1 Peter 1:3-5 — The Inheritance of the Elect


Picking up in verse 3, the first bite into the meat of this letter is praise to God because He has chosen to save us sinners and moreover to give us hope in Christ Jesus. Early here, Peter makes an argument for the deity of Christ.  Again, we see Peter’s economy of words and propensity for his beliefs to be clear and stated pointedly. He claims clearly that God is the Father of Jesus, whom he calls “Lord”.

We see the Greek preposition “kata” again in correlating our status as “born again” with “God’s mercy”. The translators write in English that “His great mercy has caused us to be born again”, but it should be noted that the causation is implied in the syntax of the Greek.  It is an accurate translation.  Nonetheless, perhaps the idea is best expressed by saying ‘the mercy of God is the reason we are born again’.  The point being that the honor and glory belong to God, which is why Peter begins this thought by blessing and praising God.  Essentially, we brought nothing useful to the equation of salvation and it is only because God is merciful that we have salvation to begin with.

Even more, the benefits of God’s mercy do not end there.  We are “born again to a living hope”. It can be stated in no better way that to say that we not only have a hope, but a hope that is alive!  The same word for “living” (ζάω) is used of the son of the royal official in John 4.  Our hope is as alive as that resurrected child. It’s the same word used to describe God when Peter declared Jesus to be the “Christ, the Son of the Living God!” in Matt 16:16, a statement for which Jesus praised Him.  Essentially, if you acknowledge God as alive and believe that child was alive when Jesus healed him, you have to attach the same meaning to our hope in being born again.

tombHow can this be? Peter explains that this hope is alive in the “resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. In other words, this living hope IS Jesus Himself.  So, by God’s great mercy, we’re born again to our hope, Jesus; who is alive through His resurrection from the dead. What does it mean to be born again to Jesus? It draws upon the same reason Peter refers to his audience as “aliens” in verse 1.  Those who have been saved are no longer born to live in this world and for this world but are instead, mercifully, born to live for Christ.  In other words, we’re sojourners here, pilgrims from a different land.  This is not the land of our birth. Rather, we belong to Christ and are instead temporary visitors among the land of sinners.

But the mercy of God causing us to be born again also has other effects, namely the obtaining of an inheritance.   It is an interesting word Peter uses in verse 4 which carries definite connotations of a birth right. “Kleronomia” is used a few times throughout the New Testament and always means something which is handed down from one generation to another, formerly possessed by the elder and now possessed by the younger (Matt 27, Mark 12, Luke 12).  So what Peter is describing here is something we come to possess as a result of God’s mercy and our being born again.  He goes on to describe this inheritance with four qualities.

1) Imperishable. The Greek is “aphthartos”.  It means incorruptible, with connotations of immorality.  For example it is the word used by Paul to Timothy to describe God “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” {1Ti 1:17 NASB}.  As we think of the immortality of God, we ought to think of our inheritance in Christ.  Peter uses it later in this Epistle in chapter 1 verse 23 to make the point that we weren’t saved by something corruptible but rather something incorruptible.  Basically, Peter is saying nothing is going to touch our inheritance.  It won’t wither away, it won’t be damaged, it can’t be destroyed.  This must have been a great
encouragement to those to whom he writes as they faced increasing persecution and perhaps seemingly reliable parts of their life (their jobs, homes, property, etc) becoming increasingly less reliable as the culture turned against them.

lamb2) Undefiled. The Greek is “amiantos“, which means unsoiled.  It is the same word used of the “Great High Priest” in Hebrews 7:26. Also the same word used to describe the type of religion God accepts in James 1:27.  So, by the same way we understand the Great High Priest, which is Christ, we have to understand our inheritance; and by the same standard we measure true worship of God we have to measure our inheritance.  Purity is what is in mind here.  Our inheritance won’t be polluted, dirty, or impaired in anyway but instead 100% pure.  It is the real deal, exactly what it God says it will be.

3) Will not fade away. This is the only time the word “amarantos” appears in the New Testament, appearing here twice.  This echoes what he has already said in our salvation being imperishable. The repeat of the concept, and the repeat of the word here is significant.  Peter wants to drive this point home.  It’s important for his readers to understand that their inheritance isn’t going anywhere.  This is likely because persecution can bring doubt and those being outcast by society for their fidelity to Christ are forced to believe in that which they haven’t seen in spite of what is tangible in their everyday lives.

4) Reserved in heaven for you.  The language here strongly suggests to the reader that their reward is being maintained on their behalf in a place not accessible to them right now. “Reserved” is the word “tereo” which carries the connotation of guardianship.  It is, in fact the same word used in Matt 28:4 as a substantive noun for “guards”, and is used in the active voice in Matt 19:17 when Jesus tells his questioner to “observe” the commandments.  In other words, this is not a inheritance sitting and gathering dust.  It is also not an inheritance that is the object of a pursuit like a prize to be won by a few among many competitors.  It is THEIR inheritance and it is being carefully guarded in heaven for them to inherit.  This, of course, reinforces the idea of his audience being aliens to this world and belonging to a different place.

crossThe last word of verse 4, “you”, is the subject in mind in verse 5.  This “you” is itself an antecedent to the “aliens” to whom he writes in opening his letter.  These aliens are protected by God’s power “through faith”.  The phrase of “through faith”, on the surface appears to raise questions of the link between our faith and God’s protection.  However, we can see from the grammar of the sentence that protection is “by God’s power” meaning God is the one performing the protection.  He is performing this action “through” faith.  It is the conduit, the means, by which God achieves His goal.  The faith (which He grants us) is simply the path the power of God takes to do the protecting.  If protection is the means, the end is “salvation” which is the word “soteria”, from which we get the English word “Soteriology”, which unsurprisingly, is the study of salvation.  Also unsurprisingly, this word is used several times in the New Testament always with a connotation of salvation from sin.  Peter uses it a few verses later speaking of it as the “outcome of your faith” and the thing for which Old Testament prophets searched the Scriptures.

We must carefully note that we can’t make this salvation about anything that happens in this life. Instead this salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time”.  In other words, it’s not revealed yet. It is not realized in this present state. But, it is carefully reserved and guarded for the aliens meaning that
merely because it is not realized in their present state is not any less theirs.  This will be an important fact to keep in mind as Peter pens many words regarding suffering well and humbly, even for unjust reasons.  God has not promised to protect Peter’s audience from suffering, but God has promised that no amount of suffering can take away what belongs to them.

We’ll expand a bit on that suffering next time.

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