At the heart of the First Epistle of Peter is the exhortation towards a life of holiness and patient endurance of suffering. On both sides of these exhortations, functioning as book ends to the Epistle, are descriptions of a future revelation; a revelation of Jesus (1:7, 1:13, 5:4) and His glory (4:3, 5:1), grace (1:13), crowns of glory (5:4), and ultimately salvation (1:5). This apocalyptic anticipation that Peter is striving to stir up within the hearts of the recipients of his letter serve the purpose of being the incentive to pursue holiness and to endure the suffering and trials that befall them. Peter’s audience is therefore to live in the present with view of the future and to look at their sufferings and struggles within the light of the future unveiling of glory. The sufferings of the Christians will ultimately result in an apocalyptic glorification at the Second Coming of Jesus precisely because Jesus Himself both suffered and was glorified; thus Jesus’ sufferings and glorification serve as the paradigm for the Christian life.
The themes of Jesus’ sufferings and glorification are threaded throughout the Epistle from beginning to end. At the beginning of the Epistle Peter announces that the prophets of Israel predicted, “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory,” (1:11) while a significant portion of the second chapter uses Jesus’ sufferings as the foundation for an exhortation to patiently endure unjust suffering, “for to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (2:21) Nearing the end of the Epistle is the proclamation that Jesus suffered in the flesh and how the Christians, to whom Peter is writing, ought to put off sinful habits and to pursue holiness through their own sufferings because, “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” (4:1). While the Epistle assigns Jesus’ sufferings an exemplary role it makes it clear that Christian suffering is not merely an imitation of Jesus’ sufferings but are in fact a participation in them, “rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings.” (4:13)
Jesus’ sufferings are held up as an example precisely because His sufferings resulted in His glorification; and at His revelation so too will His glory be revealed. Just as His sufferings (events in the past) are spoken of in participatory language so too is His glory (always spoken of in the future tense) given to the Christians to participate in, as Peter says of himself, “[as] a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.” (5:1) Therefore through participating in Jesus’ sufferings through their own patient endurance and pursuit of holiness they likewise become partakers in the present of Jesus’ eschatological glory.
The Christian life is therefore characterized by a life of holiness and suffering rooted in Jesus’ own holiness (1:15) and sufferings (2:21) in anticipation of the future apocalyptic appearance of the glorified Christ where they too will glorified by His own glory since the shared in His sufferings. Jesus’ sufferings form the basis for Christian suffering and the anticipation of apocalyptic glory works as the incentive for Christians to endure the sufferings that befall them and to pursue holiness.