Vol. 1 - No. 10
Will The Righteous Just Barely Make It?
by R. L. (Bob) Craig
I would like for you to consider some verses of scripture that, I believe, have been misunderstood by many, and through this misunderstanding had the seed of doubt sowed in their minds concerning whether they could get to heaven. In fact, some have forsaken the Lord, just because they were led to believe, not only by these scriptures that I shall deal with, but with others as well, that they, by the very strictest adherence to the word of God, still couldn't be sure that they would be allowed in heaven. We need more “blessed assurance” lessons than the many discouraging ones we so often present.
The scriptures I am concerning myself with in this little essay are in the fourth chapter of First Peter at verses sixteen and seventeen: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?”
We have always tried to get people, in a scripture study, to consider the context. So, in arriving at an understanding of these verses, let us look at the context. First, consider the first verse and the last verse of this chapter: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin …”
“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” Our verses have as their setting (context) the suffering of Christians from the first to the last verse. Since that IS the context, evidently our verses have to do with the same subject -- suffering. I believe that the “House of God” is Christians and the judgment is suffering of some sort. So “house of God,” “us,” and “the righteous,” would be the same group of people.
Now, look at two other verses in context, verses seven and twelve: “But the end of all things is at hand” and “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you…”
The verses we are considering are introduced with the word “for” which points back to the things that have been said. The things which have been said deal with suffering that would come upon them as a “fiery trial.” So, let's look back to the days in which the epistle was written that we might better get into the spirit of the occasion. We have no exact date, that is, the Bible itself does give a date for the writing but one who has studied these things makes this observation: “We may, therefore, with reasonable probability, fix the date of the epistle (1st Peter) on the eve of the Neronian persecution, A.D. 65.” (Guy N. Woods, New Testament Commentaries, Peter, John, Jude, pg. 17).
My explanation of verses 17 and 18 would be this: the judgment is not the final judgment at the end of time, but is the immense suffering (fiery trial) that was beginning to reach a peak at the time of writing. The “house of God,” as already stated was the church, Christians. Those that “obey not (or have not obeyed) the gospel,” also referred to as the ungodly and the sinner, would be non-Christians or Christians that had gone back into the world, the Jewish world in particular. The beginning of the “time for judgment” was that time preceding and finally culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem. The “end of all things is at hand” indicated a time soon to come and to the Jew would have special significance inasmuch as his entire life, his “all things” centered around Jerusalem and all that it had stood for, hence, the “end of” the Jewish world, the Jewish economy, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman forces in 70 A.D.
Now, what about the righteous “scarcely” being saved? The big question to be answered would be: “save from what?” Look at Matthew 24 and you will see, I believe, the unfolding of I Peter 4:17-18. Verse eight: "the beginning of sorrows" would be "judgment beginning with the house of God." "The end" in verse six and "the end" in verse 13 and "the end" in verse 14 all point to the same event, the final destruction of Jerusalem. "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations." (vs. 14). This had been done. (Colossians 1:23). "….the gospel…. which WAS preached to every creature which is under heaven…." Various signs were being given by the Lord so that faithful Christians (the house of God, the righteous) would recognize the time of the end and be ready for it. At the appointed time "the days" (of tribulation or suffering) would let up or "be shortened" and the faithful would flee into the mountains. The faithful would be them "that endureth unto the end" and they would be delivered from that awful carnage that they had already witnessed and with great difficulty they would make their escape. "Except those days should be shortened there should be no flesh saved: but for the elect's (house of God, the righteous) sake those days shall be shortened." (vs. 22). "The righteous shall scarcely (hardly, with great difficulty) be saved." And surely, Peter could NOT be saying that the faithful child of God would just BARELY get into heaven when he knew by inspiration and would soon make it known in his second epistle that one would not just get in "by the skin of his teeth" but rather "for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:11).
Yes, even though the Jewish Christians of that day were called upon to accept the persecution of their Jewish friends and loved ones and also the wrath of the Roman aggressors, God allowed them, with great trial and tribulation, to escape (be saved) from the total and complete destruction of everything Jewish. A "fiery trial" had engulfed them "such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, (65 to 70 A.D.) no, nor ever shall be." (vs. 21).