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Major Themes in 1 and 2 Peter


The First and Second Epistles of Peter were written for practical purposes. Whereas the First Epistle of Peter deals with the persecution of the believers, the Second Epistle deals with false teachers. What is interesting is that Peter dealt with both challenges in theological terms. The persecution of the believers helped Peter to meditate on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. The false teachers encouraged Peter to address the idea that false teachers are not going to escape the judgment. The Epistles of Peter address five major themes, these are:

The first theme Peter deals with is the suffering of Jesus that led to salvation. The salvation motif is mentioned in the context of the suffering of Jesus. Christ’s suffering serves as a substitute for sinners. In First Peter 2:22-24, Peter seems to have drawn many images from Isaiah 53, where it focuses on the suffering servant — the sacrifice. The sacrifices in the OT constituted the gospel for the children of Israel. The sacrifices:

pointed the way to communion and fellowship with God. There are professed Christians who do not see much of importance or value for them in the divinely appointed Temple services; yet the gospel plan of salvation as revealed more fully in the NT is made clearer by an understanding of the OT. In fact, he who understands the Levitical system as presented in the OT can much better understand and appreciate gospel as set forth in the NT. The one foreshadows the other and is a type of it.[1]

If the sacrificial system is well understood, it will enhance ones understanding of the cross of Christ and what He has done. In other words, the sacrificial system served as a type and foreshadowed the antitype — death of Christ. Every sacrifice in the OT pointed towards the Messiah. In the symbolic sanctuary services of ancient Israel, the sinner was to bring an animal sacrifice that was “without blemish” (Exod 12:5; 29:1; Lev 1:3, 10; 22:21). Every animal sacrificed represented Christ, “the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The animal sacrificed by the repentant Israelite was to be “without blemish,” or “perfect,” because it symbolized the spiritual perfection of Jesus Christ. Peter likened Christ to the lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Pet 1:19).

Jesus is the only human person who has ever lived a sinless life. His life was acceptable to His Father, and His death a perfect sacrifice for sin because “he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isa 53:9).[2] Ellen G. White echoes this beautiful aspect when she said:

None need fail of attaining, in his sphere, to perfection of Christian character. By the sacrifice of Christ, provision has been made for the believer to receive all things that pertain to life and godliness. God calls upon us to reach the standard of perfection and places before us the example of Christ’s character. In His humanity, perfected by a life of constant resistance of evil, the Saviour showed that through co-operation with Divinity, human beings may in this life attain to perfection of character. This is God’s assurance to us that we, too, may obtain complete victory.[3]

What promoted Christ to die is His love for mankind. He who has suffered has lived and he who has loved has lived, too. The two are inseparable. Thus, love involves sacrifice, and sacrifice often involves suffering. This kind of love is very crucial for love counts sacrifice a privilege.[4]

The second theme: our practical response to the knowledge that God will judge our actions at the last judgment. This theme places Christians to be true followers of Christ. The way one should “behave” and “live,” to be a “sermon in shoes” is critical because Peter links between man’s behavior and God’s judgment (1 Pet 1:17 and 2 Pet. 3:11). Thus, a man ought to be holy as God is holy. In the OT, the word for holy means to set aside, dedicated for holy use. This concept of setting something aside is called sanctification. Peter admonishes believers to live a holy life just as Christ is holy. The concept of holiness is not an abstract thing; holiness in Leviticus 11 is linked to dietary habits. Holiness, therefore, includes obedience to the laws of God that relate to the physical being.[5] In Leviticus, if you want to be holy, don’t pass out a tract, love your neighbor as yourself; show hospitality to strangers and be a person of justice. Holiness is so essential thus the book of Hebrews says, “without holiness no once can see God” (Heb 12:14b). At every step of life the call to holiness confronts us: in the field, in the office, in the classroom, at home, in business, with friends, aliens and foreigners, in acts of worship, and in the family.

The third theme that Peter discusses is the hope we have in the soon return of Jesus. While it is true that Peter talked about the persecution of the believers in the first century, he did talk about hope, a future reward waiting for them in heaven, a reward that cannot be taken away. In this theme, Peter highlights two things: the reward and the judgment. That is to say, believers will receive a future reward while the wicked will be destroyed. According to the Bible, the judgment means, “to justify.” Regarding the judgment, Peter says that the judgment will be done on three different occasions. First God will judge all human according to their deeds (1 Pet 1:17). Second, God will judge the living and the dead (1 Pet 4:5). Third, judgment will start in the household of God (1 Pet 4:17). The words of Peter Brunner are comforting about the judgment. He suggests:

Living in every instance in the judgment of God makes our life what it is. Living in the judgment of God is the creative power that makes us what we actually are. We do not make ourselves what we are; God’s judgment about us makes what we are, for the judgment of God works very differently from human judgment. . . . I am what God thinks about me. God’s judgment carries with it the immediate power of execution. God’s decree creates what it says. . . . If God decrees, ‘He is my beloved child,’ then that is what I really am, even when so much seems to speak against it. . . . God’s judgment about you and me creates the basic foundation of our existence. I live as I live in the judgment of God. I am what I am through the judgment of God. Any weight that I might place on the scale of my life produces only a superficial and temporary swing. But what God’s judgment brings into my life shifts the balance for all time and eternity. That is why the question of what God thinks of me is the most important of all questions.[6]

Jirí Moskala in his article, The Gospel According to God’s Judgment: Judgment as Salvation, where he discusses four phases, concludes his article on judgment saying, “Praise the Lord that God is our Judge!”[7] Therefore, judgment should not be perceived negatively but rather positively.

In Second Peter 3:1-10, Peter spends time regarding the second coming of Christ. As Peter emphasized in chapter one, he returned here to tell the readers that the second epistle also does not bring anything new, but rather exhorts them regarding “the second advent of the Lord” that is:

1. The Prophets have already prophesied about His coming.

2. The Lord recommended it (Matt 24: 26-29; Mark 13: 35-37; Luke 12:40).

3. Recommended by the apostles and disciples (1 Tim 5: 2-4).

This is the very purpose of the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments that we await the coming of the Lord and meet Him and be with Him forever. In Hebrew, yom Adoni is a genitive construction chain, which means, the “Day of the Lord.” Apart from being a day of judgment, the “Day of the Lord” is one of the eschatological concepts the believer in the OT looked forward to — a day to long for. It is a day of judgment and salvation. Therefore, the “Day of the Lord” refers to any time in history in which YHWH takes conspicuous and decisive action in order to bring punitive destruction or/and saving restoration. It can refer to (1) an imminent day; (2) the future eschatological day, or (3) it can blend the immediate historical Day of Judgment with the eschatological judgment. The Day of the Lord shall be for the wicked, like a thief, that it shall defile them at night, in the midst of their iniquity. As for the righteous, it will be a wedding day, when the persons will be filled with the heavenly bridegroom. The Bible says:

7Let us rejoice, be glad, and give him glory,
     because the marriage of the lamb has come
     and his bride has made herself ready.
              8She has been given the privilege of wearing fine linen,
             dazzling and pure.

The fourth theme, the order in society and in the church. While the apostle Peter lived in troublous times, one of his themes was: an order in the society and in the church. Learning the divine order in both the society and the church is of fundamental importance in the days in which we live. God’s order has been established at all levels: in societies, in civil circles, in marriage, at home, and in relationships.

The fifth and last theme Peter addresses, the role Scripture has in providing guidance in our lives. Peter directs the false teacher and the readers today to the authority of the Scriptures when he said, “to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the commandment of our Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles” (2 Pet 3:2). The words “inspiration” and “inspired” are derived from the Latin and appeared in the Vulgate translation of 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21. Their basic meaning is to “breathe in.” In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul affirms that all Scripture is theopneustos, or “breathed by God.” Benjamin Warfield concludes that “Scripture is called theopneustos in order to designate it as ‘God-breathed,’ the product of divine inspiration.” Thus, “the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation.” The authority of the Scripture is important, for “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It is necessary consequences of our submission to the Lordship of Christ Jesus.[8]

The epistles of Peter place great emphasis on how Christians should treat each other. Apart from knowing the truth, believers should live the truth, too. Ellen G. White says, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.”[9] Truth is consistent with the heart, mind, and will, and being of God. Truth changes, it makes us a true people of God, and it helps us to love and to be loved.

[1]Francis Nichol, ed. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. (Washington, DC: Review & Herald, 1976-1980), 1:711.

[2]Leo R. Van Dolson, RELT 255 Christian Beliefs Syllabus (Berrien Springs, MI, 1980), p.46.

[3]Ellen G. White. The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 531. 

[4]Nichol, ed. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 1:721.

[5]Ibid, 1:755.

[6]Peter Brunner, “The Forgiveness of God and the Judgment of God,” Word & World 21, no. 3 (2001): 282.

[7]Jirí Moskala, “The Gospel According to God’s Judgment: Judgment as SalvationI,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22/1 (2011): 28-49.

[8]John Stott, The Authority of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 9

[9]Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1958), 2:373.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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