“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:1-2).
My desire is to begin blogging all the way through the book of 1 Peter. This is a precious book to me because Peter wrote it as a letter to all of the strangers who had been “scattered” throughout the world, yet were now “chosen” in Jesus Christ. I am part of this number!
Furthermore, Peter writes this book to tell them how to have grace and peace in abundance. Is there anything more needed in this culture?
So I intended to write on 1 Peter 1:1-2 this week. However, I just can’t get past verse 1, where Peter addresses his letter to the “strangers in the world, scattered.” The more I dug into just who these people were, the more I saw that this is a history lesson that ends with you and me! Bear with me as we step into the classroom a moment…
Who Were These Strangers?
Peter probably wrote this letter sometime around the persecution of Nero in A.D. 64. He sent it to the believers who were living in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.”
So who were all these people? How did they get the gospel? You’d think it would be an easy answer, but I discovered that no one is quite sure. Some of the theories include:
- They were persecuted believers who fled the land of Israel after the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7. Shortly into his letter, Peter does start talking about how to bear up under persecution (see 1 Peter 1:6-7). But I’m not sure these believers got here because of persecution. For instance, Acts 8:1 says that after Stephen’s martyrdom, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” But this is quite a ways from “Judea and Samaria.” Hmmm… who are they?
- These were Jews (from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin). As we’ll see, there are a lot of references to the laws of Moses throughout the letter Peter wrote, so it seems like he thinks his audience is familiar with Judaism. Hmmm… could be.
- These were from the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. You see, Israel is a lot bigger than just the Jews, or just the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. It is actually composed of twelve tribes. The northern ten tribes separated from Judah shortly after the reign of Solomon, and their king Jereboam led them astray from the worship of YHWH into a similar form of worship that incorporated the pagan idolatry of the nations around them into the worship of the one true God. Of course, this was very sinful, and God promised to punish them. Indeed, 700 years before Christ, the Assyrian army removed the ten, northern tribes of Israel from their land. A few returned, but most were scattered throughout the world, including into this area of Asia Minor. Hmmm… could be.
- Some say they weren’t Israelites or Jews, but simply Gentile believers in Jesus. I’m not sure. As I mentioned, there are a lot of references to the laws of Moses throughout the letter Peter wrote, with which his audience seems to be familiar. But hey, I’m a Gentile, and I’ve been taught much about the Old Testament (the “Scriptures”) throughout my years in church. There is nothing to say that these Gentiles couldn’t have been well taught and grounded in the Scriptures as well. Hmmm… could be.
- Some say these were proselytes to Judaism who heard about the Messiah and believed on him when Peter preached in Acts 2. This could be, because Acts 2 says the listeners were “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9-11). Early historians record that Peter later visited Asia Minor and established churches there. It only makes sense that he would want to write a letter to them. Hmmm… seems likely.
It seems highly probable that all of these theories hold some truth. While we know that Paul was an apostle (or missionary) to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13), Peter was chiefly a missionary to the Jews. Early historians affirm that all twelve of the Apostles (plus Paul) were diligent in obeying Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and that by the time of Constantine, it seems the gospel had actually traveled to all seven continents! As the book of Revelation states, what started with a few from each of the twelve tribes of Israel has grown and multiplied until the Elect of God are “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).
The word “scattered” in 1 Peter 1:1 is the Greek word diaspora. Strong’s defines this word as “specifically and concretely the converted Israelites resident in Gentile countries.” This verse could translate diaspora as “The Scattered,” rather than just “scattered,” to refer to a specific group of people.
Everyone knew who Peter was talking to!
You know, those guys…
The Jews who had returned to the homeland of Israel probably talked about them with whispered voices. They were the Diaspora, the scattered ones, the ones who had never returned. They were living out in the world. With the Gentiles. Among the heathen.
Yeah, those guys…
Some of them would return to Israel occasionally to celebrate the Feasts. They probably didn’t come three times a year like the Law required, but hey, it was a long journey. But some of them did attempt to convert back to the old ways, to follow the laws of Moses.
That’s why some of them would have been in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, that day that Peter was filled with the Spirit and got up and preached. That was the day he called out,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
These people had accepted his message and been baptized. But they would have also returned to their Greek-speaking towns, to their pagan cultures. They might be believers in the Messiah and trying to walk in obedience to His Word, but they were still diaspora. They were still “scattered.”
Why Were They Scattered?
So if they were the diaspora, from either the Assyrian or Babylonian captivities, then why had those Israelites been scattered in the first place? Why had only ten percent or so ever been brought back to the Land after the captivity?
Because God must fulfill His Word. (This is a good principle to know!)
“He remembers his covenant forever,
the word he commanded, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac” (Psalm 105:8-9).
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
God always, always keeps His promises. His promises include blessings. His promises also include curses. We don’t hear about those too often!
But God had made a promise to the twelve tribes of Israel, way back at Sinai when He gave them His Ten Commandments.
“When Moses went and told the people all YHWH’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything YHWH has said we will do.’
Moses then wrote down everything YHWH had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to YHWH. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything YHWH has said; we will obey.’
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that YHWH has made with you in accordance with all these words'” (Exodus 24:3-8).
Do you see it? The people made a covenant with God, and He made a covenant with them. It was sealed in blood. Moses even had a “Book of the Covenant,” where all the terms and conditions were laid out in black and white.
The Covenant was made up of “if then” statements, which we can read more of in Leviticus 26 and the final chapters of Deuteronomy. God promised the twelve tribes,
If “you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,” then “I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.
“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.
“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:4-12).
However, God continued with a second “if then” statement:
“But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you” (Leviticus 26:14-17).
Sadly, the chapter continues with many, many more curses, all which would happen if Israel would not listen to YHWH and carry out His commands, and if they rejected His decrees, abhorred His laws, and failed to carry out all His commands — and so violated His covenant.
“I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins” (Leviticus 26:31-33).
This promise, which God is bound by His very nature to keep, is repeated numerous times:
“YHWH will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which YHWH will drive you” (Deuteronomy 4:27).
“Then YHWH will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other” (Deuteronomy 28:64).
“All the nations will ask: ‘Why has YHWH done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?’
And the answer will be: ‘It is because this people abandoned the covenant of YHWH, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore YHWH’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath YHWH uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now” (Deuteronomy 29:24-28).
And so it came true, as God’s promises always do. First the northern ten tribes of Israel, and then the southern tribes of Judah, were scattered among all nations of the earth. They were scattered like dandelion seeds, most never to be found again.
Why This Matters
The thought that keeps coming to me is how profoundly God always keeps His Word. We are quick to claim the “nice” promises, and we’re quick to skim over the curses.
But His Word stands eternal. What He says He will do. We need to have a healthy respect for that.
The second thought is how marvelous His grace is! Do you remember why Peter said he wrote this letter? Because He wanted to tell them how to have “grace and peace in abundance” (1 Peter 1:2).
Oh, the grace of God, because even though He was bound by His own word to scatter His people if they disobeyed Him, and even though in His infinite wisdom He surely knew the future and that they would disobey, He had a plan to use them to redeem all mankind!
He remembered His covenant with them for a thousand generations!
Peter’s message is the same in his letter to the scattered believers as it was way back on Pentecost:
“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).
The prophet Isaiah foretold this day when he wrote,
“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:19-20).
And Paul writes,
“In this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
‘The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.‘
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:26-32).
And it makes Paul want to break out into song. Makes me want to sing, too! For if the gospel had never gone out by the early apostles, taken to the four winds as it were, I would never have heard. I would never have known that God wants to have mercy on me, too!
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).