Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through 1 Peter in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.

  • David Dunham opened our series by looking at 1 Peter 1:1-2.
  • Today Dave looks at 1 Peter 1:3-9.

1 Peter 1:3-9, “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Peter begins with a strong and personal hope in his epistle. It rests on the God he knows. His hope rests on God’s election (1 Peter 1:1), God’s foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2), and God’s power (1 Peter 1:5). Peter also mentions Jesus Christ five times in his first seven verses. He tells us to praise Jesus and obey Him (1 Peter 1:2-3). Our hope is “living,” that is, imperishable and undying (Romans 6:9). It depends on Jesus’ blood (1 Peter 1:2), Jesus’ resurrection (1 Peter 1:3), and Jesus’ second appearance (1 Peter 1:7).

After he describes God’s character and work, Peter moves swiftly to blessing and praise. “Blessed be God” was a common phrase in Jewish devotion but Peter’s focus on Jesus makes it a Christian blessing (1 Peter 1:3). Peter gives us several reasons to bless God. We were chosen by God the Father, sanctified by God the Spirit, and sprinkled clean by the blood of Jesus, the Son. Because of the Triune God’s work, Peter can tell us, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:2). Peter knows that God has blessed His people, but he also says that God is blessed, and, he hints, we may bless Him, too, as we see the present hope and future inheritance that God has granted His people (1 Peter 1:3-5).

This hope was essential, since Peter’s churches, scattered through the region now called Asia Minor, suffered all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:6). These fiery trials tested and refined their faith, but also provoked fear (1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 4:12). Peter assures God’s people that God’s power will shield them. They will pass these tests, prove their faith genuine, and gain honor when their salvation is complete (1 Peter 1:7-9).

Blessed Be Our Lord God

The NIV translates Peter’s first words as “Praise” be to God (1 Peter 1:3a), while the ESV says “Blessed” be God. It is easy to defend both choices. The word that Peter uses, eulogetos, means “blessed.” Peter does not bless God in the way that God blesses us. God gives us His blessing, but we declare that God is the Blessed One. Full of knowledge and strength (1 Peter 1:2, 5), He gives us grace, mercy, and life (1 Peter 1:2-3). When we say these things, we praise God. God doesn’t need our blessing, so in one sense we cannot bless Him. As Hebrews 7:7 notes, the greater blesses, the lesser. God doesn’t need to hear nice words to feel better about Himself or to stay motivated to do good. Rather it is good for us to declare God’s excellence.

In 1 Peter 1:3, Peter cites Jesus’ full title, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” which appears about 35 times in eleven different books of the New Testament. Working backwards, Christ means that He is the promised Messiah. Jesus means that He is Savior; in Hebrew, Joshua/Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” Lord means that He rules all things. Beyond all that, He is ours, and we are His. So He is the Lord and our Lord. He is God’s Anointed, and Yahweh saves through Him.

Our Hope and Inheritance

Peter’s praise mentions both the quality and certainty of God’s salvation. 1 Peter 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” The opening verses of Peter are stepped in covenantal language. Peter has already said that God elects and has foreknowledge of His people. His mercy (Hesed in the Old Testament) is closely linked to God’s covenant name and covenant-making deeds. He shows mercy (Hesed is also translated as “steadfast love”) to thousands who love Him (Exodus 20:6; Deut. 5:10). When He reveals Himself to Moses, He says that He is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love, and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

In His mercy, Peter continues, “he has given us new birth” (1 Peter 1:3). “Give new birth” translates one Greek verb (anagennao) that appears only in 1 Peter. The term echoes Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus, Israel’s teacher that he had to be born anew and born of the Spirit if he hoped to see God’s Kingdom (John 3:1-10). Nicodemus and Peter, Jews and Gentiles, you and I—all need God’s Spirit to breathe life into our dead souls. Pastors need to believe this and to say it, to move believers to gratitude and to move unbelievers to humble themselves and receive this rebirth.

In His mercy, God has given us three things: a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), inheritance, (1 Peter 1:4), and salvation (1 Peter 1:5). All three follow our new birth. Our hope rests not in teachings, nor even in a teacher, but in the Redeemer, who rose from the dead.

Through His death, Jesus bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24), and through His resurrection, we obtain “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope because it proves that death is not the last word. Death could not hold Him (Acts 2:24), and it cannot hold us if we are united to Him by faith (Romans 5:21-6:9). An inheritance is a gift based on a relationship, not a wage for a performance. Because the gift rests on the Father’s grace and covenant, and because God keeps us safe, our inheritance is safe. In language that is almost poetic in the original, Peter says that this inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” Nothing can spoil our inheritance. It is untouched by death, unstained by evil, unimpaired by time; it is compounded of immortality, purity and beauty. Nothing can jeopardize it, and nothing can ruin it.

Nothing can keep this inheritance from us, and, Peter declares, nothing can keep us from it. Our inheritance is “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:4-5). The symmetry is perfect. God keeps the inheritance for us, and He keeps us for the inheritance. He keeps the treasure for us, and He guards us so that we will properly enjoy it.

The Westminster Confession perhaps offers the finest description of the assurance that believers should have that the Lord will grant them eternal life in chapter 17, “Of the Perseverance of the Saints”:

17:1. They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

17.2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

Peter teaches that God keeps both us and the inheritance until salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Although he knows there is more, Paul typically stresses that the “mystery” of salvation has already been revealed (Eph. 3:8-12; Col. 1:25-27). Peter stresses there is more to be revealed (1 Peter 1:5, 1 Peter 1:7). Both are true. Similarly, John calls our attention to eternal life as a present possession (John 3:36; 4:35; 5:24;, etc.), while Peter tells us that eternal life is coming. Again, both are true and necessary perspectives. Life is here, but there is more to come.

Joy In Suffering

At that moment, the Christians of Asia Minor were suffering grief, but Peter teaches that the prospect of an inheritance, secured by God, still brings joy. We can celebrate because we know that the salvation that is already ours will one day be revealed in full: 1 Peter 1:6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,” This suffering is brief—“for a little while”—from the perspective of eternity, even if pain can seem to last forever when we are immersed in it.

Peter says that his people “had to suffer.” He says this because suffering is a logical result of conversion. It is the “wake following behind salvation’s boast.”[i] It was predicable because following God entails abandoning the gods whose worship was part of the glue that united Roman society. It was foreseeable because Christian morality clashed with pagan morality.

Peter doesn’t quite say that suffering is inevitable, but he says that it is no surprise (1 Peter 4:12). In the quasi-Christianized societies of the West, when belief in one God is common and Christian ethics have some influence on social ethics, suffering is not certain. But in most places and times, Christian beliefs and practices are exceptional, not normal. If we tell the world that its ideas are false and its practices dangerous, as we must, the world will not be pleased, and that displeasure readily leads to opposition.

If, while living in a non-Christian culture, we face no opposition, we are probably too interested in fitting in and getting along. When worldviews clash, we don’t have the right to sit in silence. When we push against a misguided world, the world will push back, hard. We should expect it and rejoice it, as Jesus says:

Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Peter describes our trials in five ways in 1 Peter 1:6-7. First, when compared to eternity, they are brief; they last “a little while.” Second, they are varied in form; there are “all kinds.” Third, they have a kind of necessity, “you had to suffer.” Fourth, suffering proves that our faith is real; “these have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7a). Fifth, suffering will “result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). Because suffering has a limit and a purpose, we can still rejoice in it.

Peter’s comment about gold is a parenthesis that explains how trials “prove” our faith. First, gold and faith are both proved by fire. Literal fire tests gold, and the metaphorical fire of adversity tests men and their faith (Psalm 66:10; Proverbs 17:3; James 1:2-4. Just as men used first to distinguish true gold from counterfeit {and alloyed or imperfect metals}, so God uses trials to distinguish genuine faith from superficial profession.”[ii]

Second, while gold was the most precious metal to the ancients, faith has greater value. Like every other created thing, gold is perishable (1 Peter 1:7, 18), but our faith is imperishable, since God preserves us in it (1 Peter 1:5).

Peter’s teaching about suffering questions us. Do you see it as he does? Or do you withdrawn and complain that life is unfair? There is a time to flee persecution: when no one is listening, when the opposition or abuse is unrelenting, when there is important work to do elsewhere, and (most important) when we have no obligations or vows so that we are free to leave. But on most occasions, we are not free to leave. In that case, do we do all we can to avoid pain, or do we endure, knowing that our willingness to endure proves that our faith is real?

When our relationships are deeper, our minds sharper, our bodies stronger, our self-discipline stiffer, our emotions healthier, and our contributions well-received, it is easy to give thanks. But if you suffer trials, take heart, God is guarding your inheritance. Many trials come from the outside, when people wrong us or when disease and disaster wound us. Other trials come from within- self-doubt, irrational fear, loss of passion. Trials are fiery, and we should never pretend otherwise. They hurt, sometimes so badly that despair assails us. But Peter encourages us that we can rejoice as trials prove our faith real. All things lead to praise when Jesus is revealed and completes his salvation. That coming salvation transforms our present experience, offering us hope even in the worst of times.

These claims can sound like religious jargon, but anyone who has immersed himself in life long enough has tasted the bitter pains that life hurls at humans. Again, it can sound like rhetoric, but it was not rhetoric for Peter. He walked with Jesus and suffered arrest and threats for the crime of telling the truth about him. To be sure, we can deceive others and deceive ourselves with vapid talks of joy, but it is good and right to have peace at 3 A.M. when troubles interrupter sleep.

When we persevere, and our faith is proved, the result is “praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7b). Since Peter has his eye on the coming salvation and the revelation of Christ “in the last time,” it seems that Peter means the praise God confers to us, for our faith and justice in this age.

Jesus, the Object of our Faith and Source of our Blessing

First Peter 1:3-9 is one complex sentence with each part connecting to the one before. In the Greek text, Peter links verses 7 and 8 with the relative pronoun whom, referring to Jesus. It works this way: Peter mentions Jesus’ future coming at the end of 1 Peter 1:7 and then turns to his current absence in 1 Peter 1:8. Peter addresses the discrepancy between the present experience of suffering and the anticipated future glory. Peter saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched him with his own hands, but his people have not done so and will not do so until the day that Jesus is revealed. 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,”

No passage better explains the challenge of believing in Jesus without seeing Him than the account of Thomas and the Risen Lord Jesus in John 20. Late on the day of His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples, minus Judas, who had killed himself, and minus Thomas, who was away from unstated reasons. The ten were so glad to see Jesus, and when Thomas rejoined them, they told him,” We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25). Thomas refused to believe them and swore in John 20:25, “Unless I see in his hands the marks of the nails, and place my finger into the marks of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

A week later, Jesus appeared to the disciples again, and this time, Thomas was present. Jesus told Thomas on this occasion in John 20:27, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

John doesn’t mention whether Thomas took up the invitation to touch his wounds or not, but Thomas saw Jesus. It was all he needed, and the unbelief melted away. He repented and confessed in John 20:28, “My Lord and my God!” Important as Jesus’ encounter with Thomas was, John’s account looks past Thomas himself and sees the generations coming after him. Knowing that future disciples would not see his flesh, as Thomas had, Jesus told Thomas in John 20:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

So Jesus looked past Thomas and saw us. He envisioned the day when all who believe must do so without the evidence that Thomas enjoyed. The skeptical member of later generations has roughly the position that Thomas had in John 20:25. He had heard that Jesus was alive, but had not seen him. Jesus called Thomas a poor guide for those who have not seen. Thomas had enough reasons to believe. He had the testimony of his trusted friends, yet he refused it. The Lord graciously granted Thomas the evidence that he wrongly demanded. Still, the Lord corrected him when he said in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” Jesus speaks this blessing to us, as we trust the testimony of the apostles, yield to the Spirit’s persuasion, and believe.

As we believe, Peter concludes, we “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). As Alan Stibbs observes, “Peter’s readers had not seen Jesus during His earthly life, as Peter himself had done, yet they were giving Him the responsive love of their hearts in living fellowship.”[iii] Because this joy has its origin in God, not man, it is “inexpressible,” that is, it defies perfect human expression.

This joy rests on confidence n God’s continuing direction; Peter explains, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9). The translation “souls” could mislead us. On most occasions, the Greek word psuche could just as easily be translated life. The definitive Greek-English lexicon offers three definitions of psuche. First, it is “life on earth in its animating aspect”; second, it is the “seat and center of the inner human life”; and third, it is “an entity with personhood”. In other words, the soul stands for the whole person, not the spirit of reason in contrast to the body. In Scripture, a human is a psychosomatic unity. The goal of redemption is not the liberation of the disembodied soul from this wretched life, as the Greeks, though. It is a new creation, which the whole person enjoys forever, with both a new spirit and a new body, one much like the resurrected body of Jesus.

The first sentence of 1 Peter introduces us to his essential themes. Christians are God’s elect, yet strangers in the world. Because we are outsiders, Peter knows we will face trouble. Indeed, the only way to avoid trouble is to live as pagans do, or to hide our lifestyle, or to eviscerate our message so that it ceases to offend. In other words, the way to live without trouble is to remove our nerves and spine. That might be a sad thought since our culture is our home. We care about it and at least, hope to make it a better place. But there are limits. So many of the values of our age stand opposed to God’s truth. Still, it can grieve us when we realize that we will never exactly fit in our world.

Peter counters this sobering reality with God’s promises and a call to claim them. Through Christ, we have life and no force from without or within can destroy it. Even when we face trials, we take heart because they demonstrate that our allegiance to God is genuine, especially when we persevere through them.

It is interesting that Peter mentions the cardinal Christian virtues in our passage. He says that our new birth gives us a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), that we receive God’s protection through faith (1 Peter 1:5), and that we love Jesus even if we have never seen him (1 Peter 1:8. Still, as important as our hope, love, and faith may be, our attention stays with Jesus. He has conquered death, He protects us, and nothing can rob us of joy now our keep us from sharing His glory when He returns.

[i] Scott McKnight, 1 Peter, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 74.)

[ii] Alan M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (London: Tyndale, 1959), 78.)

[iii] Stibbs, First Epistle General of Peter, 79