The Word of God Abides Forever
1 Peter 1:21–25
1 Peter Lesson #054
June 23, 2016
… Speaking about studying the Word, Alan found an amusing cartoon today which I think you will enjoy. It’s somewhat appropriate as the pastor says, “Recently I’ve had complaints that my sermons were too intellectual. The following adults are invited to come up for the children’s sermon ...”
My second church that I pastored would have fit that perfectly. I would have named most of the adults.
“Father, again we express our gratitude to You for all that You have provided for us. Above all, we’re thankful for Your Word that is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword because it pierces us and exposes our thinking and enables us to be transformed from those who are following and walking after the cosmic system, the world system, to those who are trusting in Christ and living out Your will and operating on the basis of divine viewpoint and not human viewpoint.
Father, remind us that this is not a study related to a philosophy of life, although it is that, but it is much more. It is related to our personal relationship and walk with You that You might be glorified and that we might be prepared to rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Kingdom and throughout eternity.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Peter is writing this epistle, much like James is, to a group of Jewish-background believers who are facing the challenges of opposition and maybe even persecution from those who are around them. They have trusted in Jesus Christ as Messiah, but the Jewish community, generally, was rejecting Jesus as Messiah.
Through most of the first century the Christian church was primarily made up of Jewish-background believers. They are located in what we now know as Turkey. At that time it was sort of the north central part of what is now Turkey. He is writing them to encourage them on why you should live today in light of eternity.
That summarizes this whole epistle. As we get into the study of the main body, which started in verse 13 [the first twelve verses provide the introduction], I pointed out that this is wrapped around some imperatives. That gives us the structure.
The key, as we’re going to see tonight, that he’s going to transition to at the end of this chapter, and it will become a focal point in the next chapter, is the power of God’s Word to strengthen us in the midst of trials and temptations.
In the verses that we’re looking at, we have these four commands that are given. 1 Peter 1:13–14 says to rest your hope fully on the grace brought to you through objective thinking. The first thing he focuses on to handle testing (fiery trials) is to focus on hope.
The second thing he says is to set yourselves apart for the service of God in every area of your lifestyle. That is going to relate to experiential sanctification. The word “sanctification” means to set apart. The same word group that is translated “sanctify” is also translated “consecrate” and “be holy”.
The way this verse is translated commonly is, “be holy for I am holy,” but the language of holiness is often misunderstood, so I’ve translated its meaning here as to be set apart to the service of God.
That leads to living your life in a certain way, conducting your life in fearful respect of God. What we see here are several of those spiritual skills or problem-solving devices.
We see the idea of confession so that we are in right relationship with the Lord, experientially sanctified, or set apart to His service.
Doctrinal orientation and the Faith-Rest Drill are part of those basic spiritual skills exhibited in this mandate to conduct your lives in fearful respect of God.
The problem-solving device of your personal sense of destiny is embodied in the command to rest your hope fully in the grace brought to you in 1 Peter 1:13–15. Then as we get into more advanced spiritual skills we’re to love one another as Christ loved the church.
These are all embodied in this opening section.
When we stopped last time we were looking at the command in 1 Peter 1:22–23, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the Word of God which lives and abides forever.”
A couple of things you should note so we can understand this. It is a long sentence in the Greek that begins in verse 22 and goes to the end of the Isaiah 40 quote in verse 25. It’s comprised of two basic components, basically the foundation and the reason for the command.
The command is given toward the end of verse 22. You have two reasons given for it.
First of all, because you have purified your souls in obeying the truth and second, because you have been born again. Those form the foundation and they are basically two sides of the same coin, as we will see here.
Then in his content he transitions to talking about the Word of God which lives and abides forever. At that point he’s going to quote from the Old Testament, from Isaiah 40:5–8.
It’s very important to understand why this is quoted and what’s going on in his thinking. Because even though he’s addressing these Jewish background believers in the first century who are facing opposition, all of this applies just as much to the body of Christ, whether you’re Jew or Gentile.
It has a special resonance for them as Jewish background believers because of their knowledge of the Old Testament and their knowledge of their own history. That is going to be different for Gentiles. One of the things I’ve noted in studying James and 1 Peter, and especially Hebrews, if y’all remember our study of Hebrews, the writers of those three epistles all assumed that their audience really knows the Old Testament inside and out. It takes a lot more time to teach those to Gentiles who have a paucity of Old Testament knowledge.
As we look at this, it’s important to recognize that the command to love one another is qualified by two participles. This is where we get into grammar, but the grammar is really important to expose the thinking of Peter and the thinking of God the Holy Spirit. The grammar sets up what’s important and helps us to understand the mechanics for our thinking.
We’re to love the brethren, but it’s based on two reasons. Those reasons are expressed in two participles. The first one has to do with purification at the beginning of verse 22 and the second has to do with regeneration at the beginning of verse 23.
They’re both expressed by perfect participles, which mean that these two participles roughly occur at the same time. That’s important in understanding the passage.
Peter is saying that since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, we have to understand how that relates. It’s a perfect active participle. In the Greek it doesn’t have an article with it. The way the participle functions is that if an article is there it’s used more like a noun. If no article is there, it’s used more like a verb. That means it’s adverbial. It modifies the main verb, which is to love in some ways.
It can be a number of different ways, but here it is causal, which means because something has already happened in the past. That’s the thrust of that grammar there. It indicates that something has happened and is completed in the past. It’s not talking about something ongoing.
Even though purification and HAGNIZO, the term here for purification, could refer to those who are being purified in the process of their spiritual life, which would be talking about confession of sin. Since it’s talking about a significant completed action in the past, it has to be talking about positional sanctification, which is what occurs at the instant we are saved.
We become positionally cleansed. We become positionally pure because we possess the perfect righteousness of Christ. It’s not because we receive an infusion of righteousness. If you come from a Roman Catholic background, the idea in Roman Catholicism is that you receive infused grace each time you participate in the sacraments.
This is totally different. This isn’t an infusion that changes you in terms of reducing the sinfulness of your sin nature. It is talking about the fact that we have been given the righteousness of Christ so that we are declared righteous and pure. This is not because we’ve done anything or our nature has changed, or anything like that, but because we have the righteousness of Christ.
Then we’re told that this main command at the end of the verse, “love one another”, is an aorist active imperative. Again this gets into some technicalities in the Greek, but in Greek grammar the timing of the participle is always in relation to the timing or the tense of the main verb. Since it’s an aorist imperative, the action of either a perfect tense participle or an aorist tense participle means that that action has to happen before you can fulfill the action of the command.
Again, we can’t love one another unless first of all we are regenerate. You can’t generate this kind of love. It’s not something you can reach inside yourself and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
Once again, the important principle we always have to remember is that the spiritual life is not difficult. It’s impossible. The only way we can live the spiritual life is by walking by the Spirit, letting the Holy Spirit produce this.
Paul quotes this same idea, talking about loving your neighbor as yourself in Galatians 5:14. He follows that two verses later by showing how you do that. You do it by walking by the Holy Spirit. Then he talks about the war between the Spirit and our flesh, our sin nature.
He talks about the characteristics of the life of a person who is walking according to the sin nature, the works of the flesh. Then he talks about the life of the spiritual believer, the believer who is walking by the Spirit. He lists a number of characteristics, identified as the fruit of the Spirit.
What’s the first characteristic? The first characteristic isn’t sleep. The first characteristic is love. The fruit of the Spirit is first of all love. Then joy. Then peace. Love is the foremost.
We know that loving one another isn’t something you can generate because we can each look around or think mentally about people in our lives, in our families, or people we work with, and apart from the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re never going to generate any love for them.
Think about that person in your life that has a political belief and persuasion which is 180 degrees opposite yours. And God says, “Love them as Christ loved the church.”
Okay, I’ve made my point. You can’t do it on your own. None of us can. We have to have the energizing power of God the Holy Spirit. So the command is to love one another because we’ve purified our souls.
We recognize that this has to be done only through the Word of God. It’s the Spirit of God and the Word of God that sanctify us. In John 17:17 we’re sanctified by truth.
Jesus repeats this concept both in John 17:17 and John 17:19. We know this already so we know doctrinally that if Peter is going to be talking about being able to live a sanctified life, he’s not talking about “walking an aisle” or having a moment of dedication or rededication. He’s not talking about some sort of spiritual experience, which is what you get in many denominations.
There’s a failure to understand the role of God the Holy Spirit and the role of the Word of God. It’s the Word of God and the Holy Spirit that enable us to live a set-apart life. Other than that it can’t happen.
So Peter says that based on what has happened at salvation in terms of being purified in our souls, we have to ask this question which I’ve already answered. Is the purification a positional purification or experiential?
The answer is going to be that because of the fact of the participle, verse 22, and the participle in verse 23 are both perfect tenses, which it indicates it must be positional because it happens before the command of the Word.
Even though the Scripture talks about this experiential cleansing in James 4:8 and 1 John 3:3, using the same word, the perfect tense indicates past completed action. That’s important because he’s reminding these believers, just like me, just like you, who are going through opposition, going through testing, and going through trials, that the way you get through it is by focusing on what we have in Christ, what has already been provided for us, what is ours positionally, and then living in light of that.
Paul does the same thing over in Romans 6:11 where he says, “Reckon yourselves [consider yourselves] dead to sin.” Positionally we die to sin at the moment of faith alone in Christ alone.
So to love one another, we recognize that in order to do this, first of all, there had to be this purification, this cleansing that occurred positionally, making us a new creature in Christ.
John 13:34, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you.” That is the prime directive for the spiritual life.
It’s not something that starts the day you are regenerate. I want to bring this out in just a minute. It’s not something that starts as a baby believer.
When you were a year old you really didn’t love your parents. When you were four or five you began to love them like a four or five year old. When you get a little older you know and understand more about them. You have developed a personal relationship with your parents. You love them in a more mature way.
When you get past your 20s, you begin to love them in an even more mature way.
Loving one another is a growth process. It’s not something that happens instantaneously, but it is the goal of the spiritual life.
I’ve said that because this is exactly what the grammar of the text indicates. “Because you have purified your souls by obeying the truth [instrumental, the truth of the gospel, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ] through the Spirit …” He is the One who enables us to be regenerate. He is the divine power that regenerates us.
We know this from passages like Titus 3:5 which says, “it’s not by works of righteousness which we have done.” It doesn’t have anything to do with what we do or think. It has to do with what we believe.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
So those two concepts: the washing of regeneration and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, are connected. The Holy Spirit renews us and gives us new life by cleansing us at the moment of salvation. That becomes our personal cleansing and personal purification.
This text says that when we obeyed the truth through the Spirit, we were purified. That’s the same concept we have in Titus 3:5, and then it goes on to say “in sincere love of the brethren”.
On the slide  you see on the left that this box represents the preposition that is translated “in” in the New King James Version. It’s the Greek preposition EIS, which expresses a direction or a goal.
We are purified through the Spirit toward the direction of expressing the ultimate goal of a mature Christian toward the goal of a sincere love of the brethren.
We’ll talk about what that word “sincere” means in just a minute. It means a love that is free from pretense or deceit. It has integrity. The only way it can have integrity is if it’s grounded in the integrity of God, the character of God, His righteousness and His justice.
What Peter is saying here is that they are to love one another. That’s the command. The background is understanding what happened to you when you were saved. We call that doctrine “Positional Truth”.
That’s a nice label, but sometimes when we use these labels; it goes over peoples’ heads. What it means is that you were identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. You became a new creature in Christ and part of what happened is you were cleansed and renewed completely. You were made alive together in Him so that now you can move toward the goal of loving the brethren.
The Greek word that’s translated “loving the brethren” is the word PHILADELPHIA, the same Greek word for the city that we have here and a city that was in Asia Minor in the ancient world. It means that this is a love that is expressed toward other believers.
It is the compound word of PHILOS, which is the noun form of PHILEO, which is the verb form, and ADELPHOS, which is the word for brother. It’s directed toward someone else in the body of Christ.
What’s interesting is that it doesn’t say AGAPAO. It’s a compound based on PHILEO. The difference here, and sometimes these words overlap and they’re almost synonymous. The verb that Jesus used when He said to love one another is AGAPAO.
When you look at how PHILEO is used in the New Testament, it is the only word that expresses God’s love only to believers. God does not PHILEO unbelievers. God has AGAPAO toward unbelievers, but He doesn’t have PHILEO toward unbelievers.
You look at Revelation 3:20. That’s a very famous verse that says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock;” if anyone lets me in, “I will come in and sup with him.” This is not a picture of salvation. A lot of Christians mess it up. It doesn’t have anything to do with getting saved and justified. He’s talking to Christians. Christ is knocking at the door of the church wanting to come in to have fellowship with them, not to save them. They’re already saved.
Right before that (verse 19), it talks about the fact that He loves them. The word used for love there is PHILEO, not AGAPAO, which means He’s not talking about unbelievers. God does not have a PHILEO type love towards unbelievers.
Here I think that love of the brethren is expressed more in terms of PHILEO. That compound word here is that it’s emphasizing that it’s within the body. It emphasizes it’s a more intimate love that’s within the body. AGAPAO would have a slightly different nuance. I’m really slicing the baloney kind of thin here.
It’s still expressive. It isn’t just sitting across the room and saying, “I don’t really like that person. I’m just going to love them from afar.”
The classic illustration of the kind of love we’re to show is the parable of the Good Samaritan. It involves a person that doesn’t know the person who has been beaten up and robbed on the road at all, which is the impersonal love aspect. It also involves action.
Jesus tells the story about a Jew who has left Jerusalem and is headed home. That’s why he’s on the road and walking through Samaria. If he had come down that way, he would have been unclean when he got to the Temple so he could go home that way because he’s done at the Temple.
He’s on his way home. He gets waylaid. He gets ambushed. He gets beaten up and robbed and left for dead. The Jews hated the Samaritans. They’re unclean. They were considered to be a mixed-breed people. They weren’t pure Jewish blood so they, the Pharisees especially, just despised the Samaritans.
So this Samaritan comes along. And even though the person who is on the ground despises him he picks him up and cleans his wounds. He takes him to an inn and makes sure that he is taken care of. So impersonal love doesn’t mean he doesn’t get involved or take initiative to do the right thing and the good thing for the object of love. Even if it’s not a person you really want to spend time with. Even if it’s not a person you like. Even if it is a person you’d rather love from a long, long distance.
Let’s just put that whole idea that we can love someone from afar to bed. That is a misrepresentation of this kind of love. It is a love where you get involved in someone else’s life that you don’t want to be involved in and to help them. It doesn’t mean you have to make them your best friend.
You don’t even have to friend them on Facebook. But you are going to treat them not only in goodness, but it’s having an objective and even an aggressive involvement in their life to help them when they’re in distress and to demonstrate the same kind of love God had for those who were at enmity with Him when He sent His Son to die on the Cross for them.
This is the love of the brethren, and then he says to love them fervently. I’m not sure that’s a good way to translate it. It’s the Greek word EKTENOS. It’s an adverb and it indicates more the idea of constancy. Again, this word wipes out the idea of a passive loving of the brethren. It is consistent. It is constant. It is day-in and day-out. It’s intentional. It’s focused. It’s continual and it’s purposeful.
This is not something you’re going to generate from your nasty little sin nature. Your flesh can’t do that. Only if you’re walking by the Spirit can you demonstrate this kind of love. It’s impossible for any of us to do this in the flesh. We can only do this when we’re walking by the Spirit.
This is a sincere love, which is the idea of being free from pretense or deceit. We can’t fake it. We’re not trying to fake it. You can’t fake the kind of love Jesus is talking about in John 13. It’s through the Spirit toward a deceitless, or free from pretense type of love for other believers. We’re to love one another constantly, consistently, with a KATHAROS, with a pure heart. That indicates again a cleansing from sin.
We’re walking by the Spirit. We’re in right relationship with the Lord.
When we look at this, what he’s saying is that one characteristic of any group of believers, any church, any Christian group, is this constant love for one another. On another note, what we’ve seen in this section is that Peter has talked about faith, which we saw back in the previous section, where he talks about faith and he talks about love and he talks about hope.
These are the same things that Paul talks about at the end of 1 Corinthians 13:13 saying that in this Church Age, after the apostolic period, what continues is faith, hope, and love. That summarizes the Christian life.
Now we go to the next verse, it’s a continuation of the same thought. Remember the command is to love one another. He’s going to express another reason or basis for that command and that is through this participle, which is translated to be born again, ANAGENNAO. GENNAO is the basic verb for “birth”. ANA is a preposition, a prefix for “again”. Again it’s a perfect, passive participle.
The perfect tense means it’s a past-completed action. It’s not going on now. It’s not something that began in the past and continues. It began in the past and the results continue. It’s not a process. It’s something that happened. It’s over with but the results continue into the present. “Having been regenerated …”
Then he uses a couple of his favorite words, which we have already seen in 1 Peter. He uses these words “corruptible” and “incorruptible.” APHTHARTOS is the word for imperishable or incorruptible. It begins with that first letter “A”, which in the Greek is a negative. The root is what you see in the other one. It’s PHTHARATOS, meaning something perishable or corruptible.
Peter has already used these terms. He talked about our inheritance as being imperishable in 1 Peter 1:4. Later on he will talk about women who have imperishable qualities, such as a gentle and quiet spirit. We’ll get to that eventually.
On the other hand he says that believers are redeemed with Christ’s precious blood. We’re not redeemed with perishable or corruptible things such as silver or gold. Peter uses these words several times. He likes contrasting this idea and it fits with something he’s going to get to in a minute and that’s the failure of grass and flowers that fade versus the eternal value of God’s Word.
Again, the words aren’t used there but it’s the same idea of that which continues and glorifies God, which is imperishable, versus all the details of life, which are perishable and corruptible.
He says that because we have been born again and it’s not from corruptible seed but incorruptible, that is, human beings are born through a mortal seed that is destructible. You can destroy it. You can kill it. It ends. Mortal life ends, but this is a seed which is incorruptible. It cannot be destroyed. It cannot be killed. It is something that is going to go on forever.
A question is, what is the nature of this seed? It’s seen in the next clause, it is through the Word of God. The Word of God lives and abides forever. That means it’s incorruptible. It’s imperishable. So that makes it clear that the seed is the gospel. It’s the word of the message of God.
It’s the same thing we see in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. The sower comes along and he casts his seed. As Jesus explains the parable, He says the seed is the message of the Kingdom.
When we look at the phrase here “the word of God”, we’re talking specifically about the divine message related to the gospel. Our whole context here is talking about the process of regeneration. It is through the Spirit, we are purified by obeying the truth through the Spirit toward the sincere love of the brethren.
What he says in 1 Peter 1:23 is that this is also done through the Word of God. It’s a different preposition used there. It’s the preposition EK, which means from the source of, but EK and DIA (for through) are often synonymous, either indicating instrumentality or means.
What we see again is this emphasis on the Spirit of God plus the Word of God. You don’t have the Word of God operating apart from the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of God operating apart from the Word of God. It takes us back to what I said about Titus 3:5 that it is through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, but it happens through the Word, the message of God, the message of the gospel.
This becomes the focal point as he is shifting. We see a number of places in the Scripture where the message is used for the Word of God. The word that’s used here in the Greek for “word” is LOGOS, which is also the title given to Jesus by John, the apostle John, in the first chapter of John. John 1:1–4, “In the beginning was the Word [the LOGOS] and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
That is referring to the Living Word of God. LOGOS is also used a number of times to refer to the Written Word of God, or the message of God, the message of the gospel.
Here are some related passages. I’ve just put three on the slide, but there’s a list at the bottom. In Ephesians 1:13 Paul says, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel …” The message of truth. When the gospel was proclaimed to them, they responded.
Philippians 2:16, “Holding fast the message of life …” We often get into these routines where we always translate LOGOS with “word” when a lot of times it can be “message”. When you look at the word LOGOS, it has a wide range of nuances. “Holding fast the message of life …”
In Colossians 1:5 Paul says, “Because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the message of the truth of the gospel.” Again it’s talking about the message that if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you will be saved.
That’s our hope. Without Christ we don’t know what our future is. We don’t know what our destiny is. We’re bound up in a life based on [if we care], a life based on religion where we’re trying to work our way to Heaven. Whether you’re talking about Pharisaical Judaism and Rabbinical Judaism of the 2nd Temple period, as it became during the life of Christ, or whether you’re talking about the Rabbinical Judaism as it developed through the Middle Ages and on into modern times, or whether you’re talking about Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or far Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism or Hinduism, all of these various world religions, and even a number of philosophies like Manichaeism, which was kind of philosophical and also religious, or the various philosophies that came out of the Greeks or their mystery religions, everything is based on works.
Somehow you have to do something to get the goodness of God in your corner. The Bible contrasts itself with that so there’s nothing we can do. It’s all God who does it. Man is incapable of doing anything to please God. We can’t generate enough righteousness.
This is why Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:6 that “all of our works of righteousness are as filthy rags.” We can’t generate it. We can’t do enough tzedakah to ever please God. So it’s that message of the truth that gives us life. It is faith alone in Christ alone.
So Peter goes on to say that this Word of God is characterized by two things. Again he has two participles. This is a lesson in participial grammar tonight. He has two participles. Again they are adjectival, so they’re translated like nouns, relative clauses in the New King James. “The word of God which lives and abides forever.”
Without an article present, they should be translated more like a gerund, “the word of God that is living and abiding.” Or through the “living and abiding Word of God” as I translated it there in brackets. The Word of God is living. Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is alive, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
It is alive! Here it also abides. It continues. It is never going to stop being alive and powerful.
Then we get into a quotation. We have to understand sort of the dynamics of what’s going on here. Based on what we’ve read in 1 Peter 1:22–23, we’re commanded to love one another. How in the world are we going to do that?
The reason for it is to understand what happened at salvation, at regeneration. We’re purified and we’re cleansed, and we’re given a new life and it’s because of that new life from this imperishable seed that we’re going to be able to move forward and love one another.
This imperishable, non-destructive seed is defined as the Word of God. It’s given us a new spiritual life and it’s our responsibility to push forward in terms of that, on the basis of understanding that imperishable seed which is the Word of God.
What Peter is doing here is that’s he’s going to contrast the quality of life that we should have as Christians, with the temporal quality of the things around us. We can watch it right now. I’ve driven into the area around Houston two or three times in the last couple of weeks. I don’t remember a middle of June or the end of June where it’s been so green everywhere.
It’s green everywhere. Usually it’s starting to get brown by this time, but it’s really green. Everything you look at is green, but if the grass grows (and it stops raining for more than three or four days) it will turn brown. It will begin to dry up and wither, and sooner or later when we get into late July or August, we’re going to see this.
That’s what happens every year. The flowers that we see are going to wilt and the flowers are going to fall off the stem and be destroyed. Everything in our life gets destroyed. You just think about the people you know and once you get past a certain age and those health problems begin to set in as they get to those last few years or few months of their life, all the things that they spent their life invested in, to build and develop and to grow, fades in importance.
A lot of folks as they get to that period when they’re over sixty begin to realize that it’s not going to be long. Are we really prepared for the end game? The end game isn’t the last few weeks or years, or our retirement in this life. The end game is what happens after we die.
That’s what Peter is talking about here. Everything we’re invested in in terms of the details of life is summarized through this metaphor of grass and the flowers and how that is temporal and will fall apart. The Word of God is what goes on forever.
There’s a contrast between the perishable seed that ends up in something which we’ve just destroyed, versus that which has ongoing glory and that lasts forever. To do that he takes us back to the core and foundation for everything, which is the Word of God, the truth about who God is, who you and I are, who human beings are, and what God has for us.
To do that he’s going to take this quote from Isaiah 40:5–8 and he is going to apply that. Let’s think just a minute about what is taking place here in Isaiah 40. What I want to do is have you turn in your Bible to Isaiah 40 and we’re going to think about this broad context.
Isaiah 40 is a significant chapter in Isaiah. The book of Isaiah is understood to be broken into two or three sections. The first section that everyone agrees on is the first thirty-nine chapters. Then forty to sixty-six represents the second half. Some people come in and break it up a little differently, but generally those are the two categories which we see here.
In Isaiah one through thirty-nine he’s really addressing his contemporaries and telling them what is going to happen. In those chapters he describes the coming judgments, not only on Israel, but also on Babylon, on Edom, on Moab, on Assyria, and gives a look at the end times.
In Isaiah 40 he shifts his attention and he’s really writing not for his contemporaries, which is in the 8th century BC, but he is writing to those who will be part of the Babylon captivity. He’s writing to those who are in exile from Israel. They are those that are either taken into captivity as young people into Babylon or their descendants. It is a message of comfort.
What we’re reminded of in Isaiah forty through sixty-six is that God has given them grace as He has every one of us before there’s divine discipline. He’s going to give them grace during the divine discipline. And He’s going to give them grace after the divine discipline.
They’re coming to a time frame when they are nearing the end of the divine discipline on Israel. It is a time frame close to 538 BC when they will be restored to the land. The message shifts. It’s a message that focuses on how God is going to comfort them when He takes them back to the land.
The backdrop is the hypothetical, if you’re obedient, if you fulfill the covenant, then I am going to bring in the Kingdom and fulfill all the promises I made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This is that message of hope. That message of hope comes at a time when they’re out of the land, when they’ve gone through persecution, and they’ve gone through extreme testing. God is going to bring their focus back on Him.
The parallel is interesting in terms of Peter. Those to whom Peter is addressing, they are in the Diaspora. They haven’t returned back as Jews, but beyond that they have become Jewish believers in Messiah. They are Jewish Christians. They are facing opposition.
There are a lot of similarities between what they are facing in their lives in the Diaspora and what the Jews at the time of the Babylonian captivity were facing. The message for both is that even though you are going through all this testing and opposition, there is still hope and God is still the One in control.
If you respond in obedience to Him, then God is going to bless you, even in the midst of adversity. This will accrue to God’s glory and will benefit you in eternity.
That’s the larger context here. God is telling them to focus on His future redemption for His people, just as He would tell us as Christians to remember that eventually Jesus is going to come back, we’re going to be raptured, and we’ll be taken. There’s going to be a distribution at the Judgment Seat of Christ of rewards.
Eventually when He returns at the 2nd Coming we’ll be with Him, and we will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom.
These themes that we find in Isaiah 40 are the same themes that we find in 1 Peter.
Isaiah 40 begins in the first two verses with the key message. It’s focused right at the beginning. God says to Isaiah the prophet, “ ‘Comfort, yes, comfort my people,’ says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem and cry out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
What we have to understand here is that biblically the message of comfort is not a message of handholding. It’s not a message of finding your safe space. It’s not a message of giving people a hug.
None of those things are wrong, but that’s not the biblical message of comfort. We look at 1 Thessalonians 4 and Paul is concerned about comforting the Thessalonians because they’re very concerned about the fact that their loved ones have died. They thought Jesus was going to come back before anyone died.
They’re dying and they’re upset and they want to know what’s happening. He explains what’s going to happen, that there are those who are going to sleep in Jesus. That’s a euphemism for physical death before Jesus returns. Then when Jesus returns, “the dead in Christ will rise first and then those who are alive and remain will be caught up together with Him in the clouds and thus, we will all be with the Lord forever.”
At the end Paul says, “Comfort one another with these words.” So “comfort” in the Bible is not based on feel-good sentimentality, hugs, and all these other things. It’s based on the content of truth. Help people understand what is really going on in life and that will comfort them with reality.
That’s the same thing that we see here. Isaiah is told to comfort My people. How? Go give them a group hug? No, that’s not what he says. “Speak comfort [truth] to Jerusalem. Cry out to her.”
What’s the message? Your warfare is ended. You were under siege by the Babylonians. They destroyed Jerusalem. They destroyed the Temple. All of that ended. You were taken into captivity. As a result of that and the judgment, your iniquity is pardoned, that is, the temporal discipline for disobedience has been dealt with and that Israel had received double for all her sins.
God brought down the roof on them and judged them.
Then you’re to cry out. It’s a new voice starting in Isaiah 40:3. You’re to give a new message, a message relating to someone coming in the future. Now these verses are taken and fulfilled in John the Baptist, who was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
The message is that God is coming! That’s the message of hope. You’ve gone through all of this horror, all this suffering, and all this difficulty day-in and day-out. That comes in a lot of different ways in people’s lives. It can come through crises of health. It can come through financial crises. It can come through crises in relationship and family, all kinds of ways.
The reality is this life is going to end. We’re going to forget about it. God is coming.
So “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Then Isaiah 40:4, “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low.” Notice, how many valleys? Every valley. How many mountains? Every mountain.
“The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.” This is just a poetic way to say that God is going to bring judgment for everyone. Justice will finally prevail and He is going to level things out. He is going to take care of those who are crooked and take care of all the trauma and the adversity. His glory will be revealed.
It’s universal. It is to everyone. Everyone is going to see the glory of the Lord. “All flesh will see it together.” Not just believers. This isn’t just talking about the Rapture. This is talking about Israel. It’s talking about the entire world at the time Jesus, the Messiah, returns at the end of the Tribulation.
“All flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. The voice said, ‘Cry out.’ And he said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ”
In context what is happening is that this introduces this last section of Isaiah, which focuses on the realization of the literal geo-political kingdom of Israel on this earth. This is going to be the time when the Messiah comes in fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants. Israel is going to be back in the land in fulfillment of the land covenant.
God is going to establish His Kingdom where He is going to roll back the curse. It’s going to be a time of almost 100% perfection on this earth. The problem is, those who are born during this time are still going to have sin natures and that’s going to lead to a moderate amount of difficulty and suffering as a result of this.
When we look at this and why Peter is going here, for I’ve taken us up right to the brink of this quotation, what we’re going to see is that Peter recognizes and identifies for us that the Word of God that Isaiah is talking about, the message that’s going to come to those at the time of the Babylonian captivity, that this message is one of permanence.
Isaiah is introducing these promises that are going to be true. They are not based on what Israel or anyone else earns or deserves. They are without price.
Isaiah 55:1 says, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Salvation has no price tag. You can’t buy it. This is grace. You’re given it from the Lord, so grace means that God does all of the work. We don’t do anything. We simply accept it as a free gift.
What happens in religion? All the religions of the world, all the philosophical systems, say that people have to do something in order to have eternal blessing and eternal happiness. It’s all based on human effort.
Because human effort fails, because the root has been destroyed, the root has been corrupted, and everything that we do is the fruit of a poisoned tree. Everything we do is corrupted because of that root in Adam. The only way we can have a new life is if God does it. That’s why Christianity emphasizes faith alone in Christ alone.
What happens as we look at this passage is that the Lord says to cry out and Isaiah asks what shall I cry? This is the message, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it.”
That’s judgment. The reason the world is corrupt is because of God’s judgment on sin. He goes on to say, “Surely the people are grass.” They’re the same way. They’re going to dry up and blow away. There’s no permanence with people. Then he concludes, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.”
What’s interesting is that I ran across this quote by Edward Selwyn in his commentary of 1 Peter. Many people think this is one of the finest commentaries on the Greek text in the English language. He says when he’s commenting on this passage in 1 Peter 1, “Every leading thought here [in Isaiah 40] fits in with what our author [of 1 Peter] has been saying. He, too, is addressing readers who are exiled … and oppressed; and he has the same message for them, the contrast between the perishability of all mortal things and the incorruptibility of the Christian inheritance and hope. … The passage quoted [Isaiah 40:5–8] is therefore the focal point of a much longer passage, which must have been often present in the Apostle’s mind.”
That last statement is extremely perceptive. One of the things I’ve brought out many times recently is that the Jewish people in the 1st century were well educated in the Scriptures. Many of them knew all of the Old Testament by heart. They had memorized it. Certainly the religious leaders did, the scribes, the Pharisees, had all of the Old Testament memorized. When you talked about a verse, when Jesus cries out from Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He probably recited the entire Psalm. They didn’t have chapters and verses at that time.
They would just quote part of it and assume that everyone else would bring to their mind all of the context and information and doctrine that was in that particular quotation. That’s what Selwyn is saying here: that this passage, even though it is only verses 5 through 8 that’s quoted, Peter’s got the whole context in his mind.
He’s thinking about all of the circumstances that surround Isaiah 40 and what Peter is saying. We don’t have time to go through all of it, but basically what is going on here is summed up in the Latin phrase sic transit gloria mundi.
The first time I heard that I was watching a film in 1970. Most of you saw the same film. It was Patton. I’m not sure what George C. Scott said as Patton, or if this quote was originally written and stated by Patton. He was quite a prolific writer and I remember Pastor Thieme used to give me all kinds of books on military history when I was in college.
He gave me the Patton Papers, two volumes. I loved reading them. That was very important, but at least the character of Patton in the film made this statement. He said, “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians, and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasures and captured armaments.
“The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot. The days’ prisoners were walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children were with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses.
“A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning that all glory was fleeting, sic transit gloria mundi.”
That’s what Peter is saying here. Everything in this life is transitory and it will leave. The only thing that matters is what’s in our soul from the Word of God. It’s the Word of God that’s alive and powerful.
So 1 Peter 1:24–25 says: “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, But the Word of the Lord endures forever.”
I set up this slide here to show that not all of Isaiah 40:6–8 is cited here. Verse 7 is not. What we have is the last part of verse 6 and all of verse 8. That’s what’s cited because the focal point is at the end: that the Word of the Lord stands forever.
Then in the very last verse of 1 Peter, Peter says, “Now this is the message which by the gospel was preached [or taught] to you.” What he’s concluding here is that this message, that the Word of God is the power that brought this regeneration to you, is the foundation for understanding how to live in the midst of trials and testing.
We’ll come back to this because it immediately shifts to talking about the importance of the Word when we get into 1 Peter 2. We have to lay aside a bunch of sins. Most people have no clue what that means. Does that mean I have to reform my life before I can study the Word? We’ll find out next time.
“Father, thank You for the opportunity to study these things. We pray that You’ll help us to focus on them and to be reminded that we live this Christian life only in the power of God the Holy Spirit. We constantly have to be aware and conscious about walking by Him, depending upon Him, and trusting in Him in terms of living the spiritual life.
Father, we pray You would challenge us with all that we’ve learned tonight. In Christ’s name. Amen.”