter.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.1 Peter 1:22–25 ESV
Peter points his reader to the gospel of Jesus. Having told them God caused them to be born again, here he emphasizes they have purified their souls by their obedience to the truth. He does not mean they have saved themselves. God is the one who has caused this to happen. He emphasizes this when he says they have been born again of imperishable seed. God is their Father through his own actions. Just as a child exists through the actions of his or her father (and mother), so, too, we are God’s children because of what God has done. We cannot bring about our new birth any more than we brought about our physical birth.
Here is where our cultural lens can obscure Peter’s point. We live in a culture that is highly independent. We don’t like to admit our need for help. We don’t like to rely on others. In this text, however, Peter points us to the purpose of God causing his people to be born again, resulting in the purification of their souls through obedient faith: “for a sincere brotherly love”.
Writing to a largely Gentile audience, Peter uses covenantal language, showing these believers they are not merely saved from something, but to something, namely, Christian community. An intended outcome of their salvation, of having their souls purified, is a sincere brotherly love. They must, therefore, love one another earnestly. Again he ties this command to their salvation: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable”. There are no natural-born children of God; all are adopted into God’s family. This is an irrevocable adoption, but not because of anything we have done.
Because God has adopted us into his family, and because he does so that we might participate in his family’s life, our understanding of who we are needs to be transformed. We need to change how we interact with one another by being more intentional about it. As New Testament scholar Karen Jobes put it,
…they need to have their self-understanding transformed as people who, by virtue of their new birth, are now a part of the people to whom God has been faithful for long ages past.Karen Jobes
Because they are part of the people of God, God’s covenantal promises remain. Peter cites the passage in Isaiah 40 for their comfort and encouragement to remain faithful in the midst of hostile persecution. He says all flesh is like grass. Though Rome was unstoppable on the battlefield and seemed to be able to expand its empire at will, which included the ability to slaughter any who appeared to challenge its right to do so, as God said to his people through Isaiah, all flesh is like grass. Grass withers. Before the Lord even the mightiest of the mighty are like dried and withered blades of grass. However, in contrast to the “mighty” Roman empire, the word of the Lord remains forever.
Peter ends this paragraph with these words:
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.1 Peter 1:25b ESV
Did you catch what Peter calls the promise that the word of the Lord remains forever? He says it is the good news that was preached to you. The gospel was proclaimed, and this gospel is the promise that while nations and armies come and go, God’s word remains forever. Only one kingdom will remain. Only one kingdom will last forever. Those who are inhabitants in God’s household will also remain forever. This is good news. It is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who reigns forever and ever.
It is good news because it means no matter what this life brings, whether armies and conquering or just general suffering and harm, God’s promise of salvation remains. It cannot fail. The might of Rome has already failed. The might of those who pretended to wear Caesar’s crown has failed. It can only fail, no matter how glorious it may appear at the time. Peter offers hope to those who are struggling by reminding them of what is to come. It is the surety of what is to come that enables them to get through whatever difficulty lay in their path.
Hope for the end of time is not the only hope they possess, however. None of them is to walk alone through whatever life throws at them. None of us is to walk alone through life’s difficulties. God has caused to us to born again into something. In the midst of pain and hardship there is the promise of resurrection, and as DA Carson puts it, “I’m not suffering from anything a good resurrection can’t fix.” Until that day comes, however, we have Peter’s instruction. God has purified our souls through our obedient faith in Jesus, and has caused us to be born again of imperishable seed, so let us love one another earnestly.
In the midst of pain and suffering, difficulty and hardship, as they await resurrection which will end all suffering, God’s people continue to suffer, but God has given them something to hold them over until the day of resurrection: each other. Until resurrection removes every tear from our eye and until resurrection causes everything sad to come untrue, we have one another. God has saved us that we might love one another with a sincere brotherly love.