Having described our salvation as secure by its very nature, Peter goes on to describe our salvation as “has been kept in heaven” and guarded by the power of God. A second reason our great salvation is secure is that we are not guarding it, God the Father himself is keeping it for us.
The Greek syntax is important here, the verb is a perfect passive participle (φρουρουμένους, from φρουρέω). Our inheritance has already been kept (the perfect) and it is not kept by us, but for us (the passive). The believer is not responsible for keep their salvation, or maintaining their salvation. It is an expectation that will be realized at some point in the future.
Ultimately that salvation will not be fully revealed until the “last time.” While we might here “when we get to heaven” in this statement, Peter has in mind the return of Jesus, the ultimate vindication of Jesus as the Lord of this world. We tend to think something like, “since Jesus died for me, I get to go to heaven,” which of course is true. But Peter’s Jewish theology and world view emphasized the return of Jesus to render justice and establish his kingdom more completely. As we will see in the rest of this letter, Peter believes that Jesus is going to return very soon and that believers live in the gap between the first and second coming of the Messiah.
Taken along with 1 Peter 1:4, we can be certain our salvation is secure because it is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus, by its very nature it cannot decay, and it is being kept by God himself in heaven.
If this is the case, what should Christians think about their “present suffering”? Peter argues that since our salvation is so certain, the trials of this life are occasions for praise (vv. 6-7). The believer can rejoice in their “fiery trials” because they know that their inheritance is secured. The belief that Jesus is Lord and that he is returning to render judgment on the world in the future runs counter to the prevailing belief that Rome is all-powerful and renders justice and that Caesar himself is the ultimate Lord.
In the territories mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1, Rome was venerated in imperial religious activity that could not be separated from civic life. If one was going be successful in the Roman world of the late first century, then Rome must be recognized as sovereign over this world. This world view would naturally bring Christians into conflict with local authorities. Why do Christians avoid participating in civic events that are dedicated to gods, or even to Rome itself?
It is difficult for contemporary (American) Christians to fully understand this because America attempts to completely separate “church and state.” What we do in church has nothing to do with our loyalty as Americans, and we do not really see our loyalty to America as something that conflicts with our faith in Jesus Christ. But that was just not the case in first century Rome, nor is it the case in many countries today.
Is it possible to be a loyal Christian and participate fully in civic life in China? Or the Middle East? Or many countries in Africa? How can Peter’s assertion that our inheritance is kept for us in Heaven encourage Christians wo are indeed suffering greatly for their faith?