The spirit of glory is resting on you (1 Peter 4–5; Easter 7A)

We have been hearing a sequence of passages from 1 Peter which the lectionary offers during this Easter season. This week the passages selected from the latter part of the letter contain a series of verses that provide assorted exhortations and instructions to those who first received this letter (1 Pet 4:12–14; 5:6–11). The first of these two passages contains a wealth of riches; in this blog I will focus only on those three verses.

This section of the letter begins with encouragement (v.12), moves to offer an affirmation (v.13), returns to a word of encouragement (v.14a) and then offers a blessing to those who have received this letter (v.14b). Those recipients, as we have earlier seen, were “exiles of the Dispersion” in the five Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1:1), so the presence of scriptural quotations and allusions in this letter is no surprise.

However, a number of verses indicate that there would also have been Gentiles in their midst (2:12; and see my earlier posts on the “household table” of 2:18–3:7). Accordingly, the exhortations and instructions draw on both Israelite and Greco-Roman ethics. My focus in this blog is on the scriptural resonances in what is here written.

This short passage (4:12–14) is introduced by the words, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you” (4:12), before moving to an affirmation, “be glad and shout for joy” (4:13) and a blessing, “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (4:14).

The “fiery ordeal” in that initial exhortation reflects the common prophetic depiction of divine judgement which would be experienced as a searing fire. Isaiah warns that the Lord executed judgement in his time by fire: “wickedness burned like a fire, consuming briers and thorns; it kindled the thickets of the forest, and they swirled upward in a column of smoke; through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land was burned, and the people became like fuel for the fire; no one spared another” (Isa 9:18–19).

This fiery image was provided by the very actions of the invaders: “your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners” (Isa 1:7). Accordingly, the godless ask, “who among us can live with the devouring fire? who among us can live with everlasting flames?” (Isa 33:14), whilst the prophet pleads, “let the fire for your adversaries consume them” (Isa 26:11).

Jeremiah describes how the Lord God called him: “I have made you a tester and a refiner among my people so that you may know and test their ways … the bellows blow fiercely, the lead is consumed by the fire; in vain the refining goes on, for the wicked are not removed” (Jer 6:28–29). This description was also shaped, no doubt, by the actions of the invaders: “the Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come, set it on fire, and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and libations have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger” (Jer 32:29).

Ezekiel also predicts fiery carnage: “you shall take some, throw them into the fire and burn them up; from there a fire will come out against all the house of Israel” (Ezek 5:4; also 15:1–8; 19:12–14). God warns Israel, “you shall be fuel for the fire, your blood shall enter the earth” (Ezek 21:32); in a dramatic oracle, the prophet describes the gruesome fate of the people: “Woe to the bloody city! I will even make the pile great. Heap up the logs, kindle the fire; boil the meat well, mix in the spices, let the bones be burned. Stand it empty upon the coals, so that it may become hot, its copper glow, its filth melt in it, its rust be consumed. In vain I have wearied myself; its thick rust does not depart. To the fire with its rust!” (Ezek 24:9–12).

The author of Lamentations describes how God “has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn his right hand from them in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around” (Lam 2:3). Other prophetic references to the fire of judgement include Hos 8:14; Joel 1:19–20; 2:3–5; Amos 1:4, 7, 10, 12, 14; 2:2, 5; 5:6; Obad 1:18; Mic 1:2–7; Nah 1:6; 3:15; Zeph 1:18; Zech 2:5; 9:4. Most famously, in the predictive oracle of Malachi, the prophet looks to the coming day of the Lord’s messenger: “he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal 3:1–3).

It is no surprise, then, that many psalms reflect on the use of fire to signal divine displeasure: “the voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire” (Ps 29:7), “on the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur” (Ps 11:6), “as as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God” (Ps 68:2). Fire is listed along with hail, snow, frost, and stormy wind as “fulfilling [God’s] command” (Ps 148:8) and the psalmist affirms that “you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers” (Ps 104:4).

The vengeance of God is indeed a fearful sight. “Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him … he made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water; out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire” (Ps 18:8–12). The psalmist pleads, seemingly in vain, “How long, O Lord? will you be angry forever? will your jealous wrath burn like fire?” (Ps 79:5; also 89:46).

This rhetoric of the “fiery ordeal” in 1 Pet 4:12 is potent language, reminding the Jews of the Diaspora of the power that God has exercised in the past, and presumably is once again manifesting in the troubling experiences of their present. That ordeal has certainly brought suffering to the people; the suffering which was being experienced by believers is a constant refrain in this letter. It is noted briefly in the opening blessing (1:6–7) and described in more detail on a number of other occasions.


So, in the midst of this “fiery ordeal”, the author encourages those hearing this letter to “endure pain while suffering unjustly” (2:19–20) and says to them that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil” (3:13–17); “whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin” (4:1–2); “let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good” (4:12–19); and “you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” (5:6–11).

In addressing this suffering, as we have noted, the writer offers an affirmation (4:13) and a blessing (4:14). Both affirmation and blessing sound very much like sayings of Jesus which form part of his famous Beatitudes, at Matt 5:11–12 and its parallel in Luke 6:22–23. In these sayings, Jesus refers to shouting for joy in the midst of sufferings, which resonates with the message that is set out throughout this letter.

Joy and suffering are linked in the affirmation, “rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (4:13). Being blessed is connected with being reviled in the blessing, “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (4:14). They both evoke the words of Jesus, “blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man; rejoice in that day and leap for joy” (Luke 6:22–23).

The letter continues with the statement that “the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you” (4:14). This reflects the prophetic understanding of the spirit resting on people: “the shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots; the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” ( Isa 11:1–2); or “the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me” (Isa 61:1).

This dynamic is also reflected in passages about leaders in Israel, recounted in narrative books, as the Spirit comes upon the seventy elders (Num 11:25), Balaam (Num 24:2), the judges Othniel (Judg 3:10) and Jephthah (Judg 11:29), the kings Saul (1 Sam 11:6) and David (1 Sam 16:13), and the chosen Servant (Isa 42:1). The Spirit came onto the messengers of Saul and led them into a prophetic frenzy (1 Sam 19:20).

Others who experienced the alighting of the Spirit included the little-known Amasai (1 Chron 12:18), Azariah son of Oded (2 Chron 15:1), and Jahaziel son of Zechariah (2 Chron 20:14), each of whom are reported as having spoken words from the Lord after that experience.

During the trials and difficulties of the Exile, the Spirit inspired the words of the priest Ezekiel, son of Buzi (Ezek 3:14; 11:5) and later inspired the unnamed post-exilic prophet to speak the oracles collected in Isa 56—66 (see Isa 59:21; 61:1). The prophets look for the outpouring of the Spirit to come upon “the house of Israel” (Ezek 39:29), upon the descendants of the house of Jacob (Isa 44:1–3), to enable them to live faithfully once more in the land (Ezek 36:26–28; and then in the famous vision of dry bones, Ezek 37:12–14).

This mirrors the experience of the people of Israel as they wandered for forty tears in the wilderness, for the Lord God “gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst” whilst the people of Israel were in the wilderness (Neh 9:20; see also Isa 63:13–14).

Indeed, the retreat from Judah of the aggressors sent by King Sennacherib of Assyria was due to the fact that the Lord “put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (Isa 37:5–7).

So to say that “the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you” (1 Pet 4:14) is a very strong statement of affirmation for the recipients of this letter!

On suffering as a virtue (1 Peter 3; Easter 6A)

Continuing our reading from 1 Peter during this Easter season, the lectionary this week offers a section dealing with suffering (1 Pet 3:13–22). The reality of the suffering which is being experienced by believers is a constant refrain in this letter. It is noted briefly in the opening blessing (1:6–7) and described in more detail in this section, as well as four other occasions (2:19–20; 3:13–17; 4:1–2; 4:12–19; 5:6–11).

There is never any suggestion that this suffering involved the physical persecution or even death of the believers; the “abuse” referred to comprised verbal criticism of believers (2:23; 3:16), as the lengthy scriptural citation indicates (3:9–12). Relationships with the Roman state appear to be favourable (2:13–17); there is no sign of systematic persecution.

In all but one of these discussions, suffering is interpreted with reference to the sufferings of Jesus (2:21–25; 3:18; 4:1; 4:13). The Spirit testified to the sufferings of Jesus through the words of the prophets (1:11). Jesus provides an example of how to deal with suffering; slaves in particular are instructed to “follow in his steps” (2:21), for the way of Jesus involves endurance in suffering (2:19–20) and adopting a joyful approach to life (1:8; 4:13) even in the midst of sufferings.

Suffering is known and addressed in the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The archetype of suffering in those books is, of course, Job, who although “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1), was nevertheless struck by a series of events that left his without property, without family, without animals, without servants (1:13–19).

The extended series of speeches in Job 3—42 address this situation of unjust, unmerited suffering, with a variety of points of view put forward. Although Job initially laments his fate, tearing his robe, shaving his head, and falling prostrate on the ground (1:20), he maintains his faith, acknowledging that “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). Yet in subsequent chapters, whilst his friends seek to persuade him to accept his fate as God’s will, Job himself despairs at his condition: “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest” (3:26),

Job rails at God: “the terrors of God are arrayed against me” (6:4), “when disaster brings sudden death, [God] mocks at the calamity of the innocent” (9:23), “why did you bring me forth from the womb? would that I had died before any eye had seen me” (10:18), God “uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light” (12:22), “you write bitter things against me” (13:26), “God gives me up to the ungodly, and casts me into the hands of the wicked … I was at ease, and he broke me in two; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy; he pours out my gall on the ground (16:11–13).

Mocking the words of the psalmist, “if I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there; if I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast” (Ps 139:8–10), Job instead insists, “if I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” (Job 23:8).

Although the psalmist insists, “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Ps 139:12), Job persists that God “uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light” (Job 12:22), for “when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came” (Job 30:26). Job can see no joy in accepting his fate; he continues in perpetual lament and anger because of his suffering.

The other well-known passage in Hebrew Scripture which relates to suffering is the fourth and last of the “Servant Songs” found in Second Isaiah (Isa 42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12). In this long song, the “man of suffering, acquainted with infirmity” is portrayed as despised, rejected, stricken, and afflicted (53:3–4); wounded, bruised, and crushed (53:5); crushed with pain (53:10) and caught up in anguish (53:11). There can be no doubt that this figure—whether the corporate people of Israel, as in Jewish interpretation, or an individual chosen for this role, as many Christian interpreters prefer—is well acquainted with suffering.

Yet in the words of the song, the suffering of this servant is redemptive; although “we held him of no account” (53:3), yet “he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (53:4), “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (53:5).

Since “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6), he was “stricken for the transgression of my people” (53:8), his life was made “an offering for sin” (53:10) who “bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (53:12). The redemptive suffering of this servant “shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (53:11).

Such suffering is not in vain; and when later Christian writers drew from the rich theology of this song, they attributed to Jesus the same dynamic of redemptive suffering. This is clearly the case in this week’s epistle, where we hear, “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The words provide a strong and clear echo of the fourth Servant Song. There is hope to be found in the midst of this suffering.

This motif of hope runs throughout this letter (1:3, 13, 21; 3:15; 4:13). What follows after suffering, the author writes with assurance, is God’s “eternal glory in Christ” (5:10); this is “the true grace of God” (5:12). Elders within the community of faith are to exercise their leadership with humility, and thereby provide “examples to the flock” (5:1–5). In this way, they will “win the crown of glory that never fades away” (5:4).

This, then, is the “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” which was promised in the initial thanksgiving (1:4). This hope is what undergirds the distinctive identity of believers seeking to remain faithful to the way of Jesus in their society.

A living stone, for a spiritual house (1 Peter 2; Easter 5A)

For the last few weeks, we have been reading through the letter known as 1 Peter during the Easter season. We have read parts of chapters 1 and 2 so far. This Sunday, however, the lectionary does something strange: it takes us back before the passage we heard last week, to a section of chapter 2 that focusses on the way that holiness is to be understood.

The theme of holiness has already been sounded earlier in the letter. The people who are receiving this letter are “the exiles of the Dispersion” (v.1), people of Israel living in other nations. For such people, holiness was an important idea. The fundamental charge of this letter was sounded earlier: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (v.15). This is supported by a quotation from scripture (Lev 11:44), which was a foundational text for the people of Israel.

Holiness characterized Israel; those who ministered to God within the Temple, as priests, were to be especially concerned about holiness in their daily life and their regular activities in the Temple (Exod 28-29; Lev 8-9). The priests oversaw the implementation of the Holiness Code, a large section of Leviticus (chapters 17–26), which explained the various applications of the word to Israel, that “you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2; also 20:7,26).

Holiness was also a concern of the Pharisees. The scribes and the Pharisees devoted their lives to teaching and explaining each of the 613 commandments and ordinances that were included within the books of Torah (the books of the Law—the first five books of Hebrew Scriptures), and showing the common people how they could live in holiness, as they followed each of those commandments. Holiness was at the heart of the Law, so adhering to each commandment ensured holiness.

And holiness characterised the followers of Jesus, for he was leader of a holiness movement in a holiness society. Jesus debated often with the scribes and Pharisees. He seems to share much in common with them. They were all committed to living in accordance with the commandments of Torah, although they had differing interpretations of how to do this. Jesus advocated for the living out of holiness in daily life, as did the scribes and Pharisees. His teachings also focussed on adhering to God’s will, maintaining the justice-righteousness that God required, in all of life. He teaches his followers to adhere to that way in order the take part in the kingdom that God has planned for all.

Holiness, to all of these groups, meant being consecrated, dedicated, set apart for a designated purpose. It is often (mis)understood as signalling a superior status, an exalted place—”up there” above the unholy ones, just as God is “up there” above the earth. Of course, that old worldview is now obsolete. And the sense of elitism in “holiness” is also obsolete.

Further, whilst a holy person is to be an ethical person, overtones of morality are not the first and last aspect of holiness. To be holy is to be dedicated to the task, following Jesus with the whole of our lives, sensing the eternal in the moments of the present, experiencing the divine in the midst of human life. Excitedly, joyously (v.6), all this is to be shared with others who have not yet “caught the vision”.

There are many references to, and quotations from, the scriptures of the Hebrew people in chapter 2 of this letter. That makes sense, for—as we have seen—it was sent to “the exiles of the Dispersion” (1:1). These were their familiar scriptures. To live according to holiness (Lev 11:44) is the key principle (1 Pet 1:15).

In 2:4–10, part of the lectionary passage for this Sunday, we learn what that means, as the writer plays with a series of texts from the psalms and Isaiah. Each text contains a reference to “stone”, and relates an understanding of holiness to those hearing the letter.

The first reference point for “stone” is to Jesus, the “living stone” who is the cornerstone of the whole building. That slips quickly into applying “stones” to the people of faith who are hearing this letter: as “living stones” they are to be built into the structure as integral parts of the whole. Then, to reinforce that affirmation, a verse from Hosea 2 is quoted to emphasize how intimately and enduringly the people are connected with God.

Echoing still more scriptural terms, they are described as “chosen” (Deut 7:6), “a royal priesthood” (Exod 19:6), “holy” (Lev 20:7), and God’s own people (Hos 2:23) who are “a light to the nations” (Isa 42:6). Many passages are rolled into one sentence!

Later sections of the letter provide specific guidance as to how we are to live in that condition of holiness; what behaviours and actions are appropriate for being “living stones” in a “spiritual house”. The challenge for us, this week, as we hear and preach on this particular passage, is to help people to grasp the relevance of these important theological terms for ourselves today.


See also

A new birth into a living hope (1 Peter 1; Easter 2A)

Excerpts from the letter which we know as 1 Peter are being offered in the coming Sundays throughout this season of Easter. The letter has a focus on joy in the midst of suffering, which might thus suit it well as an Easter series. For this coming Sunday, we will hear 1:3–9, an extended blessing offered to God, who “has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3)—a most suitable acclamation for the Easter season!

The letter has opened (in verses omitted by the lectionary) with the standard opening address of an ancient letter form: “Peter … to the exiles of the dispersion … grace and peace” (1:1–2). Instead of a thanksgiving, which usually opened an ancient Greek letter, in this case the letter launches into this blessing (1:3–12), which was a common Jewish feature (found also in 2 Cor 1:3–7 and Eph 1:3–14).

Unfortunately, the lectionary offers only verses 3 to 9, so we are somewhat shortchanged by this truncated passage. Ending the lectionary selection with “… you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (v.9) does conclude a thought-sequence; but the next three verses (vv.10–12) expound the meaning of that salvation, as already having been revealed through the prophets. The author of this letter is thoroughly grounded in scripture; regular reference to the sacred texts of Israelite faith occur throughout this letter.

The main theme of the letter is declared after the blessing, in an initial exhortation (one of many in the letter) to “prepare your minds for action … do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance … be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1:13–15). Curiously, the lectionary also overlooks this passage; the passage offered on Sunday week (Easter 3) starts at verse 17, “if you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds …”.

Once again, in true Jewish style, this exhortation is grounded in a central scriptural text, the Levitical call to holiness (Lev 11:44; 19:2). The emphasis throughout the letter is on living faithfully as God’s chosen people. A closing comment reinforces that the purpose of the letter is “to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God” (5:12). Then follow some closing greetings and a short benediction (5:12–14). Unusually amongst the New Testament books not by Paul which are usually identified as letters (those attributed to James, Peter, John, and Jude, and the anonymous work to the Hebrews), this document is indeed a true letter.

The author is announced simply as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). This would suggest a letter from a writer with close personal links with Jesus. The substance of the letter sits uneasily with this claim. The letter’s refined style of language, and especially the use of a number of classical Greek words, is rather unexpected for a Galilean fisherman.

There are a number of references to the suffering of Jesus (1:11; 2:4, 21, 24; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1), but no other indication that the author knew anything of the earthly ministry of Jesus. Instead, the letter reflects the Christology of the developing movement, interpreting the death of Jesus in sacrificial terms (1:18–19; 2:24; 3:18) and attesting to him as the one who is risen (1:3; 3:21), a mediator with God (2:5), to be acknowledged as Lord (3:15), now dwelling with God in glory (3:22; 5:10), whose future return is awaited (1:7–8, 13; 4:13; 5:4).

The author claims to have been “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (5:1)—a curious claim to be made by Peter, if the accounts of his denial and desertion of Jesus, found in the canonical gospels, are to be believed! He also describes himself as an “elder” (5:1), which we would not expect to be a term to be adopted by Peter. The word indicates the author’s leadership role within the developing community of faith.

The identification of this community as being “in Babylon” (5:13) is frequently interpreted as being code for Rome, drawing on the same tradition found in Revelation 17:1–18:24. The link with Mark (5:13) has been taken as a further indication of Roman origins, as Mark was alleged to have been in Rome with Peter. However, these connections are faint, revealing nothing of substance about the nature or purpose of the letter.

The close of the letter indicates that it has been written “through Silvanus” (5:12), leading some interpreters to suggest that Silvanus, as secretary, placed a more educated and polished mark on the letter as he transcribed the author’s thoughts. But an alternative translation of this verse is possible, by which Silvanus is designated as the one who delivers the letter, rather than being involved in its writing.

This Silvanus may well be a different person from the Silvanus who is known as a fellow-worker with Paul (2 Cor 1:19; Acts 15:40) and is called the co-author, with Paul, of both letters to Thessalonica. As he was a member of the Pauline group, we would expect more Pauline influence to be evident in 1 Peter if he was involved in its creation.

In fact, this letter shows more similarity to the “pastoral” letters attributed to Paul—which have some similarities with Paul’s thinking, but demonstrate a clear development in ideas, language, and theology, most likely reflecting a different (layer) context. Like them, it is more feasible that this letter was written after the death of the apostle, in his name, in order to encourage and guide believers in what appears to have been a time of increased suffering. Jesus is invoked as the guide and example for believers in this situation.

See also