The Heaven Hope of Christians has been called into question by the emerging movement. Why? Two reasons, at least: first, because it sometimes leads to an other-wordliness on the part of Christians, which is little more than a form of gnosticism; second, because it prevents some from seeing the redemptive work of God in this world. Peter believed in a Heaven Hope but it did not keep him from exhorting the resident aliens and temporary residents from getting their hands dirty in this world.
But, first, Peter clearly exhorted his powerless readers to realize the tranquility that was theirs because of their Heaven Hope. The “new birth” (1:3) itself was powered by the resurrection and the heavenly inheritance that was theirs. Peter emphasizes that this inheritance (which they had precious little of) was protected by God (and Roman emperors could do nothing about it).
Second, this Heaven Hope sustained these migrant workers and resident aliens as they faced a variety of trials (1:6-7). As they underwent these trials, they were to know that Father God was on their side and would honor them on the Last Day.
Third, this Heaven Hope is fired by faith: “whom you have not seen but still love” (1:8) is a powerful statement. Peter’s preaching had created a community of faith out of a bundle of powerless people in Asia Minor and they were being asked to do the impossible: live out a new life in light of a Person, Jesus Christ, whom they had never seen and with a joy that transcended their sufferings.
Some today are so nervous about the problematic side of Heaven Hope that they’ve almost given it up: this is a mistake. The story of the biblical narrative is one that is not locked down entirely to what happens on earth; the story itself has chapters and chapters of what we have to call Eternity. But, that Heaven Hope does not justify escape from this world nor does justify an otherworldliness — what it justifies is hope and faithfulness.
And, most importantly, the establishment of an alternative community: a community fired by faith and dedicated, in a holy way, to loving others and being a missional presence in the Roman Empire. Now, in this world, in concrete ways (as we will see in 1 Peter).
I was reared in a form of faith that was otherworldy and emphatic about its Heaven Hope. What I learned from it is the old philosopher’s gamble: if I lay my life on the line for Jesus Christ (which includes but is not limited to the Heaven Hope) and I’m wrong, I’ve lost only pleasure in this life; if I’m right, I’ve gained Eternity. That sort of Heaven Hope is inherent to the human quest, even if many want it suppressed. If there is an Eternity, shouldn’t we shape our life toward it? Yes, I say to myself. But, that Heaven Hope is a life of “worshipping fellowship” that fires a life that gives itself to others in this world. This world matters; it is the Stage of God’s Redemptive Work.
The socially displaced and powerless, such as Peter’s readers, would have taken great consolation in knowing that they could go about their lives of working within God’s redemptive designs with hope and fidelity because they knew God was on their side. There is here a reversal of authorities: it is no longer Rome and Caesar, but the Father God, the Spirit and the Son.
Reversing one’s authority points is one of the most threatening strategies the followers of Jesus can accomplish. It is downright belligerent and defiant and counter-cultural to answer to God (as a community) instead of to Caesar (as a community, as an individual) and even defiant of those who answer to God (only) as individualists.
Reversing also who sits at the table is also defiant — and Peter is part of an early Christian movement that was generous to the stranger. In fact, we’ve got them as the audience of this very letter: resident aliens and temporary residents. Peter has shifted the fellowship of practices from a Jewish context to a Roman one, but the impact is the same: welcome the stranger, they too are Eikons, and they have a story of redemption to tell.
And, as we will see very clearly in 1 Peter, that hope and fidelity were carried on in the context of the community of faith.