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The MacArthur New Testament Commentary 1 Peter
By John MacArthur
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2004 John MacArthur
All rights reserved.
The Elements of Election (1 Peter 1:1–2)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1:1–2)
Even though it is the starting point of redemptive history, it may seem startling to begin an epistle with reference to the doctrine of election, yet that is exactly what the apostle Peter does (cf. Eph. 1:1–5 and Titus 1:1–2, where Paul begins the same way). And he does so unhesitatingly, after the opening identifications, with the phrase who are chosen (v. 1). He thus opens his letter by writing of one of the most controversial and hated doctrines and doing so with no self-consciousness, no apology, no effort to palliate, and no explanation of or deferral to opposing arguments. He states this truth of sovereign election for what it is, a reality recognized and believed among the apostles and in the church. Still, today this unquestionably true doctrine is questioned by many and despised by many others. Arthur W. Pink, the British-born Bible teacher and prolific theological writer who died in 1952, wrote this about people's views of God's sovereignty and, by implication, the subsidiary doctrine of divine election:
We are well aware that what we have written is in open opposition to much of the teaching that is current both in religious literature and in the representative pulpits of the land. We freely grant that the postulate of God's Sovereignty with all its corollaries is at direct variance with the opinions and thoughts of the natural man, but the truth is, the natural man is quite unable to think upon these matters: he is not competent to form a proper estimate of God's character and ways, and it is because of this that God has given us a revelation of His mind, and in that revelation He plainly declares, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8, 9). In view of this scripture, it is only to be expected that much of the contents of the Bible conflicts with the sentiments of the carnal mind, which is enmity against God. Our appeal then is not to the popular beliefs of the day, nor to the creeds of the churches, but to the Law and Testimony of Jehovah. All that we ask for is an impartial and attentive examination of what we have written, and that, made prayerfully in the light of the Lamp of Truth. (The Sovereignty of God, rev. ed. [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961], 19; italics in original)
As Pink's still-relevant analysis reveals, it is imperative that Christians fully understand and appreciate this most vital and crucial teaching. Peter unfolds the theological and practical implications of divine election under seven headings: the condition of election, the nature of election, the source of election, the sphere of election, the effect of election, the security of election, and the advantages of election.
The Condition of Election
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, (1:1a)
Peter, the inspired author, identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Other New Testament verses also identify Peter as an apostle and furthermore, by placing his name at the head of each list of Jesus' apostles (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), emphasize that he was the leader of the Twelve.
Peter's intention in this first part of his salutation was not only to identify his readers as to their heavenly origin, as the elect of God, but also in relation to their condition as earthly residents. The apostle describes his readers in their earthly condition as aliens.Parepidemois (aliens) can denote those who are temporary residents, or who are foreigners or refugees (cf. Gen. 23:4; Ex. 2:22; 22:21; Ps. 119:19; Acts 7:29; Heb. 11:13). The apostle further identifies them as people who were scattered throughout various locales. Scattered translates diaspora, from which root another English term, dispersion, derives. Commentaries, theological works, and works on Bible history often transliterate diaspora and use it interchangeably with dispersion. In its other two New Testament appearances, diaspora is a technical term referring to the dispersing of the Jews throughout the world by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Both times the word has the definite article (John 7:35; James 1:1). However here Peter does not include the definite article; therefore it is best to interpret the term as a non-technical reference to believers widely distributed geographically.
Though God called Peter to be the apostle to the Jews (Gal. 2:7), the absence of the definite article with diaspora argues that Peter was not addressing Jews as such in his salutation. Another passage supports that interpretation. In 2:11 he identifies his readers, not racially or nationally, but spiritually: "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." Thus the apostle addressed not only Jews who were dispersed from their native land, but Gentile believers, both of whom spiritually were aliens in the world.
The church is composed of strangers and pilgrims scattered throughout the earth, away from their true home in heaven (cf. Phil. 3:20; Heb. 11:13–16; 13:14). Specifically, he was addressing the church in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, all provinces in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) at the time. Pontus was in the far north, and Jewish pilgrims from there were in Jerusalem during the extraordinary events of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). The province was also the home of Aquila (Acts 18:2), the Jew who with his wife Priscilla became Christians in Rome and subsequently ministered with Paul (Acts 18:18). Galatia was in central Asia Minor and contained the towns of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium where Paul ministered several times (Acts 14:1–13; 16:1–5; 18:23). Cappadocia was located in the east portion of Asia Minor, north of Cilicia, and is also mentioned in connection with the Acts 2:9 pilgrims. Asia included most of western Asia Minor and contained such subdivisions as Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and much of Phrygia. The province was the site of extensive ministry by Paul on his third journey: "all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10) and is mentioned twelve other places in Acts. Bithynia was located in northwest Asia Minor near the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sections of modern Turkey. This province is mentioned only one other place in the New Testament, when the Holy Spirit, during Paul's second missionary journey, forbade him from entering it (Acts 16:7).
As the geographical areas Peter mentioned in his salutation indicate, this letter had a very wide circulation. No doubt, in each of those areas, churches received and read the letter. For example, there were at least seven churches in Asia Minor (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea) that thirty years later received special revelation from the risen Christ Himself (Rev. 1:11; chaps. 2–3). And there were other notable places in Asia Minor, such as Colossae, that Peter did not even mention. So he was writing to a large number of believers scattered as spiritual aliens throughout a hostile, pagan region.
Peter addressed such a wide audience because the Roman persecution of Christians had swept across the Empire. Believers in every place were going to suffer (cf. Luke 21:12; Phil. 1:29; James 1:1–3). The apostle wanted those believers to remember that, in the midst of potentially great suffering and hardship, they were still the chosen of God, and that as such they could face persecution in triumphant hope (cf. 4:13, 16, 19; Rom. 8:35–39; 2 Tim. 3:11; Heb. 10:34–36).
The Nature of Election
who are chosen (1:1b)
As spiritual aliens, the most important thing for Peter's readers was not their relationship to earth but their relationship to heaven. Describing Abraham's hope, the writer of Hebrews said, "He was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (11:10; cf. vv. 13–16; John 14:1–3; Phil. 3:20).
Understanding that truth, Peter identifies his audience as those who are chosen(eklektos). The apostle reiterates this concept in 2:9, "You are a chosen race, 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." Peter's Old Testament allusions in that verse make it plain that he knew God had sovereignly chosen Israel: "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:6; cf. 14:2; Pss. 105:43; 135:4).
God's sovereign love also prompted His choice of the church. The apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus, "We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). He told the Thessalonians, "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13; cf. John 15:16; Rom. 8:29–30; 1 Cor. 1:27; Eph. 1:4–5; 2:10; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; Titus 1:1).
Jesus also did not hesitate to unambiguously and unapologetically teach the truth of election: "'No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day'" (John 6:44); "'I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen'" (13:18; cf. Luke 10:20; 18:7; John 17:6, 9). The Lord assumed the truth of divine election in His Olivet Discourse, making indirect reference to it three times: "'Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short'" (Matt. 24:22; see also vv. 24, 31; Mark 13:20).
God has chosen people out of all the world (Rev. 5:9; 7:9; cf. John 10:16; Acts 15:14) to belong to Him, and the church is that people (cf. Rom. 8:29; Eph. 5:27). Throughout the New Testament this critical truth of election is clearly presented (2:8–9; Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Luke 18:7; Col. 3:12; Titus 1:1–2; James 2:5). The apostle John repeatedly quotes Jesus saying that the Father gives whomever He chooses to the Son:
"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, "I am the bread that came down out of heaven." They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, 'I have come down out of heaven?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. (John 6:37–45)
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.... While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.... Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (17:6, 12, 24)
The chosen are expressions of the Father's love for the Son. All whom the Father gives, the Son receives; and the Son keeps them and raises them to eternal life. In principle, Jesus revealed it to His disciples in the Upper Room: "'You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you'" (John 15:16). John 5:21 says, "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes." Luke chronicled God's sovereign election of the church in Pisidian Antioch during Paul's first missionary journey:
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you [Jews] first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, 'I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.'" When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. (Acts 13:46–49)
Paul wrote clearly the truth that election is completely the result of God's sovereign purpose and grace: "who [the Lord] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Tim. 1:9). The great apostle further defines this truth in Romans 8:28–30,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
John further emphasizes the eternality of election at the end of the New Testament when he notes that the Book of Life existed before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; cf. 3:5; 20:12, 15; 21:27). From eternity past, God has had a large body of believers in mind whom He chose to love (1 John 4:10; cf. Rom. 10:20), to save from their sin (Eph. 2:1–5; Col. 2:13), and conform to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 1:7–9; 2 Cor. 3:18; Jude 24–25). And each one of those names, from every nationality and every era of history, God specifically secured in eternal purpose before the world began.
The Source of Election
according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, (1:2a)
One popular explanation for election by those who cannot accept God's sovereign choice based on nothing but His own will stems from a faulty understanding of foreknowledge. According to that understanding, the term merely means foresight or supernatural knowledge of the future. Proponents say that God in His omniscience looked down the corridors of time and saw who would believe the gospel and who would not. He then chose for salvation all those He knew would choose to believe and guaranteed that they would reach heaven. But there are at least three reasons such an interpretation of foreknowledge is unscriptural. First of all, it makes man sovereign in salvation instead of God, though Jesus affirmed His and the Father's sovereignty when He told the disciples, "You did not choose Me but I chose you" (John 15:16; cf. Rom. 9:11–13, 16). Second, it gives man undue credit for his own salvation, allowing him to share the glory that belongs to God alone. The familiar salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8–9, shatters that notion: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (italics added; cf. 1 Cor. 1:29, 31). Third, it assumes fallen man can seek after God. Romans 3:11, quoting from Psalms 14:1–3 and 53:1–3, clearly states, "There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God" (cf. Eph. 2:1). The apostle John accurately defines God's saving initiative this way: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10; cf. Rom. 5:8).
Excerpted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary 1 Peter by John MacArthur. Copyright © 2004 John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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