Life-Study of 1 Peterby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In the previous message we began to cover the section from 4:12-19. In this message we shall continue with verses 17 through 19 of chapter four.
First Peter 4:17 says, “Because it is time for the judgment to begin from the house of God; and if first from us, what will be the end of those who disobey the gospel of God?” We have seen that this Epistle shows the government of God especially in His dealings with His chosen people. The sufferings they undergo in fiery persecution are used by Him as a means to judge them that they may be disciplined, purified, and separated from the unbelievers and not have the same destiny as unbelievers. Such disciplinary judgment begins from the house of God.
The Greek word rendered “house” in verse 17 also means household. Here the house, or household, refers to the church composed of the believers (2:5; Heb. 3:6; 1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 2:19). From this house, as His own house, God begins His governmental administration by His disciplinary judgment over His own children so that He may have strong ground to judge, in His universal kingdom, those who are disobedient to His gospel and rebellious to His government. This is for the establishment of His kingdom, which is covered in the second book (2 Pet. 1:11).
In 4:17 Peter asks what will be the end of those who disobey the gospel of God if God’s judgment first begins from us. This question indicates that the unbelievers, who disobey the gospel of God, will undergo a judgment more severe than that which the believers have undergone.
In verse 17 the word “disobey” has a particular and specific meaning. Many Christians, however, do not realize this. Here in 4:17 “disobey” is used with regard to the unbelieving Jews mainly, not to the unbelieving Gentiles. As God’s people, the Jews had received the Mosaic law and also the ordinances and rituals of the Old Testament. But by the time this Epistle was written, the dispensation had changed. The Old Testament was the old dispensation, and the New Testament is the new dispensation of God. The dispensation first began to change at the coming of John the Baptist. Of course, it changed even the more with the coming of the Lord Jesus.
John the Baptist was the son of the priest (Luke 1:5,13). This means that he also should have been a priest serving in the temple by offering the sacrifices, lighting the lamps, and burning the incense on the incense altar. That was the way the priests served God according to the old dispensation. However, this son of a priest did not stay in the temple. Instead, he went out to the wilderness. Furthermore, as a priest, he should have worn the priestly garment, which was mainly made of fine linen (Exo. 28:4, 40-41; Lev. 6:10; Ezek. 44:17-18). But in the wilderness, he wore a “garment of camel’s hair and a leather girdle” (Matt. 3:4). John should have eaten priestly food, which was composed mainly of fine flour and the meat of the sacrifices offered to God by His people (Lev. 2:1-3; 6:16-18, 25-26; 7:31-34). However, John ate locusts and wild honey. For a priestly person to wear camel’s hair was an especially drastic blow to the religious mind, for the camel was considered unclean under the Levitical regulations (Lev. 11:4). All this indicates that John had altogether abandoned the Old Testament dispensation. John did not offer sacrifices, he did not light the lamps in the temple, and he did not burn the incense on the incense altar. Instead, he went to the wilderness and called upon God’s people to repent. Those who repented he baptized in water. From the point of view of Judaism, what John did was heretical.
According to Matthew 3:2, John preached in the wilderness, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” John the Baptist’s preaching was the initiation of God’s New Testament economy. He did this preaching not in the holy temple within the holy city, where the religious and cultured people worshipped God according to their scriptural ordinances, but in the wilderness, not keeping any regulations of the old dispensation. This indicates that the old way of the worship of God according to the Old Testament was repudiated, and a new way was about to be brought in.
Actually, the preaching of the gospel began not with the Lord Jesus but with John the Baptist. John said to those who came to be baptized by him, “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance; but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire; whose winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing floor and will gather His wheat into His barn, but He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11-12). Here John seems to be saying, “The One who comes after me will baptize you either in the Spirit or in fire. He will put you either into the Spirit or into the lake of fire. Only He has the power to do these things. Therefore, you must genuinely repent.”
The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, elders, and chief priests among the Jewish people did not obey the preaching of John the Baptist or that of the Lord Jesus. This is made clear both in the Gospels and in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, Peter and the eleven preached the gospel to the Jewish people. Most of those who believed were scattered Jews who had returned to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. But the local ones, in particular the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the leaders of the people, were not willing to believe. This means that they would not obey the gospel. Furthermore, when Paul was raised up by the Lord, he went forth to preach the gospel in the Gentile cities. Wherever he went, he was persecuted, troubled, and opposed by the Jews. Therefore, in their writings the apostles used the word “disobey” with respect to the unbelieving Jews who did not obey the gospel.
We have pointed out that the book of 1 Peter was written to Jewish believers. In particular, this Epistle was written to the “chosen pilgrims of the dispersion” (1:1). The word “dispersion” was a term familiar to all the scattered Jews among the nations. This term clearly indicates that this Epistle was written to Jewish believers. These believers, who had been scattered throughout the Gentile world, were suffering persecution. It is important for us to realize that this persecution did not come mainly from the Gentiles; most of it came from the opposing Jews, the Jews who did not obey the gospel.
Words such as “dispersion” in 1:1 and “disobey” in 4:17 indicate that Peter’s writing has a strongly dispensational aspect. Peter indicated clearly that he was writing to the chosen pilgrims of the dispersion. The word “dispersion” is a Jewish term. At the time this Epistle was written, many Jews were scattered in dispersion. Whereas the Gentile believers lived in their own cities, the Jewish believers were in dispersion, for they had been scattered, dispersed, among the Gentiles, separated from their fatherland. Hence, these scattered Jews were pilgrims in dispersion.
The Judaistic terms used in this book are an indication that it was written to Jewish believers. One of these terms is the “sprinkling of the blood” (1:2). In typology, the sprinkling of the atoning blood ushered the sprinkled people into the old covenant (Exo. 24:6-8). Likewise, the sprinkling of Christ’s redeeming blood brings the sprinkled believers into the blessing of the new covenant, that is, into the full participation of the Triune God (Heb. 9:13-14). Expressions such as “chosen pilgrims of the dispersion” and “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” show that this Epistle was written to Jewish believers.
In 4:17 “those who disobey the gospel of God” refers mainly to unbelieving Jews. In the sight of God, the unbelieving Jews were disobedient. God gave them the law through Moses, and they accepted it. But when God’s dispensation changed and He wanted to give them the gospel, the Jews disobeyed the gospel and rebelled against it. If we would understand verse 17, we need to realize that “disobey the gospel” refers mainly to the disobedience of the unbelieving Jews.
In his synopsis J. N. Darby points out a number of times that 1 Peter is a dispensational book written to Jewish believers. Because of this dispensational aspect of 1 Peter, certain verses are not fully applicable to Gentile believers.
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