A number of people try to say that 1 Peter 4:17 is referring to the 'body of Christ' and not the corporate church itself. But that is incorrect. 1 Peter 4:17 is one of a series of Scriptures wherein God shows the sequence of His end time judgment program. And as the Lord reveals this sequence of judgment we find that His people, those that identify with Him via ancient Israel or the New Testament congregations always go first. For example we read in:
Jeremiah 25:17 Then took I the cup at the LORD'S hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom the LORD had sent me:
18 To wit, Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, and the kings thereof, and the princes thereof, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, an hissing, and a curse; as it is this day;
We see in Jeremiah 25 above that once again as God brings judgment on the nations He starts with--Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. We know that God is saying He first judged Judah (His people) because of what He says a little further along in the chapter:
Jeremiah 25:28 And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup at thine hand to drink, then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ye shall certainly drink.
29 For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the LORD of hosts.
Again, note verse 29's statement: "For, lo, I BEGIN to bring evil on the city which is called by My name, and should ye (referring to the nations) be utterly unpunished?" This pattern is also followed in the book of Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 9:5 And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
6 Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
When the men with destroying weapons go through the city they are instructed to "BEGIN AT MY SANCTUARY". This sequence is continued in the New Testament book of Romans:
Romans 2:8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
Note the context speaks of "indignation and wrath" and goes on to explain that tribulation (judgments are always tribulations) is upon "the Jew FIRST, and also of the Gentile". The word Gentile is actually the "Greek" here. The Jew would tie in with those called by God's name. Spiritually, the Jews or the nation of Judah/Israel represents the churches and congregations of the world. Therefore, tribulation comes to the Jew (corporate church) first followed by the Greek representing the world or the nations.
So 1 Peter 4:17 does not stand alone. It fits into this pattern of Scriptures which presents us with a very definite sequence of events that take place in God's judgment program. Always, the judgment starts or begins with those that are called His people (church). And then goes to those who are not identified as His people (world). And this is exactly what has happened at this end time period we find ourselves presently in. Judgment began in 1988 on the world's churches and continued on them for an exact 23 years until May 21, 2011. Then, on that day judgment expanded and transitioned to fall on all the inhabitants of the world. We're presently going through the final judgment of mankind.