Jesus commissioned the twelve apostles (including Peter) to begin their kingdom ministry in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). From there they would minister to Judaea, then Samaria, and finally the Gentiles (Acts 1:8). Their message never got past Jerusalem. The rulers of Israel rejected the kingdom gospel by murdering Spirit-filled Stephen (Acts 7:59).
Consequently, Peter’s audience did not go beyond Israel and the believing remnant that expected to see God’s kingdom come to Earth. Jesus called this believing audience his “little flock” (Luke 12:32). This is Peter’s audience in his epistles.
It is commonly explained that his epistles were written to Gentile Christians. There is little scriptural support for this idea. It’s time to set the record straight.
As we go through 1 Peter verse by verse on Tuesday nights, we are collecting clues to define Peter’s audience. What we find is overwhelming evidence Peter is writing to the believing remnant of Israel, the “little flock”, scattered by persecution in Gentile territory (Acts 8:1).
Here are some clues:
1:1 – “to the strangers scattered” – The audience was not at home in Gentile territory, excluding Gentiles.
1:2 – “elect” – Israel is God’s elect (Isa 45:4).
1:3 – “grace… and peace, be multiplied” – They sought more grace; Paul proclaims the riches of grace to Gentiles (Eph 1:7).
1:4 – “begotten us again” – Gentiles would not be begotten of God again; Israel was God’s firstborn in Exodus 4:22. The begotten again refers to the New Testament second chance to Israel.
1:5 – “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” – The audience is waiting for salvation; Gentiles have it as a present possession in this dispensation (Rom 5:11).
1:10 – “prophesied of the grace” – This is in contradiction to the message kept secret, Israel’s message was prophesied (Acts 3:21, Eph 3:4-6, Rom 16:25).
1:12 – “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven” – This occurred at Pentecost; the ministry at Pentecost was to the “men of Judaea” (Acts 2:14).
1:13 – “hope to the end for the grace” – The audience receives grace in the end, reminding us of Acts 3:19.
1:18 – “received by tradition from your fathers” – referring to the fathers of Israel.
1:23 – “being born again” – This is terminology that refers to involvement in the New Testament given to Israel (see 1:4).
2:5 – “holy priesthood” – This is a prophetic reference to the priesthood of Israel (Exo 19:6).
2:6-7 – “I lay in Sion” – This is the place where they believed and accepted what their kinsmen rejected, Sion/Zion is prophetic language referring to Israel.
2:9 – “royal priesthood, holy nation” – This cannot be the nations (Gentiles) plural if it is identified as only one nation. That it is a priestly nation means it can be none other than Israel.
2:10 – “in time past were not a people” – This is not Gentiles, but a quote from Hosea 1:9-11 referring to the return of Israel.
2:11 – “strangers and pilgrims” – The audience includes pilgrims into Gentile lands, since all lands outside of Israel are Gentile, then the audience must be Israel.
2:12 – “honest among the Gentiles” – This only leaves a Jewish audience.
2:24 – “by whose stripes ye were healed” – A quote from Isa 53:5 referring to the prophetic atonement made for Israel.
2:25 – “sheep going astray” – They were called the little flock, and only Israel was named as the sheep of God, Jesus was their Shepherd (John 10:11).
3:7 – “prayers be not hindered” – covenant condition to their prayers
3:9 – “called, that ye should inherit a blessing” – a reference to the promises to Abraham and kingdom blessings (see Mat 19:29, 25:34)
3:12 – “against them that do evil” – This is the covenant relationship with Israel, compare to Rom 4:5 and Rom 5:8.
3:21 – “baptism doth also now save us” – compare to 1 Cor 1:17.
4:3 – “will of the Gentiles” – this only leaves a Jewish audience
4:7 – “end of all things is at hand” – This is the same message from Peter in Acts 2:16-17.
4:17 – “at the house of God… begin at us” – terminology reserved for Israel.
4:18 – “where shall the ungodly …appear” – Paul has an answer for ungodly Gentiles (Rom 4:5 and 5:8). The audience had to retain their godliness in order to be in right standing. This reflects their covenanted status. The covenants belong to Israel.
5:4 – “chief Shepherd” – John 10:11 is the Messiah as the shepherd over his lost sheep of Israel Mat 10:6.
5:8 – “roaring lion” – The Devil mimics the ministry of the Messiah who will return to Israel as the lion of Judah, different than today where the Devil is a minister of light (2 Cor 2:14).
When determining the dispensational context of a scripture the audience plays a significant role. If Peter was writing his epistles to the believing remnant of covenant Israel, then it is not written to the Jew-Gentile mystery church of this dispensation.
Our relationship to the doctrinal content in 1 Peter is that of a spectator, not of a participant. This is a right division that will cure many confusions that are caused by the covenant content of the book.