Historical Background to First Peter.

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 "In the month of July in the year 64 A.D., a great fire broke out in the city of Rome and the entire city was engulfed in flames. Hundreds of public buildings were burned to the ground, hundreds of acres were blackened in the city, and thousands of homes were destroyed, so that there were thousands of the inhabitants of the city left homeless. History has concluded that the Emperor Nero set that fire in order that he might destroy the ramshackle buildings of Rome and give him room to erect some marble palaces and other monuments that he thought would establish his name in history.

It was during this time, of course, that the story was born that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but it has since been conclusively proved that the violin was not invented at that time. What he played is hard to tell, but it is pretty clear from some of the contemporary historians that the Emperor was seen looking over the city and enjoying the view while it was burning. There are some who claim that when the fire was put out in one part of the city, suddenly and mysteriously it was lit again, so the historians of that day seem to be almost unanimous in concluding that Nero did burn down the city.

The populace was incensed, they were ready to revolt and overthrow him, so Nero quickly looked around for a scapegoat that he could blame for the fire. There was in Rome a group of people who were just in the right situation to lend themselves to take the blame for the fire. They were called Christians. They followed a man named Christ, about whom strange things were said, and they themselves did very strange things. Rumors were flying all around Rome that they were cannibals, because they talked about getting together in their houses, drinking someone's blood and eating his body. They spoke about "love feasts," -- at which they greeted one another with a holy kiss, and shared their innermost problems with each other. This soon became enlarged into stories of sexual orgies. So they were a people already under deep suspicion. When the Emperor needed a scapegoat, therefore, he started the rumor around Rome that the Christians had burned down the city.

There were a lot of people who refused to believe that, but there were some who did, and in order to enforce it the Emperor began a very serious series of persecutions against the Christians. It was during this time that Christians were dipped in tar and burned as torches to light the gardens of Nero when he threw an outdoor party. They were tied to his chariot and dragged through the streets of Rome until they were dead. They were thrown to the lions; they were tied up in leather bags and thrown into water so that when the leather bags shrank, the Christians were squeezed to death. In a hundred other delicate ways, Nero sought to impress upon them the folly of being Christians.

Now it was during this time of the outbreak of the persecution of Christians in Rome that the Apostle Peter wrote this letter. And he wrote it, most scholars believe, in Rome to "the exiles," he says, or "the strangers in dispersion:"

... To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia,
Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen and destined
by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for
obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his
blood. (1 Pet 1:1b-2a RSV)

Click here for map of the time of First Peter.

And thus we get this beautiful and wonderful letter -- what we call The First Letter of Peter.

You will notice that, at the close of this letter, Peter says he wrote it from Babylon (5:13). There are some who say he meant the literal Babylon on the Euphrates River, but most scholars seem quite agreed that he was using the term that was common in the Christians of that century to refer to Rome, because all of the licentiousness and idolatry and evil of Babylon had now been transferred to the capital of the Roman Empire. So it is very likely that the Apostle Peter wrote this letter from the city of Rome in about 67 A.D. And he wrote it to Christians, mostly Gentile Christians (Click here for the reasoning behind this), who were scattered about in cities in the northeast province of what we now call Asia Minor, or Turkey (Click here for map of the time of First Peter ), and to them this letter came. They were being hounded and persecuted all through the Empire because of Nero's proclamation, and so the apostle wrote to encourage them in the face of their difficulties.

This, then, is one of the letters of the New Testament especially helpful to anybody who is going through some difficulty. If you are facing the problem of suffering of any kind, I would urge you to read First Peter. If you are wondering what God is doing in the world of our day and what is going to happen in the face of all the tensions and pressures and possibilities of terror that await us in the future, this is an excellent letter to read because it was written to Christians under similar circumstances. "

By R.Stedman in an article on 'The Message of First Peter' found on the Internet.

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