“To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”
1 Peter 1:4
We can rejoice after enduring a trial because our hope in Heaven will be renewed.
The joy a Christian experiences as a result of trials can be the best kind he will ever know. But so often we allow the everyday stress and strain of financial difficulties, health problems, unrealized goals, and many other trials to rob us of our joy in Christ. True joy stems from spiritual realities that are much greater than temporal circumstances.
In today’s verse Peter gives us one strong reason for rejoicing—the confident hope that as Christians we have inherited a place in Heaven. This confidence can be so powerful that Peter, who was writing to believers suffering persecution, describes it as a truth we ought to “greatly rejoice” in (v. 6). This expressive, intense word is always used in the New Testament in relation to the joy of knowing God, never of shallow, temporal relationships.
Jesus’ disciples had a difficult time seeing that trials could be related to the certainty of going to Heaven. In teaching them about His upcoming death, Christ told the Twelve, “Therefore you, too, now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you” (John 16:22). And that is exactly what happened when they saw the risen Savior and understood the impact of His work.
We can have two responses to trials, just like passengers riding a train through the mountains. We can look to the left and see the dark mountainside and be depressed. Or we can look to the right and be uplifted by the beautiful view of natural scenery stretching into the distance. Some believers even compound their sadness by continuing to look to the mountain shadows of their trial after life’s train has moved away from the threatening peaks. But they would not forfeit their joy if they simply looked ahead to the brightness and certainty of their eternal inheritance.
Nothing in life can take away the wonderful promise of Heaven’s glory: it was reserved by God, bought by Christ, and guaranteed by the Spirit (see Eph. 1:11–13).
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask the Lord to help you meditate today on the glories promised for you in the future.
For Further Study: Read Revelation 21 and note the primary living conditions that will be true of Heaven.
The Nature of the Believer’s Inheritance
to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, (1:4a)
The key word of this entire passage is inheritance, which is wealth passed down, or a legacy one receives as a member of a family. The concept had roots in the Old Testament, which the Jewish Christians in Peter’s audience would have easily identified with. In fact, the same Greek root (klēronomia), rendered inheritance here, is used in the Septuagint to speak of the portions of Canaan allotted by God to each tribe in Israel except Levi (cf. Num. 18:20–24; Josh. 13:32–33). See Numbers 26:54, 56 (the verb form appears in vv. 53, 55); 34:2 (where it is used of the entire Promised Land as Israel’s collective inheritance; cf. Deut. 12:9); Joshua 11:23; Deuteronomy 3:20 (of the Transjordan tribes’ portion of land). The word is also used numerous times of other kinds of inheritance (e.g., the individual inheritance of the daughters of Zelophehad [Num. 27:7–11]). Klēronomia is often translated “possession” in English translations of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament repeatedly affirms that under the old covenant the people of God, the nation of Israel, received an inheritance (Num. 26:53–56; 34:2, 29; Deut. 3:28; 26:1; 31:7; Josh. 11:23; 14:1; 1 Kings 8:36; 1 Chron. 16:18; Ps. 105:11; cf. Ps. 78:55). Peter told his readers that just as Israel received an earthly inheritance, the land of Canaan, so the church receives a spiritual inheritance in heaven (Acts 20:32; 26:18; Eph. 1:11, 18; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Heb. 9:15). The apostle reminded them that in the midst of their persecution they ought to praise God and patiently wait for His promised eternal inheritance (4:13; Matt. 24:13; Heb. 12:2–3; cf. Rom. 6:18; 8:18; 12:12). Therefore he wanted to increase their knowledge (and that of all believers) of the eternal blessing that is already theirs by promise in Christ (cf. Rom. 8:16–17; 1 John 3:2–3). Until then, God is in the process of maturing His children and conforming their behavior so that it is increasingly consistent with their spiritual inheritance (cf. 4:12–13, 19; 5:10; Heb. 12:5–12; James 1:2–4; 5:11). Peter’s words remind of Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians to focus on that inheritance: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1–2; cf. Matt. 6:33; 1 John 2:15–17).
Peter adds three descriptive terms to further define the kind of inheritance believers obtain: it is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away. Imperishable (aphtharton) refers to what is not corruptible, not liable to death, or not subject to destruction. Unlike the Israelites’ earthly inheritance that came and went because of their sins, believers’ spiritual inheritance will never be subject to destruction. Believers’ inheritance in heaven, yet to be revealed in the future, is a glorious treasure that will never be lost.
Undefiled (amianton) describes things that are unstained or unpolluted. Everything in the fallen creation is stained and polluted by sin (Rom. 8:20–22; 1 John 5:19), and therefore it is all flawed. That is what the apostle Paul referred to when he wrote, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:22). All earthly inheritance is defiled, but not the undefiled inheritance believers have in Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. 3:7–9; Col. 1:12). It is flawless and perfect.
Finally, the believer’s inheritance will not fade away. That phrase translates the word amaranton, which was used in secular Greek to describe a flower that did not wither or die. The term in this context suggests that believers have an inheritance that will never lose its magnificence. None of the decaying elements of the world can affect the kingdom of heaven (Luke 12:33; cf. Rev. 21:27; 22:15). None of the ravages of time or the evils of sin can touch the believer’s inheritance because it is in a timeless, sinless realm (cf. Deut. 26:15; Ps. 89:29; 2 Cor. 5:1). Later in this letter, Peter reiterates the unfading nature of the church’s inheritance: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (5:4).
The Security of the Believer’s Inheritance
reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1:4b–5)
Having pledged that the believer’s spiritual inheritance was permanent in nature, Peter adds to his readers’ security by declaring that the believer’s inheritance is reserved in heaven. Its nature is fixed and unalterable and so is its place. Reserved (tetērēmenēn) means “guarded” or “watched over.” The perfect passive participle conveys the idea of the already existing inheritance being carefully guarded in heaven for all those who trust in Christ. Not only will that inheritance not change, but no one will plunder it. The reality of a guarded and imperishable eternal inheritance is precisely what Jesus referred to when He said,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19–21)
Heaven is the securest place in all the universe. The apostle John characterizes it as a place where “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27; cf. 22:14–15).
1:4 Verses 4, 5 describe this future aspect of salvation. When we are born again we have the certain hope of an inheritance … in heaven. The inheritance includes all that the believer will enjoy in heaven for eternity, and all that will be his through Christ (Ps. 16:5). The inheritance is incorruptible and undefiled and unfading: (1) Incorruptible means that it can never corrode, crack, or decay. It is death-proof. (2) Undefiled means that the inheritance itself is in perfect condition. No tarnish or stain can dim its purity. It is sin-proof. (3) That does not fade away means that it can never suffer variations in value, glory, or beauty. It is time-proof.
Earthly inheritances are uncertain at best. Sometimes the value of an estate drops sharply because of market declines. Sometimes wills are successfully contested by parties not mentioned in them. Sometimes people are deprived of an inheritance because of legal technicalities. But this divine inheritance is not subject to any of the changes of time, and there are no loopholes in the believer’s title to it. It is kept in the safety-vault of heaven for the child of God.
A Safe Inheritance
- And into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.
The key word in this verse is “inheritance.” This particular word calls to mind the death of a person who has willed his property to immediate relatives and to charities. The writer of Hebrews puts it succinctly: “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living” (9:16–17).
Peter, however, places the word inheritance in the context of life. In the preceding verse (v. 3), he mentions the resurrection of Christ and the new birth which we receive through him. Instead of death there is life. Through the resurrection of Christ, we are recipients of the inheritance God has stored for us in heaven. Paul writes, “We are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
The Israelites knew the meaning of the word inheritance. When they traveled through the Sinai desert, they remembered that Abraham had received the promise of inheriting the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:18; Acts 7:5; Heb. 11:8). In the Promised Land, every Israelite had his own possession, sat under his own fig tree, and enjoyed the fruit of his own vine (1 Kings 4:25). “Nothing appeared to the Israelites more desirable than the quiet, prosperous, permanent possession of this land.”
Israel’s inheritance, however, was never safe and secure. Marauders from the desert would invade the land and plunder the possessions of the inhabitants. By contrast, in New Testament times the word inheritance has a totally different meaning (Eph. 1:14, 18; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Heb. 9:15). It refers to the salvation the believers inherit when they leave this earthly scene and obtain eternal glory. The inheritance of the believers is kept in heaven, where God keeps it absolutely safe for us until the appointed time when we receive it.
What do we inherit? Peter is unable to describe in positive terms the inheritance that is waiting for us. Ironically, because of its great value, he can describe it only in negative terms. He chooses three adjectives to tell us what our possession is not, and implies that these words reveal the true nature of the inheritance.
Our treasure is not subject to death or destruction; it can never perish. Moreover, it is not limited by time, but is eternal.
It can never be spoiled, corrupted, or polluted. It remains free from any blemish and is pure (compare Rev. 21:27).
It is incapable of fading. When a flower is past its peak, its beauty fades. This can never be said of our inheritance that is kept in heaven for us.
Earthly possessions are subject to constant variation and change, but our eternal inheritance is safely guarded by God in heaven. Not only is our salvation kept safe, but also, Peter declares, we, the possessors of this inheritance, are protected by God’s power.
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 34–37). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2251). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 42–43). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.