1 Peter 4:17 MEANING

1 Peter 4:17
(17) For the time is come.--The "for" (literally, because) seems to substantiate the whole of the former part of the section, from 1 Peter 4:12 onwards, but with special reference to the injunction to glorify God on the ground of bearing the name of Christians, upon which it follows in much the same way as "for the spirit of glory" followed upon "if ye be reproached . . . happy are ye." The judgment is just about to begin, and all those who bear the name of Christians may well be thankful that they do.

That judgment.--It should be, that the judgment--i.e., the great judgment which we all expect. The word "begin," however, shows that in St. Peter's mind it would be a long process; and he probably does not distinguish in his mind between the "burning which is befalling for a trial" and the final judgment, except that that "burning" is but the beginning. (Comp. 1 Peter 4:5.)

Begin at the house of God.--The phrase contains an obvious reference to Ezekiel 9:6 (comp. also Jeremiah 25:29). Who are meant by the "house of God" is clear, not only from such passages as 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:4, but also from the immediate addition, "and if first at us." We who are Chrestiani, who bear the mark of the Christ's shame upon our foreheads, and are not ashamed of it, are quite safe in this judgment: "come not near any man upon whom is the mark." The sense is a little closely packed. It seems as if St. Peter meant at first only to say, "Thank God that you are 'Christians,' for the judgment is just about to begin," as something which only concerns the unbelievers; then, as an afterthought, he adds, "and begin, too, at the house of God," by way of making the believers also feel the need of care.

And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be . . .?--It is more expressive to omit, with St. Peter, the verb "begin ": and if first at us. The argument is: "If we, who are the very household of God, must undergo this searching investigation first, what will happen, as the judgment nears its climax, to those who," &c.? When he says "the end of those that obey not," he does not mean exactly "the final doom of those that obey not," as contrasted with "the end" of those that obey, or as contrasted with their own earlier opportunities: rather, "the end" is the end of the great process of judgment, as contrasted with the "beginning first at us." The judging of the house of God has now gone on for eighteen hundred years, but it has not yet touched those who are without.

That obey not the gospel of God?--Rather, that disobey the gospel of God?. The word is the same which we have noticed several times (see Note on 1 Peter 3:1) as being peculiarly applied to the Jews. Now the object of this mysterious threat (which is made more terrible by being thrown into the form of a question) is not only to solace the persecuted by the thought of God being their avenger, but to warn them against slipping into the position of those thus threatened. The recipients of the Letter, we must recollect, were Jewish Christians, who were in a two-fold danger--either of relapsing sullenly into Judaism, or of plunging into heathen excesses, like the Nicolaitan school, under the notion that such things could not hurt the spiritually-minded. To meet these two forms of danger, the Apostle hints darkly at the punishment of the two classes in this phrase and in the verse following, precisely as St. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (see Note there), divides the wicked to be punished into Jew and Gentile, or, in Romans 2:9, still more particularly. And that he is thinking specially of unbelieving Jews in this place appears from the context in Ezekiel 9:6 (especially 1 Peter 4:9), where the separation to be effected is not between Jew and Gentile, but between Jew and Jew--those "that sigh and that cry for all the abominations" committed by Israel, and those that commit the abominations. As Bengel remarks, "The persecution of Nero was but a few years before the catastrophe of the Jews."

Verse 17. - For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God. The house of God is the Church (see 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 3:16; and 1 Peter 2:5). The judgment must begin at the sanctuary (Ezekiel 9:6; see also Jeremiah 25:15-29). The beginning of judgment is the persecution of the Christians, as our Lord had taught (Matthew 24:8, 9, and following verses); but that judgment is not unto condemnation: "When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:32); it is the fiery trial, "which is much more precious than of gold that perisheth," the refining fire of affliction. And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? Compare the passage in Jeremiah already referred to: "Behold, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my Name, and should ye be utterly unpunished?" Compare also our Lord's question, "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Gerhard (quoted by Huther) rightly remarks," Exaggeratio est in interrogatione." The question suggests answers too awful for words.

4:12-19 By patience and fortitude in suffering, by dependence on the promises of God, and keeping to the word the Holy Spirit hath revealed, the Holy Spirit is glorified; but by the contempt and reproaches cast upon believers, he is evil spoken of, and is blasphemed. One would think such cautions as these were needless to Christians. But their enemies falsely charged them with foul crimes. And even the best of men need to be warned against the worst of sins. There is no comfort in sufferings, when we bring them upon ourselves by our own sin and folly. A time of universal calamity was at hand, as foretold by our Saviour, Mt 24:9,10. And if such things befall in this life, how awful will the day of judgment be! It is true that the righteous are scarcely saved; even those who endeavour to walk uprightly in the ways of God. This does not mean that the purpose and performance of God are uncertain, but only the great difficulties and hard encounters in the way; that they go through so many temptations and tribulations, so many fightings without and fears within. Yet all outward difficulties would be as nothing, were it not for lusts and corruptions within. These are the worst clogs and troubles. And if the way of the righteous be so hard, then how hard shall be the end of the ungodly sinner, who walks in sin with delight, and thinks the righteous is a fool for all his pains! The only way to keep the soul well, is, to commit it to God by prayer, and patient perseverance in well-doing. He will overrule all to the final advantage of the believer.For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God,.... By the house of God is either meant the temple at Jerusalem, which is often so called, because it was built for God, and where were the symbol of his presence, and his worship; and now the time was come, or at hand, that God would begin at his sanctuary, and leave this house desolate, and not one stone should be left upon another, as Christ had foretold: or else the church of God, which is frequently called the house of God, because it is of his building, where he dwells, and grants his gracious presence, and which he beautifies, fills, repairs, and defends; and so may design believers in Christ, those that are of the household and family of God: and by judgment is meant, not punishment for sin, strictly speaking, because Christ has endured this in the room and stead of his church and people, and therefore in justice cannot be inflicted on them; but afflictions and persecutions, and which are fatherly chastisements, and different from God's judgment on the world, and condemnation with it; see 1 Corinthians 11:32 and these may be said to "begin" with them, because it is only in this life the saints have their afflictions; and which are in love to them, and therefore are early brought upon them to try them, and purge them, and make them partakers of his holiness: besides, wicked men are often made use of as instruments, by which God chastises his people; upon which account they are reserved till last, to be the objects of his vengeance, when they have filled up the measure of their sins; and then what is begun in love at the house of God, will end in wrath and severe punishment on them: and whereas it is said, "the time" is come, or at hand, it may be observed, that as God has his set time to favour his Zion, so likewise to chastise her; all his people's times are in his hand, as of comfort, so of temptation, affliction, and persecution. The first times of Christianity, or of the preaching of the Gospel, were times of trouble and distress; for as it was necessary the Gospel should be confirmed by signs and wonders, so that it should be tried and proved by the sufferings of the saints for it: and the phrase also suggests, that these sufferings and afflictions were but for a time, and even as it were for a moment, for a little while; and is a reason why the saints should glorify God, as these words imply, being introduced with the causal particle, "for"; that they have their sufferings now, and not with the wicked in the world to come, which will have no end:

and if it first begin at us; either us Jews, for Peter, and those he writes to, were such; or us Christians, who believe in Christ, have embraced his Gospel, and profess his name:

what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God? of which God is the author, and which contains things relating to him; as the grace of God, the righteousness of God, peace with him, pardon from him, justification before him, and acceptance with him; and which he commits to men, and qualifies them for preaching it, and succeeds the ministry of it; and it being his Gospel, as it makes it the more valuable in itself, so it is to be had in the greatest reverence and esteem; and the greater is the sin of such who despise and reject it, as did the unbelieving Jews, who seem chiefly designed, here; it was first preached to them, but they disbelieved the doctrines of it, and submitted not to its ordinances, and rejected Christ, the Saviour, the sum and substance of it; and put it away from them, judging themselves unworthy of everlasting life: and what shall the end of such be? in this world wrath came upon them to the uttermost, ruin upon their nation, city, and temple; and in the world to come everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and eternal vengeance in flames of fire. The Jews have various phrases, and frequent expressions in their writings, which resemble these, and serve to illustrate them. When Noah told the old world of the flood, and called upon them to repent, they are represented as saying to him (o),

"where does punishment begin? , "at the house" of that man does it "begin?" when Methuselah died, they said unto him, does not punishment begin at the house of that man?''

and elsewhere (p), says R. Jonathan,

"punishment does not come into the world, but in the time that the wicked are in the world; and it does not begin (i.e. at them) , but it begins at the righteous;''

and again (q).

"when God executes judgment on the righteous, he is praised; for if he executes this on them, how much more on the ungodly?''

see Isaiah 10:11.

(o) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 79. 4. (p) T. Bab. Bava Kama, fol. 60. 1. Caphtor, fol. 70. 2.((q) Jarchi in Numb. 179. apud Grotium in loc.

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