Peter wrote the letter known as 1 Peter to Christians who lived mainly in the northern provinces of Asia Minor bordering the Black Sea (1 Peter 1:1). This was a region where Paul had not been allowed to preach (Acts 16:7-8), but where Peter later carried on an extensive evangelistic work. Two co-workers at the time he wrote this letter were Mark and Silas, both of whom had earlier worked with Paul (1 Peter 5:12-13; cf. Acts 12:25; 13:5; 15:36-40). A brief survey of events from the time of their work with Paul to the time of Peter’s writing will provide a useful background for an understanding of 1 Peter.
Peter, Mark and Silas
Just before the start of Paul’s second missionary journey, Barnabas parted from Paul and went on a missionary trip to Cyprus, taking Mark with him (Acts 15:39). From early non-biblical records we learn that after Barnabas and Mark finished their work in Cyprus, Mark joined Peter. The two then worked together for many years preaching and teaching throughout the northern regions of Asia Minor, where they helped establish the churches addressed in this letter.
Further early records indicate that after this, Peter and Mark went to Rome for a period and taught the Christians there. When Peter left to go on further missionary travels, Mark stayed behind in Rome. The Christians in Rome asked Mark to write down the story of Jesus as they had heard it from Peter, with the result that Mark wrote the book that we know as Mark’s Gospel. About this time Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner for the first time. It seems that he was imprisoned for two years and then released (Acts 28:16,30; see background notes to 1 Timothy).
Later, Paul was imprisoned in Rome again and, believing he was about to be executed, asked Timothy and Mark to come and visit him (2 Tim 4:6,9,11). Whether they reached Rome before Paul’s execution is not clear, but Mark seems to have stayed on in Rome and was still there when Peter visited the city again. In keeping with a common practice among Christians at that time, Peter refers to Rome symbolically as Babylon; for Rome, like Babylon of Old Testament times, was the centre of society’s arrogant opposition to God and his people (1 Peter 5:13). The secretary who wrote Peter’s letter for him was his co-worker Silas (1 Peter 5:12).
Persecution of Christians
By this time Christians throughout the Empire were suffering increasingly severe persecution.
Previously the Roman authorities seem to have regarded Christianity as a movement within Judaism. This
meant that it was protected by law, for Judaism was a legal religion. But officials and common people alike were now becoming aware that there were vast differences between Judaism and Christianity.
When the Jews in Jerusalem killed the most prominent man in the church, James the brother of Jesus, everybody saw clearly that Christianity was not a movement within Judaism, but was plainly an illegal religion. (James was killed in Jerusalem about the same time as Paul was killed in Rome, the early
Opposition to Christians intensified rapidly. People in general considered them to be anti-social because of their refusal to join in social practices that they considered idolatrous and immoral. To make matters worse, the Emperor Nero, who had begun a sensible reign ten years previously, had by now become senselessly brutal and anti-Christian. He blamed Christians for the great fire of Rome (AD 64), with the result that fierce persecution broke out.
It was probably just before the outbreak of this greater persecution that Peter wrote this letter to the persecuted Christians of northern Asia Minor. He wanted to assure them of their living hope and glorious future (1 Peter 1:3-9), and to encourage them to bear their persecution with patience, even if it meant death (1 Peter 2:20-23; 3:14-15; 4:12-19).