God’s Glorious Salvation (1 Peter 1:3-12)
The first step in Bible exposition is to determine how much text to take on for any given week. This decision is made my examining the text and looking for natural breaks for, after all, the goal is to follow and explain the author’s intended meaning. The text before us is mammoth block of ten uninterrupted verses (vv. 3-12) that, in the Greek, consist of a single sentence. How should we divide this text to teach it?
There is always the option of preaching all ten verses in a single sermon, though that may produce a two- or three-hour sermon. But while there are no strong syntactical breaks there are several smaller divisions within these verses.
The whole theme of these verses revolves around God’s gracious gift of salvation, but Peter seems to place different emphasis on different aspects of this salvation for different reasons. In vv. 3-5 Peter seems to look forward to the culmination of salvation in the “last time.” He looks into the future in order to reassure and encourage his readers, that they might know for certain that their salvation is secure. In vv. 6-9 Peter looks to the present struggles that his audience has and continues to endure. Here he emphasizes the joy that is still available because of their current salvation. As he closes this introduction in vv. 10-12, he looks to the past where prophets wrote and angels pondered. He exclaims what joy it is to live in a day when we experience what the saints of old and the elect angels longed for.
It would be difficult indeed to teach through all of this in a single sitting, so we will attempt to study our way through this text one block at a time. As is right, Peter begins with a shout of praise.
The Blessing (v. 3a)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”
The Greek used here is εὐλογητός (blessed/spoken well of – Mk. 14:61; Lk. 1:68; Rom. 1:25; Eph. 1:3) rather than μακάριος (blessed/happy – Matt. 5:3-11; 11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:46; Lk. 1:45). This term focuses on the actual act of blessing while μακάριος refers to the result of that blessing (a similar distinction between ברך and אשרי). In this sense, Peter is recognizing God as the ultimate blesser by “speaking well of” Him. God is worthy to be praised simply because of who He is and what He does. This forms the outline for all that follows.
Praise for who God is – Yhwh of the Old Testament is here called the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This simple statement requires some meditation. God is the God and the Father of Jesus Christ. Have we ever considered the relationship of God the Father and God the Son in this manner? That our God is also Jesus’ God? That our Father is also Jesus’ Father? Jesus Himself spoke in this way: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt. 27:46). And, during His high priestly prayer: “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You” (Jn. 17:1). From the incarnation onward, the Father is the God of the Son. From eternity onward, God is the Father of the Son. He is praiseworthy for who He is.
Praise for what God does – This introduction is an ejaculation of praise with wording so precise that it instantly becomes confessional. Peter’s goal is not to instruct so much as to encourage. But this encouragement is tightly bound to deep theological and doctrinal truth. The Father is the God and Father of the Son, and therefore the God and Father of us. The Son is our Lord and Messiah (Christ). Jesus Christ is our κύριος, our master, our sovereign, and our King. This knowledge must be firmly in place before we can begin expressing the great encouragement that comes from knowing what God (the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit) has done and will do.
All that follows in these verses describes what God has already accomplished for these beleaguered believers. The world is about to come down around their ears and Peter seeks to encourage them that they might stand firm. What mighty deed of God does Peter bring to the forefront to encourage the Christians of Asia Minor? God’s miraculous and merciful act of regeneration, the new birth.
“Who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again”
God the Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has become our Father and thus our God because He has caused us to be born again. It is impossible to read these words without our minds jumping to passages like John 3 and Jesus’ explanation of the new birth to Nicodemus or Paul’s explanation of believers being a new creation in Ephesians 2 and Galatians 6:15. Peter’s word of encouragement begins with the doctrine of regeneration.
Just as no man can contribute to his first birth, neither can he contribute to his second. This is a birth that is in accordance with and to the standard of God’s mercy. The term mercy (ἔλεος) is a term that assumes a great need on the part of those who receive it and the resources adequate to meet that need on the part of him who shows it. Our need, as spiritually dead men who serve the prince of this world (Eph. 2:1-3) is to be made alive so that we might serve the living God (Eph. 2:4-10). According to God’s mercy, He has accomplished that task for His elect by regenerating them as new creatures.
From this point forward, Peter works to ensure the Christian’s of Asia Minor that their status as God’s children, begotten through the power of regeneration, is secure. The first step to encourage believers is to focus their attention and affections upon the God who has saved them. Here Peter provides three forward looking reasons to praise God and thus be encouraged to stand firm.
Our Hope Lives (v. 3c)
“To a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”
Here we see the first of three uses of the Greek preposition εἰς which, in these cases, expresses result. The first result of our re-birth is a result of a living hope. “Hope” (ἐλπίς) is a much stronger term than we let on in our vernacular English. It does not indicate something that we simply want to happen but very well may not. This term expresses an expectation that we confidently assume will happen. Ours is a living hope in the sense that it is validated and anchored in the facts of history. There is a precedent for our hope, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
This is the fourth time in three verses that Peter names God the Son. “Jesus Christ” is a name that is sweet to his ears and a precious balm to his readers’ eyes. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the crowning achievement of redemption. It proved that the Father accepted His sacrifice and that His wrath was appeased. It proved that Jesus Christ holds power over sin and death. And it proves that those who trust in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Praise Him, for our hope lives.
Our Inheritance is Secure (v. 4)
“To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you”
Here we read the second result (εἰς) of our re-birth now rephrased as our inheritance. This term, now set alongside our hope, is a term that any student of the Bible will well recognize. Under the covenant made at Sinai (commonly known as the Mosaic Covenant) Yhwh promised to give His people, His firstborn (Ex. 4:22), the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, as their inheritance (Deut. 12:9; Josh. 11:23).
This inheritance came with stipulations under this temporal covenant. So long as Israel obeyed and served Yhwh alone this inheritance would be theirs and it would be blessed (Deut. 11:8-15; 28:1-14). But when Israel forsook Yhwh for other gods and rejected His Word, this inheritance would be taken away and the people dispossessed (Deut. 28:15-68).
The inheritance stated here is not dependent upon human nature but is a result of God’s gracious and merciful re-birth. This is the inheritance that is a result of the New Covenant and is therefore permanent and fool proof. Peter uses three negative terms to describe this inheritance. So wonderful and other worldly is this inheritance that it can only be described as to what it is not.
An Inheritance that is death-proof – The NASB translates the Greek ἄφθαρτον as “imperishable,” a term that indicates that something is untouched by the seeds of death and decay. The curse has no effect over this inheritance. This inheritance cannot die. It is death-proof.
An Inheritance that is sin-proof – “Undefiled” (ἀμίαντον) describes what is not or cannot be stained either physically (sullied/stained) or morally (corrupted/defiled). Like a fabric that sheds water and refuses to absorb it, this inheritance refuses to accept the stain of sin. It cannot be marred or sullied by sin. It is sin-proof.
An Inheritance that is time-proof – In order to maintain the rhythm of Peter’s word choice, “unfading” may be a better choice when translating ἀμάραντον than the NASB’s “will not fade away,” though the meaning is more or less the same. Like a flower that will always be in full bloom or gold that never tarnishes, this inheritance will never lose its luster. After a thousand years it will hold its beauty and majesty as on day one.
A temporal covenant had a temporal inheritance. But an eternal covenant carries with it an eternal reward. These Christians are elect aliens and chosen sojourners because they are heirs to a kingdom that is not yet here but is coming. It “has been reserved” indicates that God has already, in past time, placed this inheritance securely in heaven. The perfect tense includes a continuous aspect so that this past action has ongoing results. Even now, He continues to keep this inheritance intact.
This is so much more than a promise that believers will enter into the presence of God upon their death, though that is certainly true (2 Cor. 5:8). This is a promise of the coming kingdom and of the new heavens and the new earth. Any heir of this coming kingdom is by default an alien in this present world. This is a reason to rejoice! We have been born again into the family of the King! Blessed be God indeed!
Our Salvation is Guarded (v. 5)
“Who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”
Peter pointed v. 4 directly at his readers (for you) and here carries that same directed force. It is YOU, dear Christians of Asia Minor, who are protected by the power of God. The Greek φρουρέω (protected) is a military term that describes the action of placing a garrison in a city, guarding one’s post, or guarding a prisoner. It is used to describe the action of protection, either protecting those within from outside attack or protecting those within from escaping. Both ideas are present here. Not only is the Christian inheritance actively kept and reserved, but Christians themselves are guarded lest they fall short of this great salvation.
The third and final result (εἰς) of God’s merciful re-birth is here referred to as salvation. All three terms (living hope, inheritance, salvation) are used to describe the same thing: the glory that awaits believers at the return of the King. How can Peter’s audience know for certain that they will endure these present times of trial and so enjoy the salvation that is to come? Because they are even now being guarded by the power of God through faith.
Just as they contributed nothing to their re-birth and owe all to God, the same is true of the preservation and continued trust in Christ. Why could John say so confidently that those who departed were never actually a part of the body of Christ (1 Jn. 2:19)? Because every person whom the Father has given the Son, the Son will not lose (Jn. 10:25-30). Our very faith is a gift from God that is protected by the power of God resulting in our salvation.
This salvation is more than a past decision on the part of the Godhead, more than a moment in history when Christ made satisfaction, and certainly more than our present growth in holiness and Christlikeness. It is all these things but is culminated in glory when we shall be with Him and be as He is. This salvation has not yet been revealed, but that day is soon approaching. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
These verses point the eyes of Christians forward to the prize of salvation, the eternal inheritance, and the living hope that we have in Christ because God caused us to be born again. In other words, eschatology is of PRIMARY concern to Peter and his readers. He does not tell his readers that they are already enjoying part of their inheritance now nor does he lie to them and say that the culmination of their salvation will be revealed before the last time. What sort of comfort and encouragement would such nonsense bring? How could such blathering explain why they are aliens and sojourners who suffer in this present age? Eschatology is part of the gospel, and it matters.
The main thrust of Peter’s words is designed to elevate praise to God for who He is, what He’s done, and what He will do. We praise Him for the new life that He has mercifully given. But if we do not understand our hope, inheritance, and salvation then we cannot praise Him as He so richly deserves. Theology matters. Doctrine matters. Because God’s glory matters. Soli Deo Gloria!
 D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 59.