STUDY TEN: 1PETER 2:24,25; 3:18 – THE DEATH OF CHRIST

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

As the ultimate example of submission, even under unjust mistreatment, Peter refers to the death of Christ. He gives us powerful teaching about this death and its significance. This study looks at this teaching.

A. HE HIMSELF BORE OUR SINS

In trying to get us to understand the concept of submission Peter referred to submission of Christ displayed in his sin-bearing, substitutionary death:

‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ [2:24].

This verse has become one of the most frequently quoted verses of the Bible. It sums up the Gospel in a few simple words.

It tells us, firstly, who it is who did this amazing thing. It was ‘he himself’ – the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious and eternal Son of God. Our salvation does not depend on some lesser being, but on the Son of God. This truth of who it is who bore our sins makes his action all the more significant, and our salvation all the more amazing and secure.

It is the Lord of glory who was arrested in Gethsemane.
It is the Lord of glory who was wrongly accused in an illegal trial.
It is the Lord of glory who was mistreated and ridiculed by the soldiers.
It is the Lord of glory who carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem.
It is the Lord of glory who was nailed to that cross and mocked by the crowds.
It is the Lord of glory who died there.

He deserved none of this. Yet he willingly endured it all. He could have annihilated his oppressors with just a word. But he chose not to.

But there is something even more amazing than his non-retaliation.

He bore our sins.

As Peter says later ‘Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous’ [3:18].

Here is the concept of substitutionary atonement which was embedded in Old Testament history and ritual: that a perfect substitute dies in the place of the guilty and condemned. Death is avoided by the giving of a life.

We see it in God’s provision of a ram, as a substitute for Isaac [Genesis 22].
We see it in the Passover lambs, whose blood on the doorposts averted death [Exodus 12].
We see it in numerous sacrifices described in Leviticus 1 to 7.
We see it in the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 23].

He, the righteous one, bore the sins of us, the guilty. He took upon himself the full burden of our sins, our guilt, our condemnation. As Paul taught:

‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ [2Corinthians 5:21].

And as Isaiah foretold:

‘he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him ...
the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ [Isaiah 53:5,6].

In this incredible substitution he, the Lord of Glory,

Bore the guilt of our sins so that we may be acquitted.
Bore the condemnation of our sins so that we may be forgiven.
Was rejected by God so that we may be reconciled to God and accepted by God.

How did he do all of this? He did it in his body.

Here Peter acknowledges that this amazing substitution could only be achieved by a real human being. To do this, to save us, the Son of God had to become a real human being, live an authentic and sinless human life, and die a real human death. He had to be one of us. Only as one of us did he qualify to substitute for us.

Read Hebrews 2:5-18 and 4:14-5:10. How do they explain that it was necessary for the Saviour to be a human being?

 

 

 

 

And Jesus Christ accomplished this on the tree.

Even this detail of the method of execution is significant. As Paul explains:

‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”’ [Galatians 3:13].

That curse that hangs over everyone who does not keep God’s law is here borne by Christ. And that curse that has hung over the whole human race since Genesis 3, is here by Christ reversed and undone.

Let our hearts overflow with gratitude as we contemplate these few simple words: ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’!

B. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRIST’S DEATH

The significance of Christ’s death goes back deep into human history. But how deep and significant we understand it to be depends largely on our worldview.

For an atheist, Christ’s death is just another human death, with no spiritual or saving significance. The atheistic worldview excludes the concepts of sin, of judgement, existence beyond death, and hell, making everything Christians say about Christ dying for our sins quite meaningless.

If we are Christian, but believe God used evolution as his method of creation, we will encounter difficulties when trying to explain the significance of the death of Christ. Any evolutionary world view, including theistic evolution, assumes the existence of incredibly long ages of suffering and death, not only prior to the existence of humans but also as an essential part of the gradual process that resulted in the existence of humans.

And here is the dilemma:

Theistic evolution sees human life as the result of the process of evolution – a process utilizing suffering and death. In other words, suffering and death are here as the result of God’s decision. If death was always part of God’s plan, then it is illogical to see our redemption from death as the purpose of Christ’s death.

But Genesis 3 reveals that suffering and death are the result of a human decision.

The human decision that catapulted the world into suffering and death was the decision to disbelieve God’s word and disobey God’s command given in Genesis 2:17: ‘but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ And that is what happened. As we read through Genesis 3 we find death and suffering entering at several levels.

Read these texts and think about the comments beside them.

Genesis 3:7, compare 2:25: Personal inner peace was replaced with a destructive self-awareness.

Genesis 3:8-12: Perfect peace with God was replaced with fear, guilt and self-justification.

Genesis 3:12, 16b: The relationship between humans became divided and dysfunctional.

Genesis 3:16-19: Physical survival became painful and precarious.

Genesis 3:22-24: Eternal life was prohibited.

According the Genesis 3, suffering and death are not here because God chose to create via millions of years of suffering and death, but because we, in our common ancestors, said ‘yes’ to suffering and death in our choice to disbelieve and disobey God’s word. God himself, in that word in 2:17, had actually said ‘no’ to death and suffering.

But we said ‘yes’. In rejecting God, who is life, we chose death. Death, and all that leads to death, is here because of our choice. God created us for life: we chose death.

Paul refers to this entrance of death and suffering as the result of this original and ultimate human sin of rejecting God:

‘...sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men ...’ [Romans 5:12].

‘The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’ [Romans 8:19-23].

Christ came to undo and reverse the impact of sin right here at its origin. The spiritual death that began here is already replaced by spiritual life for all who believe in him: we are reconnected to God the source of life; our relationship with God has been completely healed and restored. As Peter states:

‘... by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls’ [2:24,25].

With spiritual death and suffering reversed already, some other aspects of death and suffering are in the process of renewal: our relationships with ourselves and with others are being healed. When Christ returns the final and complete reversal of Genesis 3 will be instantly accomplished:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ [Revelation 21:4].

What Christ did in micro, temporary form in his miracles will then be done totally and permanently. In the meantime suffering and death continue in the world as God in his patience and grace gives humans time to believe in Christ and be saved before that final removal of all that entered the world in Genesis 3. [Read 2Peter 3.]

C. RETURNING TO THE SHEPHERD – THE IMPACT OF CHRIST’S DEATH

In 1Peter 2:25 Peter wrote: ‘For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.’

Was Peter, perhaps, remembering Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep? Or Jesus’ teaching that he, the good shepherd, came to seek and to save the lost?

Whatever was in Peter’s mind, here in these few words he speaks of three significant biblical truths:

Human lostness

Like the sheep in Jesus’ parable, our default position is that we are lost, alienated from God. In this state of lostness and separation from God we do not know who we are or why we are here. We are severed from the source of spiritual life. We seek meaning, purpose and identity in all manner of things, and, if we are religious, we seek ‘god’, but do not know which ‘god’, if any, is the real one.

So great is this lostness and alienation from God that we are, in fact, incapable of ever, by our own efforts, finding our way back.

The grace of God

But hidden behind the English translations of this verse is the saving grace of God. The English sounds like it is we ourselves who found our way back – ‘you have returned ...’ But the Greek text indicates clearly that this is not at all the case. The Passive Voice of this verb teaches us that the turning was not done by us. Someone else turned us. We are the passive recipients of the gracious action of God, by which he turned us back. In Jesus’ parable (Luke 15) the shepherd goes seeking the sheep and carries it home. And that is what Peter is speaking of here: the Shepherd has sought us, found us and carried us back home.

This evidence of our inability, and of our need for the Shepherd to seek us out and bring us back, was expressed by Jeremiah, when he wrote

‘... turn thou me, and I shall be turned’ [Jeremiah 31:18 KJV].

Repeatedly the prophets exhorted the erring Israelites to ‘turn to the LORD’ or ‘return to the LORD’, but they also knew that such a turning or returning was utterly impossible unless God himself intervened.

The Shepherd and Overseer of our souls

David knew God as his Shepherd:

‘The LORD is my Shepherd ...’ [Psalm 23]

Isaiah understood that the coming of the Christ was the coming of God, the Shepherd:

‘He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young’ [Isaiah 40:11].

Ezekiel knew the gracious, saving work of the divine Shepherd:

‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered ...

‘I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd ...’ [Ezekiel 34:11,12,23].

Jesus said of himself:

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ... My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand’ [John 10:11,27,28].

There is a grand certainty in Peter’s statement in 2:25. A decisive and effective turning has taken place – a turning accomplished not by us, the lost humans, but by Christ the divine Shepherd. He has sought us out. He has turned us, and in turning us has saved us at great cost to himself. We are now, from that point onwards, safe in his keeping, safe under his watchful, caring oversight.

Safe in the arms of the Shepherd. Precious to him beyond our understanding.

D. ONCE FOR ALL – 3:18

Many Christians seem uncertain about assurance of salvation, asking questions like: Is salvation permanent or can it be lost? Can a person be saved today, but lost tomorrow?

If we say that it is not possible to have assurance of salvation, then we are in some way, to some extent, making salvation depend on our human actions, and not on the death of Jesus Christ.

The question comes down to this: can my sin today undo the death of Christ? Can my failure to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength today disqualify me from the salvation through the death of Christ that was planned by God before the world began?

In 1Peter 3:18 Peter wrote: ‘For Christ died for sins once for all ...’

How do these verses describe the saving work of Christ as ‘once’ or ‘once for all’?
Romans 6:10

Hebrews 9:12

Hebrews 9:28:

Hebrews 10:10

Two words are used to teach us that the death of Christ for our sin occurred only once: the simple word for ‘once’ (hapax), in 1Peter 3:18 and Hebrews 9:28, and an intensified form of the word (ephapax) in the other verses. This once-for-all-ness is further emphasised by the use of the Aorist Tense in each of the verbs referring to the death of Christ in these verses: it indicates that the death of Christ was a decisive, one-of-a-kind death. It does not need to be repeated. It does not need to be supplemented or supported by additional subsequent deaths. It is one death effective for all time. It is effective not only for sins already committed but also for sins as yet not committed.

It is clear in these texts that the biblical writers are not talking about how many people Jesus died for (one death for all people), but about how many times it was necessary for him to die. They all emphasise the fact that it was necessary for Jesus to die for sins only once.

This is in clear contrast to the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament. For example

The sacrifices that were offered daily, weekly and monthly (Numbers 28:1-15).
The personal sacrifices offered whenever forgiveness of sin was sought (Leviticus 1 – 7).
The personal sacrifices offered when ritual uncleanness was reversed (Leviticus 12; 14:1-32; 15).
The annual sacrifices for sin on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).

In contrast to all of these, Jesus died for sin once for all time, and he entered the presence of God to make atonement once for all time.

The implication of this ‘once for all’ is powerful:

Unlike the sacrifices of the old covenant, the sacrifice of Christ is permanent and comprehensive in its effect. The Levitical sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again. They applied only to sin already committed. The forgiveness of sin, the reconciliation with God, didn’t last. There would always be another sin or another ritual uncleanness requiring yet another sacrifice. The human conscience could never be at rest: there was always the awareness of sin and of guilt that had not been forgiven, and of more sin and guilt that would build up every moment. [Read Hebrews 9:1 – 10:18]

But the forgiveness and reconciliation accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ are permanent and complete. What the blood of animals could not do, even though offered again and again, Christ did, once for all, by this one sacrifice.

All of those repetitive sacrifices were temporary predictive symbols of Jesus’ one permanently effective and powerful death. They were mere shadows cast by the one final and ultimate reality of his death. By this one death total permanent forgiveness of sin is accomplished. Once for all.

As Paul put it - ‘in him we have ... the forgiveness of sins’ [Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14]. Because of this death forgiveness is the present and permanent possession of those who have been united to Christ by faith.

E. THE RIGHTEOUS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS – 3:18

Jesus Christ, the righteous one, died for us, the unrighteous. Or, as some translations put it, the just for the unjust.

Our English words translate Greek words from the law courts, with the clear meaning ‘the legally innocent’ and ‘the legally guilty’.

It is an immense and incredible substitution, in which Jesus Christ, who was guilt-free, took upon himself our guilt, and bore the full legal penalty imposed by God on our sin. He put himself in our place under the just verdict of God: declared guilty. With the result that we stand in his place: declared not guilty.

Peter has already referred to this:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ [1Peter 2:24].
‘By his wounds we have been healed’ [2:24].
By his blood we have been redeemed [1:18,19].

Paul referred to this substitutionary atonement several times:

‘Christ died for the ungodly’ [Romans 5:6].
‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ [Romans 5:8].
‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ [2Corinthians 5:21].

When Peter, in 1:19 referred to Jesus Christ as ‘a lamb without blemish or defect’ this was a reference to Christ’s perfect, legal innocence, his perfect and complete freedom from personal guilt. This guiltlessness of Christ, the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin, is prophetically and powerfully symbolised in Old Testament ritual:

The Passover where the lambs and other animals sacrificed had to be ‘without defect’ [Exodus 12:5; Numbers 28:16-19].

The many sacrifices described in Leviticus 1 – 7 required animals ‘without defect’.

The Feasts of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles, which all required the sacrifice of lambs or other animals ‘without defect’ [Leviticus 23:12,18; Numbers 28:31; 29:2,13-36].

The weekly Sabbath offerings, the monthly new moon offerings requiring animals ‘without defect’ [Numbers 28:9,11].

The Day of Atonement required multiple sacrifices – ‘all without defect’ [Numbers 29:8].

Only the innocent can take upon himself the sin and guilt of the guilty. Only he who has no sin and guilt of his own can bear our sin and guilt.

But what does it mean that he bore our sin and guilt?

It means that -

He bore the penalty for our sin and guilt.
He bore the condemnation for our sin and guilt.
He bore the punishment for our sin and guilt.
He bore the full fury of the wrath of God.
He bore the denial of access to God incurred by our sin and guilt.
He bore the curse imposed because of our sin and guilt.

And it also means, because of this substitutionary, atoning death –

That there is no guilt on record against us.
That there is no penalty left for us to bear.
That there is no condemnation left for us to bear.
That there is no punishment left for us to bear.
That there is none of God’s wrath left for us to bear.
That we have unimpeded present and permanent access to God
That we have been set free forever from the curse that separated us from God.

All of this, and more, is the grace, the gift, given by God to all who believe in his Son. Whoever has Jesus Christ, the Son of God, also has, in Christ, this amazing deliverance.

F. TO BRING US TO GOD

In his brief statement about the death of Christ in 1Peter 3:18, Peter makes four clear points:

It was a death ‘for sins’ – it happened because of and to deal with sins.
It is effective for all time – it happened, and needed to happen, only once.
It was a substitutionary death – the ‘righteous’ died for (in the place of) the ‘unrighteous’.
It has a specific purpose - to bring us to God.

This purpose of bringing us to God assumes at least three truths:

That, without this death, we are in some way alienated from God.
That reconciliation with God and access to God are desirable.
That we cannot achieve reconciliation with God by our own efforts.

Our human alienation from God began in Genesis 3. There we, the humans, rejected God. From that point onwards, not only are we alienated from God by our human choice in our common ancestors, we, as sinners, are also excluded from God’s presence by his prohibition.

Identify the separation from God and/or prohibition from God’s presence revealed in these texts:
Genesis 3:22-24

Exodus 26:31-35

Exodus 33:20

Isaiah 6:5

Habakkuk 1:13

Isaiah 59:2

This banishment from God is our default position as sinners.

But this prohibition, this banishment, this state of enmity, this impossibility of entering the presence of God has been overcome and removed by the death of Jesus Christ for those who believe in him.

From these verses, identify how this reconciliation with God has been accomplished:
Matthew 27:50,51

Romans 5:10

2Corinthians 5:18

Colossians 1:19-22

Ephesians 2:18

Hebrews 10:19-22

The one, sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ has achieved for us that which was impossible. Because of the death of Christ for our sins, we now have permanent, present, unimpeded access to God. Never again can our sin separate us from God. Never again can we be banned from his presence.

Never again need we fear either to enter God’s presence or that we will be rejected by him.

Rather, we now can rejoice in God:

‘... we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation’ [Romans 5:11].