|Topical Bible Study||January 1954|
Know Your Bible—Part XIII
James, I and II Peter
THE epistle of James was written, according to its opening verse, “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” From this we may judge that its message was intended to be especially appropriate for Jewish converts to Christianity, irrespective of the particular tribe of Israel to which they formerly may have been attached. This simple statement also reveals that the Gospel of Christ, even at that early time in the Christian era, had reached representatives of all Israel.
Regardless of the identity of those to whom these epistles may originally have been addressed, the truths which they present are fundamental to the plan of God, and are as appropriate to all Christians today as they were to the small groups to whom they were originally directed. It is still essential to “count it all joy” when we “fall into divers temptations;” it is still true that “the trying of your faith worketh patience;” and it is still important to “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”—ch. 1:2-4
In this opening chapter, James also presents a very revealing lesson on the subject of prayer:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”—vss. 5-7
In the twelfth verse James gives every Christian a wonderful promise, saying, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” The Lord Jesus did make a promise almost identical to this, which reads, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10
It is in this epistle that we read:
“Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”—ch. 1:22-25
In the first nine verses of chapter two James presents a lesson on the evil of showing partiality in the church. He cites as an illustration the case of a rich man and a poor man seeking fellowship in the church, and the possibility that the rich man might be favored above the poor man. This, he points out, would be wrong and unchristian.
Beginning with verse fourteen of this chapter James gives us a lesson on faith, and how it is demonstrated by our works. He tells us that Abraham was not justified by his faith alone, because his faith was demonstrated by his works. James asks, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?”—ch. 2:21
In the opening verses of chapter three, James points out the importance of a Christian’s controlling his tongue as best he can. It is a small but unruly member of the body, he reminds us, and one which no one can fully tame. He says that the tongue is “a world of iniquity,” that it “defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell [Greek, Gehenna].”—vs. 6
Gehenna is used in the Scriptures as a symbol of everlasting death, which is the punishment for all willful sinners who continue to reject the grace of God through Christ. James’ lesson is that the tongue, if allowed to speak evil and engender strife among the brethren, might finally be the cause of its owner suffering this penalty of lasting death.
In verse eleven the reason for this is suggested. While admitting in verse eight that no man can fully “tame” the tongue, yet he asks, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” The thought is that if the tongue continually speaks evil it would indicate a corrupt heart condition. There is always the possibility of erring in word as well as in deed, but if the heart is pure, the general level of our conversation will be high and pure.
The first six verses of chapter five are a prophecy pertaining to the last days, the time of the Presence of the Lord. (vs. 8) James forecast the calamities which were to come upon those who “have heaped treasure together for the last days.” (vs. 3) We are undoubtedly living in the time of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Never has there been such a heaping together of treasure by individuals and by corporations; and never has there been so much fear on the part of the rich concerning the dangers which threaten their riches.
This is not to be taken as a general condemnation of all who possess more riches than they may need. The main value of the prophecy to the Christian is in the fact that it helps to identify the importance of the time in which we are now living. The practical application James made of the prophecy for the benefit of the brethren in his day is, and we quote:
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming [parousia—presence] of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming [parousia—presence] of the Lord draweth nigh.”—vss. 7,8
Thus, even in this epistle which is so predominantly made up of exhortations to faithfulness in Christian living, the apostle reminds the reader of the real incentive to Christian faithfulness, which is the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom. Thus James, even as the other writers of the Bible, keeps before us the great Divine plan, through Christ, for the restoration of mankind through the agencies of Christ’s kingdom. This is the central theme of the entire Bible.
Peter’s First Epistle
This letter, according to Peter’s opening words, was sent to the brethren “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” The groups of brethren in this general territory were brought into being largely through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. It is thought by some that one of Peter’s objectives in writing the letter was to confirm that the Gospel was true and that Paul, although the newest of the apostles, could be depended upon as a special teacher sent from God.
While this may have been in Peter’s mind when writing the epistle, the theme of his letter is definitely of a doctrinal nature and no doubt designed to strengthen the brethren in their endurance of Christian suffering by revealing its relationship to the Messianic cause. To appreciate this we need to recall briefly Peter’s own former experiences by which he was especially equipped to discuss this particular subject.
Peter, more than any of the other apostles, rebelled against the course of his Master in voluntarily surrendering himself to his enemies and allowing them to put him to death without a just cause. He said to Jesus, “Be it far from thee, Lord.” (Matt. 16:22) In the Garden of Gethsemane he drew his sword and undertook to prevent Jesus’ arrest, but was told by his Master to desist, that those who take to the sword shall perish by the sword.—Matt. 26:52
To Peter it seemed altogether wrong that Jesus, who had done no wrong, who had spent his life doing good—comforting the people with the kingdom message, healing the sick and raising the dead—should be arrested and put to death. In the upper room Jesus said to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”—Luke 22:32
Peter was not then fully ‘converted’ and able to understand just how, as Jesus had stated it, one who lost, or gave up his life, would find it. (Matt. 16:25) However, the Holy Spirit revealed this to him, and now, in his first epistle we find him, in harmony with his Master’s special commission, endeavoring to strengthen the brethren along the very line which had presented such a problem to him; namely, suffering for well-doing.
In the opening chapter of the letter Peter lays down the scriptural foundation for his lesson on this topic. He speaks of a great salvation which the prophets foretold but did not comprehend, “searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”—ch. 1:10,11
Yes, as Peter reminds us here, the prophets had foretold the ‘sufferings of Christ,’ and now he understood that Jesus’ voluntary suffering and death were in keeping with this prophetic testimony, and that his death was necessary to redeem the world from Adamic sin and death. Peter also understood something further in connection with those prophecies pertaining to the sufferings of Christ, for he realized now that they also applied to the followers of Jesus.
Jesus had on occasions explained to his disciples that if they would come after him they would have to take up their cross and follow him—into death. (Matt. 16:24) Now Peter understood fully what that invitation implied, and in this epistle seeks to strengthen the brethren to endure the suffering involved in faithfully following in the Master’s footsteps. Note the following excerpts:
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up … sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”—ch. 2:5
“This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”—vss. 19-23
“If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.”—ch. 3:14
“It is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened [made alive] by the Spirit.”—vss. 17,18
“For as much then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.”—ch. 4:1
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy”—vss. 12,13
Thus does Peter make clear the great privilege of suffering with Christ that we might reign with him. It was this that the Holy Spirit had testified through the prophets; that is, the ‘sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.’ This glory to follow the suffering is described by Peter as “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”—ch. 1:4
Peter realized that it would be impossible for any follower of the Master to endure this foretold suffering in his own strength, so he speaks of their being “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (ch. 1:5) He explains also that this trial of our faith is “much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire.”—vs. 7
He speaks of the “appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love.” (vss. 7,8) One of the inspirational powers in the lives of the early Christians was their stedfast hope in the return of Christ. It would be then that the glory to follow their suffering would be revealed. Then Messiah’s kingdom would be established, and they would be associated with him in that dominion which would be from “sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” (Ps. 72:8) It was to strengthen them in this hope that Peter wrote:
“The God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”—ch. 5:10,11
Peter’s Second Epistle
Peter’s second letter also has a principal theme, which is the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom as the great inspirational hope of the Christian. The establishment of Christ’s kingdom implies the overthrow of humanly constituted authority in the earth, the disintegration of Satan’s world, and Peter wrote, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.”—ch 3:11
In the opening chapter Peter outlines ‘what manner of persons’ we ought to be. First, he reminds us of the “exceeding great and precious promises” whereby we are made partakers of the Divine nature, and then adds, “Beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”—ch. 1:4-7
In the ninth verse he explains that if we lack these things we are blind, and “cannot see afar off.” In verses ten and eleven he explains what he means by the ‘afar off’ things, saying, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
In the twelfth verse Peter says, “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.” Thus he reveals the purpose of the letter; namely, to put the brethren in ‘remembrance’ of ‘present truth.’ Evidently Peter was quite old when he penned this letter, and did not expect to live much longer, so he wrote, “I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.” (ch. 1:15) What things? The next verse indicates, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
Here Peter refers to the marvelous experience which he, together with James and John, had with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. He indicates that what he saw there was a foreshadowing of the glory associated with the return of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom, that kingdom into which those who do ‘these things’ shall have an abundant entrance.
It was an exciting experience, proving that the Christian hope in the return of Christ was not a ‘cunningly devised fable[s].’ Even so, Peter explained that we have something more substantial than a vision upon which to base such a glorious hope. He says, “We have the prophetic Word more confirmed, to which you do well, taking heed, (as to a lamp shining in a dark place, till the day dawn, and the Lightbringer may arise,) in your hearts.”—II Pet. 1:19, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott
The ‘day dawn’ is the glorious Millennial morning of promise. Peter indicates that the Lord’s people throughout the age, by watching the “sure word of prophecy” and its fulfillment, would know in their hearts very early in that morning that the time for the kingdom was at hand, that the “day star” (King James Version) would arise.
The second chapter of the letter is concerned mostly with the fact that false prophets would plague the church throughout the age. This is in keeping with other prophecies of both the Old and New Testaments. The prophetic picture for almost the entire age is one of apostasy. The fulfillment of these prophecies resulted in the Dark Ages, and an almost complete loss of the simplicity, spirit, and teachings of the Early Church.
In the third chapter Peter returns to the main theme of the letter, saying, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”—ch. 3:1,2
Peter then explains that there would come “scoffers” in the “last days,” saying, “Where is the promise [evidence] of his coming [parousia—presence]? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (vss. 3,4) In Acts 3:19-21, Peter informs us that all God’s holy prophets had foretold that, following the return of Christ, there would come “times of restitution of all things.” This testimony of the prophets was given to the ‘fathers’ of Israel, but the scoffers say, the fathers to whom these promises were made have died, centuries have passed, and there has been no change.
Peter then replies to these critics. He reminds them of Jesus’ prophecy that conditions on the earth at the time of his return and early presence would be as they were in the days of Noah. Peter reminds the reader that a ‘world’ was destroyed in the Deluge. Continuing his lesson, he points out that at the end of the present Gospel Age there would be the destruction of another world, and that this would result from the Master’s return.
“Nevertheless,” Peter adds, “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (vs. 13) Peter is saying that the main object of Christ’s return, and his thousand-year presence, is not the destruction of the earth, but the establishment of a new and righteous world, a world in which the promised ‘restitution of all things’ will be realized.
In this chapter various symbols are used such as ‘heavens,’ ‘earth,’ and ‘fire.’ These are Bible symbolisms. Heavens and earth, as used by Peter, symbolize the spiritual and material aspects of a social order here on earth, called in the Bible a ‘world.’ Thus a world came to an end at the time of the Flood. Another world is destroyed at the return of Christ, and his kingdom will be the third world.—vss. 6-13
There is much evidence that the “present evil world” (Gal. 1:4), as Paul described it, is even now coming to an end. This makes Peter’s question, “What manner of persons ought ye to be?” a very vital one. (II Pet. 3:11) The realization that the kingdom is so near should cause every Christian, more than ever, to give ‘all diligence’ to make his ‘calling and election sure.’Go to Part XIV