Christians are often called to endure unjust suffering as part of the cost of following Christ. In the early church many Christians were from the lower classes, even slaves, and so were especially vulnerable to persecution. 1 Peter 2:20 envisages slaves suffering for doing right. To endure such treatment is ‘commendable before God’. Peter than turns attention to Christ, the supreme example of innocent suffering (v23). This leads to thoughts of what his suffering and death accomplished. We consider 1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins.
1. A sacrifice offered
Granted that Christ had committed no offence, as Pilate acknowledged (Luke 23:4), what was the purpose of his death? It was not a tragic accident (Acts 2:23) – it fulfilled God’s purpose. All through his earthly ministry Jesus was conscious of the divine necessity of his suffering and death (Matthew 16:21). Peter sets this out at the beginning of the verse: ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’. The idea of ‘bearing sin’ is rooted in the OT. It signifies taking responsibility for sin, bearing the penalty (Leviticus 24:15-16 in the ESV). Christ took the responsibility for our sin, bearing its punishment. It is a substitutionary work (Isaiah 53:12).
It is also the language of sacrifice (eg Leviticus 14:20). Bearing the penalty for our sin required death (Hebrews 9:22). It is the shed blood that atones for sin. The supreme price had to be paid. The use of the term ‘his body’ stresses the physical reality of what happened – the brutality of the death he died is not to be minimised or sanitised. This is the cost of salvation. Without the shedding of blood, when he ‘poured out his life unto death’ (Isaiah 53:12) there is no gospel. It was ‘on the tree’. Why is that description used? The OT background tells us that ‘anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deuteronomy 21:23). He took the curse due to our sin (Galatians 3:13). He endured the wrath of God for us. The heart of the gospel is that he was ‘wounded for our transgressions’ (Isaiah 53:5). We see the wonder of God’s love and grace at the cross.
2. A sanctification effected
Peter does on to deal with the present goal of Christ’s atoning work in relation to believers – it is sanctification. His goal is the making of a holy people. There are two aspects to sanctification:
(a). A definitive act. Literally Peter speaks of believers ‘having died to sins’ – this has already happened. It is a strong term – ‘having cease to exist in relation to sin’. The connection to sin has been irreversibly broken – sin and Satan are no longer the dominating powers in our lives (see Romans 6:1ff). When we embrace Christ by repentance and faith, we have new life. We have ‘passed from death to life’ (John 5:24). It is essential to grasp this – it is liberating news.
(b). A daily process. Now that the dominion of sin has been broken, this must be translated into daily practice. We have victory in Christ – we must not live as if we were defeated. ‘We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?’ (Romans 6:2). The Lord offered his sacrifice on the cross so that we might ‘live for righteousness’ – the kind of life that is in accord with God’s holiness and that will receive a favourable verdict at the Last Day. When we consider the atoning work of Christ, our response (in the power he gives) is to be a life that reflects the Saviour. All of life is to be measured in these terms. Our priority is a righteousness that honours God. In Christ he has provided all we need (2 Peter 1:3) for this life – it is both necessary and possible for the child of God.