"And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:8-9
The Apostle Peter wrote his "First Letter" to "those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood…" (1:1-2) These "aliens" were believers in Christ who lived in the above-named districts of the Roman Empire who had recently come under state-sponsored persecution. Nero, in the year 64 AD, began a campaign of terror against the Christians in his empire, starting in Rome after a terrible fire had destroyed much of the city. To divert suspicion from himself because many thought he started the fire to clear the way for his grandiose building programs, Nero laid the blame on the Christians. After all, didn't they teach that the world would end in fire? They must have tried to "hasten the Day" (2 Peter 3:12) by starting the fire! At least that is what he wanted people to think. So, as part of his inhumane, cruel and utterly unjust persecution of the Christians, he tied many of them to stakes, covered them with tar and set them afire to light his garden parties! Eventually, Peter himself would be arrested by Nero and executed by being crucified upside down, and before Nero's reign ended, the Apostle Paul would be beheaded by that man whom the Apostle John called, "the Beast" (Revelation 13:16-18)
Consider now, Peter's words in 1:8. He says that though they had not seen Jesus, they loved Him and though even now they do not see Him, yet they believe in Him and rejoice with "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (King James Version). Why did these Christians love Jesus so much that they were willing to die confessing His name? First, let's back up a step and ask why Peter loved Jesus so much that he was willing to die on a cross, upside down rather than repudiate Him? We do know that Peter, out of fear for his life, once denied three times that he even knew Jesus. Yet even though he did this, he did love Jesus. We know this because he wept bitter tears afterward. His love for Jesus was not yet strong enough to bear the weight of the threat of death. But three and a half decades later, when condemned to crucifixion as a leader of the Christians, he requested the authorities to crucify him upside down because he was not worthy to die as His Lord had died.
Again, let us go back to the question as to why Peter, and the other disciples, loved Jesus and believed in Him. There was nothing outward in Jesus to attract them. He was not rich, or powerful or even handsome. As the prophet Isaiah had foretold seven hundred years before, "He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him." (53:2) The only time that Jesus allowed some of His disciples (namely, Peter, James and John) to see a little of His heavenly glory was on the Mount of Transfiguration. Otherwise, His appearance was ordinary at best. Yes, His miracles did attract multitudes and was no doubt part of the reason the disciples left everything to follow Him. His teaching also impressed the people, "for He was teaching them as one who had authority and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:28-29) Yet the crowds thinned out when He invited them to pick up the cross and follow Him! They loved the loaves and fishes, the miracles of healing and the words of comfort but the crowds proved fickle indeed when they were called to discipleship. Yet some, like Peter, answered the call.
What endeared Him to the disciples? It was His character. Here was a man who practiced what He preached. He loved the unlovely and the seemingly unlovable. He had amazing patience, fortitude and faith. They had never known anyone to compare with this man. What He was when they first met Him, He continued to be, only more so. Day after day, walking long dusty roads, sleeping out of doors or in the homes of strangers, facing constant threats of violence and plots to take His life, Jesus remained calm, loving, forgiving, patiently persevering in the performance of His Father's will. Yes, He was calm but He also could be deeply moved, mostly by compassion for the people as He saw them wandering about as sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6:34) His rare displays of anger were never over insults to Him or those things that usually annoy and frustrate us. Rather, He would be moved to anger at the hardness of men's hearts when they were more concerned about keeping the traditions of the Elders than rejoicing that a man was healed of his disease on the Sabbath! It was zeal for His Father's house that moved Jesus to drive out the animals and overturn the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. He did this because they had turned the "court of the Gentiles", the closest that non-Jewish people could get to the Holy of Holies, into "a den of robbers". This state of affairs led foreigners who came to see "the god of the Jews" to conclude that God was only a pretext for priests to make money. He loved His Father and people too much to allow that to continue. By these, and countless other attributes of His peerless character, the hearts of the disciples were drawn to Jesus and became devoted to Him.
No doubt the people who heard Peter and the other Apostles tell of this wonderful man, this Jesus of Nazareth, were likewise deeply impressed by His character as it was described by those who knew Him so well. In fact, they saw how Jesus had "rubbed off" on His disciples. In Peter they saw the humility, patience and love of Jesus displayed after years of walking with Him, first for three years while Jesus dwelt bodily on the earth and then for over thirty-three years by His Spirit in Peter and in others who believed in Jesus. This made them long to know Him too! What wonderfully good news it was to them when they heard that the Spirit of Jesus could dwell in them. Having not seen Him, they loved Him and though they did not see Him they believed in Him and rejoiced with inexpressible joy and glory as they too received the gift of the Holy Spirit who takes the things of Christ and reveals them to us. (John 16:14) Have you come to know Him, not only by the Apostle's testimony in the Bible but also through His Spirit within you? If He is still to you as a stranger, a far-off historical or religious figure, know that He now stands at the door of your heart, knocking and calling to you. Let Him in today and you shall love Him too and rejoice in His salvation!