“In which you rejoice while, for a little time now, it is necessary that you are distressed by various trials so that the testing of your faith, that is more precious than gold that perishes, even tested by fire, might be found with praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ, Whom you have never seen you love, for Whom you do not see now you trust and rejoice with joy inexpressible and glorified, receiving the outcome of your faith, which is the salvation of souls.”
The long sentence which began in v. 3 continues through the verses at hand. Peter’s focus shifts somewhat yet continues to be anchored in the assurance of future salvation already stated in vv. 3-5. The shift appears as soon as Peter mentions that his readers are “distressed” (λυπηθέντας), a term that indicates more of the emotional results of oppression, persecution, or pain than the persecution itself. They are distressed or even grieved as a result of trials. How this differs from the scene of secure future salvation from the previous verses.
Yet Peter links this section to that glorious living hope and reserved inheritance with his opening words. The “in which” or “in that” printed in our English Bibles points back to what comes before. The word “time” (καιρῷ) in v. 5 agrees with this pronoun in gender, case, and number and is thus an obvious match. The problem is not so much in discovering what Peter is referring to so much as what the significance of that reference is.
By pointing to “the last times” Peter is referring to the climax of his argument in vv. 3-5. He is referring to the culmination of salvation at the revelation of Jesus Christ (v. 5) and thus conceptually is indeed pointing to the joyous assurance of complete salvation, secured inheritance, and our living hope. This is the reason that his readers rejoice and thus the link back to the previous section.
The Christian life is a strange paradox of a certain and glorious future which we anticipate while living as aliens among strangers. We are those who stand alone, and yet are not lonely. We are those who grieve loss, and yet are those who rejoice always. How can this be? What is the answer to this paradox and how does our hope of the future impact the reality of our present circumstances? Peter will answer these questions in the text before us.
How can I rejoice while experiencing various trials? (vv. 6-7)
It seems an odd thing to speak of joy and trials in the same breath and yet Scripture often places these two things side by side. Peter’s words are remarkably similar to James’ introduction, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (Jm. 1:2) and also bear a striking resemblance to Jesus’ words, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecute the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12). Yet we are still left wondering how we can have such joy while we remain on this earth in a state of legitimate distress. First, we must understand the source of this joy.
Understanding the Source of Joy (v. 6a) – “In which you rejoice”
As we have already stated, Peter is pointing back to the culmination of the believer’s salvation, the second coming of Jesus Christ when all wrongs will be made right, and we will dwell with Him forever. This is the source of our joy. But please note that this is a current joy that is felt and expressed here and now.
Peter’s choice of terms intrigues me. We translate “rejoice” from the Greek ἀγαλλιάω (ἀγαλλιᾶσθε here) which indicates a strong and vibrant expression of joy. The verb itself is in the present tense which indicates that Peter’s audience are even now rejoicing and that they continue to do so. In other words, Peter is commending them rather than commanding them. They have taken the words of Jesus to heart, words that Peter heard firsthand, and are overjoyed in the knowledge that their future hope is secured for them and that they themselves are guarded while they remain as chosen sojourners. They have a view of life from a heavenly perspective.
So often we operate with an atheistic worldview that states this physical life is all that there is. When we die, it’s game over and all that is left is to decompose and become worm food. The calamities of this world are literally the worst thing that could happen to us because there is nothing else. But the Bible tells a very different story. This current life is only the beginning of eternity. If our eternal salvation is secured and we are guarded from falling way from that inheritance, then we are certainly able to rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16), even in the worst of circumstances.
Though this does not negate the reality that horrible things do happen. Death, destruction, disease, and disasters happen every day on a variety of scales. Our joy is steadfast, but it does not negate the reality of trials.
Understanding the Nature & Purpose of Trials (v. 6b-7) – God is not a capricious rotten little boy with a magnifying glass zapping ants on an anthill. Neither is He a helpless old man wringing His hands in despair while horrible things happen to His people. God is God and there is no other. He is in sovereign control of HIS universe and all that is within it. If we are to understand the nature and purpose of trials, we must view them from His divine perspective.
The Nature of Trials (v. 6b)
“While, for a little time now, it is necessary that you are distressed by various trials”
There are three things that we must learn from this line about trials. The first is that trials are temporary. Peter states that his readers are distressed “for a little while now” indicating that they will not always be distressed. But this must be read in the context of all that Peter has written. Dear reader, please do not be suckered into thinking that the way to endure trials is to simply keep your head down and wait for the storm to pass. The temporal nature of trials is stated in the context of our eternal salvation. In other words, there are trials that may last a very long time in this present life. In fact, there are trials that may last the rest of your earthly sojourn. But they are temporary. We must start living with a biblical worldview that sees the world in the light of eternity.
Second, we see that the distress and grief that is experienced during and after trials can co-exist with our joy. The participle translated “distressed” (λυπηθέντας) communicates that this distress occurs with the joy which Peter’s audience express. This does not mean that the grief has passed, only that the point of grief has already begun, yet these Christians rejoice all the same. Grief is real. Joy is real. The Christian can and must rejoice even while experiencing grief and distress. This is so much more than simply putting on a happy face for the crowd and does not mean that grief and distress vanish. The two occur in the bosom of the believer as he reacts to the cursed creation on the one hand and revels in the glories to come on the other.
Third, and perhaps most important, we see that distress is necessary. This part may cause some to shy away, for who wants to consider that grief and distress from various trials is a necessary reality. Yet Peter plainly says so here. He couches the statement “it is necessary that you are distressed” in a first-class conditional statement. This Greek construction assumes that both the “if” and the “then” parts of the statement are true for the sake of argument. The idea works out something like this: If it is necessary [and it is] then you are distressed by various trials. This is a blessed statement that hints at the sovereign hand of the Almighty behind these various trails.
The term “trials” here is the same πειρασμός used by James. It indicates a test designed to prove the quality of something or someone. Most often the NT translates this term as “temptation” because the context suggests a test that is designed to see the subject fail. Though when used in a positive manner that desires the subject to succeed, the translation “trial” is more appropriate. It is this second positive idea that is used here and thus it is necessary that believers are distressed due to a variety of kinds of trials. Why is it necessary? Peter tells us in the next verse.
The Purpose of Trials (v. 7)
“So that the testing of your faith, that is more precious than gold that perishes, even tested by fire, might be found with praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Peter begins with a purpose statement “so that” to explain why it is necessary to undergo trials. The purpose is simple: to prove the genuineness of our faith. The idea here is not to test the content of our faith but the reality of it. A simple catechism would achieve the goal of ensuring that a person affirmed the right doctrine. But how can we know that a person has truly been born again and possesses saving faith? They must be tested.
The term “tested” here (δοκίμιον) is not the same as “trials” (πειρασμός) in the previous verse. This is a smelting term which describes the process of heating metal ore in order to separate the impurities. If metal has been tested, then it stands as a sample of genuine and pure metal. This is the purpose of trials and Peter uses this idea to launch into a word picture describing the need for such testing.
The metaphor of gold is not to equate our faith with the gold and trials with the refiner’s fire (though there is some truth in that idea), but to press the importance of trials due to the supreme value of our faith. If gold, which is a very precious and durable substance, must be tested with fire to ensure its purity, then what of our faith which is so much more valuable. The value of our faith surpasses the value of gold because it will never perish. Gold will perish along with this present earth. But our faith will endure forever. Therefore, it is necessary that our faith be tested and thus revealed to be genuine. The results of this testing will be rewarded in eternity.
What Peter calls “praise and glory and honor” here equates well with Paul’s anticipate crown (2 Tim. 4:7-8) and Jesus’ “well done good and faithful slave!” (Matt. 25:21, 23). This is the greeting and glory a tried-and-true believer will receive upon entering the kingdom of God. Is this appropriate though, to receive praise and glory and honor? One commentator points out that all of this praise does not linger on the believer and always reflects back to God. For it is He who made gave this faith, produced the new birth, and preserved these saints in order to bring them home. He always gets the final and full glory.
How does knowledge of the future impact my life in the present? (vv. 8-9)
After examining the nature and purpose of trials we now understand how joy is possible even when experiencing the grief and distress produced by these necessary trials. But how does this joy transfer to our immediate context? How does this effect our lives here and now? Peter shows us where the rubber meets the road in the next two verses.
Present Relationship is Rooted in Future Revelation (v. 8) – Most modern translations make obvious the point that Peter refers to Jesus Christ as the One who is not seen but loved. Peter reflects upon the relationship that his audience has with their Lord Jesus Christ in order to draw a comparison with what he has just stated regarding future based joy in the midst of present time trials. This relationship is first defined by obedience and then by trust.
Obedience to the Unseen Christ (v. 8a)
“Whom you have never seen you love”
Peter is quite emphatic in the way that he phrases the fact that his readers have never before seen Jesus Christ (οὐ with the aorist participle rather than μὴ). Jesus was from Peter’s hometown. Peter had spent years with Jesus and had many a private and personal conversation with Him. None of these Christians in Asia Minor could boast of such a thing. And yet, though having never seen Him, they love Him.
Again, the present tense (ἀγαπᾶτε) indicates not only that they have once loved Jesus, but that they currently love Him and are still loving Him. Their grief and distress have done nothing to damper their love for their Lord and Savior. Their lack of physical communion is not a handicap. But what does it mean to love Jesus?
The term ἀγαπάω/ἀγάπη describes a love that always seeks the benefit and best of the object loved without any regard for the subject who loves. To say that they are loving Jesus means that their lives are all about Jesus regardless of the personal cost. This describes a life of obedience. Did not our Lord describe love in this same way? “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). They love and obey One whom they have never seen. Why is it so difficult to rejoice in what they have not yet experienced?
Trust in the Unseen Christ (v. 8b)
“for Whom you do not see now you trust and rejoice with joy inexpressible and glorified”
This line is eerily similar to Jesus’ rebuke of Thomas in John 20:29, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Peter was in the room for that exchange and heard those words firsthand. He does not rebuke his readers, as Jesus did Thomas, but commends them that they presently do not see Jesus…now…and yet they trust Him.
The root idea of belief (πιστεύω) is to trust. They have placed their trust in Jesus Christ who is not yet visible to them, but one day will be when He is revealed (v. 5). They trust Him in spite of the fact that they cannot yet see Him, and this trust produces yet more rejoicing.
The same verb used to begin this section (ἀγαλλιάω) is used here near the conclusion. This rejoicing is done in a manner of joy that cannot be described and is glorified. Peter describes this joy as literally something that cannot be communicated aloud (ἀνεκλαλήτῳ). So heaven filled is this joy that it is glorified (δεδοξασμένῃ) or “having been filled with glory.” This joy is so heaven like that no earthly language can fully serve to describe it.
If believers can love and trust Jesus, Whom they have never before see and currently do not see, yet trust that they will one day see, then shouldn’t they be able to rejoice in an unrealized future? Doesn’t our entire Christian existence in the present world demand such a logical connection? Peter’s final words in this section work along this very line of reasoning.
Present Worship is Rooted in Future Reward (v. 9) – “receiving the outcome of your faith, which is the salvation of souls”
This “receiving” is not a result of the rejoicing but is seen in tandem with it. The readers rejoice as they receive the outcome of their faith. This outcome is literally the end (τὸ τέλος) or the conclusion and climax of their faith. The final phrase makes clear what Peter means by this climax: “the salvation of souls.”
By “souls” Peter does not separate the spiritual reality of believers from the physical. He is no Gnostic. The soul is always used in Scripture to describe the total being of a person. This salvation is not just a spiritual reality, but includes the salvation of the entire being body, soul, and spirit.
Again, we see that Peter uses “salvation” in the total and complete sense of final salvation. He brings us back to the salvation mentioned in v. 5 which is yet to be revealed and waits for the final time. In doing so, he closes the loop in this present discussion, for this is where he began. The joy of trusting Jesus comes with the receiving of our faith’s climax: a certain and secure salvation of our whole being.
We cannot separate our soteriology from our eschatology any more than we can separate the justice of God from His righteousness. They are one and the same. Likewise, we cannot separate our present life from the life that is to come. This is what it means to live as chosen sojourners and elect aliens. This present world gives us many reasons, legitimate reasons, to grieve and be distressed. But the world to come gives us every reason to rejoice with joy inexplicable! If we love Christ, Whom we have never seen, and trust Christ, Whom we do not yet see, then our joy based in things yet to come is no less potent. Soli Deo Gloria!
 Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 83.  Robertson, p. 83.  Schreiner, p. 68-9.