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New Testament Survey

1 Peter


First Peter

Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)


            Is there a key theme to the book?

            How is Jesus presented?

            Why do you suppose there is so much emphasis on suffering?

First Peter

For people under persecution, this is the letter of the Bible which speaks to hope and endurance. Although written in the form of a letter, Peter’s epistle takes on the tone of a sermon, setting forth an exhortation backed by Scripture to encourage those under attack. As with Paul’s letters, 1 Peter links the closeness of doctrine, ethical practice, and practical application (5:12).

Theme and Purpose

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
1 Peter 2:21

Jesus Christ is the example for us all, so Peter exhorts his readers to follow in Christ’s footsteps (2:21ff). Christ suffered patiently through His trials. So, too, does Peter call upon the Christian to suffer persecution and trials in the same manner. Believers should live in the world by keeping in mind their high calling in Christ. This high calling is displayed by staying in touch with and maintaining a good reputation amongst the Gentiles (2:12) while retaining the unity or one accord expected of the Christian community (2:18). This community must stick together and help each other through times of trial and persecution (4:7-18; 5:1-2).


Just as James has a heavy emphasis on faith, some form of the word “suffer” is found 16 times in this letter. Notice also that each chapter has some reference to suffering (1:6, 7; 2:21-25; 3:13-17; 4:12-19; 5:10).

At the same time, Peter, in step with all of the New Testament, sets his exhortation in the context of the eschatological hope of deliverance and blessings promised to those who walk in faith (1:3-12).


Remember eschatology is the study of end times -- eternity. Those who endure are promised eternity with Christ!

This epistle was mostly likely written as a “circular” letter intended to be circulated and read in all the churches in the areas of northern Asia minor (modern Turkey) (1:1). In eschatological terms, the chosen are clearly all people, whether Jew or Gentile, who have come to Christ by faith. These are the people of God. In this letter, the details of the “former life” (1:14, 18; 2:9, 11; 4:3, 4) tend to suggest the audience is much more Gentile than Jewish in origin. Still, in Peter’s mind the mixed congregation are all children of God, and are to live their lives accordingly. The church is God’s elect and chosen people.

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
1 Peter 2:9

The concept of being “chosen” or being the “elect” is a difficult one for all Christians, not just the theologians. It is one of the doctrines which separate many of the denominations in Christianity. Back in 1:20 we also find Peter using the word “foreordained” which is also “foreknowledge” in 1:2. “Predestination” is the third part of this trio. The proper order of understanding is foreknowledge, election, and predestination. The foreknowledge of God determines the election. That is, the foreknown are the elect. The elect are those who by their own free will have chosen Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The elect are predestined to spend eternity with God. This election is certain and positive for every person who believes in Christ by the mere fact and action of this belief (Rom 8:28, 29).

Notice, too, that the letter is written to those who had not physically seen Jesus (1:8). This may suggest they were new converts (1:22; 2:2). Peter is very concerned that they not fail in their faith before it has taken root and grown.

Author and Date

There is no dispute over the fact that Peter, the great Apostle, is the author of this letter. He is, perhaps, the best known of the Apostles. His name appears in the New Testament more than 150 times. He is the prominent figure in the first half of Acts, being the Apostle to the Jewish nation (Gal 2:8). Peter was married (Mark 1:29-31) and apparently took his wife with him on his evangelistic travels (1 Cor 9:8).


The letter was written from "Babylon" (5:13), Peter’s cryptic name for Rome (Rev. 14:8; 17:5, 18). Taking this as true, with all of the discussion about persecution, this epistle must have been written during Nero’s reign at the time he placed the blame on the Christians for the burning of Rome.


Note, however, that even in the midst of persecution, Peter still has a strong emphasis on the Christian’s duty to support the state (2:13-17). A community under persecution would have great difficulty with this concept and such an emotional position may account for Peter’s inclusion of this vital point in his exhortation. Nero’s persecution began around A.D. 64. Peter’s death occurred in A.D. 67. This sets the time frame for the writing of this letter.



Why honor the corrupt leaders? One of the themes of this letter is the need for believers to display their Christianity, not just in the home (Chp 3) but also in society (Chp 2). This display, at its height, may be shown by honoring the king, regardless of what one may actually think of him. Is this not “loving your enemy” (Matt 5:44)?

Special Considerations

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
1 Peter 3:8

Peter’s exhortations and desires for the church is that it remain steadfast in the faith and practice that Christ preached. Around the turn of the century (1900!), Charles Sheldon wrote, In His Steps. This novel is about a pastor who challenged his congregation to always ask a single question before undertaking any new venture or making any decisions. The story is about several of the church members and how this challenge changed their lives. The question? “What would Jesus do?”

This is the point of Peter’s discussion, yet, there is more to this epistle than just the challenge to ask this question. Peter envisions a church which walks in unison to this question all the time. This is being “of one mind.” Doesn’t this sound familiar? The theme of unity of the body runs throughout Acts, then is frequently found in Paul’s letters. Now, here Peter discusses the same concept. Why is this?

As we said at the beginning of our study, the Bible is a book of progressive revelation showing a unity of structure and content. The goal of the entire study is to bring man to God and then teach man how to live with God. We are God’s unique people, a people called out to live according to the love of God. A people called to be holy!

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
1 Peter 2:9

A comment should be made about 1 Peter 3:18-22.

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.



This is, perhaps, one of the most difficult passages of Scripture which exists in the entire Bible. What exactly does it mean that after His death, Jesus went and preached to those spirits in prison? Some feel that this verse indicates that Christ went to Hell, for that is where the spirits exist in prison. But, did Jesus go to Hell? The answer actually depends upon the perspective of the question. Notice the order of the verse:

That the spirits in prison are in Hell is deduced from the first part of v20, where the disobedient souls in the time of Noah are discussed. Since all but Noah and his family perished as unbelievers, these are clearly spirits in the prison of Hell. Since Christ went to these spirits in the Spirit, His work on the Cross was accomplished. Jesus went to proclaim the completion of redemption. He went to proclaim the Good News of the forth coming Resurrection! This trip to Hell set forth the doom in torment of the unbelievers and the glory of the believers in Paradise.


I.         Introduction and greeting - 1:1, 2

II.        The Risen Christ - 1:3-12

III.       Live a Holy Life - 1:13-2:12

IV.      Christian Submission - 2:13-20

V.        Christ is our great example - 2:21-25

VI.      Husbands and wives - 3:1-7

VII.     Christian conduct - 3:8-4:11

VIII.    Suffering for your faith - 4:12-19

IX.      Life in God’s care - 5:1-11

X.        Benediction - 5:12-14

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
1 Peter 5:2-4

Amidst this letter of hope through suffering, Peter provides the promise of a grand prize, the crown of glory. This crown is promised to the elders, the faithful teachers and preachers of the church. But there are other crowns listed in Scripture.

Notice that these crowns will all be cast at the feet of Christ when the Rapture comes (Rev 4:10).



How do you live your life in the face of persecution and suffering?

Where do you turn when you suffer?



Have you been persecuted for your faith?

        How did you respond?

How does Peter’s concern for the “kings” affect your view of politics?

There is another of those examples of the progression of God’s revelation found in 1 Peter 5:2-4:

2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
  • Jesus calls Himself the good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14)
  • Hebrews calls Jesus the great Shepherd (Heb 13:20)
  • Peter calls Christ the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (2:25) and the chief Shepherd (5:4).




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