1 Peter 1:3 and the Scope of Christ’s Resurrection

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (NRSV).

In the midst of talks about ‘the finished work of Christ,’ some today are going beyond what is written, asserting that all humanity rose and ascended with Christ. While there is no reference anywhere in the New Testament that says ‘all rose’, such absences of Scriptural support matters very little to those who want the scope of Christ’s resurrection and ascension to comprehend all humanity. Yet that does not mean they do not appeal to Scripture at all. Driven by an earnest longing and such a deep yearning for their belief to be true, they sometimes appeal to 1 Peter 1:3 which says “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (NRSV). With premature excitement and naive celebration, they claim Peter, indeed, teaches that all humanity was raised through Christ’s resurrection. They conclude the cosmos was reborn, apart from hearing the word of God or obedience to the truth since Peter omits the proclamation of and obedience to the gospel. All were included in Christ’s resurrection apart from hearing the gospel and personal faith in Christ. Unfortunately, their jubilee is groundless and when this verse is read in context, it is immediately clear their exhilaration is built on sand.

Firstly, we must look at who is said to be born anew. Who are the ‘us’ that have been given a ‘new birth to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?’ Verse 1:2 answers this, indicating that the ‘us’ in 1:3 refers to “those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (NASB). These are the ones that Peter is addressing and has in mind. They are beneficiaries of the new birth, through Christ’s resurrection and are contrasted from others who ‘do not believe’ (2:7) and ‘stumble because they disobey the word’ (2:8), from who malign them as evildoers (2:12), from others who ‘who demands from them an accounting for the hope that is in them’ (3:15), and from others who were surprised Peter’s audience no longer joins them in their way of life and malign them over it (4:3-4). A last and final distinction between those were given a new birth from others comes to full culmination toward the end of Peter’s letter: “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (4:17). In the next verse (4:18), he then quotes the LXX version of Proverbs 11:31 and applies it to the situation his readers find themselves in “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?” As if that is not enough, Peter even makes a distinction between those God gives grace to and those whom He opposes (5:5). Far from thinking all were raised with Christ and the whole human race was born again the moment He rose from the dead, Peter’s wider context of this plainly denies this. So if Peter is not saying that the entire cosmos was born again when Christ rose again, what is Peter saying?

Instead of thinking that all rose through the resurrection, what Peter is actually saying is that prior to that event, no one was ever born again. F.F. Bruce concurs, saying “Regeneration, or being born again, is not an OT idea, although the Jews at times came close to it” (50). If this was not an Old Testament idea, where did this idea, the new birth, come from? According to Peter, it was “through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (1:3). J. Ramsey Michaels elaborates, saying, “The redemptive act by which God has brought about new birth for a new people is finally made explicit as the resurrection of Jesus” (19). What this means, then, is that both the idea and the phenomenon of the ‘new birth’ was something that appeared after Christ’s resurrection, not that all humanity was regenerated through that event. The introduction of a new kind of life appeared on earth and was made available to the world through the resurrection of Christ. Peter is saying that new birth is the achievement of the resurrection of Christ, not that the entire world was born again through His resurrection.

Absence of Faith is Evidence of Absence?
Secondly, some have rushed to believe that the new birth took place when Christ rose from the grave apart from the preaching of the gospel and our response to it. This is because 1:3 completely omits those elements. While it is true no mention of gospel preaching or personal faith is mentioned here, Karen H. Jobes points out that this is not the only place Peter uses the word for ‘given new birth.’ She says “the Greek word translated as ‘given new birth’(NRSV), “is the articular masculine participle of ἀναγεννάω, (anagennaō), a verb that does not occur in other books of the NT or the Greek OT. It is found only one other place, in 1:23” (82). That Peter uses the verb twice and is the only one to use it shows that he has the same event in mind in both places and is referring to one, not two, events. So while Peter does not mention any reference to hearing the gospel or believing in 1:3, he soon resumes his ‘rebirth’ imagery in 1:23 where he uses the verb again. Only this time, just before he uses the verb again he tells the recipients of his letter that “you have purified their souls by your obedience to the truth through the Spirit” (v. 1:22) and then explains, telling them they ἀναγεγεννημένοι (anagegennēmenoi) ‘have been born anew’ “of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God” (v. 1:23). Though no reference to hearing the gospel and obeying the truth is mentioned in 1:3, these elements are mentioned in 1:23. Why would Peter omit them in 1:3, but include them in 1:23? 1:3 is part of a eulogy which is observable by how Peter opens up with ‘blessed be God…’ This explains why Peter chose not to mention the proclamation of and obedience to the gospel at first. By omitting them there, he could solely bestow honor and glory upon God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in what is stylistically typical of benedictions in his time. In doing so, Peter heralds the achievement of what Christ’s resurrection brought into human history—the new birth. For the first time ever, resurrection life could be shared with others and experienced individually. Nevertheless, as he gets further in his letter he does put obedience to the truth by the Spirit and hearing the proclamation of the gospel in the context of being born anew. Far from being born again when Christ rose from the dead, Peter’s audience was born anew upon hearing the gospel and obeying the truth through the Spirit, which is what Peter is explaining in 1:22-25.

In conclusion, Peter is not saying all humanity was born again, but is instead writing how God the Father used the resurrection of Christ to introduce the new birth into human history. While 1:3 omits reference to the proclamation of the gospel and obedience to it, this is because of Peter is using a literary feature known as eulogy to praise the redemption of God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter does not think that new birth occurs apart from the proclamation of the gospel and obedience to the truth, so he takes time to mention those aspects in the context of where he mentioned being born anew the second time. If the New Testament teaches ‘all rose’ with Christ, we will have to look elsewhere.

Repentance, Reactions, and Reinhabiting the New Testament

There was a time when the cosmos rejoiced and the heavenlies resounded with the happy noise of celebration, all because one sinner repented (Luke 15:10). Yet today some want to preach a gospel without repentance, while others seek to redefine repentance in such an abstract way that makes it unclear if repentance is oriented towards anything. Those in this group proclaim repentance just means ‘a change of mind,’ but it is unclear what this change of mind concerns. Still others want to make repentance entirely the work of grace apart from the will. Why do some disassociate repentance from the gospel? Why is repentance redefined so abstractly? Why is repentance confused with grace? Perhaps an answer lies in comparing the relatively recent reactions to the doctrine of hell.

There was a time, not long ago, when hell was once used as a manipulative tool to ensure confessions of faith. Hellfire, brimstone, and the raging wrath of God toward sinners consumed more of the preacher’s messages than an unveiling of Christ and Him crucified. At the close of sermons, appeals would be made concerning the final destiny of those under the sound of the preacher’s voice, which went something like this: “if you died today, where would you go, heaven or hell? You can make heaven your home if you turn from your sins and trust in Christ for the salvation He made possible for you.” However, many who were tender to the voice of Jesus and began to see that Christ and Him crucified was not central to this approach. As a result, they began to shy away from that and distanced themselves from mentioning hell, while others stopped preaching about it entirely. This was a reactionary move, and at the end of the day hell remains referenced throughout the meta-narrative of Scripture. While many have backed off from hell,  N.T. Wright says that if we are to move beyond this reaction, we must “re-inhabit what the New Testament is actually talking about.” Now comparatively speaking, many have made the same kind of reaction concerning repentance. Since so many have spent too much time preaching repentance, only to give Christ and Him crucified the little time that remains, that people have thought they must grovel in the dust crying and weeping, until God gives comfort. All of this has led to anxiety over the genuineness of our repentance, chronic introspection, rule keeping, and judgmental attitudes towards those whose repentance show visible signs that not match the intensity of ours. This is the surrounding context behind the reactions towards repentance but if we are to be mature and have a robust theology of repentance, we must do with repentance what N.T. Wright said must be done with hell “re-inhabit what the New Testament is actually talking about.”

When we look in the New Testament, repentance is said to be a foundational doctrine (Heb 6) and the inscription or seal to a solid foundation of God: “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness’.” (2 Timothy 2:9). Calling on the name of the Lord is the salvific confession as per Romans 10:9, and here it is to be accompanied with turning away from wickedness. One translation renders it “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (NKJV). This is repentance, and it is clearly a change of mind in reference to wickedness or iniquity. Of course it is through grace that we repent (2 Tim 2:25) just as it is through grace that we believe (Acts 18:27). Yet this stream of grace should not be confused with the grace of the benefits of the finished work of Christ. This ‘grace’ is a sanctifying grace, is distinct from prevenient grace, and is none other than the inheritance of the first-born, something he shares only with His brothers and sisters. This grace is given upon conversion and repentance is required to receive this grace. When Paul tells Agrippa of his conversion, he recounts the words that Jesus spoke to him, that he will be sent to Jews and Gentiles, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:18). Petterson observes that “turning is closely linked to repentance (v. 20, metanoein kai epistrephein, ‘repent and turn’). Both terms describe a regular aspect of Paul’s preaching (14:15; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; cf. 1 Thes. 1:9-10).” Repentance and turning lead to receiving forgiveness of sins and sanctiying grace.

While it is true that the prevenient grace of God moves man’s heart to repent and could rightly be said to be a gift, this is not to say that we are entirely passive in repentance and faith. This is made abundantly evident in Jesus’ post-resurrection dealings a woman referred to as ‘Jezebel.’ Through her influence and false teachings, she was seducing the church at Thyatira to engage in sexual immorality and idolatry. Consequently, Jesus said “I gave her time to repent, but she refused to repent of her fornication” (Rev 2:21). This passage shows two things. First, it is another example where repentance is orientated towards sin, which is to say, repentance is a change of mind about sin (i.e. sexual immorality and idolatry.) Second, repentance is not contingent on the grace of God alone. It is not unilaterally granted by God apart from the will. As Robert Shank so intelligently explains, “if repentance hinges on the decision of God alone, if man repents only as a consequence of a special immediate act of God, we are left to wonder why Christ gave Jezebel opportunity to repent without giving her repentance. If her failure to repent was the consequence of His own decision, in what sense did He give her opportunity to repent? If He did not choose for her to repent, why did He do something directed toward repentance? If He did something directed toward repentance, why did He not do everything needed? If the repentance of Jezebel and His servants hinged on His own decision rather than theirs, where is any sincerity in His warning of dire consequences to come ‘except ye repent’? No logic, no reason, no sensible meaning can be found in the text if it be denied that there is latitude in the will of God and that man’s agency and responsibility to repent are authentic rather than artificial, imaginary and symbolic, as monergism insists.”

Multitudes, after receiving spiritual enlightenment concerning an aspect of Christ, tend to form opinions and conclusions on what the Scriptures does and does not say outside of their enlightened truth, instead of consulting the Scriptures and waiting on the Spirit to inform their understanding in other areas. When this happens, they are pridefully putting themselves on par with the authority of the Word and the Spirit instead of humbly submitting to the Word and Spirit. In this case, it is moving forward from an illumination of grace by the Spirit to an attempt to form opinions and conclusions concerning what repentance can and cannot mean, without “re-inhabiting what the New Testament is actually talking about.” I pray we stop extrapolating opinions and conclusions from our own reasoning and logic in areas the lie outside the truth that has been enlightened in our hearts, and begin to take a posture of humility to first test our extrapolations with Scripture.

The Message of Reconciliation

that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

I think we should understand how it should first be understood. We need to understand what the Apostle Paul is saying, before we can delineate from what Paul is not saying. So here is a short treatment on what Paul is saying. As a preliminary thought, if we truly love the truth and approach it with an attitude of meekness and humility, we will be open to all of what the authors of Scripture teach. Many are great champions of one aspect of Paul’s teaching, yet overlook other aspects or outright dismiss them as it would put tension between the one aspect they so centralize. This is why Robert Walker concludes, saying “If we cannot understand how scripture holds together certain things which we find difficult (such as the unconditional love and forgiveness of God for all, the finished work of Christ, the gospel imperative to repent and believe, and the fact that some refuse and are judged by the very gospel that offers them life) then it is not open to us to resolve the tension through a man-made logical schema which emphasizes some elements at the expense of others.” This is exactly what some do with 2 Cor 5:18-20. That being said, here is what I make of that passage.

Humanity, through being mindful of the things of humanity and setting their mind on the things of their flesh, has formed a worldly mind that is hostile towards God. This hostility is expressed through evil deeds done towards one another and towards God. Yet while we were at war through our ungodliness and were still helpless, yes, in the very moment of disobeying His loving will, God demonstrated his own love for us by sending His Son into the World. While we were helpless, God gave His Son who sacrificed Himself for us. God was present in the life of Jesus. He did not wait for the world to initiate reconciliation, but initiated reconciliation with the world Himself. The scope of reconciliation comprehends the world. By God making the Son, who formerly knew no sin to be sin, that is, a sin offering through becoming what we were as sinners, dying as our representative, he was not imputing mans sins against them. This means that through the sacrifice of the Son, He has made a truce with humanity, the same humanity that is said to have made themselves his enemies. In His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness. Through the vicarious work of the Son, a truce has been made, grounds of peace have been provided, and reconciliation, in principle, has been accomplished. As a result, the church has been given the ministry of reconciliation. This is where Paul says, “we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (vs 20).

The reconciliation God accomplished with the world is not something that Paul thought was abstract. The life that is in the message of reconciliation is intended to be embodied, transforming enemies into living no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again, essentially turning them into messengers of reconciliation. Paul was so moved by this message that he endured great suffering in taking it throughout the Mediterranean world. Craig Keener, on 2 Cor 5:18-20, surmises that “although Paul writes in 5:19 that God in principle reconciled the world to himself in Christ (who died for all, 5:14-15; cf. Ps 32:2 in Rom 4:8), the world has not yet become completely a new creation (5:17). The principle is effected through the apostolic ministry of reconciliation, hence is available only to those who accept the message and its agents (5:17-20). Christ’s agents bring the good news of peace offered by the divine benefactor (Is 52:7; Eph 6:15, 19-20).” Because God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, nothing they have done will prevent them from entering into a relationship with the One True God and receiving eternal life. Therefore, Paul says to them in his proclamation of the gospel, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). On that day, according to Paul’s gospel, God will judge the secrets of man by Jesus Christ (Rom 2:6). Karkkainen exclaims, “the missionary proclamation of the gospel is needed to mediate the benefits of the finished work of Christ to men and women” so “one has to formulate the integral connection between the finished work of Christ and the mandate of proclaiming the message of the gospel of reconciliation–most profoundly evidenced in Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians–carefully. On the one hand, we must correct the one-sided emphasis on the nature of atonement as finished work in a way that makes human response meaningless; on the other hand, we have to critique also views in which the work of atonement will be completed only with the human response to the proclamation.” Steve McVey, C. Kruger Baxter, and John Crowder are guilty of a one sided emphasis of the reconciliation that makes human response meaningless, while others are guilty of not emphasizing the reconciliation enough.

So what happens if man refuses the good news of the finished work of Christ? Torrance concludes that “God does not withhold himself from any one, but he gives himself to all whether they will or not—even if they will not have him, he gives himself to them, for he has once and for all given himself, and therefore the giving of himself in the cross when opposed by the will of man inevitably opposes that will of man and is its judgement. As we saw, it is the positive will of God in loving humanity that becomes humanity’s judgement when they refuse it.”

The Image Revealed

Instead of looking at a modern world whom is rejecting Jesus speculatively because He is not being presented as graceful, merciful, and inclusive to the extent we think He is, why not look to the ancient world Jesus found Himself in and in which He was situated in via incarnation. To explain this phenomenon, we can form a theory that if we only present a perfect representation of Christ, others will be irresistibly drawn to Him. Yet when we explore the interactions Jesus had with others in real history, not everyone did, in fact, come to Him and believe. This is not due to any fault on His end. He did not accommodate their expectations and be who they wanted Him to be, so that they would follow Him. He did not bend to their preferences, but remained “The Image” of the invisible God–yet one betrayed Him, another struggled to openly confess Him during His arrest while the other disciples fled, many turned back and no longer went about with him, some remained in unbelief, others rejected Him, and still others crucified Him–the light of the world. Why would this be the case if ‘The Image’ took on flesh and dwelled among men and woman, where they could finally see a true and complete picture of God, free from distortions and fabrications? Anticipating this question from His disciples, he gives an insightful answer in John 3:17-21 and in 7:7. I only ask, why would we expect it to be any different centuries later, especially since our ability to reveal Jesus through communicating our understanding of Him falls short of Jesus’ ability to reveal Himself to those in His world?

The Foundation of God’s Throne: Love or Righteousnes?

Multitudes today are saying that God’s throne is not founded on justice, but relationship/love, patterned after the Trinitarian love of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. However, if we go back to the Psalms we find the Psalmist speaking to God, saying, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14 ESV). Now we might be tempted to say we must reinterpret that through the eyes of the new covenant and finished work of Christ and say something like, that’s no longer true, or it was never true, but was only a shadow. However, in the New Testament we find the author of Hebrews narrating part of a monologue between the Father to the Son. Quoting Psalm 45:6-7 and applying it after to the Father’s coronation and subsequent enthronement of His Son, the author writes “Your throne, O God, isforever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of yourkingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Heb 1:8).  Focusing on 8b, we must ask, what is a scepter? Kistemaker notes that “the king holds in his hand a sceptor, which symbolizes royal authority. The king can hold out a scepter to invite someone to approach his throne, or he can sway his scepter to demand silence. By means of this instrument the king rules. How does the king execute his rule? Justly!” (44). “Righteousness, uprightness,” is a synonym of _____ in v. 9, as in Pss. 8:9, 11:8, and is particularly associated with judgment, for example in Pss. 67:4; 75:2; 96:10. “The sceptre of uprightness” is a Hebraism for “the upright sceptre”; in nonmetaphorical language, “just rule.”(citation needed).
Being that this scepter, a symbol of authority,  is a scepter of righteousness, the authority for the Righteous One,  Jesus Christ our Lord, is grounded not in love, but righteousness. What we have here is but a commentary of the reality that “God is light and in Him is no darkness.” (1 John 1:5). Just as love is mentioned immediately after righteousness in the Psalm, so also is love mentioned immediately after righteousness in Heb 1:8. Only here, it is not some unqualified and undefined ‘love.’ The author does not leave it in the hands of interpreters to read whatever concept of ‘love’ they prefer and are most comfortable with into his letter. Instead, vs 9 says “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.” This King, who rules is righteousness, loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. As a result, “the Father has anointed Him with the oil of gladness more than His companions.” (vs 10). Now observe the professed ‘intoxication’ of love in these circles leading to a form of joy and gladness. What you are seeing is not truly of the Holy Spirit, nor is it of the kingdom of God which is said to be described as ‘righteousness’ and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Instead, this is a supernatural joy wrought by the wiles of the devil, solidifying deception through the fiery darts of a counterfeit happiness. Let us not forgot that the throne of grace (Heb 4:16) is also said to be a throne of righteousness and justice (Heb 1:8).

The Primeval Deception of False Union with God

The ancient, primeval story speaks volumes to humanity, and has from ancient times, throughout the centuries, even until today. God told the first couple, newly created from the dust of the earth, that all of the trees in the garden were theirs to eat freely, except one. This tree was off limits, and God says “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Gen 2:17). Yet a usurper, cunning and crafty in his ability to twist truth and reframe what God said from alternative perspectives, says to Eve “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). When approached by God,  Eve said “the serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13), a deception that the Apostle Paul concurred had truly taken place (2 Cor 11:3). The same serpent continues to deceive today: “You will not surely die.”  Hence, the real satanism is any religion that says you can eat from the tree God says is off limits and you will not surely die, be alienated, estranged, or separated from God. This is why Paul repeatedly and emphatically says, “do not be deceived” (1 Cor 6:9, 15:33, Gal 6:7), an admonishment echoed by even the Apostle James: (James 1:18). Paul warned of a forthcoming time when a lawless one would appear “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess 2:9-12). 

The Function and Place of Pastors in the Local Church

a pastor is “one who cares for his or her flock as a shepherd cares for his or her sheep. This would include ministering to troubled saints, exhorting and comforting all believers, and administering the activities in the local assembly…Shepherding includes instruction but probably is mostly concerned with administration and various ministries to the flock.”

Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: an Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002), pp. 544,545.