Peter begins the second chapter of his first epistle with advice to “desire the sincere milk of the word” of God (1Peter 2:2), implying that part of the reason for the trouble of the churches was that they had engaged in partaking of spiritual meat whose ultimate tendency was to deny the basic spiritual diet of the Body of Christ. Peter was calling for believers to become as newborn babes and return to this basic spiritual diet which would have the effect of “laying aside malice, guile, hypocrisies, envying and evil speaking” (1Peter 2:1). Consider young babies; can anyone imagine babies acting in such a manner? I cannot. Therefore, the remedy, it seems, that Peter offered the churches for their current distress was to return to behaving and thinking like they once did when they first received Christ as their Savior.
Next Peter recalls that Jesus was rejected of men, but chosen of God (1Peter 2:4) and makes particular reference to his being rejected by the builders or leaders of Judaism (1Peter 2:7), yet he has become the chief cornerstone of the faith. Peter’s argument may be an effort to encourage believers who seem to have been rejected in some manner throughout the provinces to which his letter is addressed (1Peter 2:12, 15). The trial seems to have affected how they were treated by their masters, which not only included slaves but also where believers were employed in the marketplace (1Peter 2:18-20).
At first this seems to be a trial that generally affected believers simply because what they believed naturally offended common relationships, whether in the marketplace or in one’s own neighborhood. However, if this were true, it seems we would hear more about it generally, and believers certainly would not be shocked by how they were being treated (1Peter 4:12), because it would have been the natural thing to expect since the first day they had come to the faith. Something recent must have occurred that troubled the saints and cause Peter to write his epistle.
Notice that Peter mentions that believers are a royal priesthood and a holy nation and a peculiar people (1Peter 2:9). He brings this out by placing it between mentioning that the leaders of Judaism rejected Jesus as the Messiah and saying that the gentiles were speaking evil of them as evildoers. In other words, those who believed in Jesus were rejected by the people with whom they lived, just as the Jewish leadership had rejected Jesus. What caused this, and in what manner were they experiencing this rejection?
Let’s look closer at how Peter refers to believers. First, he claims they are a royal priesthood, called to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God (1Peter 2:5). If they were a priesthood offering sacrifices spiritual or otherwise in the Diaspora, this meant the Temple at Jerusalem was unnecessary, which was implied in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, and that got him killed. Believing and acting as though the Temple were not necessary and would be shortly taken out of the way would certainly have earned the ire of the leadership in Jerusalem who profited by the Temple and made enemies of the local unbelieving Jews of the Diaspora. Secondly, Peter mentions the believers are a holy nation. This included the gentile believers whom Peter says were “not a people” but now were people of God (1Peter 2:10). This meant that Peter approved of the proposition that gentiles did not need to become circumcised in order to become a part of God’s people—his holy nation. Likewise this would have met with serious disapproval by both the local Jewish leadership and that in Jerusalem. Circumcision was the sign of righteousness and was absolutely necessary, according to them, for anyone to be a part of the Jewish nation. Finally, Peter mentions that believers were a peculiar people. That is, they are owned by God. Although all of creation is his, because he is its Creator, believers are especially his possession because of our relationship to Christ. This by itself sets us apart from everyone else, so if men reject us and separate themselves from us, they are only doing what is naturally true. We are a separate people, because of our relationship to God.
Nevertheless, this matter came upon the churches suddenly and seemingly from a single source, because its widespread nature and common trouble indicates a conspiracy. It’s an ancient Who Done It? type of mystery. Peter doesn’t come out and say the source is Jerusalem, but the author of the widespread trouble was not Rome. The parties who would have been offended by the Messianic sect and who had the power to enact such a widespread trouble limits the source to Jerusalem alone, and who but Annas had the opportunity and the power to do such a deed?