Chapter 3

The Wealth God Has Given Us

As Peter began his letter, a spontaneous exclamation of praise flowed from his lips: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” The anticipation of what he was about to say so overwhelmed Peter that just thinking about it caused him to worship. Let’s examine the reasons for Peter’s enthusiasm:

A Second Birth (1:3). As a messenger of good news, Peter exclaimed about God, “In His great mercy He has given us new birth.” This was an important place to start. The apostle wanted believers to realize that there is more to life than what is immediately apparent—especially in their circumstances. Instead of focusing on their troubles, Peter called attention to one of the most important truths Christians need to keep in mind: Our spiritual heritage is of more worth than all the earthly wealth of the Kennedys or Bill Gates. Our true identity is far more impressive than if we had been born into the royal family of Great Britain. We have been born into the family of heaven: Our roots and inheritance are not limited to this world.

As defined by Peter, this new birth occurs whenever someone turns from self-sufficiency and trusts Christ (Acts 16:31; 17:30-31). Peter made this clear: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1:22-23).

Peter emphasized this spiritual birth because many of his readers were considered to be expendable by their own families for turning their backs on the religious faith of their fathers. They were often seen as spiritual turncoats. They were also considered bad for the community because they would not worship the neighborhood gods. And because they would not worship the emperor, they were seen as unpatriotic. For these reasons and more, followers of Christ needed assurance that they had been permanently born into the family of heaven. Rejection by this world only heightens the importance of what God has done for us.

People who live in the shadow of persecution and death need a hope worth dying for.

An Undying Hope (1:4). People who live in the shadow of persecution and death need a hope worth dying for. So Peter reminded his readers that they had received “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Because Jesus rose bodily from the grave, those who believed in Him can be confident that they share in His undying life.

This confident anticipation of life beyond the grave is important for people living in any age. God has built into us a strong self-preservation instinct. He also has given us close family ties that we are reluctant to break. This makes us uneasy at the thought of dying— until God prepares us to be called home.

When my mother was told that she had only a few weeks to live, she became despondent. She wanted to spend more years with her family and friends. God graciously extended her life another 12 years, and her attitude about death changed. A few days before she was called home to be with the Lord, she told me she was content, ready to leave this world and join those who had gone before.

In my 50 years of pastoring, I have worked with hundreds of dying and grieving people. Repeatedly I have seen the difference this living hope makes. Believe me, our living hope changes everything when we encounter death, whether our own or that of people we love. This living hope is what Peter offered to believers confronted with their own mortality.

A Guaranteed Inheritance (1:4-9). To people facing the possibility of death, Peter did more than offer a living hope; he also described an inheritance guaranteed by God: • This inheritance can never “perish” (be destroyed by outward forces), “spoil” (be destroyed by internal decay), or “fade” (wear out).

• It is “kept [reserved] in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded [protected from harm] by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (vv.4-5).

• It will be ours to receive after “a little while” of spiritually profitable suffering (v.6).

• It will, upon possession, bring us “praise, glory, and honor” (v.7).

Peter went on to assure all who are “in Christ” that we can have certainty about this wonderful inheritance without actually seeing it. He wrote:

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (vv.8-9).

The fact that these persecuted believers had not seen Jesus when He was on earth did not stop them from loving Him. Neither did they stop loving God because He had not delivered them from their enemies. Without seeing God, they believed He loved them and were filled with “inexpressible and glorious joy.”

What we can touch and see is easier to love than what is invisible.

When one of my grandsons was 5 years old, he asked me, “Grandpa, how can I love God? I can love Mom and Dad and Grandma and you, but I can see you. How can I love God when I have never seen Him?”

My grandson asked a profound question. How can we be sure enough about God to actually love Him? I wanted so much for that little 5-year-old to know what I knew. I wanted him to have the assurance that Peter wrote about. I wanted to tell him in a moment what God Himself must show each of us over time. I could tell him that we learn to love God as we learn to see how much He has first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). I could tell him that loving God is a part of getting to know Him. I could tell him that God gives those who believe in His Son a heart to love Him. But what I couldn’t explain in that moment is that we must also learn to walk by faith rather than by sight.

What we can touch and see is easier to love than what is invisible. But the visible world becomes less important to us as we realize how temporary circumstances are and how elusive relationships can be. That was a truth Peter’s persecuted readers had learned from God and for themselves.

An Awesome Rescue (1:10-12,17-21). The kind of rescue God provided had been a mystery that Old Testament prophets and even angels had been unable to understand. Prophets like Isaiah and Daniel had a vague idea that God’s Messiah would not only rule the world, but would also suffer for the sins of His people. But no one could understand what it actually meant or how it would be possible until after it happened.

The New Testament explains far more than the Old Testament prophets understood. Even so, we still have only a small understanding of the wonder of God’s love, the mystery of the God-man Jesus Christ, the depth of the agony He endured for our salvation, the enigma of grace, and the glory of heaven. We still have reason to tremble with fear and awe when we sense the immensity of the issues of life and death Peter wrote about.

The visible world becomes less important to us as we realize how temporary circumstances are and how elusive relationships can be.

After being away for 7 months to receive treatment for an aggressive and deadly cancer, Pastor James Van Tholen talked to his congregation about the wonder of this salvation. He knew that he had only months to live and he admitted being afraid. He wrote, “How could this be so? How could I have believed in the God of grace and dreaded to meet Him? Why did I stand in this pulpit and preach grace to you over and over, and then when I myself needed the grace so much, why did I discover fear where the grace should have been? I think I know the answer now. . . . The answer is that grace is a scandal. Grace is hard to believe. Grace goes against the grain. The gospel of grace says that there is nothing I can do to get right with God, but that God has made Himself right with me through Jesus’ bloody death. And that is a scandalous thing to believe” (Christianity Today, May 24, 1999, p.58).

In the face of the unfathomable wonder of a salvation we do not deserve, this 33-year-old pastor experien ced a reverent fear and wonder of what God has done for us. This is the same awe and wonder the apostle Peter wrote about as he said to his troubled readers:

You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him (vv.18-21).

The simplicity of the gospel! The concept that we are delivered from the punishment we deserve because Jesus died in our place is so simple that even children can place their trust in Him.

The profundity of the gospel! When we try to imagine God truly coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ to be the sacrifice for our sins, we encounter mind-stretching truths about our loving, triune, perfect, infinite, and eternal God.

The disturbing gospel! It reminds us that we are so weak and depraved we can do absolutely nothing to save ourselves.

The comfort of the gospel! It assures us that by His grace alone, God provided a complete salvation that we can receive by faith alone.

Anyone who is in Christ can be despised on earth while being highly honored in heaven’s eyes.

A High Honor (2:4-12). As Peter composed his letter to displaced, persecuted people, he spoke of the irony of the Christian’s circumstances. Earth despised the people whom heaven honored. Peter used terms like “living stones,” “a spiritual house,” “a holy priesthood,” “a chosen people,” “a royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” “a people belonging to God” to show the heavenly value of persecuted, rejected people. Whether or not we ever experience the trouble Peter’s first-century readers endured, it’s important that we try to understand the high honor that belongs to those of us who have entrusted ourselves to Christ: • We are “living stones . . . being built into a spiritual house” because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, “the Living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God” (2:4).

• We are a “spiritual house” because our bodies are temples in which God dwells just as truly as He did in Israel’s material temple (2:5).

• We are “a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (2:5) because we can come directly to God with three sacrifices: (1) daily devotion of ourselves to Christ (Rom. 12:1), (2) expressions of sincere praise and thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15), and (3) deeds of kindness and generosity (Heb. 13:16).

• We are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (2:9) because God has chosen to make us instruments designed to “declare the praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

Think about it! God has given to us, for all time and eternity, roles not even the holy angels can fill. A remarkable honor for undeserving sinners!

An Inspiring Teacher (2:21-23). When followers of Christ run into difficulty because of our faith, we need a mental picture of how to respond. Peter painted this picture by showing how Christ Himself endured pain for us.

• He suffered innocently, yet without resentment. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth” (v.22).

• He suffered without retaliating. “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats” (v.23; Mk. 15:16-20,29-32 tells the story).

• He suffered trustingly. “Instead [of making threats], He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (v.23). Interestingly, the word translated “entrusted” carries the thought “to hand over.” Paul Rees comments, “Just as Judas in betrayal ‘delivered up’. . . his Lord to the soldiers, just as the Jews ‘delivered’ Him to Pilate, and just as Pilate ‘delivered’ Him to the soldiers, so He at the last ‘delivered’ Himself with unshattered confidence into the keeping of the Father who judges with perfect equity” (Triumphant In Trouble, Revell, 1962, p.63).

Inspired by this example and through the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit, thousands of Christian martyrs have likewise suffered and died with great courage and grace. In the spirit of their wonderful teacher and Savior, they “entrusted” themselves (literally handed themselves over) into the hands of the God they knew they could trust to keep His promise of ultimate salvation and life everlasting.

When we turn to Christ we enter into a relationship with Him, and we become members of His family.

The day came when Peter himself was killed because his faith in Christ put him at odds with those who held the temporary reins of power. Although the exact time of his death is uncertain, early writers placed it during the time of persecution under the Roman emperor Nero. All writers agree that Peter died by crucifixion. Origen says that by his own request Peter was crucified upside down because he didn’t consider himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. All indications are that Peter was himself deeply impressed by the example of his own friend and teacher.

A Life-Changing Lord (2:24-25). In addition to describing Jesus as our perfect sacrifice (1:18-20) and flawless example (2:21-23), Peter wanted his readers to know that God made Christ our life-changing Lord (2:24-25). So he dictated to Silas, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds [literally “welts”] you have been healed.”

Not only is Jesus’ death the basis for our forgiveness, it’s also the foundation for our transformation.

The purpose of Christ’s death is “that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”(2:24). Some see this statement as being in conflict with other Bible passages which declare that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. These people forget that the death of Christ had more than one result. Not only is His death the basis for our forgiveness, it’s also the foundation for our transformation.

When we turn to Christ we enter into a relationship with Him. We become members of His family through the new birth of which Peter spoke earlier (1:23). Jesus is not ashamed to acknowledge us as His brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11-14). As our brother and living Lord, He continues to care and intercede for us (Heb. 5:10), fulfilling His promise, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). In addition to all this, from His place in heaven after His ascension, He, together with the Father, “poured out” the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33) who now lives in every believer (1 Cor. 6:19). Through His death for our sins, His resurrection, His outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and His continued presence as our brother and Lord, He equipped us for a higher quality of life.

Most of Peter’s readers knew the pain of a scourging, and to that extent could identify with Christ’s physical suffering on their behalf. Borrowing from Isaiah 53:5, Peter assured them that by being wounded for them (2:24), Jesus provided spiritual healing for our sin-diseased souls. In this connection, many commentators have quoted third-century preacher Theodoret: “A new and strange method of healing: The doctor suffered the cost, and the sick received the healing!”

By dying for us, Christ restored our relationship with God. So Peter wrote, “You were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:25). In this he echoed Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”

“A new and strange method of healing: The doctor suffered the cost, and the sick received the healing!” —Theodoret

Even though Peter’s first-century readers were scattered across the Middle East and Southern Europe like lost sheep, he wanted them to know that they were not lost to God. On the contrary, they were being led and protected every step of the way. They were being shepherded by One who wanted to show the world that the q uality of a person’s life is not determined by physical circumstances. The very fact that these people were living in difficult material conditions gave them a chance to show that they had found wealth far more significant than anything the world had to offer. Their material poverty became a frame for the picture of Christ within.

A Pre-Announced Victory (3:18-22). Much of what Peter wrote to troubled believers probably made sense to them in principle. But he also wrote some things that caused considerable confusion for his readers in the centuries that followed. For example:

It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built (3:17-20).

What Christ suffered for us is far greater than anything we suffer for Him.

Peter’s point was clear when he said that it is better to suffer for following Christ than for committing crimes against society. He also made sense when he said that what Christ suffered for us is far greater than anything we suffer for Him. But what was Peter’s point when he talked about Jesus preaching “to the spirits in prison”? And why was it important enough to include in his letter to persecuted followers of Christ?

Some early Church Fathers taught that Jesus went to hell during the time between His death and resurrection to finish His task of paying the full price for our sins. The Apostles’ Creed, dating back to the third or fourth century, expresses this concept in the words, “He descended into hell.” The Reformers, however, did not agree with the idea that Jesus went to hell after His death. They pointed to Jesus’ sixth statement from the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), as evidence that when He died He emptied the cup of God’s wrath against sin. They interpreted the statement in the Apostles’ Creed to mean that in the desolation that caused Him to cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46), Jesus “suffered the torments of hell.” Many Reformation theologians did not believe that Jesus ever visited hell or the underworld. They interpreted Peter as saying that Jesus was resurrected by the same Holy Spirit through whom He, as the eternal Word, had preached to Noah’s contemporaries while the ark was being built. The spirits of these people are now in prison in the underworld where they await resurrection and final judgment.

The ark is an ancient symbol that pointed forward to our rescue in Christ.

Some Bible scholars today see Peter’s statements in another way. They believe Peter was describing Jesus’ descent into Hades, the spirit realm of the dead. They say He went there not to pay for sin, but to announce that He had once and for all time defeated sin and death. If this view is correct, our Lord’s entrance into Hades was a part of His exaltation, not His suffering.

I believe this explanation fits Peter’s purpose of encouraging persecuted people. But then he made another statement that has been the source of much discussion through the years. Speaking of Jesus’ descent into Hades, Peter alluded to Noah’s ark and made a statement about baptism that is often misunderstood. He said, “In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (3:21).

On the cross, Jesus experienced the flood of God’s wrath against our sin. But He was not destroyed.

To understand these words, visualize the swirling flood waters that came upon the world in the days of Noah. They were destructive to everything outside the huge boat Noah built. However, those same waters worked in favor of the ark. They gradually buoyed it up, lifting its occupants to safety.

Now ask, “What saved Noah and his family, the water or the ark?” The answer is obvious. It was the ark. Had they been outside of it, they would have died. The raging water was by its nature destructive. The ark, however, withstood its wrath, and the water could do nothing except lift it up to safety.

The ark is an ancient symbol that pointed forward to our rescue in Christ. On the cross, Jesus experienced the flood of God’s wrath against our sin. But He was not destroyed. He endured until He could say, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Then He let Himself die, only to rise from death on the third day, the victor over sin and death.

When we believe and trust Jesus Christ, we are united with Him, and He becomes our ark of safety. That’s why believers are referred to as “in Christ” more than 60 times in the New Testament. In Romans 6:1- 14, Paul declared that baptism depicts the nature of the oneness with Christ that occurs when we believe. The new believer—having heard the gospel, having been convicted of sin, and having received spiritual cleansing through faith in Jesus—enters the waters of baptism (which symbolizes God’s judgment against sin) to declare his or her death to the old life and resurrection to a new life. As Jesus entered Hades to announce victory over sin, so by a symbolic act of baptism we announce to the world that our victory over sin is assured even though there are still forces of evil at work.

Peter knew that his troubled readers, more than anything else, needed to see who God is, what He had done for them, and how joyful they soon would be. What was true for first-century believers is just as true for us. Our lives find meaning and perspective only as we see God and ourselves in light of what He has done for us through Christ:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because He who has suffered in His body is done with sin. As a result, He does not live the rest of His earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God (1 Pet. 4:1-2).


• In Peter’s concern for his persecuted readers, we see God’s concern for them and for us.

• In Peter’s words of encouragement, we see what God has done for us.

• In God’s gift of the new birth, we see His willingness to bring those who believe in Christ into His own family.

• In His guarantee of an eternal inheritance, we see how generous God has been to us.

• In His fathomless rescue, we catch a glimpse of God’s immeasurable love and wisdom.

• In the high honor God gives to us, we see the extent of God’s purposes for us.

• In the example of Christ’s suffering, we see that pain suffered for God’s sake results in great gain.


• In Peter’s concern for his readers, we can see our own need for renewal and for the right perspective in times of trouble.

• In Peter’s words of encouragement, we see what our focus should be. • In God’s gift of the new birth, we see our own family ties to God.

• In God’s guarantee of an eternal inheritance, we see our own great blessing because of Christ.

• In the high honor God has given us, we see that we have been called to live a life of distinguished service.

• In the example of Christ’s suffering, we see that we too are called to suffer.