Peter’s words here may sound strange and we may wish to respond by asking, ‘Why should judgment begin with the family of God?’ The answer is straightforward – God dwells in his church and rules over it. His purpose is to purify it, and one means that he uses for this goal is persecution. Peter is saying that this judgement is the first stage in the final judgement, but it is a stage in which the judgment is accompanied by mercy. Even when aspects of this initial judgment are severe, as they were in Corinth when some were judged with death because of their sins in the church, the judgment is accompanied by mercy (1 Cor. 11:30-32).
Peter asks a question, the answer to which is a deduction from the fact that God judges his people in this life. Since the judgement on them is severe (persecution), how much worse will the judgement be that will be inflicted by God on those who refuse to heed the requirements of the gospel! We know that it will be eternal and conscious, and it is an awful prospect.
Peter cites a verse from the Book of Proverbs: ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ The word translated ‘scarcely’ has the idea of difficulty or hard. He does not mean that salvation of the righteous is uncertain. Instead he is stressing that working out one’s salvation takes all of our time and all of our energy. We know that some building projects require hard work and disciplined concentration.
In a far higher sense, Christians should appreciate that persecution actually helps them focus on the strength of their faith. God brings difficulties into our lives, and we have to respond to them. We can respond with expressions of rebellion or we can respond with determination to progress in holiness. The same circumstances can cause a mere professor to give up and can stimulate a genuine Christian to persevere.