Peter here refers to a woman and to a place. His words can be understood in different ways. Babylon may be a reference to the city in modern day Iraq or even to a small military location in Egypt, although it is more likely to be a cryptic reference to the city of Rome itself. The reason why he would use such an allusion helps us appreciate the estimation the apostolic church had of the great Roman Empire. For them, it was a cruel system that opposed God’s kingdom, but like the original Babylon it was doomed for destruction.2
But who is the ‘she’? It is possible that Peter means his wife because we know from a statement by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Peter’s wife travelled with him. So, assuming that she was still living, she would have been with him. Yet it is more likely that Peter is referring to the church or to the group of Christians he was with when he composed the letter.
The apostle highlights something that both his readers and his current companions share, and that is that they have been chosen. While he does not say who chose them, he would have had God in mind. Nor does he indicate which feature of God’s choosing was the focus of Peter’s mind. Instead he leaves it open to take the most comprehensive view of God’s purpose for them. So they could consider it from the point of view of his electing grace when he chose them before the world was made. And they could think of it as his providential choice for them to witness in particular circumstances. Further they could look ahead and focus on God’s determination to bless his chosen ones in the eternal world.
In whatever ways they would look at his words, they would be reminded of the loving sovereignty of God who had selected his people. God’s sovereignty is a most comforting doctrine, and Peter wanted his readers to derive maximum help from it.