You’re great! Chosen, royal, holy with a future! (1 Peter 2.9-12)
Like so many of us with our insecurities, Peter’s readers needed to hear these great words of encouragement. In their surrounding world they were mere nobodies. As committed Christians they were despised and persecuted. Being Christians, they will have been rejected from business guilds with their idolatrous practices, so poverty and financial problems must have threatened. And as Gentiles they must have felt like second-class extras in the church with its strongly Jewish foundations. How the boot has slipped onto the other foot today! Now Jews (and other ethnic minorities) can feel misunderstood in our very Gentile churches!
But in 2.9-12 the contrast with those who reject Jesus stands out clearly. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood (cf. 2.5), a holy nation . . .” (2.9). In God’s eyes they are very special. We may notice how the words for ‘people’ grow into a crescendo, becoming increasingly special. “Chosen people” (Greek genos) with its creational background is a fairly general term, but still it is linked to the glorious reality that God has specifically chosen them. Then Peter declares that they are a “holy nation” (Greek ethnos), using the singular of the word commonly used for ‘Gentiles’. They are indeed a nation or people with a particular identity. And they are ‘holy’, set apart for God within his covenant. Finally Peter uses the lovely Greek word ‘laos’ with its close-knit and very individual sense. Doubtless with Hosea 1.9 in mind, Peter repeats this description of ‘laos’ in 2.10. They were nothing special before, but now they are God’s particular much-loved people. Hosea’s son was called ‘Lo-Ammi’ (not my people) because God states with horrendous clarity “you are not my people, and I am not your God”. Previously Peter’s readers were also in that tragic state, but what a contrast! Now they are God’s people (laos). Although they may be “aliens and strangers in the world”, they now belong to God by his grace and mercy (2.10/11). And as believers in Jesus Christ, we too rejoice in having been called “out of darkness into his marvellous light”. And we eagerly look forward to that amazing light which awaits us on ‘that day’.
Again and again Peter refers us to our final goal in the future. For this he sometimes uses the Greek preposition eis (unto/into). Thus in 2.9 he writes of a people eis God’s vindication of them. NIV translates this as “belonging to God”, but it may be better to say ‘a people attaining what God has in store for them’. In his Word commentary Michaels translates the noun used here as “attainment or acquisition”. NIV also loses the future significance of the words. In its other New Testament usages this noun is always used with reference to our final future in glory. In 2.9 it would seem to be an equivalent of ‘salvation’ as in 1.5 (also preceded by eis). As God’s special people they, and we also, have a sure and wonderful future.
Our future is further defined in 2.12 with the words “on the day of his visitation”. The Greek noun used here is episcope which Jesus uses in his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19.44), the time (Greek Kairos which usually has an end-time significance) of your episcope/visitation. This word is used of ‘bishop’ with its literal sense of ‘oversight’ and we get our word ‘episcopal’ from it. The task of a ‘bishop’ is the oversight of God’s church and people.
When in Rome once I learned that the then Pope took his calling as bishop of Rome very seriously. Every Sunday therefore he visited a parish in his diocese and spent the day with the local priest. He would oversee the life and ministry of that priest, encouraging and stimulating him with suggesting new approaches as well as pastoring him personally. So he tried to fulfil his task of episcope as a bishop. May that be equally true of our bishops! Of course, as a Roman Catholic, his episcope was rather hierarchical and therefore centred on the priest, whereas Protestant bishops will be more interested in the whole people of God. So they will relate closely with a wider representation of the church.
In the light of God’s almost unbelievable grace, Peter now addresses his readers as “beloved” (not just “dear friends as in NIV). But the glory of God’s loving grace carries with it considerable responsibilities. So Peter’s readers are exhorted to “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (2.11). They may indeed still be rejected as foreigners and strangers in the world, but they are to lead such good lives that people will see their good works and glorify God “in the day of episcope” (2.12 and Matthew 5.16).
In 2.12 NIV follows the despicable Christian tradition of translating the word for ‘Gentiles’ (Greek ethne) as ‘pagans’. Ethne is a purely ethnic term for non-Jews and has nothing to do with believing or being “pagan”. Thus my wife is ‘Gentile’, but she is definitely not ‘pagan’! So, living as they do in a Gentile milieu, Peter’s readers are exhorted to exhibit lives full of good works which will lead to God being glorified. This should be the goal also of us all as believers. Whether we live among Jews or Gentiles, we should earnestly desire and live for the glory of the Lord. Our calling is international and inter-ethnic, to Jew and to Gentile of every nation and people.