Who are the recipients of this letter?
I still consider myself a New Yorker. I live in Ohio, I have Ohio plates for my car, an Ohio license; on paper, all signs indicate that I am a citizen of Ohio. However, internally I probably will always see myself as a New Yorker no matter where I live. If you were to truly get to know me, you would soon see my affinity for New York. On the outside, I look like any other citizen of Ohio, but those who are close to me associate me with New York, before Ohio.
The audience of 1 Peter also lives in one place, yet would say their home is somewhere else, characterized as exiles. However, they may not be the type of exiles we think of. To truly know what Peter is writing about in this letter, we have to know his intended audience.
“1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV).”
What kind of exiles?
These believers are characterized as exiles. Anyone person with a basic knowledge of church history is familiar with the severe persecutions that Christians face under the emperor of Rome, Nero in 54 AD - 68 AD. Due to this persecution, many Jewish-Christians were forced out of their homes and scattered into the surrounding regions
However, this is not Peter’s meaning when referring to this audience as exiles. These are not Jews that are away from Palestine, but Christians away from Heaven. In a historical context, the persecutions of believers that forced believers out of Rome happened in 64 AD. Peter’s writing here happened in 62, possible 63 AD. We know Peter’s readers lived like Gentiles (1 Peter 4:3–4). Those verses are not describing Jewish life in a synagogue. It appears Peter is speaking to Christians exiled from heaven, and not Jews exiled from Palestine. Peter is not writing of a literal exile, but the reality that all believers are stuck on an earth which is not their home.
Christians away from Heaven
This is not a new concept in the New Testament (Phil. 3:20; Hebrews 11:13; 13:14). This idea that Christians are exiles, not because we are outside any place on earth, but because we are outside our true home, Heaven.
We too are exiles away from our home. Although Peter may have a specific audience in mind in his writing, in a broader sense, we are also the audience Peter has in mind when writing to Christians away from their homes. Because of that, we see some powerful descriptors of Heavenly exiles in verse 2 that also applies to us.
“God’s elect, exiles… who have been chosen… through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.” (parts of vv. 1-2)
We are exiles, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. Predestination is such a contentious doctrine that I do not have the space or time to write about in this short blog post. Regardless of where you stand theologically on predestination, Peter is clearly stating that it is by God, we are chosen. Because we are chosen by God, we are exiles.
We are chosen exiles through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. This is why we are exiles. Outwardly we look like we belong to earth that we currently live on. However it is an inward transformation that is not done by us, but by the Spirit. It is through this work of the Spirit that we are set apart.
We are chosen exiles for obedience and for sprinkling of his blood. The fact that we are chosen for obedience makes sense. The call of those who fear the Lord is to love the Lord and to obey His commands. Part of our life as an exile is to be obedient to a different standard then the world around us. What does Peter mean that we are chosen exiles for the sprinkling of the blood of Christ? Peter doesn’t clarify his statement here, but writes it as it should be understood. Yet, this is not something I have ever heard preached on before.
In Exodus 24:7-8 the people were sprinkled with blood after they accepted the covenant made at Sinai. The sprinkling of the blood sealed the covenant. We too, who are chosen exiles have been brought into a new covenant with Christ and we are sealed into that covenant by the blood of Christ. If you look ahead to 1 Peter 1:18, you see that Christians were ransomed by the blood of Christ, away from futile ways. So Peter here is saying that the blood of Christ is both our seal for our initial conversion, as well as our continued sanctification towards obedience in Christ.
A letter for us
This book of 1 Peter applies to believers today. He is writing to all Christians who live through the tension that we are citizens of Heaven, who just haven’t moved in yet. We must wait for that day to come, and in that waiting, persecutions, lies, and trials will stay with us. As we will see more and more through our study through 1 Peter this summer, this letter written almost 2000 years ago is extremely relevant for us today.