Reading: 1 Peter 4:10-11
It’s impossible to read Peter’s doctrinal and dynamic epistle and not be struck by the fact that he sought to encourage, comfort, and minister to believers who were going through a time of incredible suffering! This letter was written in and around that period in history when Christians were particularly hated.
During the reign of the Emperor Nero, things became almost intolerable for the followers of Christ. Nero has been described as a “monster of wickedness and one of the vilest men ever to occupy a throne.” He is probably best remembered as the man “who fiddled while Rome burned.” But there is much more to his callousness than that. That great fire that almost destroyed Rome broke out in 64 AD and Nero was immediately suspected of causing it. But when anger started to mount against him and people started to lay the blame at his feet, he looked for a scapegoat. He chose the Christians. They were already a despised people and therefore they were an easy target and an easy option.
As Nero’s persecution of Christians increased, many of them were made to wear animal skins and were then torn to pieces by dogs. Some were smothered in oil and set on fire to serve as light for his garden parties. Others were nailed to crosses and many of them were simply done to death to please the emperor. One Roman historian acknowledges that the charges against the Christians were outrageously false, and that they were “destroyed not for the public good, but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.” Those were brutal times. It wasn’t safe to be a Christian. They were treated with bitter contempt.
It was against that backdrop that Peter spoke to these believers of the fiery trial which was happening to them. When Peter spoke on this subject he did so with a shepherd’s heart. In verse 12 he addressed them as “beloved.” There is no doubt that the word means that they were loved by God. Although hated by the world they were precious in God’s sight. They were His children and He loved them with an everlasting love. This is still true of God’s people today. He delights in His children. We may be persecuted by the world but we remain precious to God.
A holy submission to God is now become a stranger and a rare thing in the country amongst us. I cannot stay to speak upon the nature of this kind of submission, but I will tell you in a word what it is; it is taking well with the providential dispensations of God, because He alone has done it, and if ye cannot see through them ye hope against hope that God will bring good out of these. And if submission is to be entertained it will make the soul triumph and rejoice in persecution. (Richard Cameron [from the last sermon he preached July 18, 1680. He was killed three days later], Sermon in times of Persecution in Scotland, page 456)