Jesus said that at least part of his commission in coming into the world was to kindle a fire on the earth (Luke 12:49a). This was said in the context of his coming in judgment upon his disciples (Luke 12:22-48), and in the context of his own crucifixion (Luke 12:50) or judgment at the hands of men. The fire of which Jesus spoke was the fire of suffering (judgment), for some, it means being persecuted for righteousness. Jesus seems to say that this fire of judgment is already lit (Luke 12:49b; cf. 6:11; 11:53), in that he was already being persecuted (John 5:16), which would culminate in his own death. Moreover, if Jesus was persecuted, it follows that anyone who claims to be his disciple would also be persecuted (John 15:20; cf. Luke 12:45). Therefore, in his first epistle Peter sought to encourage the believers in Asia Minor, concerning their present condition and how that condition served God’s purpose, and, not only so, but he also shows that judgment would come to their persecutors.
In 1Peter 4:12 Peter encouraged his readers to consider what was occurring to them was not a strange matter. The Greek word Peter used for fiery trial (G4451) is also used in the Septuagint at Proverbs 27:21 to express how gold is reduced to its purest state, namely, through burning by fire. Proverbs also shows how a man is shown to be what he is. A man’s furnace or burning by fire that exposes him for what he is comes from the mouth of the one who praises him. If he praises himself (Proverbs 27:2), he is but a vain fool (2Corinthians 12:11). If the wicked praise him, he is, no doubt, one of their number (Proverbs 28:4). However, if the Lord praises him (2Corinthians 10:18), that one is approved. Nevertheless, approval is gained through the fire of Christ’s word (cf. Luke 12:49; Jeremiah 20:9; Malachi 3:1-3), which fire ignited the fiery trial believers experienced in Asia Minor during the first century AD.
Believers are expected to be cheerful during seasons of persecution, knowing that they share in the sufferings of Christ (1Peter 4:13). Peter’s mentioning the revelation of Christ’s glory in this verse points to the fact that Jesus was made the Messiah by God. That is, Jesus was made King over the earth (1Peter 1:21). This fact was testified by or revealed in Christ’s judgment upon Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD (cf. Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Daniel 7:13). The sign, showing Jesus was alive and in heaven governing as Messiah, was his judgment upon Jerusalem, and, assuming the believer was faithful during his own fiery trial (judgment), he may rejoice in the presence of national judgment, because he has been approved by God (1Peter 1:1 – remember, Peter’s intended readers were Jews of the Diaspora).
Some may contend that it is easy to say one should be cheerful (1Peter 4:13), as one is being thrown to the lions. This seems to be a tall order only a few could obey. Certainly, not many, if any at all, could possibly be expected to have the composure to be cheerful, as he is torn limb from limb. Nevertheless, such an understanding doesn’t quite fit the premise of the persecution that went on in Asia Minor during the first century AD. It was a persecution of lies. The believer was being falsely accused of being evil. Truth was twisted to make it look like he was a menace to society. Such things are serious and meant to put the believer in fear, but Peter tells him to be cheerful and accept his opportunity to suffer in the name of Christ.
To suffer so is, in fact, to be blessed, because the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon him, which means that the Holy Spirit rests upon the believer (Isaiah 11:2). Therefore, the witness he bears is of God and not merely of himself (cf. Matthew 10:18-20). His persecutors blaspheme the name of Christ, seeking to expunge it from men’s knowledge, hoping to erase every thought of him from the hearts and minds of every believer. However, on the part of the believer, because he embraces going through the fiery trial, the name of Christ is being magnified. This is a spiritual warfare, even though the believer suffers physically, emotionally and mentally. Nevertheless, he is promised victory and even vindication in the end, because judgment is coming. The fire has been ignited by Christ and will not be extinguished until evil has been completely consumed from the earth.