Bible Study with Jairus—2 Peter 1-1

The Epistles of Peter Are His Reflection on the Lord’s Transfiguration

Peter was the first apostle chosen by the Lord, and he was also one of Jesus’ inner circle of followers. Peter, James, and John were the only ones who were allowed to see Jesus’ transfiguration and to be near him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter’s spiritual journey was full of dramatic change as Jesus taught him and dealt with his weaknesses. Peter wrote two epistles that record these spiritual experiences, but many believers do not seem to have a firm grasp on Peter’s life. Believers study Paul’s writings and experiences, yet seem to neglect Peter’s. As I have studied Peter’s epistles with fellow brothers and sisters, I received some inspiration which I hope to share here. These inspirations are not original to me, but they are important for a deeper understanding of the Bible.

George Campbell Morgan, known as the “Prince of Expositors,” commented that the epistles of Peter are an extended reflection on his experience of the Transfiguration.[1] Do you agree with this statement? I thought the same thing while reading the Scripture, even before reading Morgan’s statement. I couldn’t agree with him more. I hope to be able to explain in detail why both of Peter’s letters are his reflections on Jesus’ transfiguration.

Peter had many deep spiritual experiences which he wrote about in his epistles. But many people ignore or fail to understand Peter’s spiritual experiences as expressed in his two epistles. I hope that by explaining his epistles, I can help more readers understand God’s work in Peter’s life. I hope that our study of Peter’s experiences will help us grow in faith and capacity like Peter did, so we can grow into Christ, who is the Head.

The Significance of the Transfiguration

 

What is the significance of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus? The divine glory of Jesus Christ had been restricted by His physical body, but He temporarily transcended the limitations of the flesh and fully expressed His eternal glory. Let’s use an example to illustrate this idea. An acorn contains the future glory of a towering oak tree. But all that glory is hidden while it is a seed. In the same way, Jesus’ glory was hidden within his earthly body. In addition, we as Christians have the seed of God’s life in our hearts, and we have the potential to grow into a glorious tree. Colossians 3 says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). Peter, John, and James were given a taste of Christ’s glory at the transfiguration. But when Christ returns, we will see the full manifestation of His glory. Today, our lives are hidden with Christ in God. But one day, we will appear with Him in glory. At that time, His full glory—and ours—will be revealed. This is the full expression of the kingdom. Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain is a shadow of the coming kingdom, as we Christians are also a shadow of the future kingdom. The purpose of our lives is to allow the life of Christ to continue to expand and grow within us, like an acorn growing into a towering tree, so we can bring the full expression of Christ’s kingdom to the earth. This is God’s ultimate will, as well as Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:23, “which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

The words “seed,” “growth,” and “full-grown tree” sum up the three stages of expressing the reality of God’s kingdom here on earth. “Seed” is the starting point, “growth” is the process, and “big tree” is the final goal. Going through these three stages takes time. But in the Transfiguration, Jesus transcended time and allowed Peter, James, and John to skip the “growth” stage and preview the glory of the “full-grown tree.” When he saw it, Peter was completely overwhelmed, even dazzled. When he went down the mountain with James and John, he was met with the harsh reality that he would still need to go through the growing process. He faced the fact that he and the other disciples were not even able to cast out the demon at the foot of the mountain. After Jesus cast out the demon, he rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. Jesus was able to cast them out, however, because he already experienced the reality of the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). In the kingdom of God, there is no place for evil spirits and demons, so wherever the kingdom of God is, demons are not allowed to exist. But the disciples were not filled with the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God. In other words, they could not drive out this demon because they still allowed space for enemies and evil spirits.

After seeing the glory of the kingdom, and then experiencing the harsh reality that he could not cast out the demon, Peter must have thought about the process of growing from a “seed” to a “full-grown tree.” Peter’s epistles describe his newfound understanding that believers must go through a growth process so that the “seed” of the life of the kingdom of Christ can grow into a towering “tree.” Peter’s Epistles are a handbook for the disciples he shepherds so they can better understand and experience this growth process. Then the reality of the kingdom will be manifested in them and in the world.

2 Peter 1 Starts with a Seed

The kingdom of God and our faith in God’s kingdom are often referred to in the Bible as a “seed.” The Lord Jesus used this metaphor many times. For example, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-27). The coming of the kingdom of God begins with the word of God or the seed of the Gospel. When people hear the Word, their hearts are like different types of soil. If the seed falls on good soil, it will yield 30, 60, or even 100 times as much grain as was sown. But if it lands on bad soil that is thorny or compacted, the seed cannot grow well or will be eaten by birds (Matthew 13:3-8). The Lord Jesus also compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-31). In other words, Peter is very familiar with the idea that God’s word is like a seed, and he also knows that the Lord Jesus often used seed as a metaphor for the kingdom of God.

In this passage, Peter also uses seed as a metaphor for the word of God. He states, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). We’ll come back to 1 Peter later since we’re dealing with 2 Peter here. 2 Peter also begins with seed. But the seed he mentions here does not refer to the “word of God” but to “faith” (2 Peter 1:1).

Let’s see what Peter says in the first sentence of 2 Peter: “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Note that I bolded the words “faith of equal standing.” Those of us who are familiar with the stories of the Old Testament know that after the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they each obtained a piece of land to cultivate. Here Peter is using a metaphor to say that the inheritance of faith that God has given us is like the beautiful land of Canaan. Just like the Israelites obtained a piece of land after entering the Promised Land, we can obtain a portion of faith to cultivate. In other words, our faith is our seed, and it will grow gradually into something just as beautiful as the Promised Land. Paul said something similar. He mentioned the “riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). Just as the land of Canaan was God’s inheritance to the Old Testament Israelites, we as New Testament believers, receive a spiritual inheritance through faith in Christ. We are born again through the Word of God, which is compared to a seed. Jesus Christ, through whom we were born again, is also called an indestructible seed. And our inheritance is the seed.

This seed of faith, by which we are reconciled to God, is only the first step. The next step is to continue to grow in our spiritual lives so that the kingdom of God is fully manifested in us. “More than that … we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11). These are the words of Paul, and Peter teaches the same thing. Like Paul, Peter deeply understood that our regeneration by the Word of God, the incorruptible seed of God, was only the first step. When he glimpsed the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on the mountain, he saw his ultimate goal. But when he descended the mountain and was unable to cast out the evil spirit, he realized he would need to take many incremental steps to reach that goal. He did not yet possess the glory of Jesus Christ, nor could he cast out demons—yet the glory of Jesus Christ was his promised hope. To get there, he would need to be conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then would he reach the mountaintop and become the powerful leader of the book of Acts, who could heal the lame, raise the dead, and lead three thousand to salvation. Before he could become mature, Peter had to experience countless spiritual lessons, including:

  • Denying the Lord three times
  • Being restored by Jesus as he asked him three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21)
  • Experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, recorded in the beginning of Acts.

Jesus Christ is the only perfect person in the Bible, but there are many people who have undergone great transformations, including Jacob in the Old Testament and Peter in the New Testament. Peter’s transformation is not only recorded in the Gospels but also reflected in 1 and 2 Peter. We hope that in the future we will have the opportunity to revisit all of Peter’s experiences in the Gospels to see how he was transformed. However, today we are only focusing on Peter’s reflections on his life in 2 Peter.

The Power of God Reserved in the Seed

As a vegetable gardener, I understand the importance of high-quality seeds. I usually buy organic seeds and then choose the plumpest seeds to plant. Because I chose good seeds, I am confident they will germinate. Why? Because in the mystery of life, God has placed the power of reproduction in the seed. If I plant the right seed, it will produce new life. Peter understands this concept well. After he speaks of the “seed of faith” in the first chapter of 2 Peter, he continues, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). Note that I have bolded “grace and peace” and “multiply” in this sentence. Just like the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5, “grace and peace” are the fruits that grow from the seed of faith. The word “multiply” shows that Peter is confident God’s seeds will multiply and germinate.

Peter then begins to speak about the power of God contained in the seed. We need to take a good look at 2 Peter 1:3-4. These two verses contain so much truth about the profound mysteries of the kingdom of God. Let’s preview these two verses and then break them down in detail.

2 Peter 1: 3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” This verse refers to the power of God hidden in the seed God gives us. As we’ve mentioned, an acorn contains the genetic material to create an entire oak tree. Just like the seed contains the power of life, God has given us “divine power” contained in the seed of His Word. God’s “glory” is the full-grown tree, and His “excellence” is the “seed.” Glory is the glory of the kingdom of God, which is the full-grown tree—our hope for the future. Excellence is the genetic material or embryo which manifests the excellence of God contained in Jesus Christ. The excellence of God expressed in Jesus Christ provides us with spiritual life and power in every way. This seed contains power and potential for growth. Glory and Excellence both call us to go through the process of growth.

When Peter refers to “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” he echoes Paul’s words in Ephesians 1: “… the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places ” (Ephesians 1:3). This spiritual blessing has two aspects. On the one hand, these blessings have already been accomplished in the spiritual realm. On the other hand, we need to go through the process of growth to access it. All the genetic material for the oak tree is already present in the acorn. But it takes many years for the acorn to grow into a towering oak tree. In the same way, we have already been given everything that pertains to life and godliness. We have been given all spiritual gifts the moment we were saved. They are present in our spirit like the embryo within the seed. What a mysterious truth! The seed takes so much time to develop and mature. This is a continually unfolding mystery. Colossians 3:3-4 says that when Jesus Christ appears in glory, we will also appear with Him in glory.

2 Peter 1:4 says, “By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” These “precious and very great promises” point to the “full-grown tree.” Our goal is to grow into a full-grown tree. This reality is not only a “precious and very great promise”; it is also a present reality. Right now, we can “become partakers of the divine nature.” The destiny of the church is to become a type of Jesus Christ, full of the divine nature. This “precious and very great promise” may also include the final manifestation of glory in heaven, as well as the different stages in between.

Verse 4 has profound meaning. It mentions two gifts given to apostles and prophets, which work together to lay the foundation of the church. Why do I say that? I will explain this concept in more detail in this article and upcoming articles.

What is the ministry of an apostle? To teach the church about God’s character. The word “glory” refers to the ministry of the apostles, because apostles help believers to learn about God’s character and partake in the glory of God.

What is the ministry of the prophets? To provide timely guidance to people so that they can understand God’s goals for their lives and walk on the right path. The word “excellence” refers to the prophets’ ministry. Spiritual excellence is like a signpost, providing onlookers with ability and direction. Because Jesus Christ is the firstborn Son, we are also sons of God, and we must be conformed to the image of the Firstborn Son. The ministry of prophets is also implied in the words “precious and very great promises.” God’s guidance to us through the prophets is often manifested as promises. Of course, “excellence” also implies the ministry of apostles because many Biblical promises were written by the hands of the apostles. The teachings of the apostles help us understand the character and laws of God, while the promises of the prophets give us direction.

When we follow the teachings of the apostles and prophets, we will gradually understand God’s character and guidance. As a result, we will be gradually set free from the corruption of the lustful world. By continuously partaking in these promises, we will become partakers of the divine nature. In other words, as we partake in the divine nature, we grow closer and closer to our goal of reaching the full height of Christ’s stature (Ephesians 4:13), just like an oak seedling growing closer and closer to its goal of being a great oak tree. The life of the oak tree is contained in the acorn, and the life of God is contained in believers.

How can Christians grow spiritually? Through the apostles’ ministry, Christ’s followers can recognize their identity in Christ so His nature can grow freely in their spirits.

How can Christians follow God’s guidance without going in the wrong direction? Through the prophets’ ministry, believers can learn to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Prophets continuously encourage believers with God’s promises so they do not grow weary. Although God’s word through the apostles reveals many principles that help us understand God’s character, we all know that we often get discouraged and weak. That’s why we need the prophets to encourage us when we grow weary and feel down. Prophets help believers reach the finish line and enter into the fullness of God’s life.

All these ideas are implied in Peter’s epistles, although Peter does not explicitly say that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,” like Paul does (Ephesians 2:20). This does not mean Peter does not have the same spiritual insight as Paul. Perhaps Peter just could not express these concepts as clearly as Paul, who was more well-learned.

Unfortunately, many people underestimate Peter’s spiritual insight. Peter says that in Paul’s letters, “there are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). However, Peter does not say he does not understand Paul’s words. There is no proof that Peter’s spiritual experience was lower caliber than Paul’s.

Peter knows very well that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, so the apostles’ ministry is very needed to help the saints learn about God’s character and partake in the glory of God. The apostles help us learn about God’s character, as shown in Christ’s virtues. The virtues of God in Christ are our signposts. When we first believe in Christ, one person may be particularly attracted to a certain virtue of Jesus Christ, such as his love. Another may be attracted to Jesus’ patience. The first is attracted to Jesus’ love because he lacks love; the second lacks patience. A third person may be attracted first by one virtue, and later by another. These virtues attract us, transform us, strengthen us, and eventually conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. God’s guidance for everyone is different, and the different virtues of Jesus Christ are the signposts that guide us on the path to the image of Christ.

Conclusion

Peter is well aware of the need for believers to “grow” from an “acorn” into an “oak tree.” During this growth process, believers will encounter many challenges. The seed of faith may be snatched away by birds, trampled on the road, or choked by weeds. Only those seeds that fall in well-watered, good soil will grow into towering trees that touch the sky. This growth journey is described in The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Christians encounter many trials and tribulations as they journey toward heaven.

As we journey, we need the help of the apostles and prophets. The apostles help believers understand God’s laws, like Moses did (Psalm 103:7). To know God’s law is to know His character. As Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Peter writes about the same truth: “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21). The Bible contains laws that reveal God’s character, promises, and guidance. The character, promises, and guidance of God overlap in some way, yet are distinctive. The ministries of the apostles and prophets also overlap. Many believers are gifted as both apostles and prophets, such as Moses and Paul. Moses certainly acted as both an apostle and a prophet. Although the Bible doesn’t mention Paul as a prophet, he certainly prophesied. The reason we make the distinction between apostles and prophets is to help us understand the different ministries related to these two gifts. Before we move on to Peter’s spiritual experience as revealed in 2 Peter, we’ll take a moment to talk about the character and guidance of God and the corresponding ministries of apostles and prophets.

[1] See https://www.jgospel.net/c/2/26845/283/3986/%E6%91%A9%E6%A0%B9%E8%A7%A3%E7%BB%8F%E4%B8%9B%E4%B9%A6-%E9%A9%AC%E5%A4%AA%E7%A6%8F%E9%9F%B3-(%E7%99%BB%E5%B1%B1%E5%8F%98%E5%83%8F).aspx “This passage records the story of the Transfiguration of our Lord. We should pay special attention to the place of transfiguration in the ministry of our Lord as King. The most important question for us now is, what significance did the king’s transfiguration have to the three disciples who were allowed to witness it? It is natural to then ask, what significance did this have for the other disciples who heard this? It would not be too much to say that the glory of the Mount of Transfiguration is all collected in the two epistles written by Peter. As he wrote, he heard the voice and saw the glory on the ‘holy mountain.’ Although he did not understand the significance of this at the time, in the years that followed, he gradually understood its value. When he looked back from the mysterious cross and resurrection to the Mount of Transfiguration, he called it ‘the Holy Mountain.’ The two levels of impressions he received on the mountain constitute the content of 1 Peter. He describes these two impressions as the coming and power of Jesus Christ, or more accurately, the presence and power of Jesus Christ.” (Original texts are in Chinese and the translation is mine.)