Part 1: Introduction | Part 2: Growth | Part 3: Sacrifice
Peter turns now to a deeper meditation on what God has done to us, and for us. He writes,
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1P 2.9).
There’s a lot to consider here.
Peter has listed 4 different labels, we might say, delineating 4 statuses that God has bestowed on his people. Each one of them is worth a look.
- We’re a chosen generation.
- Some modern translations ues the word race or people. I don’t much use the word race anymore, because it doesn’t have any agreed-upon meaning among sociologists and thus doesn’t typically contribute any clarity to a conversation. The Greek word here is genos, which speaks essentially of a group of relatives, large or small, or of beings with a shared characteristic or interest. It’s the word Moses uses in Genesis (in the Greek translation, at least) that’s translated “kind” in the creation account.
- So what’s Peter saying? God has chosen us, His people, to be of a certain kind, distinct from others, but united by his choice. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that he didn’t choose us because we were inherently different from others; it is our relationship to him that has now distinguished us.
- We’re a royal priesthood.
- We should note here that in Israel it was impossible for one person to be both a king and a priest. The king had to be from the tribe of Judah, and the priests had to be from Levi, and specifically from Aaron. Even Jesus was not qualified to be an Aaronic priest—and so the author of Hebrews notes that he was appointed by the Father to be a priest in a different order, that of Melchizedek—which, as the author notes, is a superior order to that of Levi (He 7.1-17).
- So it is a special privilege for us, like our elder brother Christ, to be both kings and priests.
- We’re a peculiar people.
- I’m using the familiar wording of the KJV here, but we all know that with the changes in the English language since 1611, peculiar doesn’t mean what it once did, with the result that this expression is, well, peculiar. The modern versions have mostly settled on the expression “a people for his own possession”; we might say “his own private property.”
- So we belong especially to God. We are set aside for his enjoyment and use. He delights in us the way someone delights in his boat, say, or in his coin collection—but in fact far more than that, because his delights are greater than ours, and perfect.
- We’re a holy nation.
- This phrase combines a couple of earlier concepts. Holy speaks of the same kind of setting-apart that peculiar does, while nation speaks of the same kind of common identity that generation does.
- But I think nation (ethnos) might carry a connotation a little different from genos. For one thing, I note that in Israel, the term was used for “the nations”—that is to say, the Gentiles. To Peter’s Jewish readers—and probably to Peter himself—this would have been a little uncomfortable at least. Is Peter saying that God is making a new nation, distinct from Israel? It would seem so. The ramifications of that concept have led to a good many theological arguments, which we won’t take time for here.
God has changed our status in all these ways—for what? Peter isolates a single purpose: “that we should show forth the praises of him.” NASB and ESV say “proclaim the excellencies.” Now, this isn’t saying that we ourselves should praise him, so much as that we should speak and live in such a way that others are moved to praise him. The excellencies of how he has changed us should incite wonder and worship in those who see us.
That’s a complete turnaround from the way Peter was thinking in the high priest’s palace. And it’s a radical change for us as well.
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash