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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 70. II. Peter and the Gospel of Hope.


(Comp. the Lit. in §§ 25 and 26.)


Peter stands between James and Paul, and forms the transition from the extreme conservatism of the one to the progressive liberalism of the other. The germ of his doctrinal system is contained in his great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.766766    Matt. 16:16; comp. John 6:68, 69. A short creed indeed, with only one article, but a fundamental and all-comprehensive article, the corner-stone of the Christian church. His system, therefore, is Christological, and supplements the anthropological type of James. His addresses in the Acts and his Epistles are full of the fresh impressions which the personal intercourse with Christ made upon his noble, enthusiastic, and impulsive nature. Christianity is the fulfilment of all the Messianic prophecies; but it is at the same time itself a prophecy of the glorious return of the Lord. This future glorious manifestation is so certain that it is already anticipated here in blessed joy by a lively hope which stimulates to a holy life of preparation for the end. Hence, Peter eminently deserves to be called "the Apostle of hope."767767    Weiss (p. 172): "Die Hoffnung bildet in der Anschauung des Petrus den eigentlichen Mittelpunkt des Christenlebens. Sie erscheint bei ihm in der höchsten Energie, wonach die gehoffte Vollendung bereits unmittelbar nahe gerückterscheint."

I. Peter began his testimony with the announcement of the historical facts of the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and represents these facts as the divine seal of his Messiahship, according to the prophets of old, who bear witness to him that through his name every one that believes shall receive remission of sins. The same Jesus whom God raised from the dead and exalted to his right hand as Lord and Saviour, will come again to judge his people and to bring in seasons of refreshing from his presence and the apokatastasis or restitution of all things to their normal and perfect state, thus completely fulfilling the Messianic prophecies. There is no salvation out of the Lord Jesus Christ. The condition of this salvation is the acknowledgment of his Messiahship and the change of mind and conduct from the service of sin to holiness.768768    See his Pentecostal sermon, Acts 2:14 sqq.; his addresses to the people, 3:12 sqq.; before the Sanhedrin, 4:8 sqq.; 5:29 sqq.; to Cornelius, 10:34 sqq.

These views are so simple, primitive, and appropriate that we cannot conceive how Peter could have preached differently and more effectively in that early stage of Christianity. We need not wonder at the conversion of three thousand souls in consequence of his, pentecostal sermon. His knowledge gradually widened and deepened with the expansion of Christianity and the conversion of Cornelius. A special revelation enlightened him on the question of circumcision and brought him to the conviction that "in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness, is acceptable to him," and that Jews and Gentiles are saved alike by the grace of Christ through faith, without the unbearable yoke of the ceremonial law.769769    Acts 10:35; 15:7-11.

II. The Epistles of Peter represent this riper stage of knowledge. They agree substantially with the teaching of Paul. The leading idea is the same as that presented in his addresses in the Acts: Christ the fulfiller of the Messianic prophecies, and the hope of the Christian. Peter’s christology is free of all speculative elements, and simply derived from the impression of the historical and risen Jesus. He emphasizes in the first Epistle, as in his earlier addresses, the resurrection whereby God "begat us again unto a lively hope, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven," when "the chief shepherd shall be manifested," and we "shall receive the crown of glory." And in the second Epistle he points forward to "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."770770    1 Pet. 1:3-5; 5:4; 2 Pet. 3:13. He thus connects the resurrection of Christ with the final consummation of which it is the sure pledge. But, besides the resurrection, he brings out also the atoning efficacy of the death of Christ almost as strongly and clearly as Paul. Christ "suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God;" he himself "bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness;" he redeemed us "with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."771771    1 Pet. 1:18 sqq.; 2:4; 3:18 sqq. Christ is to him the only Saviour, the Lord, the Prince of life, the Judge of the world. He assigns him a majestic position far above all other men, and brings him into the closest contact with the eternal Jehovah, though in subordination to him. The doctrine of the pre-existence seems to be intimated and implied, if not expressly stated, when Christ is spoken of as being "foreknown before the foundation of the world" and "manifested at the end of the time," and his Spirit as dwelling in the prophets of old and pointing them to his future sufferings and glory.772772    1 Pet. 1:20: Χριστοῦ προεγνωσμένου μέν πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, φανερωθέντος δέ, κ. τ. λ.; 1:11: τὸ ἐν αὐτοῖς(τοῖς προφήταις)πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ προμαρτυρόμενον, κ. τ. λ. Schmid, Lechler, Gess, and others understand these passages as teaching a real pre-existence; Beyschlag (l.c., p. 121) finds in them only an ideal pre-existence in the foreknowledge of God, and emphasizes the ἐποίησεν in Acts 2:36. He refers the π́εῦμα Χριστοῦto the Holy Spirit, which was afterwards given in full measure to Christ at his baptism. So also Weiss (p. 161). But in this case Peter would have said τὸ πεῦμα ἅγιον, as he did 1 Pet. 1:12; 2 Pet. 1:21; Acts 2:33, 38.

III. Peter extends the preaching, judging, and saving activity of Christ to the realm of the departed spirits in Hades during the mysterious triduum between the crucifixion and the resurrection.773773    1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6; comp. Acts 2:27. The reference of the first passage to a preaching of Christ through Noah at the time of the flood is artificial, breaks the historic connection (ἀπέθανεν ... θαματωθείς ... ζωοποιηθείς πνεύματι ... ἐκήρυξεν –ϊ... –ͅϊπορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανόν ) and is set aside by 1 Pet. 4:6, which explains and generalizes the statement of the former passage. Baur (p. 291) understands the πνεύματα ἐν φυλακῇ to be the fallen angels (comp. 2 Pet. 2:4; Gen. 6:1), and the preaching of Christ an announcement of the judgment. But in this case we should have to distinguish between the ἐκήρυξεν, 1 Pet. 3:9, and the εὐηγγελίσθη in 4:6. The latter always means preaching the gospel, which is a savor of life unto life to believers, and a savor of death unto death to unbelievers. The descent into Hades is also taught by Paul (Eph. 4:9, 10).

IV. With this theory correspond the practical exhortations. Subjective Christianity is represented as faith in the historical Christ and as a lively hope in his, glorious reappearance, which should make the Christians rejoice even amidst trials and persecution, after the example of their Lord and Saviour.



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