What Is the Meaning of 1 Peter 2:9?
In Peter’s first epistle, he describes what God’s Church is supposed to be and do. How are God’s people a “chosen generation” and a “royal priesthood”?
What does 1 Peter 2:9 say?
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
To learn more about this important book of the New Testament, read our overview article “1 Peter.”
In the second chapter of the book, Peter directly addresses what God’s people, the Church, are called to be and do. He writes:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
- A chosen generation.
- A royal priesthood.
- A holy nation.
- His own special people.
Interestingly, Peter drew these phrases from Old Testament descriptions of the ancient nation of Israel. By doing so, he was reinforcing a recurring theme in Paul’s writings—that the New Testament Church is now spiritual Israel (Galatians 3:29; 6:16).
What do these descriptions mean?
What can they teach us about the true Church of God? How can they impact how a Christian lives his or her day-to-day life? How do they connect the Church of God to Old Testament Israel?
Let’s look deeper into the meaning of these descriptions in 1 Peter 2:9.
You are a chosen generation
When we think of a “generation,” we usually think about people who lived at the same time. This, however, isn’t what Peter was referring to in this verse. He wasn’t limiting God’s chosen people to a single generation who lived during the first century (when he wrote these words).
So, what did Peter mean by a “chosen generation”?
The Greek word here is genos. In this context, the word means kindred, offspring or family. So, this phrase could be translated, “you are a chosen family.” Peter wasn’t emphasizing God’s people as coming from the same time period, but from the same family—of the same kindred!
How does one enter that family? The answer is found in this part of the verse—they are chosen. This is the second step in the three-part conversion process summarized in Revelation 17:14 (“called, chosen, and faithful”).
Through being called and chosen, true Christians are officially begotten into God’s family. God the Father becomes their spiritual Father, and Jesus Christ becomes their Elder Brother. Christians therefore relate to one another as brothers and sisters.
In fact, the Church is also known as “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). This is another way of emphasizing the family relationship between God and His people.
God used similar language to describe His relationship with Israel in the Old Testament. “God has chosen you to be a people for Himself” (Deuteronomy 7:6). In the case of Israel, God called and chose them as a physical family that then grew into a nation. In the case of the Church, He calls people from around the earth—from various ethnicities and nationalities—and brings them into a spiritual family.
To learn more about this relationship, read our article explaining what it means to be “Children of God.”
A royal priesthood
What exactly does Peter mean by calling God’s people “a royal priesthood”?
First, we need to understand the Old Covenant priesthood’s basic functions. The priest’s essential duty was to make fellowship possible between a holy God and a sinful people. They served as intercessors, or mediators, between God and the people. They did that by:
- Presenting various sacrifices and offerings from the people to God.
- Praying to God on behalf of the people.
- Maintaining the tabernacle, which included burning incense before God and making sure the altar and grounds were cared for.
- Teaching the people how to be holy by instructing them in God’s law and on how to discern between good and evil.
This was necessary because the people of Israel did not have God’s Holy Spirit, and thus could not have a spiritual relationship with God. But when Jesus built the Church of God, He did not ordain a physical priesthood to lead it. Instead, He instituted an entirely new kind of leadership office, that of elders (or ministers). To learn more about this office, read “What Is a Pastor?”
Instead, Jesus Christ serves as High Priest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:14; 5:10; 9:12). When He was on earth, He made the sacrifice for humanity and set a living example of God’s law in action. Presently, He intercedes for His people with the Father and maintains and leads the spiritual temple (the Church). (To learn more about Christ’s role as High Priest, read “Jesus Christ, Our High Priest: What Is the Meaning of Hebrews 4:15?”)
Christians are destined to lead and teach people on earth as a “royal priesthood” in the world to come.So, how are the people of God “a royal priesthood”?
The answer is that Christ’s sacrifice and the giving of the Holy Spirit make a direct relationship with God possible under the New Covenant. Converted Christians no longer need a physical priesthood as an intercessor between them and God. Christians don’t approach God through physical priests or a physical temple.
Under the New Covenant, converted Christians with God’s Spirit can fulfill some of the basic functions that ancient Israel needed priests for:
- Christians can have direct access to the one-time sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:27; 9:14).
- Christians fulfill part of the symbolism of the old sacrifices by presenting their lives as a “living sacrifice” to God (Romans 12:1).
- Christians can pray directly to God the Father through Jesus Christ (John 14:13-14; Philippians 4:6).
- Christians are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16).
- Christians have God’s law written on their hearts and are to learn to discern between good and evil using Jesus’ example and the words of the Bible (Hebrews 5:14; 8:10; 1 John 2:6; Matthew 4:4).
By carrying out these formerly priestly duties in their lives, God’s people are preparing to serve as “kings and priests” over the earth during the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 5:10).
Knowing that we will be kings and priests in God’s Kingdom helps us better understand why Peter described God’s people as “a royal priesthood.” Christians are destined to lead and teach people on earth as a “royal priesthood” in the world to come.
God originally intended the nation of Israel to be a “kingdom of priests,” modeling and teaching God’s ways to the surrounding nations through their example. Sadly, they failed to fulfill that role in the past.
But God’s people today can set that example and prepare to lead in the world to come as a “royal priesthood.”
To learn more, read “Born to Be a King.”
A holy nation
This description is another direct reference to what God desired Israel to be in Old Testament times. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This is what God called them to be, but, for most of their history, Israel fell far short of this standard. They could hardly be characterized by holiness.
Today, Christians are to be different. They are to personify holiness in their lives. Every day.
Holiness, when applied to people, essentially means the quality of being set apart by God to live morally upright and righteous lives based on the Word of God.
To be holy, Christians must model their behavior after God Himself. “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Because holiness doesn’t come naturally to human beings (Romans 8:7), people who live holy lives are automatically different from those around them.
Holiness essentially means the quality of being set apart by God to live morally upright and righteous lives based on the Word of God. One of the first steps to living a holy life is to learn from the example of Jesus Christ. For insight on how to do that, read “Walk as He Walked.”
What does Peter mean by calling God’s people a nation?
When we think of a nation, we often think of a nation-state. But that’s just one application of the word. The word more broadly applies to any group of people unified by something or someone. The Church of God, unified by the truth of God and the power of God’s Spirit, collectively forms a spiritual nation of people, spread throughout the globe.
God wants His nation, the Church, to be “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle . . . but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). In other words, God’s nation is united and identified by the conduct of its members. They are a collective body that strives to live “holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Colossians 1:22).
This emphasizes an essential truth that must be understood: Christianity is more than just a set of beliefs; it is a way of life.
To learn how to identify the “holy nation” God is working through today, read “What Is the Church?”
His own special people
By using this descriptor, Peter once more alluded to God’s desire for ancient Israel. God proclaimed Israel to be “His special people” (Deuteronomy 26:18), and He revealed what would distinguish them—observing and walking in His laws and ways (verses 16-17).
But, as was mentioned, they consistently failed to fulfill God’s purpose for them. Instead of being a special and distinct people, they embraced the sins and idolatry of the nations that surrounded them (Ezekiel 20:16; Hosea 4:10). (The good news is that God is not done with Israel. The people of Israel will have another opportunity to succeed where they failed in the past. To learn more about this, read chapter 4 of our booklet The World to Come: What It Will Be Like.)
The Church is to be different. Instead of blending in with the rest of the world, Church members are to stand out. They are to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Blameless. Harmless. Without fault. Lights in the world.
That is how God’s people, His “holy nation,” are to be a truly special people. Those attributes make them distinguishable from any other people on the face of the earth. God’s people are to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Rather than becoming spiritually assimilated into the world around them, God’s people today must strive to be a special people by adhering to God’s laws and ways.
To learn more about the importance of being different and separate from this world, read “Come Out of Her, My People.”
What God’s special people do
After identifying four characteristics of God’s people, the Church, Peter went on to describe what those people are to do in their lives: “that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
God’s people must praise God—in word and in deed.When we think of praise, we often think about worshipping God through song. But that is just one of many ways that God’s people praise Him. Perhaps the most powerful and important way they can “proclaim the praises” of God is to set an example of His way of life in action through their daily conduct. Jesus said that when Christians let their light shine before others through their good works, they “glorify [their] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
God’s people must praise God—in word and in deed.
Peter closes this verse by reemphasizing the truth that God “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” When God calls people into His truth, He frees them from the darkness of deception and allows them to perceive and understand the light of His truth (John 8:32).
As a result of this calling, God’s people commit their lives to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
The importance and meaning of 1 Peter 2:9
Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9 are packed with meaning for God’s people today. Using four descriptions strongly rooted in the Old Testament, Peter connected the New Covenant Church with the purpose God gave to ancient Israel. He did this to emphasize the importance of the Church as spiritual Israel.
By reading and meditating on this one verse, God’s people are reminded what they need to be—a chosen family, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s special people—and what they are to do.
That is the inspiring meaning of 1 Peter 2:9.