“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”
1 Peter 4:12
We can be certain of God’s love for us, no matter how unexpected or difficult any trial might be.
Reassuring words are vital as we strive to deal in a godly fashion with trials and sufferings in our Christian lives. In today’s verse, Peter opens with a pastoral term (“beloved”) that conveys tenderness, love, and concern for his audience. It reinforces in a single word the concepts of fervent love for one another and love that covers sin (1 Peter 4:8). Such love is a welcome reality to lean on whenever anyone is undergoing suffering or persecution.
Trials can easily tempt us to be discouraged and doubt God’s love. That likely was happening to believers in Peter’s time. For example, the emperor Nero coated many, including children, in pitch and used them as human torches. With such cruel persecution going on, we can see why Peter wrote to fellow Christians—which includes us—to reassure them of God’s love.
Peter’s expression “fiery ordeal,” which can refer to many different types of difficulties, provides reassurance that troubles and trials come for a purpose. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “fiery” referred to a smelting furnace that refined metals of their foreign, unwanted elements. That process is pictured in verses such as Psalm 66:10, “For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou hast refined us as silver is refined.” So “fiery ordeal” represents the various sufferings God allows in our lives to purify us.
Peter closes by assuring us that trials are not out of the ordinary, or “some strange thing.” We should not be surprised at them as if each was some bizarre occurrence, coming at us simply by chance. Trials, therefore, should be seen as part of life. They might catch us off guard at first, but we can confidently deal with them, knowing that God’s loving care for us never fails.
Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord that no trial, no matter how unusual it seems at first, needs to catch you by surprise.
For Further Study: Jesus taught the disciples about the inevitability of sufferings, trials, and disappointments. What warnings did He give in John 15–16? ✧ What major resource did He promise?
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; (4:12)
Not expecting to be so hatefully persecuted, the believers to whom Peter wrote were understandably surprised, troubled, and confused by their suffering. Perhaps they expected life to be full of blessing, benefits, and divine protection. However, believers’ expectation for suffering is bound up in the words of Jesus, who told the apostles, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18); Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12); and the apostle John’s warning, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). For Christians, the confrontation with sin and the world often results in suffering, which is part of the promised cost of discipleship (cf. Matt. 10:38–39; 16:24–26; John 12:24–26). Counting the cost is behind Jesus’ words that no one builds a tower or enters battle without first calculating that cost (Luke 14:28–32).
Beloved (agapētos, cf. 2:11) is a common pastoral word conveying tenderness, compassion, affection, and care (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14; 1 Thess. 2:8). Such love provides a sweet pillow for believers’ weary souls to rest on in the midst of trials and persecutions. Severe suffering can tempt them to doubt God’s love and allow the same thought to enter their minds that once prompted Job’s wife to utter the despicable words: “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Thus the apostle sought to reassure his readers of his and God’s unfailing love.
The phrase do not be surprised informs believers to expect that the gospel of Christ will be offensive to many and will produce persecution. The original Greek is zenizō, meaning “to be surprised or astonished” by the novelty of something. Believers should never be shocked by persecution. Later in the verse, Peter uses the related noun zenos, translated some strange thing, but that could also be rendered “a surprising thing,” which gives a double emphasis to Peter’s point to expect persecution. As saints are obedient to God’s Word and effective in proclaiming the gospel, animosity from unbelievers is inevitable. “We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:15–16; cf. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:18). As the time-tested spiritual adages state it, “The sun that melts the wax also hardens the clay,” and “The gospel saves and slays” (cf. Rom. 9:15–24). Whether it is hostility toward their exclusive message, their efforts to evangelize, or their godly lifestyle, believers need to remember that hardship is a corollary to biblical faith (Mark 10:30; John 16:33; 1 Thess. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3–4; 3:12; cf. Matt. 7:13–14).
While the term rendered fiery ordeal (purōsis) portrays figuratively a painful experience of persecution, it is also used of a furnace melting down metal to purge it of impurities (cf. Ps. 66:10; Prov. 17:3; see also the discussion of 1:6–7 in chapter 3 of this volume). It may be that Peter is here drawing on his familiarity with Malachi’s prophecy:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:1–3)
That text speaks of a purifying fire, in contrast to the consuming fire in 4:1, “ ‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,’ ” says the Lord of hosts, “ ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.’ ” Evidence that Peter was thinking of Malachi’s words is strengthened by the apostle’s reference to “the household of God” (v. 17), where such purifying judgment must come. Peter is saying that the persecution is the Lord refining His temple—His people.
Such mistreatment which comes upon believers is also for their testing, proving the genuineness of their faith (cf. Job 23:10; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:10; 2 Tim. 3:11; James 1:3–12). Suffering for righteousness’ sake not only refines, but, even before that, reveals whether people are truly believers. Jesus illustrated this truth in the parable of the soils: “Others [seeds] fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away” (Matt. 13:5–6). The Lord described a shallow, inadequate response to the proclamation of the gospel. Some did not allow the seed of the Word to penetrate the hard soil of their heart, and persecution soon revealed their response to the gospel to be nothing but a superficial, false profession (vv. 20–21).
The verb translated were happening (sumbainontos) may mean “to fall by chance” and calls for Christians to understand that experiences of unjust suffering for Christ are not accidental, but inevitable because the message of sin, salvation, and judgment offends. In addition, these incidents occur by God’s design and reveal whether professing believers’ faith is truly regenerate (cf. Job 5:17; Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–11; Rev. 3:19).
- Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
As a pastor, Peter figuratively stands next to the Christians who are experiencing persecution. He tenderly addresses them with the words dear friends, which in the original means “beloved.” Peter expresses his personal love and interest in the readers of his epistle.
“Do not be surprised.” In the Greek, Peter uses the same verb as in verse 4. There he writes that the pagan world thinks it strange that Christians do not participate in their riotous living; in reaction to this refusal the unbelieving world heaps abuse on the believers. Now Peter says that Christians should not be surprised when they endure persecution. Jesus warns them that the unbelieving world hates his followers (see John 15:18–19; 17:14; and compare 1 John 3:13). Therefore, having this warning, Christians should not be astonished when they must suffer persecution.
“At the painful trial you are suffering.” Many translations have the reading fiery trial (ordeal or test). This reading comes from the Greek word which refers to the process of burning. Although the term burning can be taken in either a literal sense (see Rev. 18:9, 18) or a figurative sense (Didache 16:5), Peter indicates with the expression trial that he wishes to convey the figurative connotation to his readers. He is not so much interested in portraying the time, circumstances, and occurrences of the painful trial as he is in stressing the purpose of this trial. With an allusion to the smelter’s fire, Peter intimates that as gold is refined by fire so the believer’s faith is tested through suffering (see 1:6–7). God wants to test the genuineness of the Christian’s faith, for faith in God is “of greater worth than gold” (1:7). The believer, then, should be fully aware of God’s purpose in his life and not be surprised.
“As though something strange were happening to you.” The Christian should not question God’s providence when unexpected suffering strikes him. He should not blame God for failing to intervene in his behalf. Certainly God is in control of every situation and has the power to shield a Christian from impending suffering. However, God works out his own purposes to strengthen the believer’s faith through suffering.
Christians must understand that God wants to separate true faith from pretense and uses the instrument of suffering to accomplish his purpose. Christians should apply Jesus’ words to themselves:
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad.” [Matt. 5:11–12a]
12 In what follows, the writer returns to the theme of suffering with a final admonition regarding his readers’ particular situation. Herewith he addresses them affectionately and intimately (agapētoi, GK 28) as a father figure. His concern is to adjust their perspective on suffering: “do not be surprised [xenizō, GK 3826; also in 4:5] … as though something strange were happening.” After all, the human inclination is to question the “necessity” of suffering. “Where are you, God? Why is this happening to me?” But despite the tendency to question—or rebel against—suffering, Christians are not to be “surprised” when, in the form of hostility, ostracizing, and persecution, suffering visits. Jesus himself promised as much: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (Jn 15:20). For this reason, John can affirm: “Do not be surprised … if the world hates you” (1 Jn 3:13). In the end, persecution will reveal whether our faith is genuine.
But even when the writer understands suffering as “normative” in the Christian life, he does not belittle its impact on the lives of Christians; suffering is very real, as suggested by the vocabulary—“suffering” (pathēmata, GK 4077), “painful trial” (pyrōsei pros peirasmon, GK 4796, 4280, lit., “a purifying by fire”). Suffering in any context is painful, and the pain endured by the readers in their present situation is very real and not to be diminished.
4:12 The rest of chapter 4 contains exhortations and explanations concerning suffering incurred for the name of Christ. The word “suffering” and its derivatives are used twenty-one times in this Epistle.
The natural attitude for a Christian is to look on persecution as strange and abnormal. We are surprised when we have to suffer. But Peter tells us that we should consider it as normal Christian experience. We have no right to expect better treatment from the world than our Savior received. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). It is especially true that those who take a forthright stand for Christ become the object of savage attack. Satan doesn’t waste his ammunition on nominal Christians. He turns his big guns on those who are storming the gates of Hades.
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 248–250). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 173–174). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 349). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2278). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.