A Living Hope 1 Peter 1:3-12
In 1 Peter 1:3-12 the apostle gives us a set of Christological affirmations regarding a living hope. He begins by blessing God, not a generic god, but the God who has revealed Himself distinctively as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The specific act for which Peter blesses God is regeneration, which is not something deserved or produced by human beings, but a free act of a merciful, covenant-keeping, faithful God. Regenerated, literally born again, was a term used in the Greek-speaking world for both secular and religious purposes, so it was natural for Christians to use it to explain what God had done for them. They used it to designate the radical change of conversion which was like receiving a whole new life, life that was life indeed.
Peter does not focus on the past, on the new birth itself, but on the future, for the goal of this regeneration is a living hope, i.e. it points to a bright future ahead, which we see in this passage. This fits the birth analogy, in that birth, while wonderful, does not exist for itself, but rather to start a child onward to a mature adult life. This is future orientation is huge, for Peter writes to a suffering people who may see only pain and deprivation ahead, who need to be able to pierce the dark clouds and fasten on a vision of hope if they are to stay on track. This hope is not a desperate holding to a faded dream, but rather a living hope founded on reality, for it is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Since Jesus really did shatter the gates of death and exists now as our living Lord, those who have committed themselves to Him share in His new life and can expect to participate fully in all future blessings (Romans 6:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15). It is this reality which will now enable the readers to face even death without fear, for death is not the end for the Christian, but a beginning.
The content of this hope is an inheritance. In Genesis we are told that Abraham was promised the land of Canaan for his heirs. Later in the New Testament we see this culminate in the reward of the godly/ungodly on judgment day. The point is that while Christians may suffer in this age and so have no future here, there is waiting for the faithful a reward as sure and real as that of Abraham, a reward far better than an earthly land and far more lasting.
To describe this inheritance Peter uses three adjectives. First, incorruptible—unlike the things of this age it will not rot or decay, it is permanent. Second, undefiled—it is morally and spiritually pure. One can possess it without resorting to moral or spiritual compromise, which may have been necessary for an earthly inheritance. Third, unfading—unlike flowers that wither and have to be tossed away, this inheritance is eternal and will thus never age, better than any earthly inheritance. This inheritance is safe as well, for it is guarded in heaven for you. It is totally secure. While the Christian’s adversaries may destroy all they have in this world, there is a reward no one on earth can touch. This should foster hope in the darkest of times. Not only is the inheritance protected by God, they themselves are kept and guarded by the Almighty.
There is a conscious balance between God’s action in heaven protecting their future, and His action on earth protecting them in the present. The picture is that of a fortress or military camp. They are within and outside evil forces are assaulting them, but on the perimeter is the overwhelming force of the power of God. We receive protection through faith, i.e. through committing ourselves in trust and obedience to God. We may seem vulnerable and indeed in ourselves we are, but God’s goodness and protection surrounds us. He will do the protecting. The goal of this protection is the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time, at the second coming of Jesus Christ, when all things will be consummated, and all will be resurrected and receive reward for the things done in this life. Every preparation for the final unveiling of this salvation is completed. The curtain is about to go up, it awaits only the final signal.
The thought of this great and living hope and its contrast to their present outward situation triggers a chain of thoughts in Peter. Hope should lead to joy. This rejoicing is not a continual feeling of hilarity, nor a denial of the reality of pain and suffering, but an anticipatory joy experienced even now. This joy prevails despite the outward circumstances, because believers know that suffering is only for a little while, and their inheritance is sure and eternal. This joy is based on the knowledge that Christ has come, that God has revealed His saving grace to them and that they will take part in the consummated joy of God’s glory and salvation at the approaching end of the age. This is a common experience resulting from conversion.
On the other hand, for a little while, their physical experience may be quite different from what they anticipate in the future. While not all will experience suffering it is the lot of some. The expression, if need be, necessarily indicates two things. First, suffering is not a normal part of life, i.e. it was not ordained by God in creation. Various tests are present in a fallen world yet they are not among the good gifts of God, but a necessity for some (or even most) Christians in the already/not yet context. Second, the expression indicates suffering is under the control of God. Even if it is not a part of His ideal world, God is sovereignly working in history to its good conclusion. But that does not mean that suffering itself is good, that its agents are good, or that God wants us to suffer. It does mean that in a world in rebellion against God, created with the freedom to choose, suffering may be the best way in God’s mercy and hidden wisdom for Him to work out His good plan.
Various trials, externally caused, fix our eyes on the coming hope that Peter sees in the testing—that the genuineness of our faith will bring glory to believers at the parousia. Valuable gold is refined by fire, which removes impurities. Just so, the trials faced in this world reveal the genuineness of a faith which will result in glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.