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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 13 of 23
Petrine Theology by Dr. C. D. Cole
Peter, like James, wrote to comfort and strengthen suffering saints. But they did not write to the same group. James wrote to Jewish believers who had fled Jerusalem under Saul’s persecution; Peter wrote to Gentile believers who are called “sojourners of the dispersion”—strangers scattered throughout five provinces of Asia Minor, who are suffering at the hands of pagan neighbors under the Neronian persecutions. The language in the address seems to have been adopted from Old Testament captivity of the Jews dispersed in foreign lands, and here applied to Christians as pilgrims on earth, saints away from home, suffering and journeying toward, and longing for the fatherland.
The churches in this area had been founded by Paul, and one wonders why Peter, apostle to the circumcision, is writing to them. Some have suggested that Paul was in Spain at the time and that he had an understanding with Peter to care for these churches in his absence. Others think that Peter wrote soon after Paul’s martyrdom. One can only wonder why the apostle to the Jews would write to Gentile churches. It has also been suggested that these were Jewish churches, founded by Jews who were present at Pentecost and had returned home, but had never united with churches which were composed mainly of Gentiles. There are some things we might like to know which have not been revealed and about which we should not be unduly concerned.
Since the address is to sojourners of the dispersion in the five provinces of Asia Minor, the first impression one has is that Peter was writing to Christian Jews. “Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy,” (1 Pet. 2:10). This fits only Gentiles. “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation,” (1 Pet. 2:12). “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries,” (1 Pet. 4:3). We must lean to the view that it was written to Gentile churches who are described under Old Testament terms as a spiritual people. By virtue of their relation to Christ they are a separated people, strangers and pilgrims. People who are no longer common natives of this evil world. They were Gentile believers, suffering at the hands of unbelievers because they would no longer fraternize with them to the same excess of riot. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you,” (1 Pet. 4:12). They are to glorify God in their sufferings, and cast all their care upon Him as the One Who cares for them.
In Biblical Theology it is usual to give a brief history of the writer whose book is to be studied. Let us note a few things about Peter. He was an early follower of Jesus, the third person to be converted under the ministry of John the Baptist. One day John was standing with two of his disciples, and looking upon Jesus exclaimed, “He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ,” (John 1:41). Peter soon became the leader and spokesman for all the apostles. In the four lists of the apostles, Peter is named first. His birth name was Simon, but Jesus renamed him Cephas or Peter, meaning rock. This new name was reaffirmed about three years later when Peter made his great confession. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against I,” (Matt. 16:18). Peter had a wife who went about with him as he followed Jesus Christ. “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Cor. 9:5). He was a native of Bethsaida, and had a home in Capernaum. He was in the fishing business with the brothers James and John. Peter was a natural leader, energetic, enthusiastic, impulsive, and impetuous. There is a tradition that Peter, on the advice of his friends, was fleeing from Rome to save his life when he met Jesus in a vision and said to Him, “Lord, whither goest Thou?” Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter, ashamed and humiliated, returned to Rome and, at his request, was crucified head downward as not worthy to die as his Lord did. It is not tradition but Scripture that Jesus Christ predicted Peter’s martyrdom. While Peter was a leader among the apostles, he was not supreme and had no authority over the others. Jesus said to His disciples, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren,” (Matt. 23:8). That Peter was no Pope is obvious from the severe rebuke he received from Paul when his practice contradicted his preaching. “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Gal. 2:14).
We will now come to the consideration of Petrine Theology, or doctrine according to Peter. In going from the simplest to the more complex system of theology we should not begin with Paul but with Peter. Petrine Theology is the best source for learning what the early churches in Palestine believed.
I. PETER’S DOCTRINE OF CHRIST
- The person of Christ. Peter does not directly call Jesus the Son of God, but he does speak of God as His Father. He calls Him by His full name, the Lord Jesus Christ. He speaks of Him as “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth,” (1 Pet. 2:22), and “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” (1 Pet. 1:19). He declares His preexistence. “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,” (1 Pet. 1:20).
- The sufferings of Christ. Peter views the sufferings of Christ as penal and substitutionary. “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,” (1 Pet. 3:18). He no longer speaks of the death of Jesus as the crime of the Jews, but speaks of its redemptive value. To Peter the death of Christ was precious as redeeming blood. He speaks of Christ “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed,” (1 Pet. 2:24). Believers are dead to the guilt and penal effects of sin through the death of Christ. Peter believed in blood atonement.
Christ’s sufferings are held up as an example to us. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps,” (1 Pet. 2:21); but before we think of His suffering as an example, we must trust it for its saving value. In our experience His blood must be saving, redeeming blood before His death can be an example to us. Our Lord’s patience under suffering is an example for us. He was not resentful and revengeful, but patient. Christ suffered without sinning, and His people must do likewise. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb. 4:15). One yields to temptation to escape suffering, but Christ would not do that. He suffered, but would not yield. He suffered hunger and abuse, being forsaken of God and men, but He had no thought of yielding to relieve the pressure. He suffered to the end, without any feeling of constraint or compulsion to yield. I cannot agree that it was difficult for Jesus Christ to remain free from sin. He was tempted objectively. He faced inducements to sin, but He was not tempted subjectively. He had no desire to sin. He once said, “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me,” (John 14:30). There was nothing in the sinless Christ for the hook of Satan’s temptation to attract. I believe in the absolute impeccability of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Deity in flesh He could no more sin than God can sin.
II. PETER’S DOCTRINE OF SALVATION
Peter, like Paul, believed in salvation by grace. He says that the Old Testament prophets prophesied of the grace that should come unto us, but did not know when nor how their prophecies would be fulfilled. They only knew it would not be in their day. Peter taught a present salvation to be consummated when Christ returns.
I like the way Peter sets forth the nature of salvation; he describes salvation in the most glowing terms. Our salvation is called an inheritance. “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Pet. 1:4). This inheritance is incorruptible; that is, there is nothing in the nature of it that is subject to corruption. It is not subject to disease or death from within. It is undefiled from the outside. There is nothing on the outside that can lay defiling hands upon this inheritance. And it is unfading, which means, that it will never cease to satisfy. Think how little in measure and how short in time things of this earth satisfy! Many who have plenty to live on have nothing to live for. Some years ago seven of the world’s most famous and richest men died within a short time of each other; and all of them died tragic deaths in disappointment, and with no hope of future blessings. In blessed contrast the believer in Christ rejoices in hope of the glory of God when his inheritance is received.
This inheritance is laid up in heaven for us and will be ready when we get there. It is reserved for us, and we are preserved for it, according to Peter. No wonder that Peter breaks forth in such wonderful doxology! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” (1 Pet. 1:35).
III. PETER’S DOCTRINE OF HOPE
Hope is as prominent in Peter as faith is in James. Hope is a key word in First Peter; Peter has been called the apostle of hope. Hope implies two things: present sufferings and future glory. One who is satisfied with the present will not have his eyes on the future. Peter wants his readers to let hope lift them, above their sufferings to the place of their inheritance. These suffering saints had a more fiery trial coming, but they also had a hope of glorious things beyond this vale of tears.
A GENERAL DEFINITION OF HOPE
Hope may be defined as the expectation of future good. Hope is always concerned about the future. We never hope for what we already have. Hope is made up of two ingredients: desire and expectation. When one desires something he does not expect, it is not hope but despair; and when one expects something be does not desire, it is not hope but dread. But when one expects his desire to be realized in the future he has hope.
Hope has been called the spring of all human endeavor. Without hope of harvest, the farmer would not plant and cultivate. Without hope of profit, the merchant would close out his business. Without some hope of winning, the politician would not run for office. Without hope of happiness, no couple would ever march to the marriage altar. In all the wedding cake hope is the sweetest of the plums.
Hope is the chief pillar of life. Hope supports the mind under all changes, trials, and difficulties. A man without hope would soon go mad. It is fairly safe to say that every suicide who leaves a note reveals that he has lost all hope of future good.
The hopes of many souls end at the grave. The hope of the rich man was soon dispelled. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame....And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence,” (Luke 16:2224,26).
When Napoleon was being crowned emperor of the French in 1804, there was one person in the huge throng who was neither over awed nor overjoyed by all the pomp and splendor of the occasion. And that person was his old Corsican mother. During the ceremonies she was heard to say over and over again, “So long as it lasts.” She knew that the glory that was her son’s for the moment would end in despair. She realized that the crown then being placed on his head was only a fading chaplet. She had no hope that his popularity would last, and we now know from history that it did not. The saddest thing about Napoleon was not his defeat at Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington. It was not his exile and loneliness on St. Helena. The saddest thing in the history of Napoleon was that day in May 1821, when he died and his soul entered that place of which Dante wrote: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” Hell is a hopeless place, the place of eternal despair.
A DEFINITION OF CHRISTIAN HOPE
Christian hope is the well founded expectation of future good. Christians are the only people who have hope beyond the grave. Our hope in Christ is well founded and will not end in disappointment. Our hope in Christ is sure to be realized, it is an anchor to the soul both sure and stedfast. The future good we expect is the inheritance reserved in heaven. That salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. And the grace that has saved us will also keep us and bring us to this inheritance, which embodies all the eternal blessings promised us in Christ. And one feature of this inheritance, and the main feature, is conformity to Christ. And so we sing, “Just to be like the dear Lord I adore, Will through the ages be glory for me.”
Peter recognizes salvation as a present experience, but his emphasis is on an eschatological salvation. Salvation in the future at the second coming of Christ. This salvation is only a matter of hope in the present, and is in contrast with present suffering. And so Peter wants his readers to think of themselves as strangers and pilgrims in this world. “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” (2 Pet. 3:13).
MORE GRACE TO COME
Peter exhorts, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:13). Salvation is by grace from beginning to end. Grace planned the way, provided the way, put us in the way, helps us by the way, and takes us all the way to glory. Peter thinks of the apocalypse of glory, which is the crowning manifestation of grace, as rushing towards us through the ages, and it will be here some sweet day. So certain is this grace that Peter thinks of it as being on the way. How glad we are that there is more grace to come! We are not self sufficient; we cannot walk alone; we cannot make our way to heaven; grace must bring heaven to us. Grace will perfect God’s purpose concerning us; we shall yet be conformed to the image of God’s Son.
“Hope on, hope on, O troubled heart
If doubts and fears o’er take thee,
Remember this—the Lord hath said,
He never will forsake thee;
Then murmur not, still bear thy lot,
Nor yield to care or sorrow;
Be sure the clouds that frown today
Will break in smiles tomorrow.
“Hope on, hope on, though dark and deep
The shadows gather o’er thee;
Be not dismayed; thy Saviour holds
The lamp of life before thee; And if He will that thou today
Should’st tread the vale of sorrow;
Be not afraid, but trust and wait;
The sun will shine tomorrow.
“Hope on, hope on, go bravely forth
Through trial and temptation,
Directed by the word of truth,
So full of consolation;
There is a calm for every storm,
A joy for every sorrow,
A night from which the soul shall wake
To hail an endless morrow.”
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