Within Peter’s short first epistle he uses three cognate terms: episcope i.e., protection through personal presence (2:12); episkopos i.e., the role of guardian or protector (2:25); and episkopew i.e., a verb meaning to accept the responsibility of care for someone (5:2).1 They describe action taken for the care and protection of individuals.
In 2:25 and 5:2 these terms are linked with the metaphor of shepherding. Jesus Christ is defined in 2:25 as the “Shepherd and Guardian of your lives”. Church leaders have responsibility to “shepherd the flock of God among you by exercising care” (5:2) and in this they reflect the example of the Chief Shepherd. The prophet Ezekiel made a similar connection. In an oracle that describes how God will rescue His people from the wicked shepherds, God promises, “I will seek my sheep and I will protect (episkepsomai) them” (Ezekiel 34:11). He acts as their shepherd, providing them with good pasture and refreshing water.2
We have the overpowering sense that God the Father and Jesus the Messiah take very seriously their role as our guardians, the Ones Who protect us from all evil and ensure our good as we follow Jesus. Peter emphasizes this theme of divine protection in other ways also. At 1:5 Peter describes believers as “those who are fortressed about by the power of God through faith…” The image is of a fortified structure that keeps the occupants safe from the enemy, but in this case it is God’s own power that acts as the fortification of His people.
When Peter is concluding his letter, he encourages his audience to “resist (the devil) by being strong in the faith” (5:9), knowing that believers live “under the mighty hand of God” (5:6), a place of secure protection. It is this same God Who has the power to “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (5:10), both now and in eternity.
Because of this wonderful protection provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have to fear Satan, or be anxious that our hope will be disappointed, or shrink from doing good in the face of human opposition. God the Father and God the Son are the Ones protecting us. Those powers that would threaten us already acknowledge their submission to Jesus (3:22) because he sits at God’s right hand. This reality enables us to live with joy, enjoying right now his blessings but anticipating future goodness.
The other context in Peter’s letter (2:12) creates a little more controversy. Peter encourages believers to stand firm when their peers publicly oppose and slander them. They must continue to do good, modeling good behaviour before all. The motivation for their continued good works lies in the hope that “as they observe your good works, they will glorify God in the day of visitation (episkopes).” It is not clear whether Peter through the phrase “day of visitation” is referring to the final judgment or to the contemporary situation of the believers.
Clearly Peter in other contexts of his letter speaks about the final judgment when human beings will give account to God for their actions.3 However, he is quick to assert that in this assize, people who do not follow Jesus have no defense (4:17-18), no place to stand. And so it would seem that the final judgment is not the place where such people will glorify God. The other alternative is to understand Peter’s idea at 2:12 as being evangelistically focused. As Christians live good lives in the face of ignorant slander, they can hope that their opponents will see the truth of the Gospel and respond in faith. The “day of visitation” becomes a time of testing, an opportunity for them to respond to the living faith they observe in the believers. We also see Peter defining similar motivation in 3:2 for believing wives and their conduct with respect to their unbelieving spouses. The noun here then has the idea of a presence that scrutinizes, a looking that arises from personal presence and it may be threatening or encouraging depending upon the context. I think Peter seeks to think of this visitation positively because he sees it leading to God’s glory.
Jesus Messiah acts as the protector of our lives – those who have died to sin and now live for righteousness. In a world that is filled with so many threats and terrors, where serious opponents stalk the land, we stand under the protection of the Mighty One, the Creator and so we can rest with calm assurance in His eternal, grace-filled care, no matter what happens. He is our fortress.
Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today
- thank Jesus for being your Saviour and your Protector now and through eternity;
- consider how Jesus has protected you in the past week – morally, spiritually, physically;
- as you minister to others today, you act in Christ’s place as their protector. What does this mean for you in your role – as parent, as ministry leader, as fellow-believer?
- 1. There is also a variant reading at 1 Peter 5:6b “in the time of visitation” (en kairoi episopes), but this is viewed by most commentators as a secondary reading.
- 2. Paul also integrates similar terminology in his speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28). He commands them to “watch themselves and all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has set you as protectors/guardians (episkopous), to shepherd the church of God,….”
- 3. The phrase has this sense in Isaiah 10:3. Perhaps Luke 19:44 suggests a similar sense.