Peter now concludes his first letter writing from Rome, which he calls Babylon. The Bible identifies Babylon as both a real place, and as a symbol of evil (Revelation 17:1-6). Historical Babylon (in what is now Iraq) had a proud and powerful reputation for oppressing and secularising the people of God; its society allowed all that God forbids. Rome's culture had also degenerated to celebrate what God had condemned (Romans 1:18-32). Yet, people in Rome first trusted in Jesus after hearing the gospel from travelling believers - and that is still happening wherever people are courageous to tell others ... wherever they may move or travel on business.
Although the believers in Rome were also being, or about to be, persecuted (Romans 16:20) - the church knew that they were united with believers everywhere. They asked to join in Peter's encouragement to the churches in, what is now, Turkey. Mark wanted to encourage them too. Now, he had been a great disappointment to Paul in ministry. Although a cousin of Barnabas, Mark did not have the personal qualities to endure the rigours of Paul's missionary itinerary, and was dropped from the team (Acts 15:36-41). Even though Barnabas tried him on an easier ministry schedule, it was not his gifting. However, when Mark got alongside Peter in Rome, he proved to be the wonderfully clear writer of Mark's Gospel. Peter greatly valued Mark's humble teachability and called him his 'son'. That should remind us that, whatever our assumptions about other Christians, it is God's right to equip and use His people as He chooses. Eventually, Paul also found Mark to be a useful assistant in his later ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
Although Rome prided itself on establishing peace, Emperor Nero wrongly blamed the Great Fire of Rome in AD64 on the Christians. The vicious persecution of the church would force them to meet in underground catacombs, and many to flee the country - including those to whom Peter was writing. But despite all their suffering, they learnt to find peace of heart through trusting in Christ. In times of tension it is easy to be irritable with those who are near and dear. But that must not happen among God’s people. The church must prioritise love for each other and not allow dissension to weaken the church (Philippians 1:27); the strong bonds of fellowship as indicated by a holy kiss are essential for the scattered churches as for the believers in Rome (Romans 16:16).
Even today, wherever believers are oppressed, they speak of knowing God's peace, despite the external threats, as they commit themselves to the Lord Jesus (1 Peter 4:7). Whenever you meet believers - encourage them; and whenever you hear of persecution - pray for them and encourage them to trust that the Lord will answer their prayers (1 Peter 5:6-7).
© Dr Paul Adams