by David McAllister, Zambia
The reader will readily agree that to give reasonable coverage to the Lord’s death in Hebrews would require a large volume, something away beyond the scope of this chapter. Also, while His death does not dominate Peter’s writings to quite the same extent, it is nevertheless central to them too, and to try to envisage the epistles without it is impossible.
Thus, in both cases, we must content ourselves with looking at the Lord’s death from only one angle. We will consider a perspective on which each writer ‘majors’. For Hebrews, that will be His blood, which is mentioned more in Hebrews than in any other New Testament letter. For Peter, it will be His sufferings, a subject with more references in 1Peter than in any other epistle.
HEBREWS – HIS BLOOD
There are seven references to the Lord’s blood in the epistle, and in every case it is in relation to the shedding of His blood: His death. We will take them in order, and consider what each means practically to the readers and to us.
Completion – 9.12
“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”
In the first part of Hebrews chapter 9, the writer has been drawing attention to what pertained to the tabernacle:
- vv.1-5: it was a “worldly sanctuary”: not “worldly” in an evil sense, but it was composed of materials obtained from the resources of this world, a fact that he impresses on us by detailing the physical items contained in it.
- vv.6-10: we have the ritual associated with it, which involved the high priest, on the day of atonement, entering the holiest of all “once every year, not without blood”. Phrases used in these verses: “the way … was not yet made manifest”; “for the time yet present”; “until the time of reformation”, clearly show that the whole system was temporal, that under it the work was never complete.
- Then we come to vv.11,12, which show the contrast between what took place under the old economy and what Christ has done.
- v.11 corresponds to vv.1–5: Christ has not entered into a “worldly sanctuary”, but into “a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building”.
- v.12 corresponds to vv.6–10: Christ has not entered “by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood”, and, rather than “once every year”, it was “once”, that is, once-for-all.
The comparison in v.12 with the high priest entering the holiest of all with the blood of animals, has led some to conclude that the Lord Jesus actually carried His own blood into heaven. This is, however, without Scriptural support. It is true, the blood of sacrifices was carried into the holiest by the high priest on the day of atonement, but the significance of that in this epistle is that the blood that had been shed was what gave him the right to enter in; it was by virtue of the shed blood. So it is for the Lord Jesus: His entrance was by virtue of the blood shed on the cross. It does not say that He entered “with” His own blood, but “by”, or “through”, that is, by means of it; on account of it. Moreover, it was “having obtained eternal redemption for us”. He obtained redemption for us before He entered; it had already been done at Calvary, and it was by virtue of this that He entered into heaven. Indeed, that is the main force of this verse: His entrance was “once for all”, never to be repeated, because the work He had done in shedding “His own blood” was a finished work. All who benefit from it, ourselves included, have “eternal redemption”.
Conscience – 9.14
“How much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Now the writer gives us an argument from the lesser to the greater. In v.13, he begins a statement, “For if …”, which he completes in v.14 with “How much more …”.
In v.13, we see that, “the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh.” That is, the Old Testament rituals in general, but in particular the day of atonement, Leviticus chapter 16, and the red heifer, in Numbers chapter 19, which though temporary and partial, did impart purification; they were sufficient for the purpose for which they had been instituted. Now, that being so, the writer says, “how much more …”, and there are two contrasts to bring this home to us:
- “the blood of Christ” stands in contrast to “the blood of bulls and of goats”. The distinction is enormous: the animals had no inherent value, but the Person Who shed His blood at Calvary is of infinite, incalculable, value; and, if the blood of animals was efficacious, how much more so is the blood of Christ!
- “purge your conscience” contrasts with “the purifying of the flesh”.
Those Old Testament rituals could bring about an external, ceremonial purification; they were ordained of God and satisfied the people insofar as was possible at that time; doubtless the persons for whose benefit they were instituted experienced a measure of relief when they had been carried out. However, there was one thing they could never do: they could never purify the conscience, as has been recorded earlier in the epistle, 9.9, and will be noted again later, 10.2, but the blood of Christ does. What a momentous event took place at the cross; a united work of the Trinity (“Christ … the eternal Spirit … God”). We rejoice in what it delivers our consciences from: “dead works”, that is works that defile the conscience, that result in death, and we rejoice in what it delivers us to do, “serve the living God”.
Confidence – 10.19
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.”
This statement is founded on all that has already been expounded in this epistle, but, in particular, it is based upon the culmination of the writer’s argument, in vv.17,18: “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” The consequence of the statement is found in v.22: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith”.
Drawing this together, we can see the enormity of what God has done for us: because of “the blood of Jesus”, that is, the sacrifice He made upon the cross, we have received remission of sins and so they are never to be remembered any more. No more offering is necessary; nor indeed is it possible. So there is something available for us that would have been unthinkable to saints under the old covenant: a way into the holiest. To enter through the veil of the tabernacle, into the holiest, was utterly impossible, as long as there remained a yearly remembrance of sins, and the need for sacrifices. For anyone to try to do so (except the high priest one day in the year) would have meant instant death.
However, what was impossible under the old covenant is gloriously possible for us. The way is open, because of “the blood of Jesus” v.19. There is “a new and living way … through the veil” v.20. What has made this available to us is summarised in a lovely term: “His flesh”. By virtue of the fact that He became a man, lived a spotless life, shed His blood as the perfect sacrifice for sins, and ascended into heaven itself in that same body, where He is as the “high priest over the house of God”, the way into the very presence of God is open to us.
Not only are we able to draw near, but we are exhorted to do so and that with “boldness” v.19. This does not indicate arrogance, but confidence, not due to any merit of our own, but all because of what He has done. It is “in full assurance of faith” v.22, that is, our confidence is because we totally depend upon the One Who has shed His blood, Who has already entered there and is our High Priest.
Condemnation – 10.29
“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
We are still in the same chapter as the previous reference to the blood of Christ, but the atmosphere is altogether different. We see now, not the blessedness of the true believer, entering into the holiest of all, in prayer, praise and worship, but the apostate, who has turned his back on Christ and His sacrifice, and is destined for eternal punishment.
Here is a person who had professed Christianity, but who has gone back to Judaism, with its ritual, its temple, and its sacrifices. Here is someone who had been “sanctified” – not that he had been saved (1Cor.7.14, for example, shows the word “sanctified” does not necessarily imply that the person is saved), but by his profession and his identification with the people of God, he had been set apart as being associated with Christ and His sacrifice. However, he has turned away from all that. In going back to Judaism he has shown that he has judged the blood of Christ to be “unholy” or “common”, indicating that it is no different from that of any other person, and therefore devoid of any saving power. He has treated the Son of God in a most shameful manner, trodden Him underfoot, and has insulted the Holy Spirit.
Now, who is the greater offender: the person who despised the law of Moses, v.28, or the apostate here considered? Obviously, the latter, and the despiser of Moses’ law “died without mercy”. The conclusion is evident: the apostate would face a “much sorer punishment”, and rightly so. To turn away from the sacrifice of Christ was a serious thing indeed.
It should be clearly understood that the writer is not speaking of what we would often call a “backslider”. Sadly, there are many reasons why a true believer may get away from the Lord. Such a person cannot be happy in this situation; deep in his heart he knows that his life is not right. For such, there is always the possibility of restoration and recovery back to fellowship with the Lord. Nor is he describing what we might call the typical “false professor”: the person who makes a profession, for a while thinks he is saved, and then discovers, to his great disappointment, that he is not. For such also, there is hope that he will be saved. No, the person being described in these verses was someone altogether different: someone who, having formerly professed Christianity, deliberately turned his back on it, returned to the Jewish sacrificial system (centred in the temple at Jerusalem) to which he formerly belonged, and became hostile to Christianity, a hostility expressed in active opposition to Christ and everything associated with Him.
The Jewish temple with its rituals is no longer there, and thus no one today could commit exactly the same form of apostasy as is being described. Nevertheless, the principle remains: to hear the message of the gospel and examine the claims of Christ, even to profess to be a Christian and gather with those identified as the people of God and then knowingly, willingly despise Christ and His sacrifice, turn away from it all back to the former life in opposition to Christ, is an insult to God, and exposes the perpetrator to very severe judgment.
Cleansing – 12.24
“And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”
This verse is the culmination of a statement that extends from vv.18-24. V.18 begins: “For ye are not come unto the mount …” and v.22 begins: “But ye are come unto mount …”. The mountain referred to in v.18 is Mount Sinai, where the old covenant was brought in, and vv.18-21 describe some phenomena associated with it, fearful things to which we have not come. The mountain of v.22 is Mount Sion, with which the new covenant is associated, and in vv.22-24 the writer details some of its associations, blessed things, to which we have come.
The verse we now consider is the climax of the blessedness to which we have come: “Jesus the mediator of the new covenant”. This is a succinct summary of what has been brought before us so far in this wonderful epistle: the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the new covenant that He has brought in, and His glorious role as the mediator of it. Then we have the ground of it: “the blood of sprinkling”.
What is this blood? It is, assuredly, His own blood. Then why is it called “the blood of sprinkling”? Does it mean that His blood was sprinkled in some place, at some time? No. The writer has already referred to Old Testament rituals in 9.13: “the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh”. Since he refers to the ritual of the red heifer, this is a good example to take. The details are given in Numbers chapter 19. There a red heifer was sacrificed, it was burned and its ashes were mixed with water, to be used when a person was defiled by contact with a dead body. The means of purification was that some of this “water of purification” was to be sprinkled on the person. That sprinkling brought about cleansing from the defilement. Thus, to summarise: the sprinkling of blood, or of ashes, on a person, signified that the person was identified with the sacrifice from which the blood or the ashes had been obtained; it had been made good to him.
Now we consider the fulfilment of that type: we have come into the good of the sacrifice of Christ. It is not just that the sacrifice has been offered; the cleansing that it provides has been personally applied to us. The Old Testament cleansing of the flesh, by sprinkling, is a picture of the purging of the conscience that took place for each of us when we became identified with His sacrifice, which was the moment we trusted Christ as Saviour. Thus this verse refers, not to a literal sprinkling, but to the fulfilment of that of which the sprinkling in the Old Testament rituals was a type.
What does this verse mean when it states that this blood “speaketh better things than that of Abel”? An oft-stated view (probably the view held by most) is that it is Abel’s own blood, which was shed when he was murdered by his brother, Cain, and which, the Lord said, “crieth unto me from the ground” Gen.4.10. It was crying for revenge. Christ’s blood is not calling out for vengeance, but for the very opposite; it seeks mercy for the offender. The fact that His blood is giving a very different and better message than that of Abel is evident.
Notwithstanding there is an alternative view, which links this phrase to an earlier reference to Abel in Hebrews: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh” Heb.11.4. Abel has long since died, yet he continues to speak, by means of the “more excellent sacrifice” that he offered. However, now there is another sacrifice, greater even than that which Abel offered. It is the sacrifice the Lord Jesus made upon the cross. Whatever way we look at it, it is a “better” sacrifice. The message of the blood shed on the cross, by which we have cleansing, is better than the message of Abel’s offering. For the present writer, this is a better interpretation of the reference to Abel in this verse.
Consecration – 13.12
“Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate.”
Four times in our Bible we read the lovely expression: “His own blood”. What a beautiful term it is: how personal! how poignant! how precious! Two of the four are in Hebrews, 9.12 and here; the others are in Acts 20.28 and Rev.1.5.
What is the thought in the word “sanctify” here? Doubtless purification is there, as it has been throughout the epistle, but in the context of this reference (“without the gate” and “without the camp”), perhaps the primary idea here is separating from the Jewish system and consecrating the people into Him.
In v.11, the writer notes that, under the Jewish sacrificial system, if the blood of a victim was brought into the sanctuary, then its body was burned outside the camp. A look, for example, at Lev.16.27 shows this to be exactly so. Now he draws a parallel: the Lord Jesus suffered “without the gate” v.12. This is a statement of literal fact; He was crucified outside the city wall, but it is more than that, it is highly significant spiritually. First, it shows that He was fulfilling the type of the sin offerings mentioned in v.12. That links back to v.11, but more: it also links back to v.10: “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle”. What is this “altar”? The Old Testament allusion here gives the key: if someone spoke of “eating of the altar”, he was referring, not to the altar itself, but to what was on the altar; he meant eating of that which was sacrificed on the altar. Now, looking at the antitype, when the writer says, “We have an altar”, he is referring to the sacrifice offered for us: our Lord Jesus Christ.
In what sense do we “eat”? There is no suggestion whatsoever, here or anywhere else, that Christ’s sacrifice is ongoing. The whole testimony of this epistle is that it was “once-for-all”. Even a glance at the Old Testament type referred to here shows it to be so: in the case of those offerings of which they were allowed to eat, the offering had already been made when the eating took place. The offering was finished, but the benefits flowing from it continued. And so it is for the antitype: the “eating” is a reference to all the benefits that flow to us eternally from the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.
However, to return to the argument of the writer: The Lord Jesus suffered “without the gate”, fulfilling the Old Testament type of the sin offerings whose bodies were burned “without the camp”. Under the Jewish system it was not possible to partake of that which had been burned without the camp. Thus there was no possibility of remaining within Judaism and, at the same time, partaking of Christ. There was a choice: Judaism or Christ. There was no place for Him inside the camp; to be with Him meant going outside. Hence the call in verse 13: “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.”
What is the message for us today? It is true that we are not facing a choice between the Jewish sacrificial system and Christ. No-one reading this book today will be tempted to start slaughtering animals, offering at an altar, and celebrating Jewish feasts at the temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless consider the very next verse: “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” This is just as true of us as it was of the readers then. Our future is not here in this world; what we anticipate is the city already mentioned in Hebrews, 11.10,16; 12.22. As far as the present world is concerned (whether we look at it religiously, politically, socially, or culturally), His is still the outside place, and that is our place too. Therefore the call comes to us, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” It is valid as far as the world in all its aspects is concerned, but it is clear that the context here in Hebrews is the religious system with which the readers had been associated, and its teaching can be particularly applied to the religious world today. In Christendom there is such a mixture of rituals, traditions, works, human organisation, false doctrine, and so much more. If the Lord, through the writer of this epistle, called His people to leave a system that He Himself had instituted, we can be sure that He is no less minded that we should have no part with Christendom, which never has had His sanction.
A reader who is not in fellowship in an assembly gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ would do well to give attention and seek to be obedient to the exhortation in these verses. Anyone in fellowship should also take heed and ask, “Is my life, in all its aspects, consistent with the place I have professed to have taken with Him, outside the camp?” If it is not, it is time to put that right.
Covenant – 13.20,21
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
We come to the final reference to the Lord’s blood in the epistle to the Hebrews. Fittingly, it comes in a beautiful concluding doxology. The main desire for the readers expressed in it is that God would make them perfect in every good work to do His will; of that there is no doubt, but how does the phrase “through the blood of the everlasting covenant” relate to this? The word translated “through” here is ‘en’ – more often translated “in”, and this may help us to ascertain the sense. Does the phrase relate to, “brought again from the dead”, that is, that it was in virtue of the blood that He shed that God raised Him from the dead? Or is the phrase to be related to “that great Shepherd of the sheep”, in other words, is it because of the blood that He shed that He is our great Shepherd? Both views are worthy of consideration, but it is suggested that the former view is more in keeping with the message of this epistle, in which much has been written about the great work He has done in the past, namely His death, and His great ongoing work in the present, that will continue forever, at God’s right hand. In order that both these be true, a momentous connecting event was necessary: the resurrection. And that crucial event did take place: “God … brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus”. That event did many things, two of which are particularly pertinent to the context here. Firstly, it ratified the covenant brought about by the shedding of His blood, proving beyond all doubt that the sacrifice of Christ had fully satisfied God, that is, the resurrection took place in virtue of the “blood of the everlasting covenant”. Secondly, it ensured that the covenant would be an “everlasting covenant”, showing that it was one that would never be replaced or superseded.
What is this “everlasting covenant”? We do not need to look far to find out. A major theme of this book is the contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant, and the fact that the former was not forever. In contrast, the new covenant is “everlasting”. It will never come to an end. The basis of it is the shedding of the blood of Christ, as He Himself said, Matt.26.28; Mk.14.24; Lk.22.20; 1Cor.11.25. It is important to note that the word “testament” is identical to “covenant”, and the main benefit of it is “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” Heb.8.12; 10.17. Any person comes into this blessing the moment he or she trusts Christ as Saviour. Thus believers today are in the good of it now. Israel, as a nation, remains in unbelief. So, while the foundation of the new covenant has already been laid by the death of Christ, Israel is still to come into the blessings of it (the fact that their sins will be remembered no more) in a future day, when the nation repents and receives the Messiah. That this will take place is foretold in Jer.31.31-34, and, far from negating this promise, the writer to the Hebrews reiterates it, 8.8-13. The supreme blessing of the new covenant, the remission of sins, on the basis of the shed blood of Christ, is open to anyone who trusts in Him for salvation. The fact that we have received it now does not in any way militate against Israel’s reception of it in the future.
Before leaving this section, and indeed this epistle, we must not lose sight of the writer’s desire for his readers, which is surely God’s desire for us too: “Now the God of peace … make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight”. How apt are the closing words of this quotation: “Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” 13.21.
PETER’S WRITINGS – HIS SUFFERINGS
First Peter is the epistle that, more than any other, makes specific reference to His sufferings. This is the perspective from which we will view Peter’s references to the Lord’s death.
Before commencing, it is conceded that not all references to the Lord’s sufferings in Peter refer exclusively to His death. For example, the words “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not” 1Pet.2.23, are not confined to what took place at Calvary and include the events in the hours leading up to His death. Surely the events culminating in His death are part of the story of His death, and it would hardly be right to exclude them from the discussion. What took place at Calvary might not always be there exclusively, but it is certainly always there inclusively, and therefore within the scope of our consideration.
The great majority of the material we will be considering is in the first epistle, thus, in any references given, it should be taken that they are from First Peter, unless otherwise indicated.
We will consider six important matters that Peter brings to our attention regarding His sufferings.
The Prophecies of His Sufferings
One thing that thrills the heart of every true child of God is the fact that the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ were foretold in the Old Testament. As we often say, “Calvary was no accident.” The worldling may think that these events took God by surprise, but it is not so: what took place was totally according to the Divine plan, which was clearly spoken of by the Old Testament prophets.
Peter first refers to this in 1.10-12, where he indicates that, not only did the prophets write of the sufferings of Christ, v.11, but they took an intense interest in the matter. They “enquired and searched diligently” v.10; they were “searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify” v.11. They wanted to know what it was all about, and when it would happen. What did God reveal to them concerning these things? The answer is given in v.12: “Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things.” This ought to be deeply touching to us, that these “holy men”, who were “moved by the Holy Ghost” 2Pet.1.21, who suffered so much that God’s Word might be brought to us, were shown that they were not ministering to themselves, but to us. We, not they, are the primary beneficiaries of what they wrote.
Not only they, but the angels also have a great interest in these things, “which things the angels desire to look into” v.12. This ought to be a voice to us: if prophets, who never lived to see the fulfilment of what they wrote, and who were told that they would not, and angels, who are not the object of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, could take such a deep interest in what God has done for us, then shame on us if we take little interest in it.
Not only did the prophets speak in general terms concerning the sufferings of Christ, but Peter skilfully points out to us the detail in which they did so. Perhaps the simplest and briefest way to illustrate this is to put quotations from 2.22-25 alongside ones from Isaiah chapter 53:
|1Peter chapter 2||Isaiah chapter 53|
|“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” v.22||“He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth” v.9|
|“Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, when He suffered, He threatened not” v.23||“He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth” v.7|
|“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” v.24||“He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities … the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” vv.5,6|
|“By Whose stripes ye were healed” v.24||“With His stripes we are healed” v.5|
|“Ye were as sheep going astray” v.25||“All we like sheep have gone astray” v.6|
Doubtless Peter had many good reasons for alluding so clearly to what Isaiah wrote concerning our Lord’s sufferings, but surely one of those reasons was to show to us the accuracy with which the prophets foretold His sufferings.
As well as writing of His sufferings, they wrote of what was consequent upon them. How lovely are these words: “the Spirit … testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” 1.11. Having suffered, inevitably glory would follow. These prophets knew this to be so, and it was also of great interest to them. It delights our hearts also to know that the sufferings are forever over, and that glory is the consequence of them.
What is this “glory” of which Peter speaks? Is it the present glory at God’s right hand, or the future glory when He appears? We do not have to go outside 1Peter to find the answer: it is both. We read, “God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory” 1.21. That is certainly something that took place in the past and which continues right to the present. We also read of “when His glory shall be revealed” 4.13. That is definitely in the future. Thus we need place no limit, in time or in context, to the glory that has followed upon His sufferings. Whatever glory is His, past, present or future, is all part of the blessed fulfilment of that phrase “the glory that should follow”.
The Proof that He Suffered
What then of the fulfilment of those prophecies? Can we be really sure that they were fulfilled? We can, and the one who wrote these words can vouch for that. He writes, “I … who am … a witness of the sufferings of Christ” 5.1. Peter is emphasising that those things he is presenting to us are real, historical events, which did actually take place.
What is the import of Peter’s self-description as a “witness”? He could be referring to the fact that he was there: he saw these things taking place, and can testify to their reality. Or it could be a reference to the commission given to him by the Lord to bear witness to the events: for example, Peter was among those to whom He said, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me” Acts 1.8. Whichever view we take, both are true, and both affirm the veracity of the message of Christ’s sufferings.
Not only can Peter affirm the historical fulfilment of the prophecies concerning the sufferings, he can, with equal confidence, look forward to witnessing the glory, for he says, “I … am … also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.” He will not only be a witness of the glory, but he will be a partaker of it! What grace! That is the case for all who are saved, as we shall see later in this chapter. Unlike Peter, none of us can say that we witnessed the sufferings, but like him, we can say with assurance that we shall share in the glory!
How can Peter be so confident of this future, manifested glory? Granted, he was a witness of the sufferings, but can he claim to be a witness of the glory? Yes, as a look at the second epistle will show: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” 1.16, and he goes on to show that what took place on the mount of transfiguration, vv.17,18, was a preview of the Lord Jesus Christ’s future kingdom glory. So Peter is a reliable witness to both His sufferings and His glory.
The Persons for Whom He Suffered
We read that “Christ … suffered for us” 2.21, and “Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh” 4.1. This is spelled out in 3.18: “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust”.
Two words from these quotations strike us with full force: “us” and “unjust”, and we do well to ponder them, with deep thankfulness. To think of the love of God, that He would give His Son to suffer for us, who were “unjust”. The contrast is stark: He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is “just” [or ‘righteous’], and the word is singular; we were “unjust” [‘unrighteous’], plural. That is, the righteous One suffered for the unrighteous ones.
We note the accuracy of Scripture: the word “for” occurs twice in the phrase “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust”. However, these are two different words in the original: the first “for” is peri, meaning ‘concerning; on account of’; the second is huper, meaning ‘on behalf of; for the sake of’. He could never suffer for the sake of sins, but He could, and did, suffer on account of sins. He suffered because of sins, and on behalf of sinners.
We thank God for another word in the above quotation: “once”, meaning ‘once for all’. Here we have a work that was finished. No other sacrifice was necessary.
Peter reaches the heart of the matter when he writes, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” 1Pet.2.24. What deep and precious truths are condensed into those few words! “Who His own self”: it was not an angel or the best of mortal men who did this great work, it was the eternal Son of the eternal God, “His own self”. “On the tree”: He was willing to go and be nailed to the cross, with all the shame that was associated with it. “In His own body”: that blessed, sinless, body, in which He had declared forth the Father, both by His words and His actions. “Bare our sins”: that awful judgment that should have been ours, He bore it. Blessed be His name eternally!
The Scriptures bear abundant testimony to the fact that Christ, by His work upon the cross, fully satisfied His Father, and made full provision for all. The doctrine of “limited atonement” which advances that, at Calvary, God took a cumulative total of all the sins of only a selected group of people and laid these individually upon His Son, Who continued to suffer until all of these sins (and these alone) were dealt with, is a travesty. Indeed, to refer to numbers of people and of sins is to totally miss the point of what took place. By the sacrifice of Himself, the whole issue of sin was dealt with, and Christ satisfied the Father, irrespective of how many people there would be in the world, or how many sins they would commit. The provision was sufficient for all the people of the world, and all their sins, independent of numbers. Thus, we can, on the authority of Scripture, declare the message of the gospel to all, knowing that Christ’s work upon the cross was sufficient for them, that its provision includes them, and salvation is available to them.
On the other hand, in order to benefit from this provision, they must come to God as guilty sinners and receive salvation by faith. While His death is sufficient for all, it becomes efficient only to those who trust Him for salvation. They alone can say without reservation, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree”. The Bible does not teach limited atonement; but it does not teach universalism either: not everyone will be saved. This is not due to any limitation in the provision, but to the refusal of individuals to accept the full and infinite provision that has been made.
- The sinner who believes is free,
- Can say, “The Saviour died for me”;
- Can point to His atoning blood
- And say, “This made my peace with God.
- (A Midlane)
The Purpose for Which He Suffered
Peter presents a twofold purpose for the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. The first is realised the moment a sinner trusts Christ; the second is worked out throughout the rest of his time here on earth.
First then, we find the following in 3.18: “Christ … suffered … that He might bring us to God.” He suffered that we, aliens, strangers, sinners, far from God, might be brought to Him. While this will be realised in all its fulness when we stand in His presence, yet we are already in the good of having been brought to God, as Peter has stated in the previous chapter: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God” 2.9,10.
As for the remainder of our time here on earth, Peter gives the following reason for His sufferings: “… that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” 2.24. What He has done for us ought to have a very definite practical outworking in our lives: the sinful life is a thing of the past; now we are to live unto righteousness. How reasonable this is: He, the righteous One, died for us, the unrighteous ones. So we should live righteous lives.
The Pattern of His Sufferings
This follows on from the previous point, for not only are we told to live righteous lives, but, most helpfully, we are given the perfect pattern to seek to follow in doing so: that, of the Saviour Himself.
Most notably, we read, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” 2.21. The context is how servants should respond to suffering wrongfully at the hands of their masters, but can we make a much wider application? Here is counsel for how we should respond to any circumstance in which we are unfairly treated. Did He deserve the treatment meted out to Him? Most certainly not: He “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” v.22. Yet He suffered in a most shameful manner and how did He respond? “When He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” v.23. That is the pattern for us: we may be treated in an unjust way, but it is not for us to respond in kind; we can confidently commit our case to God, knowing that He will make a righteous assessment.
His pattern for us is revisited in 4.1: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin”. Each of us is to be armed, like a soldier putting on his armour, and adopt the same attitude that Christ had to suffering. By doing so, and willingly following the example of his Lord in enduring suffering, the believer is giving evidence of the fact that he is done with sin; the former life, which was dominated by sin, is past. Hence v.2: “That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.”
The Partaking with Him in His Sufferings
It is indeed a privilege to be able to view Him as our pattern, but the honour is even greater when we see that it goes further: “ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” 4.13. In what way? Certainly we do not share in His vicarious sufferings. Peter has already made that clear: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” He did this once for all by Himself alone at Calvary. However, the world that hated Him and made Him to suffer still hates Him, and, as His own, His people are the objects of that hatred, and they suffer for it. To that extent, we have fellowship with Him in His sufferings.
An hour before writing these words, the present writer read a deeply humbling article, concerning countries where Christians, right now, are suffering terrible persecution for their faith. It prompts the searching question: “What right have I to write about suffering for His sake?” If, like the writer, the reader lives in a land where imprisonment, torture, and death are not serious threats (at least not yet), then reading these words of Peter’s should remind us to pray for our brothers and sisters in places where they do face real persecution, that God will give them the needed grace, and that they may be comforted by the words of Peter at the end of the verse: “when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” For Him the suffering was followed, and will be followed eternally, by glory. For His suffering saints today, it will be so also.
“But the God of all grace, Who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” 1Pet.5.10,11.