1 Peter 1:1-2, “1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
I recently read an article entitled, “I Moved To Follow God’s Call. Now I’m lonely.” As someone who has moved a few times in the last ten years, the article resonated with me for a number of reasons. When you move, you have to establish a whole new group of relationships; relationships with a church, with neighbors, with doctors, with everyone.These things take time, and the loneliness is real and can last a while. As much as that article was helpful to this reality, such feelings are dwarfed when compared to the emotions and challenges that faced a first-century group of believers. These folks held a special place in God’s economy: they had been chosen by God’s grace to be in the family of God that consists of all who have received the free gift of salvation.
Now, through the intense persecution that came upon these followers of Jesus, they had to move away from home, going in a variety of directions. Their problem might have included loneliness, but it certainly was not limited to that. The book of 1 Peter is written to a group of people who loved God, who knew the truth about Jesus Christ, and, as a result, were dispersed throughout the surrounding area. Peter’s words speak wisdom and comfort into a flock of people who were in desperate need to reminded of what hope is, about who Jesus is, and why they faced the fiery trials. Through this study, the reader will find instructions on how to live for Christ within the context of relationships, some of which are toxic relationships. We will begin our study with a couple important insights from the first two verses.
The book of 1 Peter is written by Peter, who was unquestionably the leader of the disciples. Certainly he was the most outspoken of the disciples, but a quick study of the Gospels finds that after Jesus, Peter’s name appears most in the gospels. His name appears first in all the Gospel listings of the disciples. Jesus also commended him greatly, yet just a few verses later, Peter is rebuked just as greatly. We later find Peter trying desperately to keep his promise of not falling away from Jesus, but fear gets the best of him, and he denies knowing Jesus. After the resurrection, Peter is restored by Jesus in John 21, where Jesus asks him three times “Do you love me?”, followed by the instruction to “Feed my lambs.” The implication here is that Jesus is restoring him to ministry and preparing him for his role following the ascension. The post-ascension Peter demonstrates a man who has an impacting ministry of preaching the gospel. It also serves as a great reminder of the restorative power of God’s grace in taking someone who failed rather spectacularly and using him to build the early church.
Peter’s letter is sent to a group of people who have spread out across the region. They did not move because they preferred the suburbs; they moved because they were dispersed. Peter describes them as “elect exiles of the dispersion.” This tells us three key elements about the target audience of Peter.
First of all, they were elect, meaning they were true followers of Jesus.These were not just religious people, but rather they had a genuine place in the true family of God.
Second, they were exiles, meaning they were not at home. An exile is not just someone who traveled to a different place but is someone who was forced out of their land. We know from the history books that persecution was strong in the early church and the result was many people were exiled from their homeland. We may assume that along with this status of being an exile; there came the requisite emotions. They may have struggled wondering why. They likely had trouble respecting and submitting to the authorities in their new land. They might have been homesick and perhaps having moments of doubt as to whether God was still for them. Being away from home is difficult. Being away from home for these reasons is even worse.
Third, we are told that the reason they are exiles is because of the diaspora, or the dispersion. James, in his letter, references the same idea as he addresses the twelve tribes who are “scattered.” The reason for the dispersion is likely the persecution of the early church, in which Saul of Tarsus participated. Those who were followers of Jesus were driven out of Jerusalem by the persecution. We are reminded that God uses this persecution to accomplish His purposes of taking the gospel “the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8; 8:4).
To this group of exiles, Peter will share much of the gospel truth, but he begins with a bit of theological emphasis. Verse 2 catches two rather significant teachings that are implicitly taught. First, this is a key verse for understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. Within this short verse, we see the foreknowledge of God (the Father), the sanctification of the Spirit (Holy Spirit) and the sacrificial blood of Jesus (the Son). The Trinity is not a word that is found in Scripture. It is actually an idea that is borrowed to describe what is seen in Scripture regarding God who is one God but in three persons. So, while the term is not used in the Bible, this verse is a place where the truth of this doctrine can be clearly seen.
The other theological teaching implication in this verse is the foreknowledge of God. It is not the purpose of this article to enter into a theological debate about all the implications of the foreknowledge of God, but it is a tremendous comfort to think about God’s foreknowledge in all things. Peter is writing to a people who have seemingly lost it all, are running for their lives, and preaching about a good teacher who died, yet rose again. Did all of this just happen or was there a plan of God behind it all? The foreknowledge of God gives us a foundation upon which to stand in the midst of unspeakable suffering. It does not remove the pain, but it does give a focus to it: God is working His plan, His way, and in His time.
May grace and peace be multiplied to us all!