Election by Christ
But you are a chosen race, (2:9a)
To underscore the contrasting eternal destinies of unbelievers and believers, Peter began this verse with a strong adversative, but. Unlike unbelievers who, because of their rejection of Christ, are destined for eternal destruction, believers are a chosen race. They are a spiritual people elect by God Himself.
The apostle again drew his terminology from an Old Testament passage:
For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deut. 7:6–9)
He identifies those who believe in Christ as chosen, just as God had chosen Israel for a special purpose within His redemptive plan (cf. Isa. 43:21). As discussed in chapter 1 of this volume, it is crucial for Christians to understand that their salvation is based on the sovereign, electing purposes of God. Scripture explicitly and implicitly makes that unmistakable (John 15:16; Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:13–16; 11:5; 1 Cor. 1:9; Eph. 1:3–5; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13–14; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:10; Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:15); and election is the great privilege from which all other spiritual privileges derive.
Scripture suggests at least five superlatives related to God’s sovereign choice to save certain sinners. First, election is absolutely the solitary decision of God, thus it is the most pride-crushing truth in God’s Word. It devastates humans’ pride since nothing in their salvation derives from any merit in them—it is all of God (cf. Jonah 2:9; John 1:12–13; Eph. 2:8–9). Second, because election is totally by divine grace, it is the most God exalting doctrine (cf. Rom. 9:23; Eph. 1:6–7; 2:7; 2 Thess. 2:13). Third, election is the most holiness-promoting doctrine. Because God set His love on believers before the world began, they should be consumed with gratitude and a passion to obey Him no matter what (cf. Deut. 11:13; Josh. 24:24; Rom. 6:17; 7:25). Fourth, because God’s election is eternal and unchangeable, it is the most strength-giving doctrine in the Bible. Therefore it affords believers genuine peace no matter what circumstances they face (cf. Ps. 85:8; John 14:27; 1 Cor. 14:33; Eph. 2:14–15; Col. 1:20; 3:15; 2 Thess. 3:16). Finally, election is the most joy-producing spiritual privilege because it is the surest hope believers have in the midst of a sinful world (cf. 1:21; Eph. 4:4; Col. 1:5, 23; 1 Thess. 5:8; Heb. 7:19).
Dominion with Christ
a royal priesthood, (2:9b)
Peter employed a remarkable symbol when he combined in one metaphor references to royalty and the priesthood. The concept of a royal priesthood comes from Exodus 19:6, where God through Moses told Israel, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The sad fact is, however, that Israel forfeited her privilege of priestly dominion because of her apostasy and rejection of the Messiah (cf. John 12:37–48; Rom. 10:16–21; 11:7–10; Heb. 3:16–19). But all those who believe in Jesus as Messiah and trust in Him alone for salvation receive the privilege of becoming royal priests (Rev. 5:10).
Two primary elements constitute the image of the royal priesthood. First, the priests serve the King by having access to His holy presence, into which they come offering spiritual sacrifices to Him (see the previous chapter of this volume), and second, the priests rule with the King in His kingdom.
Basileion (royal) generally describes a royal residence or palace (cf. Luke 7:25), but it can also refer to a sovereignty or monarchy. Peter used the term here to convey the general idea of royalty. The spiritual house he mentioned in verse 5 turns out to be a royal house, the dominion of a royal family. Believers are a ruling priesthood, literally “a royal house of priests.” The apostle John wrote, “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6; cf. Luke 22:29–30; Rev. 3:21).
The only one who can establish such a royal house is Jesus Christ. He is both King (Isa. 9:7; Zech. 9:9; Matt. 2:2; Luke 1:33; John 1:49; 12:12–15; 18:36–37; 19:19; Rev. 19:16) and Priest (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 4:15). The writer of Hebrews sets forth the uniqueness of Christ’s royal priesthood:
For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 7:14–17; cf. Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:6; 6:20)
Melchizedek was the Old Testament model for the royal priest (Gen. 14:18–20) and he foreshadowed Christ, the ultimate and perfect royal priest. Like Melchizedek, He did not inherit the priesthood through the priestly line; rather God appointed Him as the sinless royal priest who transcended the Levitical system (Heb. 3:1–2; 5:4–5; 7:11, 14, 16; 8:1–2, 6), fulfilled the old covenant law (Ps. 40:7–8; Matt. 5:17–18; Heb. 10:11–14), and offered Himself as the new covenant sacrifice for sin (Matt. 20:28; John 1:29; Heb. 2:17; 7:27; 9:25–26; 10:12). Because salvation unites believers with Christ, they too become royal priests.
Christians’ privilege to rule with Christ includes some practical implications:
Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? (1 Cor. 6:1–4)
Since believers will rule with Christ in His kingdom, they must be sufficiently qualified—without secular assistance or oversight—to settle relatively small earthly disputes between themselves. Paul further said they will have dominion over those heavenly realms God assigns to them. No one, not even an angel, can stand between them and God.
All this is cause for unleashing a doxology. As believers contemplate all their spiritual privileges, from union with Christ to security in Him to dominion with Him, they ought to be transported into unbounded praise and worship. Anything less betrays sinful indifference to these great privileges.
Spiritual Privileges—Part 3: Separation to Christ, Possession by Christ, Illumination in Christ, Compassion from Christ, and Proclamation of Christ
(1 Peter 2:9c–10)
a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (2:9c–10)
The Gospel narratives repeatedly emphasize the cost of following Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:23–26, Jesus declared to all who would be His disciples,
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (cf. Matt. 5:19–20; 7:13–14, 21; John 6:53–58, 60)
The regenerate understand there are sacrifices and costs involved in living the Christian life. Jesus gave two analogies of discipleship that illustrate the necessity of assessing the cost:
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:27–33)
Various other passages in the epistles also emphasize the cost of discipleship (5:8–9; Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 9:24–27; Eph. 6:10–18; Phil. 3:7–14; 1 Tim. 6:11–12; 2 Tim. 2:1–10; Heb. 12:1–2, 7–11; James 1:21–25; 1 John 2:15–17; cf. Rom. 13:11–14; Gal. 6:1–2; Eph. 5:15–21).
However in 2:4–10 the apostle Peter looks not at the cost and duty of following Christ but at the rich kaleidoscope of spiritual privileges He gives to those who have embraced that cost. Peter holds the jewels of redemption to the light of God’s grace and reveals wonderful patterns of spiritual blessings that belong to all who are in Christ. The theme of spiritual privilege, from union with Christ to dominion with him, is a familiar New Testament emphasis. In Romans 9:22 Paul wrote that God wanted to demonstrate His wrath and display His power, thus He patiently endured the vessels of wrath (unbelievers). Verse 23 then explains the reason for God’s approach: “He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.” God wanted to pour out on believers the riches of His glory (2 Cor. 4:6; cf. Eph. 1:12; Phil. 2:11), all the privileges that accompany salvation. Such spiritual riches are promised both now and in the future (cf. Rom. 11:12; Eph. 1:7–8; 2:7; 3:8, 16; Phil. 4:19).
As Peter concluded his survey of the glories of believers’ spiritual privileges, he listed five additional advantages Christians possess: separation to Christ, possession by Christ, illumination in Christ, compassion from Christ, and proclamation of Christ.
Separation to Christ
a holy nation (2:9c)
As noted in previous chapters of this volume, Peter continued to refer to the Old Testament in support of the privileges God has granted believers. Here he alludes to Exodus 19:6 (“you shall be to Me … a holy nation”) when he declares that believers are separated to Christ as a holy nation. The word nation translates ethnos, which means “people,” as an ethnic group (Luke 7:5; 23:2; John 11:48, 50–52; Acts 2:5; 10:22; Rev. 5:9). Holy (hagios) means “separate” or “set apart.” It was common in the Old Testament to call God’s covenant people a holy nation (cf. Lev. 19:2; 20:26; Deut. 7:6; Isa. 62:12). However, because of sin and unbelief Israel forfeited (Deut. 4:27; 28:64; Ezek. 16:59; Hos. 9:17; Zech. 7:14; Rom. 11:17, 20) her great privilege (Gen. 12:2–3; Deut. 33:29; Rom. 3:1–2; 9:4–5) of being God’s unique people. But what was a tragedy for Israel became a blessing for believing Gentiles (cf. Rom. 9–11). Israel will not enjoy again the privilege of being God’s holy people until the nation finally turns in faith to the Messiah (cf. Ezek. 36:25–31; Rom. 11:24, 26).
God sets apart believers primarily to have a relationship with Him, and service to Him flows out of that relationship. Various Scripture references indicate that at the new birth believers are set apart to God from the condemnation of sin and the world (cf. Ps. 4:3; Rom. 6:4–6; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:17; 6:17; 2 Tim. 2:21; Heb. 2:11). Years earlier at the Jerusalem Council, Peter said this:
Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:7–9; cf. Heb. 10:10, 14)
Thus sanctification (cleansing from sin) is inherently bound up in salvation (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30). And sanctification entails two important aspects: Christians’ position before God and their progressive, practical pattern of holy living. That is why earlier in his letter Peter could pronounce his readers holy (1:1–2) and yet in 1:16 urge them to be holy. In the positional aspect of sanctification, God recognizes believers as separated from the penalty of sin, but in the progressive and practical aspect of sanctification, He through the Holy Spirit assists them in living more and more holy lives, thus working out the reality of their position in their conduct (cf. Rom. 6:4; 8:1–2; Gal. 5:16–23; Eph. 4:20–24; Phil. 2:12–13; 1 Thess. 4:3).
The Acts narrative in several places reinforces the truth that sanctification is inseparable from justification. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). The apostle identified the saved by the phrase “all those who are sanctified.” Likewise in his defense before Agrippa, Paul rehearsed part of what God had told him at his conversion on the Damascus Road, that He was sending him to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). There again “sanctified” was used to describe all those whom God had forgiven and given heavenly inheritance.
Positional sanctification makes Christians a holy nation before God because His own righteousness is imputed to them. And practically, they are progressing in holiness by the work of the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).
Possession by Christ
a people for God’s own possession, (2:9d)
At Sinai God promised the Israelites, “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall by My own possession among all the peoples” (Ex. 19:5; cf. Deut. 7:6–7; 14:2; 26:18; Mal. 3:17). Again, that foreshadowed the truth of Peter’s statement that Christians are now a people for God’s own possession.
The Greek term rendered possession (peripoiēsis) means “to purchase,” “to acquire for a price” (cf. Eph. 1:14). Believers belong to God because He bought them at the ultimate price (1:18–19; cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Heb. 13:12; Rev. 5:9). As Paul reminded Titus, that price was “Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us [Christians] to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession” (Titus 2:13–14; cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20).
God sovereignly elected all who believe, and by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross paid the price to redeem them (2:24; 3:18; Rom. 3:25–26; 5:8–11; Col. 1:20–22; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 John 4:10), and the Holy Spirit brought them to new life through conviction of sin and faith in the Savior. Therefore all believers belong to the God who redeemed them.
One of the stanzas of George Wade Robinson’s nineteenth-century gospel song, “I Am His and He Is Mine,” expresses this privilege well:
His forever, only His—Who the Lord and me shall part? Ah, with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart! Heav’n and earth may fade and flee, first-born light in gloom decline, but while God and I shall be, I am His and He is mine.
Illumination in Christ
who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (2:9f)
Throughout history, the unregenerate world has faced two kinds of darkness: intellectual and moral. Intellectual darkness is ignorance—the inability to see and know the truth, whereas moral darkness is immorality—the inability to see and do what is right (Ps. 58:3; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7–8; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 4:17–19). The darkness Peter refers to here is the second type—the sinful state of unbelievers who are trapped in the spiritual darkness of Satan (Eph. 2:1–2; 2 Tim. 2:25–26; 1 John 5:19), the prince of darkness. Such moral darkness is pervasive in its scope and profound in its depth (Ps. 143:2; Eccl. 7:20; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9–12). Unbelievers are children born in the darkness. They not only walk in the darkness, they love the darkness. According to Jesus,
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19–20)
However, Peter reminded his readers that Christ had sovereignly, powerfully, and effectually called them out of darkness. Almost always in the epistles when kaleō (called) or the related words klēsis and klētos appear they indicate God’s effectual call to salvation (e.g., 1:15; 2:21; 5:10; Rom. 1:6–7; 8:28, 30; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:9, 24; Gal. 1:6, 15; Eph. 4:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Peter 1:3; Jude 1). That saving call is a recurring theme, close to the apostle’s heart in this letter (cf. 1:1, 15; 2:21; 3:9; 5:10).
The positive side of Christ’s calling sinners out of darkness is that they are also thereby called into His marvelous light. Paul expressed this spiritual privilege to the Colossians: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). When believers receive Christ’s light, He illuminates their minds so they can discern the truth, and He changes their souls so they are able to apply it (cf. Ps. 119:105, 130; 1 Cor. 2:15–16; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Peter 1:19). They receive both the intellectual light of God’s truth and the righteous desires to obey it, neither of which they had before conversion.
Compassion from Christ
for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (2:10)
Peter drew an analogy from the prophet Hosea when he introduced the next spiritual privilege for believers, compassion from Christ:
Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen.” When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” it will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.” (Hos. 1:6–10)
According to that passage, there was coming a time when the Jews would no longer receive God’s compassion. This was directly fulfilled in the judgment that came on the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians (722 b.c.). But there will also be a future time (v. 10), during the Millennium, when He will have compassion on “the sons of Israel” and Judah in saving uncounted numbers of them (cf. Isa. 61:4–6; Jer. 16:14–15; Ezek. 37:20–22; Rom. 11:26–27).
In principle, Peter applied to the church—particularly to its Gentile members—the prophet’s words concerning the Jews (cf. Hos. 2:23; Rom. 9:22–26). As unbelievers, the Gentiles knew no compassion from Christ—they once were not a people. But now they had become the people of God, because they had received His mercy. Mercy is synonymous with compassion and essentially involves God’s sympathy with sinners’ misery and His withholding from them the just punishment for their sins.
Scripture discusses two kinds of divine mercy. First there is God’s general mercy (cf. Ps. 145:9; Lam. 3:22), which is evident in His providential to all creation (Pss. 36:7; 65:9–13; Matt. 5:44–45; Acts 14:14–17; 17:23–28; cf. Rom. 1:20). Common mercy displays God’s patient pity and forbearing compassion toward sinners (3:20; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 2 Peter 3:9; cf. Luke 13:6–9) because He had every right, in view of their sin, to destroy them all. Instead, at the present time He mercifully chooses not to unleash all the disastrous consequences that humanity’s sinfulness deserves (cf. Gen. 9:8–11). But eventually God’s general mercy will expire and people will feel the full consequences of sin (Matt. 24:4–22; Rev. 6:7–8; 8:7–9:19; 14:14–19; 16:1–21; 18:1–24; 19:17–21; 20:7–15; cf. Gen. 6:3; Isa. 27:11; Jer. 44:22).
Second, there is the divine, saving mercy displayed toward the elect, which is the mercy Peter referred to. They receive not only God’s common mercy in this life, but also His saving mercy for the life to come (Dan. 7:18; John 14:2; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:7; 7:16–17; 21:1–7). The elect, although no more inherently deserving than anyone else, receive God’s forgiveness for their sins and His deliverance from eternal condemnation—all according to His sovereign and loving purposes (Rom. 8:28–30; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; cf. Ps. 65:4; Rom. 9:15–16; James 2:5).
Christ’s compassion, or mercy, for believers is a spiritual privilege that beggars language (cf. Pss. 57:10; 59:16–17; 103:11; 136:1–9). It rescues believers from judgment in hell and grants them an eternal inheritance in heaven (1:4; Ps. 37:18; Acts 20:32; 26:18; Eph. 1:11, 14, 18; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Heb. 9:15), which is why Paul called God “the Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3; cf. Rom. 9:23; Titus 3:5). The words of one writer appropriately express how all Christians should feel toward such divine compassion:
When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I’m lost,
In wonder, love, and praise.
Proclamation of Christ
so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him (2:9e)
Finally, God has provided His kaleidoscope of spiritual privileges for believers for one overarching purpose: that they may proclaim the excellencies of Christ. There is no higher privilege than to be a herald for the gospel.
Proclaim (exangeilēte) is from a Greek word that appears only here in the New Testament. It means “to publish”, or “advertise” and to do so in the sense of telling something otherwise unknown. That which is generally unknown and which Peter encourages believers to publicize is the excellencies of Christ, the Savior. Excellencies (aretas) can imply the ability to perform powerful, heroic deeds. Contrary to what it might indicate in English, the term refers more to those kinds of actions than to some intrinsic royal attributes or qualities. Christians have the distinct privilege of telling the world that Christ has the power to accomplish the extraordinary work of redemption (Acts 1:8; 2:22; 4:20; 5:31–32; Rev. 15:3; cf. Pss. 66:3, 5, 16; 71:17; 73:28; 77:12, 14; 104:24; 107:22; 111:6–7; 118:17; 119:46; 145:4; John 5:36; 10:25 regarding God’s amazing acts).
For God to choose undeserving sinners as His representatives and use them to gather other sinners to Himself is a privilege beyond all expectation. It caused Paul to write:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:12–17)
9. But ye are a chosen generation, or race. He again separates them from the unbelieving, lest driven by their example (as it is often the case) they should fall away from the faith. As, then, it is unreasonable that those whom God has separated from the world, should mix themselves with the ungodly, Peter here reminds the faithful to what great honour they had been raised, and also to what purpose they had been called. But with the same high titles which he confers on them, Moses honoured the ancient people, (Ex. 19:6;) but the Apostle’s object was to shew that they had recovered again, through Christ, the great dignity and honour from which they had fallen. It is at the same time true, that God gave to the fathers an earthly taste only of these blessings, and that they are really given in Christ.
The meaning then is, as though he had said, “Moses called formerly your fathers a holy nation, a priestly kingdom, and God’s peculiar people: all these high titles do now far more justly belong to you; therefore you ought to beware lest your unbelief should rob you of them.”
In the meantime, however, as the greater part of the nation was unbelieving, the Apostle indirectly sets the believing Jews in opposition to all the rest, though they exceeded them in number, as though he had said, that those only were the children of Abraham, who believed in Christ, and that they only retained possession of all the blessings which God had by a singular privilege bestowed on the whole nation.
He calls them a chosen race, because God, passing by others, adopted them as it were in a special manner. They were also a holy nation; for God had consecrated them to himself, and destined that they should lead a pure and holy life. He further calls them a peculiar people, or, a people for acquisition, that they might be to him a peculiar possession or inheritance; for I take the words simply in this sense, that the Lord hath called us, that he might possess us as his own, and devoted to him. This meaning is proved by the words of Moses, “If ye keep my covenant, ye shall be to me a peculiar treasure beyond all other nations.” (Ex. 19:5.)
There is in the royal priesthood a striking inversion of the words of Moses; for he says, “a priestly kingdom,” but the same thing is meant. So what Peter intimated was this, “Moses called your fathers a sacred kingdom, because the whole people enjoyed as it were a royal liberty, and from their body were chosen the priests; both dignities were therefore joined together: but now ye are royal priests, and, indeed, in a more excellent way, because ye are, each of you, consecrated in Christ, that ye may be the associates of his kingdom, and partakers of his priesthood. Though, then, the fathers had something like to what you have, yet ye far excel them. For after the wall of partition has been pulled down by Christ, we are now gathered from every nation, and the Lord bestows these high titles on all whom he makes his people.”
There is further, as to these benefits, a contrast between us and the rest of mankind, to be considered: and hence it appears more fully how incomparable is God’s goodness towards us; for he sanctifies us, who are by nature polluted; he chose us, when he could find nothing in us but filth and vileness; he makes his peculiar possession from worthless dregs; he confers the honour of the priesthood on the profane; he brings the vassals of Satan, of sin, and of death, to the enjoyment of royal liberty.
That ye should shew forth, or declare. He carefully points out the end of our calling, that he might stimulate us to give the glory to God. And the sum of what he says is, that God has favoured us with these immense benefits and constantly manifests them, that his glory might by us be made known: for by praises, or virtues, he understands wisdom, goodness, power, righteousness, and everything else, in which the glory of God shines forth. And further, it behoves us to declare these virtues or excellencies not only by our tongue, but also by our whole life. This doctrine ought to be a subject of daily meditation, and it ought to be continually remembered by us, that all God’s blessings with which he favours us are intended for this end, that his glory may be proclaimed by us.
We must also notice what he says, that we have been called out of darkness into God’s marvellous or wonderful light; for by these words he amplifies the greatness of divine grace. If the Lord had given us light while we were seeking it, it would have been a favour; but it was a much greater favour, to draw us out of the labyrinth of ignorance and the abyss of darkness. We ought hence to learn what is man’s condition, before he is translated into the kingdom of God. And this is what Isaiah says, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but over thee shall the Lord be seen, and his glory shall in thee shine forth.” (Isa. 60:2.) And truly we cannot be otherwise than sunk in darkness, after having departed from God, our only light. See more at large on this subject in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians.
9 Here Peter recapitulates, stringing together OT metaphors that remind the saints of God’s covenantal faithfulness and their basic identity. The saints are a “chosen people,” a “royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” and a “people belonging to God” (cf. Ex 19:5–6; Dt 7:6; 10:15; 1 Sa 12:22; Isa 43:21; 62:2). As God’s “chosen” people, believers are reminded of and encouraged by the notion of covenant. The fact that God has entered into covenant with his people entails both privilege and obedience/obligation; the two go hand in hand.
A “royal priesthood” is best understood in the light of the LXX’s translation of Exodus 19:6, rendered “a kingdom of priests” in most versions. Michaels, 109, and Achtemeier, 165, understand this phrase as a priesthood that belongs to and acts in the service of the king. For Kelly, 96, the community is royal because the king dwells in her midst. Not insignificantly, in Revelation the saints are a “kingdom and priests” (1:6; 5:10), where “they will reign”; i.e., the saints are vindicated.
As a “holy nation,” the readers are reminded again that they are consecrated to God and thus set apart, in the sense of being different, from the world. They will resist conformity to the world because of their ultimate allegiance. Also, they are “a people belonging to God” and, consequently, have great value. Precisely why is it important to affirm basic Christian identity? What is the goal of the Christian community? It is “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The church’s mission, simply put, is to witness to the splendor of moral transformation.
2:9 / But you! With an almost audible sigh of relief, Peter turns away from contemplating the dark and inescapable lot of those who disobey God’s command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), to consider the bright and very different prospect of believers.
Peter draws expressions from the Greek ot (lxx) which there are addressed to Israel as the people of God. The apostle is thus boldly claiming that privileged status on behalf of the Christian church of believers. It is they who are now the chosen people (genos eklekton), a phrase echoing Deuteronomy 14:2 lxx: “The Lord your God has chosen you to be his special property from all the nations on the face of the earth.”
In his opening greeting, Peter addressed his readers as “elect” (eklektois); the same Greek word is here translated chosen. Now Peter adds people, genos, a term denoting race and blood relationship, and involving the idea of hereditary privilege. It is a further reminder of the new birth (1:23), whereby Christians have been brought into the divine family and thus share in all that such a relationship means (2:4–7).
Furthermore, believers are a royal priesthood and a holy nation, phrases quoted from Exodus 19:6; 23:22 lxx, which promise such a standing before God to those who are loyal to his covenant. The priesthood here spoken of is one applying to all Peter’s readers, that is, to believers in general (not to a hierarchy of a select few set apart), as in verse 5, where Christian priestly duties have already been touched upon.
As members of a holy nation, all believers are set apart for God (the sense of holy), but without geographic boundaries or without being limited to particular cultures, ages, or ethnic groups. This is a worldwide, spiritual people belonging to God (laos eis peripoiēsin, lit. “a people for [his] possession,” language reminiscent of such verses as Exod. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Mal. 3:17). Peter probably has in mind Isaiah 43:21 lxx, since that verse also goes on to refer to God’s chosen people who are to tell forth his “praises” (aretas), the word used by Peter in the next clause: that you may declare the praises (aretas) of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
That you may declare the praises of him who called you indicates the purpose for which God has chosen his people: they are to proclaim his praises, aretas, excellencies (nasb), glorious deeds (reb), triumphs (neb). The translations seek to express aspects of the meaning of aretas, which include moral worth of the divine action in bringing about salvation and the resultant worship by those who recognize and respond to what God in Christ has done for them individually and collectively. While the declaration of such praises would include the proclaiming of God’s glory in preaching, the primary sense is of adoring worship by believers.
Peter reminds his readers that God has called them out of darkness, that is, they are called to leave the darkness due to their earlier ignorance of God (1:14), which had kept them not only from a knowledge of his character, but also from realizing the immense love he had for them and the great blessings he had in store for their eternal benefit.
The divine call is into his wonderful light. To Jews, light was a familiar image of Messiah’s kingdom and spoke of the presence and active leading of God (Exod. 13:21; 14:20; Num. 6:25; Ps. 104:2). Light is the unexpected third element that makes a trio with the themes of precious stones and priesthood in the present chapter.
The light of the divine presence is often associated in Scripture with precious stones (Ezek. 1:16, 26; 10:1; Rev. 4:3, 6; 21:18–26). Whatever may be the relationship of the stones listed in Revelation 21 with the twelve stones set in the high priest’s breastpiece (Exod. 28:17–20; 39:10–14), the same association of priesthood and precious stones occurs here and in verses 5 and 9.
One of the values of the precious stones in the high priest’s breastpiece was their ability to reflect light, and the light most readily associated in the Jewish mind in this context would be the light of the Shekinah, the divine presence.
2:9–10. In the midst of a culture that stumbles over Jesus Christ, disobeys the message of Christ, and then persecutes any who embrace Christ, believers can easily become discouraged from continuing in the journey with Christ. The thought of further growing pains is certainly not attractive to everyone. So Peter laid out in ascending order some of the incredible spiritual riches that believers have in Christ. This encourages us and reminds us of the value God places on each of us. It also ties us to the Old Testament heritage of the people of God, since much of the language here comes from Exodus 19.
A chosen people emphasizes God’s loving initiative in bringing people to himself and allowing us to be a part of his church. A royal priesthood reminds us as believers that as priests we serve royalty. We have not landed a maid-service position. We are part of God’s “forever kingdom.” A holy nation emphasizes that God has set apart the church for his use and that individual believers have a valuable contribution to make to his church.
“A chosen people,” “a people belonging to God,” and “the people of God” emphasize God’s ownership in our lives. Throughout history God has claimed for himself his own people as his prized possession. Christians are a people for God to possess. A very ordinary thing acquires a new value if it has been possessed by some famous person.
Several years ago, an auction was held that focused on sports memorabilia. Dan Quayle’s little league uniform was up for grabs, as were Michael Jordan’s running shoes. Although in themselves these items were of little value, they were sold for incredible amounts of money simply because of who had owned them. Peter’s repeated emphasis with the term people is that as a believer I may be a very ordinary person, but I acquire an immense new value because I belong to God and am possessed by him.
All of this has come to us not because we deserve it or have somehow earned it but because of God’s mercy. The people who first read Peter’s letter had lived without God and Christ for a long time. During that time they had tried through many ways to obtain mercy for themselves, but had failed. In coming by faith to Christ, they received the mercy that so long had eluded them. God’s mercy came to them in tangible form, bringing the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.
The New Testament is consistent in suggesting that these kinds of benefits—extended to us through the mercy of God—are not only to be received with gratitude but are to motivate each believer to testify verbally on behalf of God and Christ. Verse 9 contains a purpose statement that describes our response. We are to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Declare means “to advertise, to proclaim.” A very literal rendering of the verb would be “to tell out or tell forth.” This suggests we should give a high priority to verbal declarations.
The word is used in other contexts to describe the rehearsing in adoring language of God’s righteousness and praises. The praises of God or Christ is a word picture for his character. One translator suggested that “praises” means his “excellent attributes.” The Christian is to be an instrument that publicizes the attributes and character of God.
According to Grudem,
The answer to our search for ultimate meaning lies in declaring the excellencies of God, for he alone is worthy of glory. Salvation is ultimately not man-centered, but God-centered. To declare God’s excellencies is to speak of all he is and has done … This purpose is too often thwarted by our silence or pride, but even brief associations with a Christian whose speech fulfills this purpose invariably refreshes our spirits (Grudem, 112).
9. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
The contrast is evident; the term but marks the difference between disobedient unbelievers and God’s chosen people. In ascending order, Peter enumerates the glorious riches of the believers in terms that approach incredulity. From the Greek we learn that he addresses them personally and emphatically with the plural pronoun you. How does Peter describe the believers? Here are the words:
- “A chosen people.” Peter writes to people who lived before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Himself a Jew, Peter addresses numerous Jewish Christians and Christians of Gentile descent. Moreover, he speaks to all believers of every age and place who read his epistle. Fully acquainted with the Old Testament, Peter applies its wording to his readers because he views them as God’s chosen people. He borrows from the prophecy of Isaiah, who records the words of the Lord: “My people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (Isa. 43:20–21). Peter, then, views the believers as the body of Christ, that is, the church.
Other translations have the term race instead of “people.” Members of a race have a common ancestor and through that ancestor are related to one another. For instance, Abraham is the father of the Jewish race. Christians through Jesus Christ call God their Father, and they are related to each other as brothers and sisters. Furthermore, because Jesus has been chosen by God (vv. 4, 6), they also are designated God’s chosen people (see 1:1; compare Deut. 10:15; 1 Sam. 12:22).
- “A royal priesthood.” Peter continues to describe the glorious riches the believers possess. He calls them “a royal priesthood.” In verse 5 he speaks of a holy priesthood, a phrase which is meaningful in the light of the command to be holy (1:15–16). The descriptive adjective royal, however, adds the dimension of kingdom and king. In the kingdom of priests (compare Exod. 19:6), there is a king. In fact, the Messiah is both priest and king, as Zechariah prophesied: “He will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne” (6:13; also see Heb. 7:14–17; Rev. 1:5–6). Whereas Zechariah prophetically portrays the Messiah as the royal priest, Peter reveals that believers are priests in a royal priesthood.
- “A holy nation.” Again Peter relies on Old Testament phraseology. He borrows the language of Exodus 19:6 (also see Deut. 7:6; Isa. 62:12). Peter resorts to using national and political terminology, but wants his readers to understand these terms in a nonpolitical manner.37 For this reason he qualifies the word nation with the adjective holy.
A nation consists of citizens who reside in a given locale, obey rules and regulations, and strive for the well-being of their society. Citizens of a “holy nation,” however, have common characteristics through Jesus Christ. Peter portrays God’s people as a holy nation, which means that the citizens have been set apart for service to God.
- “A people belonging to God.” Throughout the ages God has claimed for himself his own people (see Mal. 3:17; Acts 20:28; Titus 2:14). These people, who differ from the nations of the world, are his prized possession. They are independent of nationalistic ties because they have a special relationship to God. They belong to God, who has bought them with the blood of Jesus Christ.
- “Declare the praises.” Peter points to the task of God’s special people. As a skilled pastor, Peter addresses his readers personally. He says, “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (compare Isa. 43:21). Everywhere they should vocally proclaim God’s praiseworthy virtues, deeds, power, glory, wisdom, grace, mercy, love, and holiness. By their conduct, they must testify that they are children of the light and not of darkness (Acts 26:18; 1 Thess. 5:4).
Peter implies that in earlier days his readers lived in spiritual darkness. God called them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and redeemed them from the powers of darkness. Through the gospel of Christ, God called them into the kingdom of his Son (Col. 1:13).
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 91–93). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.