It appears that some false teachers had been encouraging those to whom Peter was writing that Jesus would not return in a physical form (2 Peter 1:16-18.) Peter refers to their “cleverly devised stories” as muthoi,” from which we get our word “myth.” His purpose at this point was to establish for his readers a solid basis for believing that Christ would in fact come back to earth in an actual body. Normally, Christians turn to the resurrection as proof that Christ is alive and therefore able to return, but Peter cites his experience on the Mt. of Transfiguration. That was when Christ appeared to Peter, James and John in the radiant splendor of his eternal state. They were eyewitnesses of that visual display of the truth of the resurrection. Their experience argues the credibility of his promise to return.
The point I want to stress is the deceptive nature of heresy. If what the false teachers were saying was true it follows that believers have no basis for expecting a literal return Christ. The argument is that since such things as returning from the dead are not a part of life as we know it, any reference to them should be taken allegorically. They would say, “To state that Christ will return in bodily form is a way of emphasizing the remarkable impact of his life. It honors the greatness of his ministry. To understand it in a literal fashion misses the point.”
And so it has been argued ever since. To take the second return literally is to miss the larger truth. One needs to open the imagination to understand what the words actually intended. So goes the argument. Heresy has always preyed on the more vulnerable. When scripture speaks about rivers clapping their hands and mountains singing for joy (Psalm 98:8) we recognize the genre and don’t expect to sit in on the next concert. But in other areas it is more difficult to distinguish between literal and allegorical. People don’t normally die and return to life so an actual return of Christ is open to some alternate explanation. Peter was well aware of that so he told his readers that he and his fellow disciples had been right there on the mountain with Jesus when the transfiguration took place. With his very own eyes he saw Jesus in his glorified body. He heard the majestic voice of God announce, “This is my Son, whom I love.” What greater proof could there be that Jesus, who appeared in heaven glory in what became known as the Transfiguration, could and would return in bodily form.
Peter writes that as long as he is “in this tent” (2 Peter 1:13) he needs to remind his readers of certain things. Some scholars think this reflects the Greek idea of an immortal soul living in a mortal body. In fact, there are Christian believers who mistakenly believe that we are souls temporarily using a body. But who we essentially are cannot be partitioned that way. The TEV translation of 1 Thess. 5:23 says that our “whole being” is comprised of “spirit, soul, and body.” The background for Peter’s imagery comes from the nomadic life of the patriarchs of old who were on a journey to the Promised Land. God dwelt in a tent (or tabernacle) and guided them along the way. We too are on a journey; ours is from earth to heaven. We are sojourners and like the patriarchs we are tent-dwellers as we continue toward home.
Since, as the old song has it, “This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through,” what does that mean for how we live? I don’t want to sound like a cranky old preacher but the truth is that God’s expectations for us sometimes have a way of making us uncomfortable. Seems to me that the logical implications of being a tent-dweller run something like this: don’t waste all your energy fixing up the old tent; don’t waste time on what is temporary; think about the journey in terms of where it is leading; your Father is there waiting for you (he wants to have a party); don’t take unnecessary side trips; Now you can add yours!
The simple truth is that we were created by and for a God who loves us so much that in the person of his Son gave his very life to save us from the penalty of our own sinfulness. We are the reason why God decided to create in the first place. He wanted a people with whom he could enjoy the deep relationship of love. To imagine an eternity of bliss awaiting the believer certainly rules out any excessive involvement in life here below. Let’s clarify that. Life here on earth is to be lived, as the old gospel song has it, with “eternity’s values in view.” Our choices are made in the light of the fact that earth is temporary and heaven is eternal.
So, fellow tent-dweller: How’s the journey going? Aren’t you glad that before long we’ll all be home!
Peter is convinced that God has provided us with everything we need to live a life that is fully pleasing to Him. Various translations of 2 Peter 1:3 use such adjectives as “godly” (NIV) or “truly religious” (TEV). In verse 4 Peter points out two major results of using the gifts he has given us. One is that we are able to escape the corruption of this world and the other is that we become partakers of the divine nature. This verse could lead to a rather profound theological discussion but let’s keep it on the practical level of how it applies to life.
It is clear from the Greek text that escaping corruption is prior to the sharing of a divine nature. It is important to note that it is not the world itself that is corrupt (God created it and declared it good: see the Genesis story) but it has been corrupted by man’s evil desires. We, by nature, corrupted the world; it is not the other way around. Sin entered the world by the choice of man, it is not endemic to the world itself. Salvation is our escape from the corruption we created. Christ came to save us from the mess we made and we are the beneficiaries of his saving grace.
The other result of using the gifts that God has given us through fellowship with him is that we “participate in the divine nature.” This expression was common in Hellenistic religious literature as well as in pagan mystery religions. I do not believe that Peter is saying that believers become partially divine but that in Christ we share in God’s divinity. Scripture speaks of Christ being “in us” and that reflects the reality of our surrender to, and our continuing fellowship with, him.
How does all this affect our daily life? One thing is that having escaped the devastating results of corruption by accepting Christ we will have a strong distaste for all that falls short of the purity displayed in his life. To hate sin in all its forms is a natural result of having experienced the righteousness of God. The other point is that by sharing God’s nature we become more and more like his true child. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wonderful story, The Great Stone Face, Ernest, a sensitive hero who throughout life longingly contemplates the image of a great stone face on the mountainside gradually begins to resemble the image. In the same way, we become like the one we look at. What Peter is emphasizing is that God has already provided all that we need to escape corruption and become like him.
I remember as a boy a certain preacher who always made me feel guilty. I had accepted Christ and wanted to live a good life but he kept pushing me to a level that I couldn’t reach no matter how hard I tried. Now I understand why I couldn’t make it – “no matter how hard I tried.” God never intended us to be perfect in our own strength. Here is the gist of 2 Peter 1:3
But this same God calls us to live like Christ. Can we? Well, we can try but we’ll never make it on our own. In fact, we won’t even come close. But here is the good news – “By his divine power, God has lavished on us everything we need to live a godly life.” So, he calls on us to live a life that is genuinely pleasing to Him but not for a moment does he expect us to make it on our own. The question is not whether we now have that power but whether we are using what in fact He has already given us.
As Christians we believe that there is both what we call the natural and what we understand as the supernatural. By birth we enter the realm of the natural but to enter the realm of the supernatural requires a “new birth.” That happens when we open our hearts to Christ. A life in fellowship with God is a supernatural life. What God expects cannot be achieved using what we can do in our own strength. But we keep trying and that is the problem. Cheer up my friend; you are not a fish that God demands to fly. If he did, he’d give you wings. But, to extend the metaphor, he has given us wings. Sinful though we are by nature, God has made it possible for us to fly away to a level of “perfection” that pleases Him. It’s time to use our wings; that’s why He gave them to us.
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
The first thing that strikes me about this opening benediction in Peter’s second letter is the simple yet profound truth that grace and peace come to us through knowing God and Jesus our Lord. Each attribute is worthy of extended discussion (like an entire volume in a systematic theology series) but for our purpose, “grace” is God’s unmerited favor and “peace” is that sense of benign completness and tranquility. In Dear Friends, This is Paul (p. 10) I translated a similar passage as follows: “May God bless each of you with an awareness of his favor and a fresh experience of the calm delight his presence brings.”
The important thing is that grace and peace are ours “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” They are not qualities inherent in who we are by nature. The condition of the human race in 2016 testifies to that! We receive grace and as a result experience peace. They become ours by knowing God. As the word is used in scripture, personal knowledge is not only knowing something about God but experiencing him. Scripture speaks of a man “knowing” his wife.” To know God is to live always aware that he is present. I’ll always remember the observation of Frank Laubach, the famous Christian mystic, who said that since thinking is a conversation with ourselves – try to think without talking to yourself – why not make God the other person in the dialogue (check out his wonderful little booklet, The Game With Minutes).
Nature and Old Testament revelation teach a lot about God but with the incarnation of the Son we know so much more. From John’s gospel we learn that the Son, who lives in close relationship with the Father has come to “make him known” (1:18). We know from what Jesus taught and from the way he lived what God is really like. That knowledge then becomes experiential when we by faith open our hearts and invite him in. As Peter put it, it is “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” that we receive grace and peace. Apart from him we experience neither. That’s because we were created as a people who would live in relationship with their heavenly Father but sin ruined that relationship. It was restored by the sacrificial death of Christ on Calvary’s cross. God, both Father and Son, stand ready for a long chat with you (that’s grace) but you have to come inside (that’s where you will find “peace.”)
“Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”
And just what is the “kiss of love?” One thing for sure, it is not what we normally see on the television screen. J. B. Phillips brings the biblical practice up to date with his contemporary, “Give each other a handshake all around as a sign of love.” This we can understand.
What I want us to consider is the way in which Peter, the fisherman, brings his letter to a close (5:14). The context is one of suffering. Just a few verses earlier Peter noted that their restoration will take place “after they have suffered a little while.” There has been a lot of talk about religious persecution in recent months. In a number of countries the Christian road is not a tree-lined country lane but a busy thoroughfare filled with a number of dangerous intersections. It is not a pleasant path to Nirvana but a route that may, and probably will, involve the believer in significant suffering. Remember that it is, “after you have suffered a little while” that everything will change.
So Peter’s closing blessing is, “Peace to all of you who are in Christ Jesus.” Peace, yes, the shalom of God. The Hebrew word that we translate as “peace” connotes far more than the lack of strife. It is derived from a root denoting wholeness or completeness. It carries the sense of complete contentment, perfect well-being, harmony with God and man.
Against this background it is not hard to see that shalom is a state of being that, while intended for all, is experienced only by those who are “in Christ.” This is not a reward for extraordinary ethical behavior but the result of accepting the biblical account of the story of man. It began with God’s intention to create a people he could call his own, followed by man’s decision to try it on his own, and concludes with Christ’s entry into human history to pay the penalty and provide a way back to eternal shalom. It is the greatest of all redemption stories. It reveals the heart of God as pure and unadulterated love. Peace exists when we live in harmony with the nature of God – a supernatural relationship for sure! The entrance of sin was an alien disruption that has thrown the universe into violent turmoil – the very opposite of God’s intention. God laid the plan, sin disrupted it, but Christ has restored it for all who believe. History will close with the triumph of good over evil. Once again the shalom of God will reign supreme.
So when Peter extends the peace of God to “all who are in Christ” he is blessing them with the ultimate benediction. The sense of wholeness and completion that comes with faith in Christ is a deep satisfaction that denies adequate explanation. It can only be experienced, and that decision rests in the hands of each individual.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Peter may have been only a fisherman but he certainly knew how to get ahold of the larger picture. He knew that the suffering of those to whom he was writing was a temporary and not unexpected period in their life. For their comfort, Peter provides them with a fourfold promise from God. In the Greek text each promise is a separate and independent verb (slightly obscured by the NIV). He will “restore” them (elsewhere the verb is used to describe the mending of a net and even the mending of a broken bone), make them strong, fill them with strength, and establish them on a firm foundation. These four positive verbs show that God fully intends to restore and establish those who are now suffering on his behalf. Little wonder that Peter refers to him as “the God of all grace. His unmerited favor is sufficient for any and every situation.
Restoration follows disorganization and we can be sure that the opposition the readers were facing was disruptive in the extreme. In twenty first century America we know that there is genuine suffering for Christ elsewhere in the world but by and large ours has been negligible. That could and may change. As we used to say, “We may not know the future but we know the One who holds the future.” It is he who will restore, and in time we will enter a state of eternal glory that lies far beyond our feeble attempts to describe. To love the One hated by the world (they crucified Him) is to share the disdain that evil has for righteousness. F. B. Meyer put it this way: “Not to be hated by the world; to be loved and flattered and caressed by the world – is one of the most terrible positions in which a Christian can find himself. 'What bad thing have I done,' asked the ancient sage, 'that he should speak we ll of me?'” But all such suffering is merely preparatory for an endless companionship with the God of all grace.
Just a question! Answer it only if you wish. Are you aware that our enemy, the devil, is “prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour?” Long pause. Well, that’s exactly what Peter wrote to some early believers (1 Peter 5:8). I admit I’ve always thought that a lion on the prowl would not warn his intended victim by roaring but that is probably beside the point. The picture is that the devil is vicious and constantly on the outlook for those whose faith he can destroy. He is real, present, diabolically evil, and continually active in his opposition to God and those who put their faith in him. To ignore his intense opposition to all that is good is to live in a fantasy world.
So what is it that we are to do? Peter doesn’t hesitate but answers immediately with his customary directness, “Resist him!” When he appears, ready to devour, resist him. And how do we do that? The following phrase in verse 9 can be translated in several ways but I take it not as a separate injunction (TEV, “be firm in your faith”) but as showing us how to resist the devil, that is, “by being strong in the faith.” We do not resist our enemy by meeting him on his own terms but by standing with our fellow Christians around the world. Peter says to his readers that what they are suffering is the same as that which is being experienced by fellow believers throughout the world. We are one in our opposition to sin and Satan. We suffer because we adhere to the same spiritual truth and this sense of close brotherhood strengthens each of us as we face our common enemy. It is good not to be alone in life’s most important battles.
There is, however, an additional way in which a strong faith serves to defend us from this roaring lion. Faith grows as we learn more and more of our Savior. The more we know Him the better equipped we are to resist our common enemy. And growth in faith seems to depend upon two factors. First, exposure to God’s word. To know more and more about God as revealed in the pages of Scripture is to find ourselves increasingly willing to trust him without reservation. Honest exposure to God’s truth does not leave a person untouched. It transforms, and in the process we are enabled to resist the enemy. Secondly, faith grows as it is experienced in the details of life. You can’t go through a difficult period in which you had to turn to Him for help and come away untouched by his gracious response to your need. Faith acted upon is faith enlarged. It is the flip side of “use it or lose it.” In summary Peter is saying, “Be alert as you journey through life. Satan intends to destroy you so stand firm in the faith along with your fellow believers around the world.”
Jesus has just counseled the church to clothe themselves with humility so that when history comes to a close they will be a part of that great celebration of God’s victory over Satan and his evil control. Then, according to most translations, he tells them to “cast their anxieties” on him (1 Peter 5:7) — the only problem is that in the Greek text the previous sentence has not stopped and the charge to cast their anxieties on him is a participle not an imperative. So if this well-known exhortation is grammatically incorrect what is it that Peter is saying? Of several options I believe that the participial clause, “casting our anxieties on Him” is simply a part of the humbling process. The NET’s “by casting all your cares on him” makes it the method by which we humble ourselves. The curse of self-adulation normally involves a significant amount of anxiety lest we fail. Peter tells us to turn our attention to the needs of others, not ourselves, and in the process, anxiety will take care of itself. “Let go and let God” is the contemporary way to put it.
Anxiety is certainly one of the most debilitating attitudes in life. It is out of place in the life of the believer because, as Peter puts it, “He [God] cares for you.” The Greek word for anxiety comes from a root that means “to divide.” Anxiety divides our attention, it distracts us from that which is central. It prevents that calm repose of the inner man that should be the hallmark of the believer. Anxiety follows when we forget that it is God himself who cares for us. We are not left adrift on the sea of chance facing shipwreck on the shoals of an impersonal destiny. We are under the care of a sovereign, yet personal, God. He controls the course of history yet at the same time is intricately involved in the everyday life of each of his children. Anxiety mirrors the fragile nature of our ability to trust. Fortunately it decreases in exact proportion to our willingness to let go of our selfish grasp on life and place ourselves in his loving hands. That He cares for his own is the distinguishing feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and should remove anxiety from all who carry the name Christian.
In 1 Peter 5:5 the Galilean fisherman writes, “All of you, cloth yourselves with humility.” Context could suggest that Peter is referring to “all of you younger people” or “all you elders and younger people” (because of the close connection with the preceding verses), but due to the sentence structure in Greek it most likely refers to the entire church body. You make think that an observation like that is a bit too “scholarly” but I bring it up because of the universal need for humility by everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus. It is interesting that Jesus’ only description of himself was that he is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
Among the many ways that humility has been defined, there is none better than C. S. Lewis’ “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”(A close second is my grandmother’s “Humility is a trait so rare than when you think you have it you’ve lost it.”) The way Peter words his counsel (“clothe yourselves with humility”) reminds us of Jesus on the night before his crucifixion when he took off his outer garments, tied a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:4). Jesus constantly put himself in the position of responding to the needs of the other. That is genuine humility. It runs exactly counter to our human nature. We enter this world both needing and wanting center stage. In time the “needing” drops off but the “wanting,” never. Jesus taught that to find life one must lose it (Matthew 10:39) and that is the working example of genuine humility – placing the welfare of the other person, not our own, at the very center of life.
Think for a moment with me on what it would be like if all who call themselves Christian would practice this kind of humility. My mind runs to church splits, angry congregational meetings, personal dislike of another, sharing of scandalous hearsay, etc. It could well be that the most needed revival of today’s church is a return to humility. Suddenly the world would know that something dramatic had happened among Christian believers and decide to take a second look at that message they call “the good news.”