Monday, 25 November 2019
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 1 Peter 3:18
Peter just stated that “it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” To fully support this, he now demonstrates that the Lord set the premier example of the notion for us to see, perceive, and emulate. He does so by beginning with, “For Christ also suffered.”
The implication is that Christ did nothing wrong and yet He suffered. Even if someone simply read Peter’s words without understanding who Christ was, that person would say, “I have a concrete example of someone who suffered, and yet who did no wrong.” Further, the verb is aorist active. The action is past, and it is complete, never needing to be repeated, and yet its effects continue on for all time.
From there, Peter then explains why Christ suffered, but it brings in a theological point that cannot be missed. He says, “once for sins.”
If one considers what Peter has already said, that “Christ also suffered,” it becomes evident that Christ’s suffering is set in contrast to that of others, even Christians. A Christian may be jailed for his faith. He may be beaten for his faith, and he may even die for his faith, but his sufferings are not on a comparable level to what Christ did.
To suffer for sins is deserved. Sin is evil and therefore one who sins deserves the suffering that is meted out. However, because Peter is using Christ as the example for suffering without having done wrong, it then becomes immediately obvious that He suffered for the sins of another and not for Himself. The Greek word translated as “for” is peri. It signifies “all around,” and thus it means “concerning.”
This then follows through with what Paul says elsewhere, such as in 2 Corinthians 5:21 –
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Christ’s suffering was a vicarious act. He did not sin, and yet he was made sin for us, as Peter says, “the just for the unjust.” The Greek contains no definite articles. It rather reads, “just for unjust.” This highlights the graphic nature of Christ’s work. There are two separate categories. Christ is in one category, while all others are in a separate category. Even the Christian who suffers does so in the same category as all others. And yet, Christ suffered on behalf of all.
The idea is that He became a sin offering to God on behalf of others. This concept is referred to throughout the epistles. It is noted in Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, & 1 John. For example, John says –
“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” 1 John 2:2
Further, Peter says that He did this “once.” This shows the full and complete nature of the act. It is explained by the author of Hebrews –
“For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” Hebrews 9:24-28
What Christ did was vicarious, it was one-time and for all time, and it was based on His just character which stands in opposition to all others’ unjust character. The same general thought is also repeated elsewhere in Hebrews, such as in verses 7:7 and 10:10. It is a main thought of the author there, and Peter exactingly follows through with the idea.
Understanding this, Peter then astonishingly says that it was “that He might to bring us to God.” The suffering of Christ has a purpose. It wasn’t just to die for someone else’s misdeeds. Others have done that, offering to die for what someone else has done. But Christ’s suffering had a greater purpose.
When someone dies for another, the life of one is allowed to continue. But that person will eventually die and will be separated from God because of his sins. The death that the other person died was simply to allow another’s life to continue without the immediate pain of physical death. But Christ’s death was to correct the spiritual death which all men already possess. This is seen in Paul’s words –
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” Ephesians 2:4, 5
Man is already dead because of inherited sin. The disconnect exists, and it cannot be overcome by the death of another, because all have inherited Adam’s sin nature. However, Christ did not.
Therefore, Christ’s death was in contrast to the nature possessed by all others, that of one who is just for those who are unjust. In this act, and because He came from God and returned to God (see John 16:27, 28), He also brings to God those who come to Him. The disconnect, which came through Adam’s sin, is corrected and man is restored to God. Peter then says that this resulted from His, “being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”
It is important to see that the Greek contains no articles before “flesh,” and the article before “spirit” is lacking in many manuscripts. Here, the flesh is being placed in opposition to the spirit, and it is probably not speaking of the Holy Spirit.
Vincent’s Word Studies provides an analysis of what may be on Peter’s mind –
“The words connect themselves with the death-cry on the cross: ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Huther observes, ‘Flesh is that side of the man’s being by which he belongs to earth, is therefore a creature of earth, and accordingly perishable like everything earthy. Spirit, on the other hand, is that side of his being according to which he belongs to a supernal sphere of being, and is therefore not merely a creature of earth, and is destined to an immortal existence.’ Thus, we must be careful and not understand spirit here of the Spirit of God, as distinguished from the flesh of Christ, but of the spiritual nature of Christ; ‘the higher spiritual nature which belonged to the integrity of his humanity’ (Cook).”
Charles Ellicott speaks in a similar manner concerning this –
“…the spirit, set free from the body, immediately receives new life, as it were, thereby. To purely spiritual realities it becomes alive in a manner which was impossible while it was united to the flesh. The new powers are exemplified in what follows immediately. So long as Christ, so long as any man, is alive in the flesh, he cannot hold converse with spirits as such; but the moment death severs flesh and spirit the spirit can deal with other spirits, which Christ proceeded forth with to do.”
Life application: Christ suffered for our sins. He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world though He was without sin. By trusting in this noble and glorious act, God “imputes” Christ’s righteousness to us, and our sin is transferred to Him at the cross.
We were separated from God by an infinitely wide chasm, but Jesus – being fully God and fully man – was able to remove that infinite gulf. As Man, He could take our sins from us; as God, He could place His hand on the Father and obtain forgiveness for us. He is the bridge which spans the divide.
What an absolutely glorious bargain! The Just one – Jesus our Lord – died for the unjust! We are now freed from the wages of sin and death through His precious blood. O God! How gloriously wonderful You are to deal with us in such a gracious manner. May our hearts never fail to praise You for the wonderful deeds You have wrought. Amen.