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A Short Reflection on 1 Peter 2:21-251: Suffering Righteously

In 1 Peter 2:21-25, Peter encourages his audience to rejoice and persevere through
“various trials” (1.6), and are admonished to not retaliate if they are reviled, insulted, and
maligned (2.12; 3.9; 3.16; 4.4; 4.14) as “evil doers” (2.12) but to bless those who offend
them. Peter’s primary aim for his audience is succinctly expressed in the first imperative
of the letter—“set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the
revelation of Jesus Christ (1.13).”
The actions and dispositions that Peter encourages in 2.21-25, for example, of not
reviling back when one is reviled, are repeated in other places within the text of 1 Peter
(2.9; 2.18; 4.1; 4.13-16). Such hostility against Peter’s audience probably occurs at the
informal level, instigated by locales against their Christian neighbors, or at the imperial
level, where Rome’s claims to sovereignty are being challenged by Christian claims of
Jesus Christ as Lord (Horrell 57-58). Other evidence within 1 Peter also indicate that
Christians might not just be experiencing social and verbal malign but may also be
paying the price with their physical bodies. Peter urges his audience to not suffer for
being a “murderer,” “thief,” “evil doer” or a “meddler” (4.15), which leads to the
inference that some Christians had probably being physically attacked without any crime
of theirs. In 2 Peter 2.20, it is also plausible that Peter addresses slaves who may have
endured suffering by way of physical persecution for legitimate wrongs done to their
master. Even our primary text for discussion in this paper (1 Peter 2.21-25), which urges
Christians to follow in the footsteps of Christ who certainly paid the ultimate price to
redeem them from their sins, opens the possibility of Christians who may have to go
through the same ordeal in a social environment hostile to the Christian faith.
Scholars have identified 1 Peter 2.21-25 as the heart of the theological argument
of 1 Peter2. 1 Peter 2.21-25 lies in the middle of an argument that Peter starts to make
starting from 2.13. The overall argument of Peter starts from the beginning of the letter,
which starts by orienting its audience to adopt a particular understanding of their identity.
Peter’s audience is described as “elect sojourners,” whose life is directed according to the

Scriptural quotations in this paper are taken from the ESV unless otherwise stated.
For example, Howard Marshall refers to 1 Peter 2.21-25 as the “theological center” of
the whole book, “providing basis for all Christian behavior (91).”

who are Christians in Asia Minor. they are not to depend on the perception or judgment of their surrounding .18)” in describing what God has done for his audience is evocative of Exodus imagery. Because of the hope that is already theirs and yet not quite fully realized (1. Thus. starting with Israel. Peter stresses that the identity of God’s people comes with a vocation. awaiting ultimate consummation. in the Old Testament. are being insinuated here—the promises of shalom and the restoration of dynasty—pointing to the faithfulness of God to his people. abstaining from their former hopes and desires. Although Peter’s audience. they are to orient their whole life and take up space in such a way that it reflects the purposes of God in the world.” As priests of God. placing his audience in the stream of the story of God’s redemptive for the world. In 2. the starting place for describing the identity of the audience is grounded in the large reality of work of the Triune God in the world. In addition to the bright future awaiting their audience. Their hopes of eternal bliss are anchored in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (3. according to God’s timing. Because of such a bright future. and being guarded by God so that their faiths do not end in up in ruins. although such a period may be filled with various trials that will test and hone their faiths. God’s promises for his people.4-10. they are to see themselves as the recipients of the good news prophesied by the prophets of Old. Israel. Peter’s audience are told that they are born again. the sanctification of the Spirit. they are to rejoice during this period of liminality. using words reminiscent of the vocation YHWH ascribed to his people. Peter’s uses of terminology such as “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers…. Of course.1). saved. and the obedience of Jesus Christ. Israel. the implicit narrative embedded here is that Christ is the fulfillment of the hope that the prophets prophesied of. loved. designated as a “royal priesthood. might face rejection from their non-Christian neighbors.3). 2 Peter 3:1-12 goes to begin to give more details to this theological identity that Peter wants to ground his audience in. and to live their lives completely oriented towards God’s will for of the three persons of the Triune God: the foreknowledge of God the Father. Peter instructs his audience to continue to keep their minds and their hearts fixed on the hope that God has for them. per God’s purposes for the world. Again. Peter continues to focus on the theological identity of his people.with the precious blood of Christ(1.

then why may his followers not be demanded to pass through the same experience? However. and similar to 1.21-25 wherein Peter enunciates for his audience. 4. or complacent in their relationships with their non-Christian surroundings. and have indeed been transformed through the work of Christ from a past life of sin so that you may live today as Christ lived (83).13) and urges them to live in the way Christ’s suffered for them. but are to accept God’s designation of and vocation for them as his own vocation. Instead. but one of “improvisation.21 and 2. the image for following Christ is not merely imitative. from here onwards.14-16. . The mode of performance may be said to be normative. wayward lifestyles grounded in their own passion and desires. they are not to misconstrue this as a chance to be conceited. As Peter encourages his audience.11). if Christ obeyed God by suffering. a particular kind of life—grounded in Christ’s suffering for them—which serves us the wellspring for the dispositions and way of life enumerated in the book. the first place in which Peter mentions that Christ did suffer for them lies in 1 Peter 2. This “honorable” way of life is expounded in the context of a panoply of relationships involving relations with political leaders.” which accentuates the “creative fidelity” that seriously follows the core script of Christ’s life while leaving room for adjusting to the particularities of one’s experience (Green).21-25. Following 2.11-12. (3. Peter makes repeated references to Christ sufferings. slaves and masters.” In other words. Part of this framework includes a theological perspective or rationale for the reason why Peter’s audience are suffering in the first place. At the center of this web of relationships lies 1 Peter 2. Evidence for this can be seen from the critical observation that. 4. in living a new lifestyle that is different from their non-Christian neighbors. they are to keep their way of life “honorable” in the sight of God among the Gentiles (2. Green notes that the theological rationale given in 2. Thus. Peter urges his audience to abstain from their former. one of his goals is to provide a framework for how his audience are to cope with the harsh reality of Christian suffering. However. members of households.” or “performance. while Peter has before talked about his audience going through diverse trials. and members of the church.1. worldly. not prescriptive.24-25 is this—“you have been called to live patterned on the obedience of Christ.18. church elders.neighbors.

to the contrary. Jobes also notices that Peter draws from several places in the Old Testament to explicate the nature of Christ’s sufferings for his people. For instance. shape. But if it is agreed that Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2. Jesus is the Lord’s Messiah (188)”. Thus the significance of Peter’s use of Isaiah 53 lies in the fact that it “reminds it readers that Jesus’ unjust suffering did not mean that God had abandoned him. Such an assumption is staggering since many scholars have noted clear affinities between the description of Christ’s work in 2.” In addition. unjust suffering was God’s mysterious way to accomplish the redemption of humanity.21-15 and the Suffering Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 53. what sort of relationship by this be? Jobes makes the key point that Isaiah 53 is not merely being used as proof text for a prophetic prediction of the Christ’s sufferings. characterized as a paradigm of living life for YHWH’s people. Peter does not merely give a doctrine of the person and work of Christ. Jobes notes that it is possible that the shepherd language may also have been borrowed from LXX Ezekiel 34:11-13. and the Psalms. or form. according to early Jesus followers.21-25 wherein Christ’s passion is conspicuously discussed in terms of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Jobes). Thus Peter not only reads Christ’s work on the cross as a doctrine of substitutionary atonement but the overall basis for all Christian behavior (Horrel 91). Similar to Green’s thoughts. Moreover. However. Liebengood states that in 2. Liebengood continues to develop his argument by saying that the reason why Peter understands Christian suffering to be necessary goes beyond the . “Peters exposition regarding the suffering of Christ primarily functions as the paradigm for Christians to follow (189). it is only in 1 Peter 2. in commenting on the use of shepherd language as the overseer of souls in 2. but more specifically.21-25 have an intimate connection.21-25. “why Christian suffering is necessary and to be expected in spite of the fact that. An examination of these shepherd traditions tradition reflects a Jewish tradition about God’s tenacious care for his people.” For Liebengood. Peter not only provides his audience with an understanding of Christ’s suffering and death. but connects doctrine to ethical formation (Jobes). wherein the Suffering Servant is in no way. but a tool in Peter’s hands to help him explain the significance of Christ’s particular way of redemption (Jobes). suffering incurred from one’s allegiance to Christ—that is.25.

Liebengood’s unique suggestion here is that.7. read in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus (176-180). Peter’s audience are in a time where the fidelity of God’s people is being tested while they participate in a second exodus towards an inheritance reserved from them (190). . knowing very well that God surely cares for them and will judge righteously. In addition to that. an attitude of grace that is informed by Christ’s suffering for them. must undergo a period of suffering in the same manner in which Zechariah 13.fact Christ left an example for reconciled sinners to imitate. The main theological point to be absorbed from this passage concerns itself with the non-retaliatory disposition that Peter is calling his audience to embody as a primary way of pattering their lives according to the life and witness of Jesus Christ. According to Liebengood. Peter’s audience are to cultivate as of prime importance. they are to relinquish their desire of revenge and retaliatory violence in the midst of unjust suffering. 2. who have now been returned to the slain-shepherd king of Zechariah 13.8-12).8 has a transition period consisting of fiery trials after the death of the shepherd-king.14 to mean that his audience. it includes “when” his audience are (190). Just as this time of fiery trials in Zech 13. is in line with the eschatological program in 1 Peter which has its original substructure in the eschatological program of Zechariah 9-14. Just as Christ has suffered for them. They are to entrust themselves to God. Peter has reinterpreted Isaiah 53 in the light of the wider context of Zechariah 9.8 are likened to a new exodus (Zech 10.21-25 as a paradigm for Christian living.