Peter talks so much about the suffering that Christians’ experience that we might think he is obsessed with this issue. Of course, to bear the brunt of physical, social or verbal abuse and attack is truly a terrible experience and must not be dismissed lightly. So perhaps we can understand Peter’s concentration on suffering. He knew its depths, its agony, its costs, its stresses. But he does have some surprising things to say about it!
One of them occurs in 1 Peter 4:14. He begins this paragraph with a somber warning: “The raging fire among you, as it happens for testing, do not think it strange as if some strange thing is occurring” (vs.12). He urges believers to consider it joy when they “share in the sufferings of the Messiah” (vs. 13). The verbal onslaughts from contemporaries, mentioned several times in his letter, once more come to the fore in vs. 14: “if you are reviled in the name of Messiah, be blessed”. Peter’s rationale for this lies in the proof it provides that “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (vs. 14b). Alternative translations are suggested for the first part of this clause. We are not sure whether Peter intended to say “the things of glory and the Spirit of God rest on you” or “the Spirit of glory and of God rest on you”. I think the second option is the more probable because Peter uses a singular verb, suggesting a single subject, not a compound subject.
Many commentators note that Peter’s language here is very similar to that found in Isaiah 11:2. This oracle commonly ranks high among the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Isaiah foretells that a new shoot will emerge from “the root of Jesse” and “on him the Spirit of God will rest, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and piety.” If Peter is paraphrasing this oracle, then he seems to be suggesting that believers who share in the sufferings of the Messiah, also share in the blessing of the Spirit’s presence and all that He brings. Peter’s word for this is ‘glory’. The same pattern of similarity between the Messiah and his followers also occurs in 4:1, where Peter writes: “Since Messiah has suffered in the flesh, you also arm yourselves with the same mindset….” Since God has called followers of Jesus to experience suffering for His sake, He also has provided the rich resources of His Spirit to help believers pass through these dire times with strong faith, perhaps even with joy.
Earlier in his letter Peter has defined the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Messiah Who witnessed in advance through the prophets about the Messiah’s sufferings and glory (1:10-11). He then affirmed that this same Spirit is the One Who has empowered and mandated those who shared the Gospel with these believers (1:12). Now he goes one step further and assures these Christians that this same divine Spirit now “rests on them”, to keep them strong in the faith and assure them of their participation in God’s glory.
The Spirit assists believers by giving them boldness and ability to confess their faith. In 3:15 Peter encourages believers to be “ready always to give a reason for the hope that is in you to everyone who asks you”. It is clear that such occasions will come in the contexts of suffering. I do not think it is coincidental that Jesus in one of his last major addresses promises that the Holy Spirit will give the Messiah’s followers the words to say when they are arrested and persecuted (Mark 13:11). The connection between the Holy Spirit, witness, and suffering that we find in Jesus’ teaching, is repeated in Peter’s letter. It is probable that also in 1 Peter 4:14 the apostle wants his readers to discern the connection between the Spirit’s ‘resting on them’ and their ability and responsibility to confess their faith.
There is another context in the Old Testament where this language occurs. In Numbers 11:16-30 the complaints of the people about the constant diet of manna overwhelm Moses. God provides others in Israel to help him share this burden. Seventy elders are selected and when God descends, He causes His Spirit to ‘rest’ on these elders and they prophesy. Even Eldad and Medad, who were part of the elders but for some reason had remained separately in the Israelite camp, were given God’s Spirit and they prophesied as well (11:26-27). When some object to their activity, Moses expresses his desire that “all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (11:29). Could it be that Peter is also reflecting on this passage and suggesting in his letter that the presence of God’s Spirit resting upon His people enables them to proclaim, with prophetic authority and insight, the Gospel of God?
In 4:10-11 Peter celebrates the gifts that God provides to His people – gifts for serving and gifts for speaking. Those who speak are to speak “as it were the oracles of God” to God’s glory. The word ‘oracle’ (logia) frequently in the Greek translation of the Old Testament describes prophetic communication. As well it describes the “oracle box” attached to the ephod worn by the High Priest (Exodus 28:15) through which God would provide “oracles for settling cases”. Peter has already expressed that followers of Jesus form a new priesthood serving in God’s new spiritual house.
The bottom line seems to be this. Peter affirms that Christians possess God’s Spirit. When they experience suffering, this should be considered confirmation that God’s Spirit resides within them. As they find boldness to confess their faith and speak for God, this demonstrates the Spirit of God is resting on them, assuring them of their participation in God’s glory. As Jesus’ followers today, we have the same promise and the same assurance. God’s Spirit rests upon us to help us confess our faith boldly and sincerely.
Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today,
- thank God for His Spirit Who rests upon you, giving you comfort and confidence;
- if you are in a place of suffering for Christ, see in this demonstration of the Spirit’s presence. He is making a difference in your life for God’s glory;
- Claim the promise of Christ that the Spirit rests upon you to enable you to witness a good confession in the midst of suffering;
- Commit yourself to speak boldly for Jesus today.