Peter encourages his readers to endure suffering and persecution (1 Pet. 1:6–7; 2:18–20; 3:9, 13–17; 4:1–4, 12–19; 5:9) by giving themselves entirely to God (1 Pet. 4:19). They are to remain faithful in times of distress, knowing that God will vindicate them and that they will certainly enjoy the salvation that the Lord has promised. The death and resurrection of Christ stand as the paradigm for the lives of believers. Just as Christ suffered and then entered into glory, so too his followers will suffer before being exalted.
The letter is addressed to Christians dispersed in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1), an area north of the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey); see map. These provinces were ethnically (and at times linguistically) diverse, yet all these territories had been impacted by Greco-Roman culture and were firmly under Roman control from the mid-first century B.C. The order in which the areas are listed probably designates the order in which the courier (Silvanus, see 1 Pet. 5:12) would carry the letter to its intended readership.
Most scholars are convinced that the recipients of 1 Peter were primarily Gentiles. The reference to their “former ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:14) and “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1 Pet. 1:18) suggests a pagan past that would not fit with Jewish readers. Further, the former lifestyle of the readers (1 Pet. 4:3–4) fits with Gentiles rather than Jews. But undoubtedly there were also some Jewish Christians in these churches, for Jewish residents of “Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia” were present at Pentecost and heard the gospel at that early date (Acts 2:9; see ESV Study Bible note on Acts 9:19b–20). Though the recipients may have been literally “exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1, 17; 2:11), it is more likely that Peter speaks figuratively here: they are spiritual exiles awaiting their heavenly inheritance.
In the past, many scholars detected an empire-wide persecution of Christians in 1 Peter, whether under Nero (A.D. 54–68), Domitian (81–96), or Trajan (98–117), and even used this argument to deny that Peter wrote the letter by specifically placing 1 Peter in the reign of either Domitian or Trajan. However, the evidence is lacking for an official government policy against Christians in the reign of all these emperors. Instead, there were spasmodic and general outbursts against Christians during the first century. Nero’s persecution of Christians after the great fire in Rome (A.D. 64) did not launch official empire-wide persecution of all Christians; nor does 1 Peter reflect an official policy against Christians. Also, an empire-wide decree against Christians is not necessitated by Peter’s writing about the need to respond when asked about one’s faith (1 Pet. 3:15), the charges brought against Christians (1 Pet. 4:14–16), or the reference to believers suffering worldwide (1 Pet. 5:9). The questions and charges brought against Christians that Peter mentions in 1 Peter 3:15 and 4:14–16 were typical of the everyday questions believers would encounter because of their faith. In some instances, Roman authorities punished Christians, but even in these cases it was a local and restricted response. The reference to believers suffering throughout the world (1 Pet. 5:9) does not signal that the Roman Empire had passed a decree against the Christian faith. This verse simply reveals that the Christian faith was under threat in the entire Greco-Roman world. Indeed, 1 Peter says nothing about Christians suffering physically for their faith. The focus is on the verbal abuse and discrimination they receive because of their Christian commitment (1 Pet. 4:3–4). Of course, verbal abuse easily leads to physical mistreatment, and it is possible that some of the believers to whom Peter wrote were suffering physical abuse for their faith as well (cf. 1 Pet. 2:18–20).
History of Salvation Summary
Christians are to endure suffering for the sake of Christ, looking back on Christ’s sufferings and forward to the consummation of salvation in his second coming.
Taken from the ESV® Study Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information on how to cite this material, see permissions information here.