Confidence in a Personal Fellowship with Christ
and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, (1:8)
Love and trust are the two crucial ingredients in any meaningful relationship. In this verse, the apostle exalts those two aspects as essential to believers’ relationship with Christ and vital to the joy that results. He also reflects genuine pathos and personal humility with these words, based on his past, personal experience as one of the Twelve.
Excluding Judas Iscariot (Matt. 26:14, 16; Luke 22:47–48), Peter was the one disciple who exhibited the most egregious breach of faith and trust in his Lord. Not long after Peter’s three-time denial of Christ (Luke 22:54–62), Jesus confronted him and three times asked him, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15–22). In humble fashion he reflected on that time and by implication commended his persecuted readers for their relationship to Christ. Peter, even though he was the leader of the apostles and lived with Jesus for three years, in a crucial time failed to sustain his love and trust in Him. In marked contrast, his readers, though they had not seen Him, maintained a true love for and strong trust in Jesus in the midst of threatening persecution and sufferings.
The word love (agapate) is the love of the will, the noblest form of love. The present tense indicates that Peter’s audience constantly loved their Lord, which love defines the essence of being a Christian. Peter underscores this fact later in the letter, “Unto you therefore which believe he [Christ] is precious” (2:7, kjv; cf. 1 Cor. 16:22; Eph. 6:24; 1 John 4:19). Real joy flows from a love for the unseen Master, the One whom believers also obey (cf. John 14:21).
Peter next commends his readers’ faith and trust in Christ. Obviously to believe in Him goes hand in hand with loving Him. The soul that loves Christ cannot help but believe in Him, and the soul that believes cannot help but love. Though Christians do not see Him now, still they believe in Him. Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29; cf. Heb. 11:1). Faith accepts the revealed, written record of Jesus Christ (the Gospels; 2 Tim. 3:15; cf. 2 Chron. 20:20; Acts 24:14), which portrays Him in all His glory and leads believers to love Him (cf. Heb. 11:6). The more faith can know of Christ, and the more such knowledge possesses the heart, the stronger believers’ love for Him becomes (cf. 2 Cor. 8:7; Gal. 5:6; 1 Tim. 1:5; 1 John 2:5) and the more joy they exhibit (cf. Pss. 5:11; 16:11). Thus love and trust are the two elements that bind believers to a living fellowship with Jesus Christ.
That wondrous relationship caused Peter’s readers to greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. Inexpressible (aneklalētō) literally means “higher than speech.” Those who live in personal communion with Christ experience a joy so divine that they cannot communicate it; humanly speaking, such joy is beyond the reach of speech and expression. And that joy is also full of glory (doxazō), meaning “to render highest praise” and from which doxology derives. In their fellowship with the Lord, believers have both a supernatural love (cf. Gal. 5:22; 2 Thess. 3:5; 1 John 4:19) and a transcendant joy (cf. Eccl. 2:26; Pss. 4:7; 21:6; 68:3; 97:11; Jude 24).
8 Yet the focus of their joy is not the inheritance nor the glory, but the returning Christ. Here one finds a paradox. Unlike Peter and others of the first generation who had seen Jesus, they have neither seen him in the past nor do they see him at present; their faith is not based on their perceptual experience. Yet, despite this apparent deprivation, they in no way come behind the first generation of disciples in Palestine, for they love and believe on Jesus. This paradox of faith without sight is often found in the NT (see John 20:24–29; 2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1, 27), for as soon as the church expanded outside Palestine it was the experience of most Christians. The really important thing is not what they can see (e.g., the trials they have and their enemies), but whom they love and are committed to (cf. also 2 Kings 6:14–17), even though they do not see him.
In the OT and the Gospels love and commitment (or faith) are normally directed toward God (e.g., Mark 12:29–30, which draws on Deut. 6:4–5). But even in the Gospels (e.g., Matt. 18:6; John 8:42; 11:25; 14:21) and especially in the epistles (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:22; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 6:24) the implicit command in the call to love and commit oneself to Jesus (e.g., Mark 10:21) is made explicit. In our text Peter clearly points to Jesus as the object of their love and the goal of their commitment and joy.
Their commitment to Jesus (“believing”) causes them to rejoice. The verb is present (although some copyists later changed it to a future, misunderstanding the paradox), for Peter’s point is that in the midst of outward trials we can already experience by faith and rejoice in our coming Lord. Thus the joy is “unspeakable” or inexpressible, for it defies outward circumstances (and thus is hard to explain) and is rooted in a realm that is beyond our physical experience (cf. 2 Cor. 2:9 citing Isa. 64:4). The joy is also “filled with glory,” a joy that has already been glorified, not in the sense that they already experience the fullness of glory of the coming of Christ, but in the sense that in their love and commitment to Christ they experience a joy that partakes of and anticipates the joy of the final day of salvation. 18 It is in their focus on Christ, rather than on circumstances or even on doctrine, that they find this joy.
1:8 / Unlike Peter himself, his readers, for reasons of time and geography, never saw Jesus in the flesh, and now that he has ascended back into heaven they will not have an opportunity in this life of setting eyes on him. The next life will be another story (1 John 3:2). Yet the inability to see him in this world has not prevented them from becoming believers, for faith does not depend upon sight (2 Cor. 5:7). And more: committing their lives to Christ as Savior has not been restricted to an unemotional transaction. As a consequence of their conversion, they found, and are continuing to find, love for the unseen Christ growing within them. His presence in their lives is real, even if unseen. And more even than that: they are being blessed in a special way. Peter knew the reason. He was present when the risen Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). So Peter’s readers in every generation are eligible for such a blessing—which he interprets as inexpressible and glorious joy.
That joy is inexpressible, beyond human description, for in truth it does not belong to this world-order, and it is certainly not of human origin. It is a divine gift (Ps. 16:11; John 15:9–11; 16:24; Rom. 15:13; Gal. 5:22) and a direct consequence of a living relationship with the Lord (1 Cor. 2:9). As such, it is a witness to others (Luke 15:4–10) of divine care and loving activity in the believer’s life.
1:8 you love him … even though you do not see him now. God expresses his love to believers by shielding them and caring for them during times of suffering. As a result, even though believers do not see Jesus during this time, they grow in their love for him through suffering.
you believe in him. Peter writes “believe in him” rather than simply “believe him.” This observation, together with his use of the verb “love,” highlights that Peter has in mind personal trust in Jesus in the context of a relationship with him. This is not just a statement that the readers are Christians. It is a statement that they are actively depending on Jesus in the midst of the sufferings and trials of daily life. The result of this active trust is joy. Joy in the midst of trials is the experience, not of all believers, but only of those who are loving Jesus and placing their trust in him in the midst of such trials.
1:8. How could these Christians face their suffering? They chose to love Christ and to believe in him even though they had not actually seen him in the past and had not encountered him visibly in the present. Most of Peter’s readers had no personal contact with Christ while he lived on earth. They were a generation removed from the time of his earthly ministry. This did not become an excuse. Instead, by accepting the testimony of those, like Peter, who had seen Christ, they entered into a personal relationship with Christ marked by love and belief.
“Believe,” as used here, means “to trust or rest your confidence in someone, to depend on them.” Having trusted Christ with present salvation from sin, you can also trust him with future salvation from pain and suffering. The result of this active trust is an inexpressible and glorious joy even in the midst of suffering. Peter repeated the theme of joy that he introduced in verse 6. This joy issues from gratitude to God for who he is and for what he has provided through salvation. Joy comes especially from our hope of seeing Christ one day. Although our trials may result in temporary grief, this need not extinguish our deep, abiding joy anchored in our hope in Jesus Christ.
Biblical joy does not depend on circumstances. Joy is inseparably connected to love and trust. Even during pain, the fullness of joy comes from a deep sense of the presence of God in our lives. We can experience joy in suffering when we believe our suffering has a redemptive or refining purpose.
1:8. Here is the climax of the experiential joy that results from faith. God accomplished salvation through the work of His Son Jesus Christ. So the focus of a believer’s faith is not on abstract knowledge but on the person of Christ. The apostle’s warm heart overflowed as he spoke of the love and belief in Christ of those who, unlike himself, did not see Jesus when He walked on earth. Peter may have had in mind Jesus’ words: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Yet, though Christians do not now see Him, like Peter they love and believe in Him, and are also filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. The verb agalliasthe (“are filled with … joy”) was used by Peter in 1 Peter 1:6, “you greatly rejoice,” and agalliōmenoi is used in 4:13.
1:8 Peter now discusses the present enjoyment of our salvation—Christ taken by faith. Though we have never seen Him with our eyes, we love Him. Though we do not see Him at this time, yet we believe in Him. That is how we enter into the blessedness which He mentioned to Thomas, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
William Lincoln writes:
People talk a lot about love, but the true test of love to God and Christ is, that in the trial it says—“I would not lose the favor and smile of God, so will rather suffer than grieve Him.” Love will be content with a crust and the smile of God, rather than a better position and the popularity of the world without it. Such tests must come to all the true children of God; they winnow the chaff from the wheat. The gold comes out from the fire tried, and purified from its dross.
Believing on Him we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. To be united to Him through faith is to have uninterrupted and eternal contact with the fountain of all pure joy. The Christian’s joy is not dependent on earthly circumstances but on the risen, exalted Christ at God’s right hand. It is no more possible to rob a saint of his joy than it is to unseat Christ from His place of glory. The two stand together.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2252–2253). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.