Commentary on 1 Peter 4:12-19

Notes (NET Translation)

4:12 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you.

The phrase “trial by fire” is a metaphor referring to the purification or refining of God’s people (Prov 27:21; Ps 66:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:1-4; Rom 5:3-5; Jas 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6-7). “Just as intense fire refines precious metal, so the fiery ordeal tests and proves the genuineness and constancy of faith-as-commitment” (Elliott 772). The Christian readers may be astonished that, as followers of God, they are suffering. But Peter tells them not to be surprised. Even Christ underwent suffering.

4:13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.

The phrase “in the degree that” (katho) is better translated as “since” (Elliott 774). In other words, the rejoicing is not contingent on the degree of suffering but on suffering itself. The “sufferings of Christ” (the Christ in Greek) refer to sufferings that occur because of the readers’ allegiance to Jesus Christ. How a believer responds to suffering is an indication of whether they truly belong to God. The one who rejoices in present sufferings will “rejoice and be glad” (Matt 5:12) at the second coming of Christ (“when his glory is revealed”).

4:14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you.

The phrase “insulted for the name of Christ” helps us put the “trial by fire” (4:12) into context. At first glance one might think the “trial by fire” refers to physical torture or death, but this verse makes it clear that verbal abuse is in view (as it is elsewhere in the letter). Peter follows the teaching of Jesus in stating that those insulted for the name of Christ are blessed (Matt 5:11). The suffering Christian is blessed because his willingness to undergo suffering demonstrates that he belongs to God.

The last part of the verse, concerning the Spirit resting on the believer, is unclear in meaning. The general point seems to be that those who suffer for the name of Christ are in some sense experiencing the glory to come. The phrase may allude to Isa 11:1-2 LXX where the Spirit will rest on the Messiah.

Peter understands that it was the Spirit of Christ who spoke to the prophets, such as Isaiah, revealing the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow (1 Pet. 1:10-12). In 4:14, Peter claims that the same Spirit of God predicted to rest upon the Messiah also rests on the believer who is willing to suffer for Jesus Christ. Peter consoles his readers that because the same Spirit of glory and of God rests upon them, their current suffering is as Christ’s was, a prelude to the glory to follow. (Jobes loc. 4476-4479)

4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker.

This verse indicates that not all suffering is the result of Christian behavior. The Greek word kakopoios (“criminal”) refers to doing wrong in general and is not limited to criminal acts (2:12, 14; Schreiner 224). A better translation might be “wrongdoer.” The meaning of the Greek word allotriepiskopos (“troublemaker”) is somewhat uncertain because it appears in no Greek literature written prior to 1 Peter. Examining the word part-by-part suggests a meaning of “watching over another’s affairs.” Something along the lines of “troublemaker,” “mischief-maker,” “busy-body,” or “troublesome meddler” is probably intended, although certainty cannot be had (Schreiner 224-225; cf. Achtemeier 311-313). This verse is not a description of what the readers have done but a warning against what must not occur.

4:16 But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name.

The call to renounce shame focuses on actions that are shameful. Specifically, Christians would act shamefully by denying Christ before unbelievers or by failing to persevere in the faith (cf. Mark 8:38; 2 Tim 1:8, 12, 16; 2:15). Hence, those who are ashamed would be guilty of apostasy. By way of contrast believers glorify God by confessing and praising his name publicly (cf. Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 9:13). They glorify God in the name “Christian” by enduring such suffering with joy (v. 13), pleased that they are privileged to suffer because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The final phrase of the verse, “in that name” (NASB, en to onomati touto), probably is a dative of sphere, signifying that believers suffer for the epithet “Christian.” (Schreiner 226)

4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God?

Some commentators see an allusion here to Ezek 9:5-6, Zech 13:9, or Mal 3:1-5. It is unlikely that Peter is alluding to these passages for, in context, these passages speak of Israel being judged for violating the covenant while Peter’s readers are judged for obeying the gospel (Jobes loc. 4532ff.). The “house of God” is the Christian community (2:4-5). Verse 18 indicates that eschatological judgment is in view. This verse indicates that eschatological judgement is, in some sense,  already happening to Christians when they suffer at the hand of unbelievers. As the surrounding context makes clear, Christians are not judged through suffering in the sense that they are punished for sins. The Christian readers are suffering for obeying the gospel and this brings glory to God. The readers are judged in the sense that they are picked out as true followers of Christ. The “trial by fire” (4:12) sorts out those who are truly Christ’s from those who are not. The question at the end of the verse indicates that it is better to suffer now than later.

4:18 And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners?

This verse is drawn from Prov 11:31 LXX. The NET phrase “barely [molis] saved” may be misleading to English readers.

Peter was not saying that the righteous are scarcely saved, as if they were almost consigned to destruction and were just pulled from the flames. What he meant was that the righteous are saved “with difficulty.” The difficulty envisioned is the suffering believers must endure in order to be saved. God saves his people by refining and purifying them through suffering. It is implied here that salvation is eschatological, a gift that believers will receive after enduring suffering (cf. 1:5, 9). If the godly are saved through the purification of suffering, then the judgment of the “ungodly and sinner” must be horrific indeed. The verb “will become” (phaneitai) refers to the eschatological judgment of unbelievers. Peter wrote this to motivate believers to endure in suffering, and we have seen a similar argument in 4:3-6. Suffering may be difficult now, but by participating in the pain of following Christ believers escape the condemnation coming upon the wicked. (Schreiner 229)

4:19 So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good.

The point is not that suffering as such is God’s will, as might be inferred from 1:6 and 3:17, but rather that obedience to God can entail innocent suffering as a consequence and that such suffering is part of a larger divine purpose — the conquest of sin (4:1), the testing of faith’s probity (1:6-7; 4:12), the sharing in Christ’s experience (2:21-25; 3:18-22; 4:1, 13), and the glorification of God as vindicator of all innocent suffering (2:12, 23c; 3:9, 10-12, 13, 18c, 22; 4:6b, 16; 5:10). Like the Lord’s own passion, this innocent suffering is the cup that the Father has given (Mark 14:36/Matt 26:39/Luke 22:42) in order that children of God might learn and demonstrate obedience (cf. Heb 5:7-10 and 12:5-11; cf. 4:1-2). To be sure, their detractors could not effect this suffering unless this were allowed by God (John 19:10-11; cf. Matt 26:54-56; John 18:11). However, God’s will involves not only the freedom of believers from ultimate harm (3:13) but also their final passage from suffering to glory (1:6-9; 4:13-14; 5:10). (Elliott 805)

The reference to God as “Creator” implies his sovereignty. His “faithful” nature gives believers a reason to trust him. Trust in God is demonstrated by continuing to do good, even when it may result in suffering. “In a culture where Christian virtues were the cause of persecution, doing what God wants is precisely to entrust oneself to him even though the result of such trust will be suffering” (Achtemeier 318). Again, “soul” refers to the whole person and not the immaterial soul in distinction from the body (Michaels 273).

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Elliott, John Hall. 1 Peter. Yale University Press, 2007.

Jobes, Karen. 1 Peter. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2005.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Thomas Nelson, 1988.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

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