The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
April 17, 2011


1) 1 Peter 4:17-19 (Tom Edwards)


1 Peter 4:17-19
by Tom Edwards

After pointing out that God's people need not feel ashamed for suffering as a Christian -- but, instead, can "glorify God in this name" -- Peter then declares, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?"

What "judgment" is Peter speaking of in this passage?  Since he says, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God," he is not talking about the final judgment, which still hasn't come.  As we consider Peter's epistle, persecution upon the Christians is what he has been pointing out.  This the saints were warned of and told not to think it strange, nor should they feel ashamed for suffering for righteousness' sake.  

The Greek word is "krima."  It is actually used to refer to various kinds of judgments in the Scriptures, just as the English word "judgment" also does.  So the context must be taken into consideration to understand just how it is being used in the particular passage.

Another misunderstanding would be to take this "judgment" in 1 Peter 4:17 to mean the righteous judging that Christians are to render.  Though from elsewhere in the Scriptures, we do read of this need to judge, such as in John 7:24, "Do not judge by appearance, but judge with righteous judgment"; here, in 1 Peter 4:17, Peter has a different kind of judgment in mind, as mentioned above.  The judgment that Peter is speaking of goes along with what he has already been expressing in this epistle:  For instance, in the very first chapter, he points out the distressing trials they are undergoing; but that those trials serve as a testing of their faith.  He then exhorts them to gird up their minds for action; to be sober in spirit for the purpose of prayer; to be obedient; to abstain from sin; to set forth the right kind of example to the world; to not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among them, which will test them;  but to keep on rejoicing to whatever degree they share in the sufferings of Christ.  So the judgment Peter is speaking of is what he has already been mentioning: These persecutions, these trials, which would test their faith and could also have a good impact upon the world, as they would behold the Christians' faithfulness and dedication, in spite of those trials.  So these trials, these judgments would reveal the true character of those saints who were undergoing such and, therefore, also, show to the world that there certainly is much advantage toward believing in and living for the Lord Jesus Christ -- an advantage worth even suffering and dying for.   As brought out in Foxes Book of Martyrs, some spectators had been led to accept the gospel, after having seen the serenity of countenance on Christians who were willing to be tortured to death -- rather than to deny the Lord Jesus in order to save their physical life.  These intense persecutions truly tested the faith and commitment of these saints who proclaimed their allegiance to the Savior.  

Something else that helps us see this judgment as being persecution and trials is how this chapter concludes in 1 Peter 4:19, "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right."

Suffering for righteousness' sake is certainly a major theme in this epistle.  Peter also says in 1 Peter 4:17 about this judgment that "if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome of those who do not obey the gospel of God?"  If the Christians were not spared from these persecutions, then what will be the experience of those who reject the gospel?  Will there be difficult things they will have to face?

We pointed out that some of the persecutions Christians were caught up in were those persecutions inflicted upon the Jews in general.  For since Christianity was from a Jew, Jesus, those who were Christians (whether Jew or Gentile) were often persecuted, along with the unbelieving Jews.  And a major, devastating event upon the Jewish people was soon to happen in A.D. 70 when  Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed, after the city had been besieged by the Roman armies for 2 years.  Since Peter's first epistle was written about A.D. 64 or 65, it was given just a few years before that destruction, which Jesus spoke of as being a "great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will" (Matt. 24:21).  He goes on to say that "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short" (v. 22).   The Lord had given signs that would indicate when His people would need to flee the city to avoid the destruction; but there were many unbelievers who did not take heed; and, as a result, more than a million people perished.  

This comparison in 1 Peter 4:17 might also remind you of  Romans 11:21, "For if God did not spare the natural branches [the unbelieving Jews], neither will He spare you [Gentiles who would become unbelievers]."  There is a need to be on the alert, a need for caution, a need for continual faithfulness -- regardless of who we are.  

The "end" (1 Pet. 4:17) of those who obey not the gospel is also rendered as "outcome" in the NASB.  Commenting on this, Guy N. Woods observes, "...if the church, which is ever the object of God's care, is soon to fall into trial and sore persecution, how much greater must be the misery and wretchedness of those who do not rely on the Lord, and are thus without the comforting assurances of the gospel?"

We think, too, of the hope, comfort, and encouragement Christians can have in God when undergoing difficult times; but what does the non-Christian have when undergoing similar adversities?  And, ultimately, what will the non-Christian have who has left this world, having rejected Christ?

Here in 1 Peter 4:17, we also see a phrase that is often used in expressing what alien sinners need to do in order to become Christians; and that is that they need to "obey the gospel."  So that is not merely a phrase coined by man, but one we find in the Scriptures.  But, of course, it is used not merely to refer to those initial steps in becoming a Christian, but also in continuing to live faithfully unto the Lord throughout our lives.  For this need for obedience is seen throughout the NT.  Consider, for example, Hebrews 5:9 where it shows that Jesus "...became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation."

Peter then says in 1 Peter 4:18, "And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?"  The KJV says, "And if the righteous scarcely be saved...."  This might give us the idea that Christians are just barely saved; as if they are hanging on to the hope of salvation by only a thread.  But is that what is really being expressed in this passage?  First of all, let us note that though it is true that a Christian can lose salvation, the one whom Peter is referring to in 1 Peter 4:18 is "the righteous."  A righteous man is one who has been saved from his past sins and is living faithfully unto God and, therefore, has the hope and assurance of eternal life.  Is the hope of eternal life something that the righteous person scarcely has?  What answer can we infer from 2 Peter 1:10,11?  Here Peter states, "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."  From this passage, we see that salvation will be "abundantly supplied" -- or "richly supplied" (ASV) to the faithful -- and neither of these phrases  sound like "scarcely."  Consider, too, John 10:27-29: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."  Salvation is a sure thing for those who abide in the Lord.  Notice how safe and secure the sheep are who hear and follow the voice of the Shepherd.  And the righteous whom Peter speaks of would be those who hear and follow the Lord.  To these, they can have the assurance that is set forth in the Scriptures, such as in 1 John 5:13: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life."  The faithful Christian can be sure in the  hope of salvation, based on God's word.  

But this is not to say it would not be difficult for the Christian, with regard to the adversities he would be up against.  Paul pointed out to the brethren, whom he had been strengthening in the Lord and encouraging to continue in the faith, that it would be "Through many tribulations [that] we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).  

The Greek word used in 1 Peter 4:18 that the KJV translates as "scarcely," in the phrase "scarcely be saved," is shown to also mean "with difficulty" and "with much work," as Strong defines it.  Thayer also gives "with difficulty" as part of the first definition.

Again, as we think in terms of the persecution Christians would undergo, that would be what would be an ordeal.  It would be a difficult thing to undergo, but the heavenly salvation of the righteous would be secure.  

As we saw concerning the Roman besiegement of Jerusalem and its destruction (Matt. 24:21,22), the days of the persecution at that time were shortened so that the righteous could be saved -- not for eternal life (for even death couldn't hinder them from that).  But, rather, as Guy N. Woods writes, as a "physical deliverance from the trials and ordeals of that event. We hence conclude that the salvation of the 'righteous' alluded to by Peter and to be accomplished with such difficulty as to be a matter of wonder was deliverance from complete destruction in the persecution which swept over the world in connection with the destruction of the temple and annihilation of the Jewish state in Jerusalem."

The chapter then concludes by saying in 1 Peter 4:19, "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right."  The ASV says, "commit their souls" for "entrust their souls."

In this, we are reminded of Jesus, while on the cross.  Luke 23:46 declares, "And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.'  Having said this, He breathed His last."

Also in 1 Peter 2:23, "and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously."

And, similarly, with Stephen in Acts 7:59, "They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'"  

Stephen was not merely one who was giving his spirit to God in that final hour, but one who had given his spirit to the Lord when first obeying the gospel.  Now, however, his spirit was to be taken some place apart from the body.  For the body would return to dust, but Stephen's spirit would return to God who gave it (cf. Eccl. 12:7).

It is wonderful to know that God is "a faithful Creator" who will always do "what is right."  But we must also be willing to meet His conditions, in order that we can truly entrust our souls to Him.  If you have not done that yet, but do believe that Jesus is the Christ, then why not repent today (Luke 13:5); acknowledge your faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38); be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), so you can be saved (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21) and risen from baptism to "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3,4).  That will put you into Christ (Gal. 3:26,27), whom we are to then faithfully follow by being loyal to His word.  And what greater blessing can one have on earth than to have all sins blotted out, one's soul entrusted to God, the hope of eternal life, and the Lord's help throughout our earth-life -- and all the way to heaven!  

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;  John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

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