Here the aged letter-writer (Peter) runs alongside his young friend, John son of Zebedee. Those familiar with John’s Gospel will know what directly precedes this moment: another disciple, Mary Magdalene, has just seen the risen Jesus, and has told Peter and John the astonishing news (John 20:1–2). Swiss painter Eugène Burnand (1851–1921) shows the two disciples running to Jesus’s tomb to see for themselves.
Burnand often painted everyday working people, and Peter and John appear not as enhaloed saints but as two fishermen. John clasps his hands in pleading prayer; Peter holds one hand, weathered with age and sun, over his heart, while the other points ahead (is that the tomb in the distance, just out of view?). They hurry forward. One can almost feel the cool morning air on their faces.
Dawn breaks; the sky is flooded with gold. Of course, Burnand paints the dawn because it was still early in the morning when Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb. But for Christians the dawn becomes also a symbol of the dawning of God’s new age, when they too will rise and receive the unfading inheritance being kept in heaven for them (1 Peter 1:4).
When Peter writes his letter to the exiles of the Diaspora—that is, to Christians scattered across Asia Minor—he uses gold as an image of their faith (v.7). Just as gold is refined in fire, so their faith was being tested and made stronger by suffering. Peter knew his own suffering, not only as he ran to his Lord’s tomb, hoping against hope that it would be empty as Mary promised, but also in the bitter tears he wept after he denied knowing Jesus three times just before Jesus’s death (John 18:15–18, 25–27).
When Peter wrote, ‘Although you have not seen him, you love him’ (1:8), he might have been describing his own beating heart, and John’s, as they ran on that first Easter morning—not seeing, but still straining forwards.
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
10 The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; 11they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. 12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.