|Volume 24 Number 8 August 2022
Some people read 1 Peter 4:18 and become anxious about their eternal salvation. That verse reads, “Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’” (NKJV). Various readers coming across the verse think that since Peter said the righteous are scarcely saved that their salvation is in constant jeopardy. They imagine one can only make it to heaven by the skin of their teeth (Job 14:20). Is that true? What did Peter mean by ‘the righteous are scarcely saved’?
We must understand that Peter was writing to Christians in the context of persecution and imminent danger from oppressors. They were “grieved by various trials” (1:6), facing the possibility of “suffering for righteousness’ sake” (3:14), experiencing ‘fiery trials’ (4:12), ‘suffering as Christians’ (4:16), and ‘suffering according to the will of God’ (4:19). Peter wrote to encourage them in the face of those then present dangers and to assure them of the victory they could expect even though it might include physical loss. Let us analyze the words in the passage.
The word “scarcely” appears as “with difficulty” in other passages. “When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus…” (Acts 27:7); “…and it departs from him with great difficulty, bruising him” (Luke 9:39).
The word translated “saved” does not always mean eternal salvation – salvation of the soul in Heaven. Our eternal salvation is sure as we walk in the light. Jesus saves “to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25). We are “…kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). We will have an ‘abundant entrance into eternal salvation’ (2 Peter 1:10-11). Apparently, though, Peter was not talking about eternal salvation in 1 Peter 4:18. Instead, he was talking about physical salvation from persecution. The word “saved” or “salvation” occurs numerous times in both the Old and New testaments to refer to physical salvation from danger or death.
But do not fear, O My servant Jacob, And do not be dismayed, O Israel! For behold, I will save you from afar, And your offspring from the land of their captivity; Jacob shall return, have rest and be at ease; No one shall make him afraid. (Jeremiah 46:27)
for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. (Deuteronomy 20:4)
For I will not trust in my bow, Nor shall my sword save me. But You have saved us from our enemies, And have put to shame those who hated us. (Psalm 44:6-7)
But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)
Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. (John 12:27)
who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:20)
Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. …Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:20, 31).
The word translated “judgment” in 1 Peter 4:17 does not refer to the final day of judgment at Christ’s return but to the judgment of physical suffering or punishment. The judgment that Peter described was to “begin” at that time. The final judgment has not occurred because Christ has not returned for that event. Therefore, it must have been some other judgment. God often came in judgment to punish ungodly nations and individuals. Judgment, at times, refers to the judgment exercised by a justice system. It also may refer to clarifying the difference between good and bad.
The Lord will enter into judgment With the elders of His people And His princes: “For you have eaten up the vineyard; The plunder of the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:14)
“Yet I will bring back the captives of Moab In the latter days,” says the Lord. Thus far is the judgment of Moab. (Jeremiah 48:47)
Therefore behold, the days are coming That I will bring judgment on the carved images of Babylon; Her whole land shall be ashamed, And all her slain shall fall in her midst. (Jeremiah 51:47)
“And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien – Because they do not fear Me,” Says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:5)
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19)
When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat. (Acts 18:12)
It seems that the conclusion to be reached is that the judgment to which Peter referred was the ‘testing of their faith by fire’ (1 Peter 1:7) and not to the final Day of Judgment. He taught that Christians would be tested in the fire of suffering, which would purify them as gold is purified by fire. Further, it would begin with them since they were the target of persecutors. Christians were tested in the fire (a kind of judgment) and were preserved for the eternal salvation that they anticipated. The ungodly and sinners have no hope of enduring God’s testing or judgment, because they have lived in rebellion to Him. Jesus said that He came into the world “for judgment” to separate the good from the bad (John 9:39). That is what happened in the “tested by fire” judgment that Peter described.
“The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (2 Timothy 4:18).