Thursday, 19 December 2019
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 1 Peter 5:1
Peter now begins the final chapter of the epistle with an exhortation to the leadership. Remember that he is writing to “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1:1). Therefore, his words are being addressed to leadership throughout these regions. How many individual congregations are addressed is unknown, but the number is less important than that he is writing to them all. As the epistle is now in Scripture, the exhortation continues to all congregations.
Understanding this, he says, “The elders who are among you I exhort.” The word “elders” generally speaks of those who are older in years, but from that comes the idea of one who is seasoned in judgment. And so, the expression signifies one who is wise and thus worthy of leadership. Because of what he says in the coming verses, it is obviously referring to those considered as leaders of each congregation. Further, these leadership positions are restricted to the masculine only, as is consistent throughout the New Testament.
From there, he says, “I who am a fellow elder.” Peter does not place himself above these men at all. Rather, the word he uses, and which is found only here in the New Testament, signifies one who is on the same level of authority as those he is writing to. This argues against any notion of primacy which is later imposed on the person of Peter by Roman Catholicism. It is true that he is writing in an authoritative manner, but that is from a position of experience, not specifically positional authority – as is evidenced by the word he uses here.
In support of that, he then says, “and a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” In the Greek, there is an article before “Christ.” A literal rendering would be “of the sufferings of the Christ.” Peter is making a point that the Head of the faith, in His position as the Head, suffered for His flock. He wants them to fully grasp the significance of this point.
Further, Peter has an experiential knowledge of the Person and work of the Lord. As he says, he is a “witness” to what Christ endured. The word is martus, literally translated as “martyr.” Its use is more than having seen as bystander beholding events, but as one who was then to bear witness to what he saw.
In the law, a witness confirmed a fact, such as in a trial. If that person was a false-witness, then the same penalty that would have been imposed upon the accused would fall upon him. In this, there is the sense that the witness bears the responsibility of faithful testimony – even to his own harm. Thus, a witness, or martyr, must be willing to hold fast to his confession, even when it means that he will suffer for it.
In his witness, he is in a position to express what is intended by the Lord for doctrine and conduct. He was called by Christ, was with Him throughout His ministry, and saw all that he had endured through it, even to the end where the sufferings took on the full and final purpose of atoning for sin in a substitutionary manner – Christ died for His flock (as will be noted by Peter in his words to come).
The obvious thought, then, is that Peter is setting a baseline for the elders he is writing to. “The Christ was faithful to us. I am faithfully conveying what I know about this. Now, it is your turn to be faithful in your witness, carrying this knowledge on to those you lead.”
Finally, the verse finishes with, “and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.” If Christ’s suffering and death was all there was, it would be a great story to tell others, but it would have no personal meaning beyond the act itself, except for the few that were personally connected to the event. However, Christ didn’t merely suffer and die. He did so for all others, and then He rose again in glory – for all others.
The event takes on a universal significance. Any and all who desire to partake of the glory that will be revealed may do so because of the glory that was revealed. Peter’s words shout out, “I may die (be a martyr) for my witness, but there is a glory which lies ahead for me. I am already a partaker of it, even if it is not yet fully realized. You too have this same hope. As a partaker along with me, you are to now hold fast to it and be a witness (a martyr) for what you know is true as well!”
It is a beautiful expression of Peter’s desire that the truth of Christ be properly conveyed through living and continued testimony. Christ has prevailed! You too are to stand fast in your witness of this fact!
Life application: The Roman Catholic Church has held for eons that Peter was the first pope, and that since him there has been a line of succession leading down to the current day. They claim the title and right to their authority because of this. However, this is nowhere indicated in Scripture, and just the opposite is true. Peter was one of a crowd of elders, fallible and completely dependent on his Lord.
Secondly, Peter is termed in Galatians 2:8 as the “apostle to the circumcision” (meaning the Jews). Four times it is Paul who is called the apostle or teacher to the gentiles. As the modern church is made up of a vast majority of gentile believers, the reasoning given for Peter being their first pope is faulty.
Thirdly, it was James – the Lord’s brother, who was the recorded leader of the early church. This is documented in Acts 15 and is quite clear in its content. Having set aside this notion, we read here his exhortation.
Peter speaks to these fellow elders and reinforces their faith by stating that he was a personal witness to the sufferings of Christ. They are walking by faith and not by sight, whereas Peter actually has sight added to his walk. This was a valuable assurance, and it remains so today. Because of Peter’s witness of both the sufferings and then of the resurrection of Jesus, he can now – with complete confidence – tell his fellow elders of the glory that will be revealed. The Lord rose! The Lord is victorious! The promises of the Lord are completely reliable! Peter went to his death at the hands of the Romans for what he knew to be true.
Lord God, what a blessed assurance we possess in Christ Jesus! We have the written testimony of His sufferings from first-hand witnesses. They, in turn, were corroborated by other witnesses. And down through the ages, the line of truth has remained because of the word we have been given. We can, with full assurance, call on Jesus as Lord. Because of this, we will be partakers of the glory to come! Amen.