According to ancient tradition, the Roman Emperor Nero crucified the Apostle Peter because of his faith in Christ. However, believing he was unworthy to be crucified in the same fashion as Jesus, Peter requested crucifixion upside down which the Romans did.
By the time Nero became emperor in 64 AD, Christians were considered social outcasts in Roman society. The Roman emperors were considered gods and it was a person’s civic duty to make sacrifices to them.
Christians could avoid martyrdom by simply making an offering to the Roman emperor. Later, the Romans required Christians to show certificates that they had made a sacrifice to the emperor, witnessed by others.
If they refused it usually meant torture and death often by crucifixion or fire. After the Romans finished constructing the Colosseum in 80 AD, along with commons crooks and slaves, Christians were thrown in the arena before massive crowds to be ripped apart by lions or other wild beasts.
One of the contraptions the Romans used to entertain the tens of thousands sitting in the seats were large old-fashioned see saws. People were tied to either end of the see saws and then several starving carnivorous animals were let into the Colosseum.
Of course the safest place was high off the ground and the people on one end would launch themselves in the air sending the person on the other end to the ground and they would frantically do this until the animals pounced on one poor soul.
The blood thirsty crowds would even make bets on who would be caught first.
In the face of these horrific trials, Christians were concerned about how they would handle it. What would they do if faced with death or denying Christ?
So when Peter wrote his first epistle this was the world Christians were facing which he describes as full of “fiery trials” (1 Peter 4:12).
For those fearing for their faith and salvation, Peter writes:
4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:4-5 NIV)
In this verse, Peter told the first century Christians that they didn’t have to worry about their salvation because it wasn’t their responsibility. The verb tenses used here says that God is keeping our salvation on our behalf.
However, there is more to the Greek word “phroureo” translated “kept.” It was a military term used to describe keeping a place secure with a military garrison or fortress.
We have that concept on full display in 2 Corinthians where Paul says:
32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded [phroureo] in order to arrest me. (2 Corinthians 11:32 NIV)
But for the early Christian this was reversed. The Roman garrisons that were supposed to protect them were now their enemy, but God was now supplying the garrison.
Secondly, Peter says their salvation is not being garrisoned on earth, but rather in heaven where it is guarded by the full power of God.
So while we are weak and fearful, God is the one guarding our salvation and it is our faith that activates this full power of God.
But in verse 7, Peter adds these trials test our faith.
“so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1:7 NASV)
The word testing refers to the process where the ancients tested items to determine if it was truly gold or if it was mixed with other metals, sometimes fraudulently.
One of the earliest tests, called ‘fire assaying,’ involved taking a sample of the gold, weighing it, then melting it, along with a piece of lead, in a crucible made of bone ash. During the process, the lead and other base metals would be absorbed into the crucible leaving a mixture of gold and silver. The assayer then applied nitric acid to remove the silver.
Once, he completed this process, he was left with pure gold. This was weighed and then compared to its original weight to determine purity.
Like gold, our faith can be muddled or filled with impurities. Some of our motivations for believing is questionable — some look to faith as a way of getting rich. Testing by “fiery trials” burns away these false motivations and similarly determines how genuine our faith is.
Peter is not saying that faith is more valuable than gold, he is saying the “testing of faith” is more valuable than the “testing of gold.”
For decades North American Christianity have experienced easy believism. There has been no cost to being a Christian. But over the last five years we have witnessed a rapid shift in opinion towards Christians.
We are rapidly becoming society’s outcasts.
In the face of this, some Christians are bending the Bible to to make it more palatable to our modern society. Other believers are experiencing a testing of their faith and some even describe it as a crisis of faith.
But according to Peter, we are going through a “fire assaying,” that Christians around the world and throughout history have experienced.
As we allow this process to complete its work, we will be left with ‘pure, genuine-gold faith.’
- Gold in antiquity: Ancient History Encyclopedia
- Could you stomach the horrors of ‘halftime’ in Ancient Rome: Live Science