Here’s a short summary of 1 Peter: 1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples, to the Christians scattered all throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). These Christians were experiencing varying degrees of social rejection and mistreatment because of their faith in Jesus, so Peter wrote to help them stand firm in the grace of God.
Peter reminds them of their identity: they are God’s chosen people, so they live in their towns like temporary foreign residents who are outside of their true homeland. They have a living hope so their future is glorious. In the present, they need to live holy lives that declare God’s excellencies. Even though they are looked on with suspicion and distrust by the world around them, they should actively do good in their towns and neighborhoods, submitting to the civic authorities, serving those over them, loving their spouses, and blessing people rather than returning evil for evil.
In everything, they should follow the example of Jesus, who suffered for them and entrusted himself to God. They too shouldn’t be surprised at their suffering and they should entrust themselves to their heavenly Father who cares for them. And in the end, God will lead them into the eternal glory of Jesus.
The Backstory to 1 Peter
The book of 1 Peter was originally a letter written by the apostle Peter to a number of churches in the region of Asia Minor, what is now modern-day Turkey. The places listed in 1:1 are all political districts throughout that region of the world. Peter was originally a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee but became one of Jesus’ earliest disciples. He was also one of the original twelve apostles who spent over three years with Jesus.
Peter is famous for denying Jesus three times on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had warned him this was going to happen and Jesus mercifully restored him after rising from the dead (John 2:15-17).
Peter became a key leader in the early Christian movement beginning in Jerusalem. He preached the first gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), was arrested and threatened (Acts 3-4), whipped (Acts 5), and faithfully continued to preach Jesus.
Now he writes this letter to the Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor encouraging them to stand firm in the face of misunderstanding, ridicule, slander, and harsh treatment. Here is the backstory.
Summary of 1 Peter: “…encouraging them to stand firm in the face of misunderstanding, ridicule, slander, and harsh treatment.”
It’s the mid-60’s A.D, thirty-five years after Jesus’ resurrection and after Peter preached that first sermon.
Nero is now the emperor of the Roman Empire. And though the first years of his rule were pretty good, the last few years the mania had begun to control his actions. A well-known example that likely affects the backstory to 1 Peter is the great fire of Rome that occurred in July of 64.
The fire destroyed much of the city of Rome, and there was widespread speculation that Nero had started that fire himself. There’s not much evidence that he did, but to deflect blame he pinned the fire on the Christians. This led to intense persecution of Christians in and around Rome—being fed to wild beasts, burned alive at night to light the palace gardens, and things like that.
And though this didn’t lead to widespread persecution of Christians throughout Empire, it did contribute to rising levels of suspicion, distrust, and hostility toward them. One locale where such increased suspicion and hostility arose was Asia Minor, a region with deep loyalties to Rome. And it’s to the Christians in Asia Minor that the letter of 1 Peter is sent.
Summary of 1 Peter: “…rising levels of suspicion, distrust, and hostility toward the Christians.”
From reading the letter, it’s clear is that these Christians in Asia Minor are enduring a tough slog at this point in time (cf. 1:6; 2:12, 20; 3:9, 16; 4:12). Although it doesn’t appear that they are suffering imprisonment and execution, the Christians are experiencing varying degrees of discrimination, marginalization, and social hardship because of their faith in Jesus.
In other words, this isn’t empire-wide persecution. Rather, there is a growing suspicion of and aversion to the Christians that led to all sorts of social mistreatment…they’re being marginalized, ostracized, insulted, and threatened. Their beliefs are laughed at. Their moral values ridiculed. And they are being mistreated as a result.
- Perhaps they’ve lost their job or they’re not able to get a job.
- Perhaps someone in the market won’t sell food and goods to them or they charge them higher prices.
- Perhaps they wake up to find the walls of their houses graffitied with demeaning anti-Christ slurs.
- Perhaps non-Christian slave owners ruthlessly belittle and mock Christian slaves while giving them the worst jobs to do…maybe even beating them.
How should the Christians respond to such mistreatment? How should they treat the unbelievers? How should they conduct themselves around town and toward their neighbors and on the job?
Summary of 1 Peter: “How should the Christians respond to such mistreatment?”
The apostle Peter writes to these Christians to address these kinds of questions.
An Overview of 1 Peter
In this letter, Peter describes Christians as outsiders, like foreigners temporarily living outside their homeland, and he communicates an important message for churches being mocked and mistreated for their counter-cultural beliefs and values. One of the central instructions of the letter is to do good: to be known for being helpful, beneficial, and good for the community. In short, the main point of 1 Peter is: Live God-honoring lives in a hostile world by doing good.
Summary of 1 Peter: “Live God-honoring lives in a hostile world by doing good.
The letter has three main sections.
1 Peter 1:1-2:10
In this section, Peter emphasized that followers of Jesus are God’s people. They have been chosen, born again, built into God’s dwelling place, and exist to declare his praise. It is this status that makes them strangers and foreigners to their non-Christian friends, family, and neighbors. So as God’s people, they must live God-honoring lives.
Peter highlights this theme right off the bat in his opening to the letter in 1:1-2. He describes them as outsiders in the world who have been chosen by God, like temporary resident foreigners and maybe even a bit like exiles. In vv. 3-9, Peter praises God who gave them this privileged position by virtue of a new birth and guarantees them an eternal inheritance and salvation. All of this emphasizes their safety and security in Christ as God’s people.
But being God’s people is not only an important station in life with a secure future; it also brings with it certain responsibilities. So in 1:10-21 Peter says that since God gave them new birth and salvation, Christians should be holy just as God is holy. That is, they should be set apart and different from the world in the way they live their lives and what they live for. So in 1:22-2:3, he calls them to get rid of behaviors that are contrary to love and to seek to grow up in Christ, since they have experienced a new birth.
Summary of 1 Peter: “Since God gave them new birth and salvation, Christians should be holy just as God is holy.”
In 2:4-10, Peter wraps up this first section by using all sorts of Old Testament language and imagery to emphasize the status and value that Christians have as God’s people. They are the new temple crafted to worship and praise God. They are a chosen people and a holy nation to declare God’s praise (don’t miss the allusion to Exodus 19:5-6 here).
1 Peter 2:11-3:12
After teaching them that they are God’s chosen people, set apart for him and his purposes, Peter transitions to the second section of the letter which discusses how they should live in relationship to others in their city, especially toward unbelievers.
He begins this section with a general call to action in 2:11-12 that serves as the header to the entire section. As such, it gives the main theme for the section: as foreigners in this world Christians must live good lives among the non-Christian around them.
Summary of 1 Peter: “As foreigners in this world Christians must live good lives among the non-Christian around them.”
There’s a key word for this section that is translated “behavior” in v. 12. In Greek it’s anastrophē, and it refers the whole “way of life,” not just isolated acts of behavior. There’s also another key phrase here and that is “good deeds.” Unfortunately, in the paragraphs that follow it is often translated “doing right,” which sounds like just making sure to do that right moral thing. While it includes moral goodness, it refers more fully to active kindness, to deeds that are benevolent, kind, and helpful. In other words, what Peter is calling Christians to in this section is to a way of life that is good and helpful for the place they live.
After that opening header in 2:11-12, Peter gives some specific examples of ways they can live good lives in town. He instructs them to submit to civic authorities and live good lives in their public relationships (2:13-17). He instructs household servants to submit to their masters and do good, even if that means they have to suffer like Christ (2:18-25).
He speaks to husbands and wives in 3:1-7 and instructs them that their relationship should demonstrate the beauty and goodness of Jesus. That’s true, he says, even if your spouse is an unbeliever.
Summary of 1 Peter: “Their relationship should demonstrate the beauty and goodness of Jesus.”
Then he wraps up this section in 3:8-12 by instructing them that all their relationships—with fellow believers and with unbelievers—should demonstrate Christian love. One of the things this means is not paying back evil for evil but giving a blessing instead. All of this is what it looks like to turn from evil and do good.
1 Peter 3:13-5:14
In the third and final section of the letter, Peter focuses on how they should deal specifically with the suspicion and hostility they are experiencing. The main point he makes is that they must live God-honoring lives by enduring such hostility with faith, joy, and purity.
In 3:13-22 he says that if they do good as he just instructed, generally speaking people are not going to be out to get them. At least that is usually the case, but not always. So they need to be prepared to suffer and to give a reason for the hope they have. This is to follow the example of Jesus whose suffering brought them to God and won the victory over the spiritual powers.
Even though it might be easier to fit in with the culture around, those days are in the past. They must arm themselves to live for God’s will (4:1-6) and use their life and gifts to benefit others and bring glory to God (4:7-11). When ridicule, opposition, or hostility comes, they shouldn’t be surprised by it, but they should make sure they’re suffering for following God’s ways.
Summary of 1 Peter: “Even though it might be easier to fit in with the culture around, those days are in the past. They must arm themselves to live for God’s will.”
In 5:1-5, Peter gives specific encouragement to the church leaders, the elders. He calls them to shepherd the flock of God—that is, lead and care for their people—willingly, eagerly, and as examples of what it looks like to live for Jesus. And he calls all the younger people in the church to be humble towards each other.
Then in 5:6-14, Peter wraps us the letter by calling everyone to humble themselves under God and resist the devil. They must stand firm for Christ, knowing that their suffering will give way to Christ’s eternal glory. So Peter ends by urging them to stand firm in the grace of God.
First Peter isn’t a long letter, but Peter covers a lot of ground and it’s easy to miss the main message. Rejection, ridicule, and mistreatment create stress and confusion that can keep God’s people from faithfully following Jesus. But Jesus has been there. He’s experienced rejection, ridicule, and hostility. Christians must follow his example. They must continue to live holy lives and be actively kind, known for doing good. In this way, they can live God-honoring lives in an unbelieving world and declare the excellencies of him who called them out of darkness and into his marvelous light!
Summary of 1 Peter: “Jesus has been there. He’s experienced rejection, ridicule, and hostility. Christians must follow his example.”
1 Peter in 10 Verses
1. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”
—1 Peter 1:3-4
2. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written: ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
—1 Peter 1:14-16
3. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
—1 Peter 2:5
4. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
—1 Peter 2:9
Summary of 1 Peter: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”
5. “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God on the day of visitation.”
—1 Peter 2:12
6. “For you have been called for this purpose, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps.”
—1 Peter 2:21
7. “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you would inherit a blessing.”
—1 Peter 3:8-9
8. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though something strange were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that at the revelation of His glory you may also rejoice and be overjoyed.”
—1 Peter 4:12-13
Summary of 1 Peter: “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.”
9. “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God are to entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”
—1 Peter 4:19
10. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, having cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
—1 Peter 5:6-8
For more from John, see johnwhittaker.net.