New Birth into a Living Hope
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you,
5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
This, for me, is one of the most inspiring passages in Scripture.
Peter opens with what the Jews call a berakah, that is a blessing, offering praise to the source of all mercy, God. We give thanks for our new birth. The Greek word isanagennao, a word unique to 1 Peter (it is also used in 1:23), and is synonymous with the phrase in John 3:3 – ‘to be born from above’ or ‘born again’.
Peter also speaks of our ‘living hope’ through the Resurrection, a theme which recurs in verses 13 and 21 here, and in 1 Peter 3:5, 15. Our hope is ‘living’ because Christ is alive – we are, he tells us in 2:2 like newborn babies drinking pure spiritual milk.
The other benefit – an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading – conveys powerfully the security of our inheritance in Christ. The English cannot capture the alliteration in the Greek: aphtharton, amianton, amaranton, and the NIV version I am using seems to me poorer on this than some other translations. Our treasure in Heaven cannot perish, it is safeguarded by God Himself.
The salvation to be revealed is of course the second coming of Christ. ‘Salvation’, for Peter, sums up all that we receive from Christ. In some cases it refers to our present status in Christ through faith and baptism (3:21), but here it points to a future hope (see also 1:9-10 and 2:2). There is an obvious lesson here for those who think salvation a one off phenomenon, and we see here, where the Church derives its teaching. The Church teaches that we are saved by baptism, are being saved by the sacraments, and will be saved at the last by Christ; so Peter taught it, so it teaches us.
The ‘last time’ translates the Greek, eschatos, whence we derive the word ‘eschatology’, or study of the lats things, and kairos, or time. This is the moment God will intervene decisively to complete our salvation.
Some commentators think that the whole section which we number 1 Peter 3-12 is, in fact, part of a liturgical hymn or poetry; it is certainly very beautiful and inspiring.