As we bring our look at the first letter of Peter to a close, the last verses of the final chapter have some interesting tidbits. While they may not be principles in the same way as the other lessons, they are reasons to give us pause, prayer and consideration.
The epistle provides us with a snapshot of the final days of the life and ministry of the beloved apostle. Peter played a significant role in the early years of the church. His activities are reflected in the first chapters of the book of Acts. Peter was present at the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21, Galatians 2:6-10). Later when he returned to Antioch, he shied away from accepting the Gentiles as full Christian brothers, an act that prompted strong words from Paul (Galatians 2:11-15).
Not a great deal more is known about Peter in the years that follow. Tradition has him traveling extensively, apparently accompanied by his wife (1 Corinthians 9:5). There are strong opinions that he made a long visit to Babylon, the home of the Old Testament exile, and perhaps the source of the reference made in 1 Peter 5:13.
Roman Catholic teachings have Peter eventually making his way to Rome, though this cannot possibly be before AD 65 following the burning of Rome and the beginning of the intense persecution at the hands of Nero. Peter is said to have died a martyr’s death in 67 or 68, close in time to the death of Paul.
Two things stand out in the final two verses of the book. The mention by Peter that “she who is in Babylon sends you her greetings” (1 Peter 5:13) has caused strong differing opinions among theologians. Erasmus, Calvin and a host of others believe that this reference is to Babylon on the Euphrates. It is certainly within the spirit of this impetuous man to wander back to the area where Israelites had spent so many years in captivity. We know that not everyone returned to Jerusalem with Nehemiah and Ezra. Perhaps Peter wanted to share the news of the awaited Messiah with so many who had been away from the ministry of Jesus.
The majority of the scholars see Babylon as a reference to the church in the city of Rome. The whole church sends greetings. John certainly refers to Rome as Babylon in the book of Revelation, written about 30 years later. The cryptic nature of the term may be to keep his exact location a mystery during times of such persecution.
Either interpretation lends itself to understanding a setting in the midst of persecution, suffering and exile. Such a context makes vivid applications for Christians today. The pandemic fostered an exile circumstance for the church. Most had to shut down for at least a time, re-invent themselves to embrace an online community, and many are not operating at full ministry capacity today.
According to research released by George Barna and Christianity Today, nearly a third of church-goers have stopped attending church, either online or in-person. The number is even higher among millennials. Why would that be true?
Some leaders speculate that people are “ZOOMED out.” Weeks of online video meetings for work, school and social gatherings have caused many to dread being logged in for another hour on a Sunday morning.
Some think it’s the music. Singing at home in front of a screen isn’t the same experience as singing with others. To this day I remember singing “How Great Thou Art” in Cincinnati, with a Riverfront Stadium filled with thousands of believers. The sound and experience put goose-bumps on my arms. But in my living room, my “sound” stands out and not in a good way. I am not likely to sing in that setting.
May I suggest another potential reason? There is a part of going to church to worship that has yet to be properly translated into an online experience. Church staff have planned and prepared to recreate what happened inside the sanctuary.
But something less planned, less intentional, less structured was taking place outside – in the foyer, on the patio, in the welcome center and in a side-room. People stood around talking. They caught up with one another. They shared things worth praying about. They rejoiced with those who rejoiced. They wept with those who weep.
Fellowship – even at a distance – requires connection and involvement, although the participation may be limited. There are few chatrooms on the streaming websites. There are no messenger apps that allow you to give a hug, even if it is a virtual one. We don’t go out as often as we used to. We aren’t circulating the way we did. We are being reminded that the church isn’t a building. It isn’t the website. It is the people.
We are alone in a crowd and we don’t like it. I need to wrap my arms around you and tell you that being with you enhances my ability to worship.
The thought brings us to the second concept Peter shares in the last two verses. The apostle mentions people. “With the help of Silvanus (Silas) I have written you this letter” (1 Peter 5:12). Silas is also closely connected with the ministry of Paul. Luke mentions him 12 times between Acts 15:22 and Acts 18:5. We don’t know how Silas helped in the writing. He delivered a letter in Acts 15:22 so perhaps Silas served like a mailman.
Some designate him as an amanuensis, serving as a scribe taking dictation from Peter. This reference does not explain the work of Silas, but we are told his value. Peter considers him a faithful brother. Both Paul and Peter needed someone in their lives they could depend on for encouragement and support. At various points of life, both chose Silas.
Mark gets mentioned in the next verse, and Peter refers to him as a son, much like the designation that Paul offered Timothy. Close companionship, beginning and developing faithfulness, and side-by-side ministry is just a part of what sets Mark apart. To stop the zoom of people leaving by the virtual backdoor, we need to figure out how to have fellowship at a distance.