1 Peter 1:3-5
Peter begins his first epistle with a brief identification of himself and his audience, showing that it is a general letter addressed to those “chosen” of God but focusing on an audience in Asia Minor (now Turkey, vv 1-2). After those formal introductory pieces, Peter immediately breaks out into a doxology, an offering of praise to God “who rebirthed us into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from out of the dead.” For Peter, this is the gospel, the “good news,” and it is a cause for rejoicing. By giving new life to Jesus in raising him from the dead, God has also given new life to us. Because we haven’t died (yet), this new life manifests itself more as a “rebirth,” a getting-to-start-all-over-again kind of new beginning. Peter uses a clever ambiguity in his original language, and that means this “rebirth” can also be translated as a “birth from above,” since the kind of life we live in light of Christ’s resurrection is one that is attuned to heavenly and eternal realities and not just temporary, earthly ones. Moreover, this rebirth-from-above is oriented toward a “living hope,” a hope that is alive and active and not just a pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by far-off dream. People in Peter’s day could have described the water of streams and rivers as “living water” because it flowed and did not stagnate or dry up. Peter uses the same kind of idea to talk about this hope into which we have been born. A “living hope” is one that keeps moving and keeps us moving toward the future that God has envisioned for us (harkening back to the “foreknowledge” Peter mentioned in v. 2).
Peter continues to talk about the nature of this hope in verse four. Being rebirthed into a living hope is also being rebirthed into something Peter calls an inheritance. An inheritance normally consists of familial wealth that is passed down to children or relatives upon the older generation’s death. Because the benefits God gives us are linked with Jesus’s death, Peter can talk about them as if they are an inheritance. Earthly wealth, however—especially the agricultural wealth that most people would be familiar with—eventually dies and falls apart. That is not the case with our “living hope.” Our inheritance is “undying, unpolluted and unfading.” All of the things that can go wrong with earthly wealth cannot touch the inheritance that God has been keeping in heaven on our behalf. This is because, as we will see by the time we get to verse 9, that our inheritance isn’t a thing but rather the full restoration of who we are—the salvation of our souls.
In verse five, Peter shifts his focus back to his readers / hearers, the ones who are going to receive this living-hope-rebirth inheritance. They (We!) are being protected by God’s power, and Peter uses a word for protect which reflects the idea of “foreseeing,” as if God is looking into the future and keeping us safe now in light of what God sees. We are connected to that farseeing / foreseeing protection by our faith, and it is leading us toward a salvation that God is preparing to reveal to us in the last days. We can’t see this salvation now, of course, but we hope for it and live toward it and trust that God is guiding us toward it and guarding us on the journey.
1 Peter 1:6-7
In verse six, Peter turns his attention to the way in which these truths shape the way his hearers/readers live their life now. What captures his attention is that hope gives us the capacity to rejoice even in the midst of trials because we know that they are only temporary. “Even if you are now bound to be distressed by many trials,” Peter tells his readers, “you are rejoicing in this,” this hope and the knowledge that God is keeping you as you move toward it. However, one could also translate Peter’s statement as a command, “Rejoice in this [hope]! Even if you have to be sad for a little in the midst of many trials.” Either way, hope gives us the capacity for joy even if our circumstances do not.
Furthermore, this rejoicing-in-suffering itself has a purpose. In verse seven, Peter puts it this way: “In order that the proven worth of your faith—a worth that exceeds that of gold which perishes even though it is tested through fire—might be found as contributing to praise and glory and honor in the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Harkening back to something he said above about the imperishable nature of our heavenly inheritance, Peter now draws the comparison between faith and gold, and faith comes out looking better. We purify gold to make it better and it can still be destroyed. So, we should let God purify us through our trials because our faith is worth a lot more. And if we do that, the end result will be praise and glory and honor—probably for both God and ourselves—when the last days come and Jesus Christ is fully revealed.
Peter finishes this small section by tying together the ideas he has raised so far. Having talked about faith and hope—and Christ as the foundation of them—Peter reiterates their importance by reminding his hearers/readers that they love Christ even though they haven’t seen him. As they believe in him even though they don’t see him, they rejoice with a joy that is too big for words, a joy that is full of glory, full of the evidence of God’s presences even if God can’t be seen directly. It seems as though, from Peter’s perspective, these acts of faith and hope open us up to deeper and fuller joy than we could have if we merely focused on the things we could see. As he continues in verse nine, we also rejoice because we are receiving the very thing that our faith is directed at, its goal, its end. The goal of our faith is salvation, the salvation of souls. It’s important to remember that the word Peter uses for “soul” here is the word the refers to the very core of who a person is. The salvation, the restoration, the full healing (all ways of translating that idea) of who we are and were meant to be. That’s what our trust in God and in Christ is leading us to. We tend to think of that as something that mostly benefits ourselves, as though the goal of our faith is primarily our own salvation, but Peter doesn’t actually use the word “your” when talking about souls, just when talking about faith. So, it may be that Peter also wants us to realize that it is the salvation of souls in general—ours and everyone else’s, too—that is the goal of our faith. As we trust God, other people are help to see their need to trust God s well.
Thus, at the opening of his letter, Peter focuses on the gospel, the work of God in raising Jesus from the dead and the way that his resurrected life now empowers our lives today. We access that power through our faith and by living in hope, even when life isn’t going the way we wish it would. And if we keep on this path of faith, following the one we trust but cannot see, then salvation is waiting for us—and all those God can reach through us—at the end of time when Jesus is fully and finally revealed.