Peter writes to Jewish Christians telling them to remain Pilgrims
Intro: Well morning friends, and visitors and those online. My name is Matt Johnson and today we begin a new sermon series looking at 1 Peter (and a bit later in the year – 2 Peter). So today will be like a lecture (on the background of these books) – before we dive into the details next week. So lets pray…
PRAYER: Well the three best-selling Christian books of all time (after the Bible) are the Imitation of Christ; the Anglican Prayer Book and then PILGRIMS PROGRESS. It’s the third book – (Pilgrims Progress) I particularly want us to think about – as we begin 1 & 2 Peter (Slide 2).
John Bunyan who wrote a Pilgrims Progress was a Puritan pastor who refused to use the Anglican Prayer Book. So the church of England locked him in jail. While he was in jail for NOT using best seller NUMBER TWO – Anglican Prayer Book, he then wrote best seller number THREE – Pilgrims Progress. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Anyway, Pilgrims Progress reads like a children’s novel – but as you read it – it explains deep truths of the Christian faith. So if you want to do something good for your soul this year – read Pilgrims Progress or listen to it on your next big car trip. You can see a link to a free audio version on the screen. (This is photo time – so you can find it later)
Now without giving too much away – the lead character in Pilgrims Progress is a man named CHRISTIAN who has a heavy burden on his back that weighs him down. (Now the burden is his guilt caused by sin). But thankfully, CHRISTIAN meets a man named EVANGELIST who tells him he can get rid of the burden off his back – by passing through a special wicker gate. (Now that narrow gate is actually Jesus. Jesus says in John 10;9 – “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” So Christian goes through the gate – and sure enough – the burden falls off his back. Its wonderful. And this is where the book really begins…
Christian meets a man named MR GOODWILL – who explains to him that he must now follow the narrow path towards the Celestial city (ie heaven). And Goodwill tells him there will be 1) all sorts of pressures on Christian to leave the narrow path or 2) to stop travelling before he reaches his destination. Christian MUST not stop. Christian MUST not leave the path. If Christian keeps going he will arrive safely at the Celestial City and it will all be worth it.
And welcome to 1 & 2 Peter. Peter’s key idea is that this world is not our home. We are simply pilgrims passing through this world as we head for heaven. And Peter explains that as pilgrims – the Christian life (on the road) is sometimes going to be hard and difficult. We will only have the comfort of a real home – when we arrive in heaven. And that is the story of 1 and 2 Peter. So as we study 1 & 2 Peter – remember Pilgrims Progress and perhaps read it or listen to it.
But we are doing this sermon series now – BECAUSE in recent years Christians in the west have started to come under more pressure to depart from the narrow path. We’re also discovering – that being a Christian in the West is no longer EASY, SECURE AND COMFORTABLE. So I want to remind you from 1 & 2 Peter – that this world is not our home and we need to finish our pilgrimage…
Point 1: Peter is writing to Christians in Northern Turkey.
Show: 1Pet.1:1 (READ)
Explain: Now this is the disciple Peter who promised he would die for Jesus if necessary, but ended up denying Jesus three times. It was a hard lesson. Peter would not die for Jesus. But Jesus would die for Peter. The wonderful Christian gospel is that when Jesus died on the cross – he was taking the punishment for our sin, so that sinners (like you, me and Peter) can be spared. The Bible says that if we believe Jesus died for us and we ask God to forgive us – we will be saved. This is entirely by God’s grace. We don’t deserve it and we don’t earn. But God freely pardons those who believe in Jesus and cast themselves on God’s mercy. Peter came to understand this gospel – and he became the lead apostle to the Jews.
(Slide 4) The NEXT thing we see (SLIDE) is that THE APOSTLE PETER is writing to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. This is the NORTHERN PART of modern day Turkey. We know from Acts of the Apostles – the apostle Paul planted most the churches below the red-line. But we also know that when Paul tried to head north into Bithynia (and this region) the Holy Spirit stopped him. Instead, Paul was led by the Spirit to cross the Aegean Sea and start planting churches in MACEDONIA. (Acts 16:7). So Paul didn’t start these churches.
The fact is – Christian scholars are NOT REALLY SURE how Christians got into this part of the world. This area is like the WILD WEST. It was made up of a whole lot of different people groups who still had their own languages and cultures. The main travel route from East to West in the Roman Empire went through the bottom half of Turkey. So lots of Greek and Roman colonization had taken place in the south. (And lots of churches were planted by the apostle Paul in the south). BUT THE NORTH was more rugged, less civilized and more troublesome for Rome.
So in the days of Peter and Paul – the Emperor Claudius was desperately trying to make northern Turkey more Roman. Pontus had just been called (ENTER) Neoclaudiopolis. Galatia’s main town had become (ENTER) Claudiconium. AND Bithynia had been renamed (ENTER) Bithynium-Claudiopolis. Now I’m not making this up. EMPEROR CLAUDIUS was desperately trying to tame this part of Turkey and some scholars are now beginning to think this may in fact have been THE TRIGGER for Peter writing 1 & 2 Peter. But we’ll come back to that in a moment…
The question is how did Christianity get to northern Turkey. We know that there were some Jews from Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost. SO PERHAPS these Jews became Christians and took the gospel back to northern Turkey. But many scholars point out – it is unlikely the Christian church would have grown significantly in this isolated area – without A) apostolic support or B) some other contributing factor. So this solution is unlikely?!
Other scholars suggest Peter planted these churches himself. Let me explain. In Acts 12 we know Peter is locked up in prison by King Herod Agrippa around 40AD. Acts 12 says (Slide 6 – Acts 12:17). Notice, Peter goes to “another place”. Where did he go? We know Peter reappears in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. But this is now 10 years later. Peter didn’t go to the bathroom for 10 years. So some scholars suggest Peter was planting churches in northern Turkey during this time. The problem with this theory is that there is no historical evidence of Peter being in northern Turkey. If anything, historical evidence suggests Peter was probably in Rome during this time. WHAT’S MORE, if you look at 1 Peter 1:12 you’ll see Peter talks about “those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit.” Peter doesn’t say – the gospel I preached to you by the Holy Spirit. So again, it is unlikely Peter planted these churches.
A third option suggested recently by a well-regarded EVANGELICAL scholar named KAREN JOBES – is that Peter is writing to Jewish Christian’s who were CONVERTED IN ROME, but then exiled to northern Turkey. Again, let me explain. We know Claudius was trying to Romanize northern Turkey in the 40’s & 50’s AD. But to Romanise an area you needed to do more than change the name of the cities. Normally, the Emperor would coerce a whole lot of intellectual and powerful Romans to move to the new area by offering gifts of land and positions of influence. Then, the Emperor also rounded up all the least desirable Romans (in Rome) and forced them to move to the area being colonized. These people may not be great Roman specimens, but at least they were more Roman, than the Barbarians. This was the common process…
Now in Acts 18, we are told this (Slide 8 – Acts 18:2). So we know Claudius ordered Jews to leave Rome between 40-54AD. Where did he order them to go? We also know this is true from a Roman historian named Suetonius. SUETONIUS writes (Slide 9). And 1 Peter is written to people who are called EXILES in northern Turkey. We shouldn’t automatically assume this exile is metaphorical or symbolic.
Apply: Now most historians think 1) Acts 18 and 2) Suetonius are talking about the same events. Claudius gets angry about ORTHODOX JEWS and CHRISTIAN JEWS fighting over whether Jesus is the Christ, so he evicts or exiles them from Rome. This is historical fact. New Testament scholar Karen Jobes then makes a persuasive argument that Claudius exiled these Jews and Jewish Christians to northern Turkey to romanise this area. This is plausible knowing Claudius’ agenda. So Jobes thesis is that this exile suddenly brought large numbers of Jewish Christians (converted in Rome) into Northern Turkey who really were STRANGERS and EXILES in this area. Now again, we can’t be sure – but in my opinion – Karen Jobes theory makes more sense (and aligns better with the Bible witness) than any other earlier hypothesis.
Point 2: Peter is writing to Jewish Christians in Northern Turkey
Show: 1 Pet.1:1 & 2:9 (READ)
Explain: Now one of the most debated questions in 1 & 2 Peter is whether Peter is writing to predominantly JEWISH CHRISTIANS or predominantly GENTILE CHRISTIANS. Generally speaking the language in 1 Peter 2:9 of you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession – was understood to be clearly speaking to Jewish Christians. No where in the Bible is the Christian church referred to as a holy nation. In fact, calling the church (which is made up of people from all nations) a holy nation is pretty strange. What’s more, given all the Old Testament quotes in 1 & 2 Peter – the vast majority of early church father’s believed 1 & 2 Peter was written to Jews – except Augustine and Jerome.
Now as I previously explained (when we looked at Romans) – Augustine and Jerome were definitely Christians and they did a lot of good for the church. But they were also influenced by GREEK PHILOSOPHY and so they tended to read lots of things in the Bible symbolically and allegorically. So even when the Bible clearly said Jews or Israel they argued it meant Gentile church. So even though the 1 Peter might say holy nation (meaning Jews), allegorically Augustine and Jerome said – that means church. AS A RESULT – Gentile Christians then started TO APPROPRIATE all the Jewish language in the Bible for themselves – making the Jews less and less relevant in the plans of God. This then led to a shallower form of Christianity – that didn’t really value the Jews or prioritise Jewish evangelism.
Now fact is Augustine (was so influential in church history) that many scholars simply accepted his argument that 1 & 2 Peter was written to Gentile Christians. But despite Augustine’s stature – such influential scholars as John Calvin, Erasmus and Hugo Grotius (in the Reformation period) – remained adamant that 1 & 2 Peter was written to Jews. So is it a Jewish or Gentile Christian audience and does it matter?
Well t as I pointed out to my Bible study group this week many scholars argue that it can’t be A JEWISH AUDIENCE because of the derogatory language Peter uses to describe them. The argument for a Gentile audience is basically that Peter would never speak about Jews in such derogatory ways. But after thinking about it this week (and testing Scripture with Scripture) I don’t think that argument holds any weight whatsoever.
Let me show you a few things Peter says. First in 1 Peter 1:14, Peter writes (Slide 10 – 1 Pet.1:14). Now the argument goes – Peter could never call a Jewish audience ignorant because they were God’s people and they had the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, Peter must be writing to Gentiles. But in Acts 3 – Peter accuses all the Jews of acting in ignorance when they killed Jesus. Also n 1 Tim.1:13 the apostle Paul speaks of himself as being an ignorant Jew. So this argument fails.
A similar argument is used in 1 Peter 1:18. Peter writes; (ENTER – 1Pet.1:18). Scholars then say, you can’t say THE JEWS had an empty way of life. But in Philippians 3:6-8 – the apostle Paul says all his Jewishisness amounts to rubbish and excrement. Paul clearly says – as a Jew – he had an empty way of life. So again the argument fails.
In 1 Pet.2:10 Peter writes (Slide 11 – 1 Pet.2:10). Again scholars claim that “you can’t say to a Jewish audience” that once they were not a people, because they have always been the people of God. Now this one makes me angry because half-decent scholarship should know better. Peter is making a clear reference to Hos.1:9-10 where God gives the Jews the name LO-AMMI – which means not my people. In Hosea -God says to the Jews you are not my people, but in the future I will remake you my people. So scholars who claim you can’t say – “LO AMMI” to Jews are either totally blind or intentionally disingenuous. Again, the argument against a Jewish audience doesn’t stand.
Finally, in 1 Pet.4:3 Peter writes (Slide 12 – 1Pet.4:3). Again, same argument. Peter wouldn’t say this to Jews because Jews didn’t engage in idolatry. Really?! Scholars, have you read the Bible. The truth is the Jews were bowing down to the golden calf before Moses got off the mountain. In Romans 2 – the apostle Paul tells the Jews – that Gods name is blasphemed amongst the nations – because they are full blown hypocrites. So NONE of the “scholarly” arguments support the idea of non-Jewish audience.
Apply: Truth is – a natural reading of 1 Peter leads us to conclude a Jewish audience is far more likely. After all – Peter is the apostle to the Jews. But there is also one more interesting piece of evidence to consider in terms of Jewish audience. look at how Peter finishes his letter (Slide 13 – 1Pet.5:13). Now I generally believe we should interpret the Bible literally, unless the literal interpretation does not make sense. Now you can do google research later. But in 40-50AD there was no literal Babylon city. It was rubble. And there is no evidence of Peter or a church being in literal Babylon in 40-50AD.
So most scholars agree Babylon is now SYMBOLIC or CODE for Rome. But if this is correct – then it means Peter has had some recent contact with the church in Rome, because he sends their greetings. It also means the Christians in northern Turkey – have some sort of existing relationship with the church in Rome – otherwise the greeting becomes meaningless. All this supports – KAREN JOBES thesis – that 1 & 2 Peter is written to predominantly Jewish Christians who have been exiled from Rome and sent to northern Turkey. It also means that while A) ROMANS was being written by Paul to the Gentile Christians left behind in Rome after Claudius edict, B) 1 & 2 Peter were being written by Peter to the Jewish Christians forced to leave Rome at Claudius’ edict. Paul ministers to Gentiles as the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter ministers to the Jews as the apostle to the Jews (Gal.2:7-8) Now I admit this is a hypothesis. But I think it is the best hypothesis that fits the facts we know. But WHAT IS THE PURPOSE of Peter’s letter…
Point 3: Peter is exhorting Jewish Christians to hold on to Gospel Truth
Show: 1Pet.5:12 (Slide 13) & 2Pet.2:1-2 (Slide 14)
Explain: Well Peter is pretty clear that HIS PURPOSE is to encourage Jewish Christians to keep going AND to remind them of biblical truth – in order to stimulate them to proper and wholesome thinking.
Now assuming Jobes hypothesis is correct, imagine suddenly being told to leave your HOME, your CHURCH and your BUSINESS in Rome (under Claudius edict) – and suddenly having to start a new life as a literal stranger and exile in northern Turkey. If Jobes hypothesis is correct – this really is – Babylon 2.0. This would be creating a lot of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – in a lot of people. They’ve just recently become Christians – and yet exile, as strangers in a foreign land – is now their reward. REALLY?! Of course, these Christians would be down and discouraged and probably wondering if God cares about them at all. What did they do wrong?
This brings me to A SECONDARY CONCEPT in 1 & 2 Peter – and the reason I called this sermon series – “PRECIOUS.” Peter uses the word “PRECIOUS” about 8 or 9 times in his two-volume work – emphasizing to these exiles – that despite their experience – they and their faith are still precious to God.
Friends, in the midst of struggle and hardship – we often begin to doubt whether God really cares about us or loves us at all. So in the midst of this hardship Peter says – if you are born again – you are precious, precious, precious to God. But these Jewish Christians need to understand that they are like pilgrims headed for the celestial city. Only when they arrive at the celestial city will life be fulfilled. They are still like babies in utero – waiting to be born, waiting to come into their full inheritance in Gods presence, Hence the picture of a baby in utero. A baby in utero is just a s precious to God as a baby outside the womb. But as Christians (here and now) we are like babies in utero – getting ready to be born. The womb is not our proper or final home.
Apply: So 1 & 2 Peter really is a reminder that our life now in this world (is really like life in utero or like a pilgrim heading on a journey). We need to get to the destination. Life now – is but a short span of 9 months – that as we grow and develop – it often gets squashy and uncomfortable and we want out. I don’t like this womb anymore. But through a final set of labor pains (either when we die or when Jesus return) we will come out kicking and screaming (and wondering who smacked our butt) – into our true life that is eternal, comfortable and really home. So the call of 1 & 2 Peter is that we should EXPECT SUFFERING and DIFFICULTY in this world. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are like exiles and strangers in the world. We are not in our true home. We have not reached the birth canal. So let us finish the journey and grow up properly in the womb because we are precious to God and before we know it – we will be in our true home – the celestial city – FOREVER.