Date: c. A.D. 64
Along with Paul, Peter was a leading figure in early church history. Peter was among the first converts to Jesus, leaving his home to travel to the Jordan River while John the Baptist was still preaching. He returned to his home on the sea of Galilee, there to await Jesus’ call to active ministry. He was with Jesus during his entire three years of preaching and became one of the leading apostles, along with James and John. When the three are listed in the Gospels, Peter is always listed first, because of his preeminence in the group. He was singled out by Jesus as one who would be foundational to the church (Matt. 16:16-19). The church, in fact, is founded on Christ (I Cor. 3:11). But it was Peter who preached on Pentecost, was instrumental in the spread of the gospel, opened the door to the Gentiles with his witness to Cornelius, and gave strong support from the beginning. Peter was clearly a rock on which the growth of the church depended. Peter was not always a rock, however, and his denial of the Lord at his crucifixion and his altercation with Paul (Gal. 2:11-14) show that his zeal could run hot and cold. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter exercised his ministry in Jerusalem, was then forced to travel, and ended up in Rome where he was martyred during the reign of Nero, sometime between A.D. 64 and A.D. 68. Peter probably wrote this letter during those difficult days.
Theological Themes in the Epistle of I Peter
Several themes run through the Epistle of I Peter. First, Peter wanted his readers to reflect on the greatness of salvation. We have an inheritance reserved in heaven for us. It is unfading, unchanging, and protected by God. If we are asked to give up our earthly lives, it does not matter by comparison with the glory that will be ours. If we are not asked to die for our faith, it is worth living for.
Second, Peter emphasized the need for spiritual growth. When we become believers we are like infants in need of simple nourishment. As we grow, we need more substantial food. Believers grow by nourishing themselves on prayer, meditation, reading God’s Word, and fellowship. It would be great if we could all attain instant perfection, but such is not to be. Growth means effort, time, and patience.
Third, Peter spent a great deal of time talking about living the Christian life. We must realize that our time on earth is short; our lives are like grass that withers away. In light of that, we must stand firm against evil and refuse to conform to the destructive patterns of the age in which we live. It is so easy to become like everybody else, but we must resist that temptation. When persecutions arise, we must be ready to suffer, just as Jesus did. He left an example for us to follow (2:21-25). When Satan attacks we must resist him in faith, knowing that if we reject his offer he will depart from us (5:8-9). We must cast all our care and anxiety on the One who cares for us.
Fourth, Peter included specific instructions to husbands, wives, servants, and believers as citizens. His words revolve around commitment in love to one another, with a view to making life better for all.
Finally, Peter singled out the leaders for admonition. Those who have oversight should realize that they are under the authority of God. No one should lord it over someone else; we are all under God. We are all to be clothed with humility, because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Outline for the Epistle of I Peter
- The nature of our salvation I Peter 1:1-21
- Growth as a Christian I Peter 1:22-2:10
- Instructions for Christian living I Peter 2:11-3:22
- Ethical exhortations I Peter 4:1-19
- Admonitions to church leaders I Peter 5:1-14