July 19th, 64 AD

On July 19th, AD 64, a terrible fire broke out in Rome. It burned for three days and three nights, slowed down, and then broke out again. The narrow streets and the structure of the buildings made the city burn like a campfire, and massive destruction resulted. Naturally, the Roman people were incensed. They demanded answers. Nero, the emperor, was the prime suspect. His obsession with building made for an obvious motive. Many Romans were arriving at the conclusion that he had purposefully set the fire so he would have an opportunity to rebuild the city in his fashion.  Nero responded predictably. Basic knowledge of human behavior tells you that when someone is feeling the heat of accusation, he or she is often quick to point the finger at someone else. Such was the case with Nero. In quick need of someone to blame, he chose the Christians in Rome. They were the perfect target: they were a small group and little was known about them. What was known about them was either conjecture or total falsity. For instance, many of the Christian practices of community and communion had been mistaken for sinister, mysterious practices. While nothing could have been further from the truth, the populace’s ignorance made the Christians a quite misunderstood group. So, they were perfect targets for the Emperor. Nero’s plan to blame the Christians worked, or at least it served as a distraction which then opened the door for Christians in Rome to be persecuted for the next two and a half centuries (the level of persecution varied during this time dependent upon the emperors. Some were worse than others.) Under Nero’s rule, believers were forced to battle wild animals in gruesome spectacles, they were burned at the stake during the evening time while Roman socialites partied, and they were generally made to be hated outcasts through the empire. 
These dramatic events could very well be the backdrop for Peter’s first letter to Christians living in the farther reaches of the Roman Empire. He knew firsthand the persecution and struggle they would be facing soon, and he writes so that they might be encouraged and reminded that God is sovereign even in the most difficult and pressing of times. The general consensus amongst scholars today is that the letter is written to Gentile Christians. The earliest church consisted of Jewish Christ followers, and as they preached and professed that Jesus Christ was the promised messiah, the faith grew in great numbers amongst the Gentiles. While the Jewish people and Jewish Christ followers certainly faced persecution from the Roman Empire, the Gentile Christians had very unique pressures and issues different from their Jewish brothers and sisters.
For Gentile believers, they were converting from a pagan life, with no Judeo reference point for their faith.  So, along with Peter’s encouragement for them in the face of physical persecution, he also challenged them to endure emotional and social persecution. The Gentile believers, coming from a pagan background marked with decadence and licentiousness, would feel the social pressure of leaving that life behind. Many of their friends and peers would question them and ridicule them as to why they left that life behind. The pull of the past and of former practices and behaviors would haunt them at varying degrees at various times. And Peter calls on them to endure and live towards something greater, something that can pass through the fires of life and still be found pure and true.  He called them to honor their faith in God.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1.6-7 ESV)

In our ALIVE worship services on Wednesday nights, we are walking through 1st Peter. We’ve introduced the series focusing on the background and context of the book.  It is vitally important to know the background and context of the books of the Bible. Knowing the reality of the struggles of the people and the world context at work enables you to read it in a much more connected sense. These were real people with real pressures living amidst major world events. Many people face physical persecution for their faith all over the world. The book of 1 Peter speaks directly to the pain and struggle of such a frightening reality. Many people face emotional and social pressure as they live out their faith. Maybe it’s a person leaving a lifestyle or a debilitating habit behind. Maybe it’s someone whose friends or family don’t understand why faith is so important to them. Maybe it’s someone who feels like they are constantly battling temptation. Maybe it’s someone who is worn down by the constant news of terror and violence all over the world.  1 Peter speaks directly to all of this.  Peter wrote to people trying their best to make sense of faith in a crazy world with sadness and threats and disregard for life all around them. He wrote to people trying to live out their faith in a culture that put no real boundaries of truth on human behavior, practice, and experience.    
May the story of perseverance of those who went before you through trial and temptation connect you more closely with the testimony of Scripture and strengthen your hope that even in times of difficulty God’s truth and beauty can prevail.

Guiding real people to embrace a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ