One historical debate among biblical scholars concerns the audience of 1 Peter. Was he writing to Jews or Gentiles? As I've studied the letter, I've come to believe that Peter wasn’t writing to Jews, but to Gentiles. There’s a few reasons why most Bible scholars believe this. Notice the way Peter describes his readers’ upbringing in 1 Peter 1:18—you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers. It’s unlikely that Peter would talk that way to a Jewish audience. A Jewish upbringing in the Old Testament Scriptures was not futile, it just needed to be rightly understood as pointing to Jesus. It’s also unlikely Peter is writing to Jews because in 4:3-4, he seems to imply that the Gentile lifestyle used to be their lifestyle. But most convincingly for me is the remark in 2:10—Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. That’s the way you would talk to a Gentile audience who had been previously cut off from God’s covenants, but are now grafted in.
Here’s why this matters: Peter is writing to these Gentile believers who are facing the pain and difficulty of exile, and one of the ways he encourages them is by showing them how they have been grafted into a new family. They are not alone.
In Leviticus 11:45 God told the Israelites, “I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” The exact same command is given to Gentile Christians in 1 Peter 1:12-16.
The Israelite exodus out of Egypt climaxed with the story of Passover. There they were saved through the blood of a lamb without blemish or spot. In 1 Peter 1:19, Peter points us to a new and better Lamb of God who delivers His people through a new and better Passover.
The pinnacle of Jewish pride and patriotism in the Old Testament was the temple. To this day you can visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where you’ll see large piles of stones from the temple that was destroyed by Roman soldiers in A.D. 70. Still today the Jewish people pray and long for that temple to be rebuilt. But in 1 Peter 2:5 Peter says that God is already building a new and better temple: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
In Exodus 19:5-6, God says to the people of Israel, “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; (6) and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Compare that to 1 Peter 2:9-10—But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (10) Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The other day I read an article about the increasing popularity of NBC’s comedy, The Office. Even though it’s been over 7 years since the show’s last episode it has only increased in popularity. Surprisingly, one of its most popular demographics is teens and tweens. People who have never worked in an office are mesmerized with a TV show that depicts the drudgery of a desk job where the most interesting thing you can do is play a prank on a co-worker. The big question is why? What is it about this show that has captivated so many?
Here's one theory espoused in the article. “Young people are being told, ‘You can’t just get a job, you have to find a job that fulfills you, that you’re passionate about . . . There’s a lot of pressure on people to invest in themselves and work at something that expresses their values, but it’s really hard to find that.”[i] And because it’s so hard to find a purpose in life that matters, we escape to a world of awkwardness and drudgery, where you can be a regional salesman at a Northeastern Pennsylvania based mid-size paper company and still be happy.
Christian, you can enjoy The Office, but you don’t need to escape to a world where purpose and meaning don’t matter. You have been grafted into a story that stretches the span of time. You are a part of a new and better family, rescued by a new and better Passover. You’re a living stone in a new and better temple, a member of a new and better covenant. You’re a new and better kind of priest in a new and better kind of Kingdom. Christian, you are not alone in exile. Your life matters because you are a part of that family.
[i] Emily VanDerWerff, “The Enduring Appeal of The Office in a Crumbling World,” Vox, July 15, 2020, https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/20707420/the-office-netflix-nbc-workplace-fantasy.