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The Living Stones And A Chosen People (ch. 2:4 - 12)

 

Peter shifts his thinking a bit in these next few verses.  Verse 4 is as follows.  "As you come to Him Ė the living Stone (lithos in Greek) Ö"  The word "stone" holds some important imagery for Jews, as seen in Exodus 17:6 where God told Moses that when he would strike the rock, water would come out of it so the Israelis could drink the water.  In 1 Corinthians 10:4 Paul makes much of this rock.  He calls it a spiritual rock, that in fact was Christ.  Here in verse 4, Peter is saying what Paul said.  Jesus is our spiritual rock or spiritual stone, but as we will see, Peter is viewing this Stone not as water, but a building block in the New Testament temple of God.

 

Peter says that Jesus was rejected by men but accepted by God.  Throughout the history of man, the tendency has been for us to reject all that God is.  Our generation is no different from any other generation in this respect.  We may actually be worse.

 

In verse 5 Peter says that "you also like living stones are being built into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood."  Peter compares Jesus to a living stone, the corner stone to be exact.  Some suggest it's not the corner stone but the cap stone.  The corner stone is the first stone in the foundation of a house, while the cap stone is the last stone in an archway.  I would suggest the stone to be the corner stone, although later on in the chapter he uses both terms to represent Jesus. 

 

Although it's not so clear in the Greek text, the NIV says that Peter is saying that we, being living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.  The NIV suggests that our being built into a spiritual house is an ongoing action, and that it is.  The house is yet to be completed.  As the house of God, the house has more construction ahead of it.  The house will not be complete until the return of Jesus to earth. 

 

There is more to this house in this verse.  This house is a priestly house.  This is pure Jewish terminology.  Each tribe of Israel was considered a house, as in the house of David, and so on.  The house of Levi was the house or tribe that was the priesthood in Israel.  Only a man from the tribe or house of Levi could be a priest to represent God here on earth.  What Peter seems to be saying here is that New Testament Christians have replaced the house of Levi as priests of God.  The church, the New Testament house of God, has replaced the house of Levi as priests.       

 

In verse 5 Peter says that we, being the House of God, are a "holy priesthood."  We as individuals are priests and we as the corporate church, is a priest.  This means that we represent Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus.  That is the duty of a priest.  We, therefore, must carry out our priestly responsibilities.  In John 20:21 Jesus told the disciples that He was sending us into the world.  This means that you and I as Christians are acting on the behalf of Jesus.  We represent Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus.  This is the job of a priest.  In one sense of the word, Christians are priests, and so is the church.  

 

The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer as it is known has been challenged many times throughout the ages.  The whole role of the priest in the Catholic Church is based on the false premise that we need a person to stand between us and Jesus.  This aspect of Catholicism is not New Testament thinking.  Many cults over the centuries have done the same with charismatic leaders who claim a special place before God.  This too is not New Testament thinking.  Whether it is a cult or the Catholic Church, who some have called a cult, and I would agree, there is no need for a priest.  Each and every believer is a priest. 

 

If you study Hebrews 8 you will note that Jesus is our Great High Priest.  It is Jesus, not any man, who stands before God on our behalf.  It is Jesus who represents us to God.  In one sense of the word Jesus is our lawyer.  This is where the term "in Christ" comes into play.  God, when looking at Jesus sees you and I in Jesus.  It's like a photographic lens.  God sees us through the filter of Jesus.  This is due to the fact that when Jesus died on the cross, He died in our place.  He represented us on the cross.  So, when God looks at Jesus He sees those of us who have received the forgiveness of sins that Jesus paid for on the cross. There is only one priest and He is Jesus, and, we need no earthly priest to stand between us and Jesus.    

 

We should also understand that that a pastor is not a priest.  A pastor cares for the people of God.  He does not stand between the people and God.  It is important to understand that the people a pastor cares for belong to God and not the pastor.  Many times you might hear a pastor use the term "my people."  Those whom a pastor cares for are not his people.  They are Godís people.  This should make a major difference in how a pastor treats those in his congregation.  Also, being a priest and a pastor are two very different things, two different ministries.  A priest, which we now all are, represents Jesus to the world.  A pastor cares for God's people.

 

In verse 5 Peter says that if we are indeed living sacrifices, this is acceptable to God.  Again, animal sacrifices are no longer acceptable to God and neither are any other kind of so-called Christian sacrifices acceptable to God.  If we do anything in the name of Jesus out of pure motives, as if they are a sacrifice, those things we do are not acceptable.  They may do a lot of good for others, but they mean little to God.    

 

Peter quotes from Isaiah 28:16 in verse 6 to back up his point. "I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone and one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame."  The Bible uses the name "Zion " in many ways.  The most basic was that it was one of the mountains in Jerusalem.  Beyond that Zion is also seen as the city of Jerusalem, the nation of Israel, Solomon's temple, and the heavenly city of Jerusalem. 

 

It is clear that Peter believes that Jesus is the cornerstone that Isaiah is speaking of.  The NIV says that Jesus is the chosen stone, and that He is, but, the Greek word translated here as "chosen" in the NIV can easily be understood as "choice."  Jesus is the choice stone, the blessed stone, the important stone.  He is the "precious cornerstone" as Isaiah puts it.  

 

The prophecy says that no one who puts his trust in Jesus the cornerstone will be put to shame.  What does it mean to be put to shame?   It certainly does not mean that we wonít be viewed as fools, or go through embarrassing moments.   The world views us as being very foolish because of our beliefs.  The Greek word that has been translated as "shame" here is a very intensive word that suggests disappointment. The one who really trust his life with Jesus will never ever be disappointed.  I'm sure the true Christian can attest to that.   

 

Think about the point Peter is making here with this quote from Isaiah.  It would make non-Christian Jews mad.  He is taking an Old Testament quote that mentions Zion , the city of Jerusalem, and applying a New Testament meaning to it.  He is saying that the corporate identity of what we call church is now Zion and that Jesus is the cornerstone of this new Zion.  We, the church are Zion, and this Zion includes Gentiles.  Does this mean that the word "Zion" will always refer to the church?  Will it ever have any Jewish significance?  I believe as this age comes to an end and as the Jews return to God's plans in prophetic history, Zion will once again regain its Jewish distinctiveness because God cannot revoke His promises that He made to Abraham.   

 

In verse 7 Peter says that this cornerstone is precious to the believer, just as He is precious to God, as seen in the Isaiah prophecy in the last verse.  Indeed, for all Christians, Jesus is very precious.

 

Both the verbs "believe" and "do not believe" are Greek present active participles.  They could easily be translated as "believers" or "unbelievers."  Because these verbs are present tense verbs, this means that the faith, the belief, spoken of here is an ongoing present reality.  Peter is not thinking in terms of making a decision for Jesus at some past time in one's life.  He is speaking here of both a present believing and a present unbelieving.   

Peter quotes Psalm 188:22 here.  "The stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone" (or corner stone).  The builders are acting as fools since they rejected the most important stone in the building process.

 

The builders spoken of here are clearly the Jews.  It can't be the Gentiles.  It was the Jews who were to build the house of God and it was the Jews who rejected Jesus. 

 

Notice the term "capstone" here.  Jesus is both the corner stone and the capstone.  He is both the first and the last stone in the building.  

 

In verse 8 Peter quotes one last time from Isaiah 8:14 to further his point.  "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."  What do these words mean?  There are people in this world that donít believe in the existence of some kind of god.  Few are criticized for this belief.  In my thinking, it is not hard to imagine the presence of a Supreme Deity in the universe, but what does make men trip or stumble, in both their intellect and emotions, is the existence of Jesus as being God in human flesh.  This bothers many in our world today.  They simply have a hard time getting around this idea of God in human flesh.  So, you can easily say that they stumble over Jesus.  In short, you can talk about God all you want without much criticism, but when you talk about Jesus, you get criticized, especially if you claim that He is divine.  Jesus being a historical teacher of a certain morality is fine to speak about.  Again, it's Jesus that causes men to stumble.   

 

Peter goes on to say in verse 8 that people stumble "because they disobey the message."  The well known Greek word "logos" is translated in the NIV as "message."  The NIV translators could have easily translated "logos" and "word" here but for some reason they didn't.  If it were up to me I would use the word "word" in this verse.  The NIV translates "logos" as "word" in many places in the New Testament.  

 

All of the above being said, the word spoke of here is the message is the gospel that these early Christians were proclaiming.  Once again, it is Jesus, and the message about Jesus that trips men up.  Peter says that this is "destined," or "appointed" as some versions put it, to happen.  Peter could be saying that if one continues to reject the message, the only logical consequence is destruction.  On the other hand, if you prefer the word "appointed" in this verse you might believe, especially if those to whom Peter is writing to are Jews, God actually appointed them not to believe.  He did so when He blinded their eyes, as Paul says in Romans 11 in order for the Gentiles to come into the blessing of God.    

 

Verse 9 begins with the word "but."  Peter is now comparing those who don't believe with those who do believe.  Peter mentions three things that the community of Christians are.  They are; a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  All three of these things are Old Testament Jewish concepts.  Again, for Peter this is revolutionary.  He is saying that both Jew and Gentile believers are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation, all things that were once attributed to Israelis.

 

According to Peter, New Testament Christians are now a chosen people.  God's chosen people are not simply Jews, at least in this present era.  In a historical and prophetic sense of the word, Jews still have chosen status, but this is not the context used by Peter here.

 

The words "chosen people" are translated from the Greek word "genos."  This word can be, and is, translated as generation or race in the New Testament.  A very similar Greek word, "genea" is used in Luke 21:32 where Jesus says that "this generation, or race, will not pass away until all is fulfilled."  

 

Peter also says that Christians are also a "royal priesthood."  No longer is the tribe of Levi priests.  All Christians are priests who represent God to the world and the world to God.  It is my thinking that more often than not the church has failed to be the priest is was meant to be.  We have misrepresented God so much that the world knows little about the God we claim to represent.    

 

Christians are also a holy nation, "ethnos" in Greek.  "Ethnos" means a race of people with the same ethnicity.  Obviously our English word "ethnos" comes from this Greek word.  As Christians, we are a nation unto ourselves, even though we live in the secular nations here on earth.  It's for this reason that Christians are often times in conflict with the kingdoms of men.  We are citizens of a kingdom that the kingdom of men opposes.  Our first allegiance must be to the Kingdom of God , not the nation in which we live.  Simply put, Christians are an ethnicity unto themselves.      

 

The conflict between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles that was to be resolved in Acts 15 is making a re-appearance today.  It's becoming a problem that is separating Christians. There are various degrees, but many Christians are becoming more Jewish orientated today.  Some go as far to say that we must obey the Law of Moses in order to be a real Christian, something the Apostle Paul fought against in the book of Galatians.  I mention this to simply say that the same conflict that was at the beginning of the church age has now re-appeared  near the end of the church age. 

 

All of the above being said, I do believe that when the last Gentile is saved, as Paul speaks of in Romans 11, God will once again major on the Jews and will fulfill the promises He made to Abraham in what we call the Abrahamic Covenant.  God is not finished with national Israel since He covenanted with Himself to do so before Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and the prophets, to restore Israel .  Until that day comes, Christians, in a collective sense of the word, especially in the mind of God and therefore should be in our minds too, are a real nation.  This is how we should view ourselves.  This concept was very important to Peter's readers who were suffering persecution from their anti-Christ nation.  They were in the midst of two nations in conflict and they needed to know how to deal with this conflict.  The same is true in our world today and the conflict between the nations of the world and the nation of Christ progressively grow more in conflict.  It will all end at the end of this age.              

 

Also in verse 9 Peter says that we all, that is all Christians, belong to God.  We belong to God so "we can declare the praises of God" since He has brought us out of a very dark world.  Again, I believe Peter is addressing this letter to people who are suffering believers.  Even in their suffering, they are to give praise and proclaim the name of Christ to those who are causing them grief.  As far as Peter was concerned, this was no time to slack off or give up one's faith in Jesus.

 

Note the word "called" in verse 9.  It's what the word "church" really means.  It's translated from the Greek word "ekklesia," meaning, "the called out ones."  We are called out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light.  We should thus live accordingly.

 

Verse 10 takes some thought.  Peter says that one you were not a people of God but now you are.  At first glance you might think that Peter is referring to Gentile Christians and that might well be true, but, some say that he is speaking about Jewish Christians, in part because they believe that was to whom Peter was writing.  If you read Hosea 2 you will learn that God divorced Israel, who He considered to be His wife.  At that point Jews were not the people of God, but through the cross of Christ, they once again, along with Gentiles, had access to becoming the people of God.   

 

The word "mercy" here in verse 10 should be understood in terms of pity.  That is to say, God has pity on the pitiful, which when compared to God Himself, we are all very pitiful.    

 

In verse 11 Peter says that Christians are strangers and aliens in the world.  We really are.  We may live in our various countries but our true citizenship, our ultimate allegiance, is to the Kingdom of God.  We are strangers because if we live as Jesus wants us to live, we are very strange when compared to those around us.  As western culture forsakes any Christian influence it might have once had, we become even stranger.  We are indeed aliens in our own country.  Because of this, Christians throughout the world, as we come to the end of this age are experiencing the conflict between them and our anti-Christ culture in which they live.

 

Also in verse 11 Peter encourages his readers to abstain from sinful desires because they war against the soul.  As Christians we are in a constant battle with our sinful self.  If there is no battle I suggest that we have given into our sinful desires.  Peter would be mentioning this to these people because they are suffering persecution from this sinful world.  It would be easy for them to simply give up, quit Jesus, and follow the ways of the world and live happily ever after, at least from a worldly standpoint.

 

Note the words "dear friends" in the NIV in verse 11.  Other translations more accurately say "beloved" because the Greek word the NIV translates as "dear friends" is "agapetos," from "agepe," meaning love.  The Greek word "agape" had gone out of style in first century Roman culture.  It means selfless love and so Christians adopted it as being God's love.  So, I believe "beloved" is a better translation than "dear friends."  The Greek word "philos" is a word that means "brotherly love" or "reciprocal love."  I would suggest that "dear friends" would rather be a better translation if the Greek word Peter used here was "philos."

 

It's quite obvious from both experience and this verse that Christians can fall into temptations and sin when they do, we all know what it does to our souls.  Sin disrupts, not the legal relationship we have with Jesus but the fellowship we have with Him.

 

I use the term "legal" relationship in the last paragraph because our relationship with God is n fact a legal relationship.  Some people don't like using such terms in connection with salvation but in one real sense of the word our relationship with God is based on legalities; is based on covenant.  The death of Jesus was a matter of God's justice.  We were the ones to be executed but Jesus took our place.  The justice of God was met and as a result we have been freed from punishment.  In theological terms this is called justification.           

 

Peter ends this section in verse 12 by saying the following.  "Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good works and glorify God on the day He visits us."  These Christians were being accused by all sorts of people from all sorts of places.  That was simply part of being a persecuted Christian back then.  Peter was telling his readers that even with all of these accusations, their good works should be evident that they were good people.  They may not be acknowledged in this present time as being good, but on the day when Jesus visits them, or, the day He returns to earth, people will notice them and will glorify God as a result. 

 

The fact that non-believers will glorify God on the Day of Judgment tells us something about that day.  Paul was right, when in Philippians 2:10 he said that "every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."  Every man and woman that has ever lived will bow their knees and make this confession.  They will also see those of us who have been saved, and at the point in recognition to our good works, they will also give glory to God.  For these people it will be too late.  We as Christians will bow our knees and acknowledge Jesus as being Lord with great thanksgiving.  For the non-Christians, they will make the same acknowledgement, but only because they have now seen that He is indeed Lord.  They will fall before Jesus in fear and horror for their fate that awaits them.  You and I as Christians will be eternally thankful on that day as we fall before the King of Kings.

 

Verse 12 is especially important today, as it was back in Peter's day.  These suffering saints could have said all sorts of negative and nasty things about those who were causing them to suffer.  Peter was telling them not to do that.  The world around us these days is constantly saying negative and nasty things about others.  The TV channels, the air waves, and the internet blogs, are full of nasty words.  Christians must not be like this.  Yes, we speak the truth, but we speak the truth in love, in as a loving way as we can.  The world should not be able to criticize us for our nastiness.  They should criticize us for the truth of the Bible that we speak.  It's sad to say, but many Christians these days talk just like those around them in the world.

 

We should note that the only ones that Jesus spoke nasty type words to were the Jewish religious hypocrites.   He did call them some pretty nasty names.  So, if you are going to get into name calling, call the so-called Christian hypocrite the nasty names.  Leave all others alone.

 

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