So says Peter in his first epistle to the five Roman provinces that today are in modern Turkey (1Peter 4:7). What did he mean? The Apostles are accused by some to have preached that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Is this so? If they did, and Jesus hadn’t returned, wouldn’t that make them false prophets? After all, Moses said that if a prophet arises and speaks something the Lord has not said, and if the matter doesn’t come to pass, the Lord has not said it, then that man is a false prophet, and we should not fear him or believe what he says (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). So, what about Peter? When he spoke of the appearing of Jesus (1Peter 1:7, 13) and the end of all things being at hand (1Peter 4:7), was he saying Jesus would return to this earth in his generation?
Actually, Peter did believe the end of all things was at hand and that Jesus was coming soon, but not in the sense that we believe this to be so today. The word for appearing and revelation in 1Peter 1:7, 13 respectively (KJV) is apokalupsis (G602) and means disclosure: – appearing, coming, lighten, manifestation, be revealed, revelation. It is the same word used by John in the book of Revelation, apokalupsis (G602), when he testifies “The Revelation (apokalupsis – G602) of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass…” (Revelation 1:1). According to John, Jesus came in the sense that he rules over this earth as the Messiah at the blowing of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15), but he wouldn’t actually return to this earth in the sense that his feet would touch the ground, until after the so called Millennium in Revelation 21:1-3.This understanding of the Scriptures is verified in what the Apostles asked Jesus when they sat together on Mt. Olivet. They asked Jesus about his coming and what sign he would give that he arrived.
It stands to reason, if all eyes could behold Jesus at his coming there would be no need of a sign. But, the Apostles asked for a sign, which Jesus told them would be the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Matthew 24:30; cf. Luke 21:21, 27). At the time of the Olivet Prophecy, the Apostles had no idea that Jesus would leave. They were completely surprised with his death and thought all things were lost before his resurrection. Therefore, what they sought to understand in their question on the Mount of Olives had absolutely nothing to do with Jesus return to this earth. Their question had to do with his coming to his throne as Messiah. This was what they sought to understand, and this is what they expected and predicted would occur in their generation or expected lifetime.
Therefore, Peter’s first epistle concerns this event, and he claimed special things would occur in celebration of Jesus taking his throne in the heavens. Nevertheless, in order to qualify for these special gifts of God, one needed to yield his life to God now and cease from living after his own fleshy desires (1Peter 4:1-3), because we all shall give an account to Jesus once he sits upon his throne (1Peter 4:5). Therefore, we need to live as Christ lived (1Peter 4:1, 8-11) using the spiritual gifts God has given us for the benefit of men, especially the brethren.
The fiery trial (1Peter 4:12) that had come upon believers at the time of Peter’s writing was meant to allow believers to become as Christ, in that they partook in his sufferings, to the end that they would also share in his glory at his revelation (1Peter 4:13-16). God’s judgment must begin with us before it can be extended to unbelievers (1Peter 4:17). With this in mind, Peter asks, if we who obey the Gospel are saved through much difficulty, what would be the end of the ungodly who did not obey the Gospel? An example of what will occur with the nations is what occurred to the Jews in 70 AD. As a nation they didn’t obey, and their nation and Temple were taken away. They lived as pilgrims in foreign lands for nearly 2000 years, persecuted from city to city and nation to nation. Yet, the Scriptures claim they, too, will be saved, and, when Jesus finally does return to this earth, he will come to save the Jews from annihilation (Zechariah 12:1-14; Revelation 20:7-20). We are all saved through great difficulty, but in the end we shall know the love and the grace of God.
What was the fiery trial that all the churches of the 1st century AD faced? I am convinced that the high priest, Annas, in Jerusalem, the same who had Jesus crucified, was behind the trouble that these churches endured throughout the Diaspora. I could believe of one or two churches having a common trial without the problem arising from a single source, but not all the churches. When suddenly trouble breaks out among many churches of different communities throughout many provinces, a common entity must be behind it all. If Rome was not persecuting believers at this time, then the source of the trouble must be sought elsewhere. Rome didn’t persecute Christians until the time of Nero, and after Nero we weren’t greatly troubled until much later. The trouble that the Messianic believers experienced had to have come from Jerusalem, and the high priest there had great influence among the synagogues scattered throughout the Empire. Just as he had planted spies and false brethren in the early Church (Acts 5:1-2, 13), he had probably done likewise later throughout the Diaspora, unleashed at this time because of the imprisonment of Paul. Peter wrote to address this threat.