Even a cursory reading of Peter’s first Epistle would leave the reader in no doubt that suffering and persecution are key themes of the letter. Whether that be the sufferings of Christ, or the sufferings of the Christian, the whole Epistle is permeated with the subject, making it a masterpiece of persecution literature. Amongst other things, Peter speaks of the Christian both as a stranger and a sufferer in the world; to the stranger Peter will unfold the glory of the future inheritance, and to the sufferer, as a saint, he will speak of the sufferings of Christ.
Our exercise is to trace one reference to the sufferings of Christ in each of the five chapters.
After the opening salutation, vv. 1, 2, Peter presents a beautiful paragraph of scripture which continues right through to verse 12. The theme of this paragraph is salvation. Salvation is mentioned three times and is connected with the three persons of the Godhead, vv. 5, 9, 10. The Father is connected with the prospect of salvation, for which we are being kept by divine power, vv. 3-5; the Son is linked with the present pathway associated with salvation, a pathway wherein we suffer but are sustained by having our hearts fixed upon one ‘whom having not seen’, we love, vv. 6-9. The Holy Spirit of God is associated with both the prophecy and the preaching of salvation, vv. 10-12.
The prophets ‘searched diligently’, v. 10, into this great salvation, seeking to discover the full import of their prophecies in relation to their circumstances and their times, v. 11. It was ‘the Spirit of Christ’ who was the source of their prophecies. This is a reference to the person of the Holy Spirit, but it is worded in such a way, because Christ was the One of whom they testified.
The two great subjects of their prophesying were ‘the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow’, v. 11. The fact that plural words are used, ‘sufferings’ and ‘glories’, emphasizes the fullness of both experiences.
How vast and full are the Old Testament prophecies as to the sufferings of Christ! Perhaps our minds automatically think of Psalm 22, or of Isaiah 53, but no matter where we turn, we find that God had foretold that sufferings were purposed for Christ, but a fullness of glory would follow. This would surely be an encouragement to suffering saints, 5. 10!
This verse brings before us the Lord’s sufferings from an entirely different standpoint. Here we have the sufferings of the Saviour as one who endured the unjust treatment of men.Peter has just reminded his
readers that doing what is right before God can bring upon you unrighteous treatment, vv. 19, 20. So, to encourage and stimulate saints who are found in such circumstances, he points us to Christ. Kelly has helpfully noted that ‘the saints need an object from God to form our souls and fashion our ways’.1 The perfect object is always His Son; whether it is humility, Phil. 2, benevolence, 2 Cor. 8, love, Eph. 5, or anything else – Christ is the perfect example.
The word ‘example’, v. 21, translates the Greek word hupogrammos, literally meaning ‘an under-writing’. Just as a teacher would write words at the top of the page for the student to copy, so the saint amidst sufferings is exhorted to imitate Christ’s pattern. We follow the pathway marked out by His steps; we can never follow in His steps absolutely, because He was sinless and perfect, v. 22. In His walk, words and waiting on God, He was impeccable, v. 23. By God’s grace we follow to the best of our ability.
Once again Peter takes up the subject of suffering; firstly, that of the Christian, vv. 13-17, then of Christ, vv. 18-22. They are connected because the Christian is warned about the importance of suffering ‘for well doing, [rather] than for evil doing’, v. 17, and then Peter directs them to Christ’s once-for-all suffering for sins, v. 18. It is never to be expected that the believer suffers for sins; all the suffering for sins has been experienced by Christ. Although we are dealing here with Christ’s sufferings on the cross, or His atoning sufferings as we often call them, they are brought in here in a practical sense.
The verse has been a happy hunting ground for gospel preachers, packing into a handful of words a vast array of precious truth, namely, propitiation, substitution, reconciliation, crucifixion and resurrection.
ist’s sufferings were once-for-all, never needing to be repeated, and glorious in their sufficiency. Our thoughts must go to those momentous words ‘but now once in the end of the world [age] hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’, Heb. 9. 26. That these sufferings were ‘for sins’ or ‘concerning sins’, implies that it is not His exemplary sufferings that are in view. In His death He dealt head-on with the great question of human sins, and only He could deal with them. Thus, we are reminded of His moral fitness to suffer for sins when we read of Him as ‘the just’. He, the perfectly righteous One, who alone had the competency to deal with our sins, was ‘manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin’, 1 John 3. 5. He took our place, and in doing so He brought us to God. We often think of being brought to heaven at the end of life’s journey, but here Peter tells us that the purpose of Christ’s sufferings was to bring a people to God in the here and now, with all that it means to enjoy all the blessedness that is involved in fellowship with God, who is now our Father.
I have termed this verse ‘the power of His sufferings’ because I think the passage is designed to empower the Christian in the face of suffering by keeping Christ’s perfect example before us. Kelly is again worth quoting when he describes this as ‘the practical power of His sufferings to give power against sin day by day’.2
‘Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh’, directs us back to chapter 3 verse 18 where we read that He suffered in the flesh in dealing with our sins. But the key thing to grasp is that He had the mind to do so; in other words, He was resolved to do the will of God even though that meant suffering on the cross. A picture of this is seen in the placing of the head of the bullock of the burnt offering upon the altar of burnt offering, Lev. 1. 8, showing us that there was one whose every thought was for God’s glory, and whose will was subject to the will of God.
We are to equip ourselves with the same mind as Christ and be prepared to suffer in the flesh in seeking to live for God. Philippians chapter 2 presents the mind of Christ in relation to humility, whereas here, in 1 Peter, we see the mind of Christ in His resolve to do God’s will. We should emulate both the humility and resolve of Christ. By doing this we prove that we have ‘ceased from sin’, that is, our life is no longer dominated by it. Its power was broken at conversion, and unlike the seed on the stony ground, Matt. 13. 20, 21, we endure the tests and give evidence of our genuineness.
When Peter writes this Epistle, he writes from a four-fold standpoint. First, he writes as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’ and as such he speaks as one with divinely delegated authority, 1. 1. He then reminds us in chapter 5 verse 1, that he also writes as ‘an elder’, marked by spiritual maturity in the things of God. Furthermore, Peter is ‘a partaker’ of the coming glory of Christ in which all His saints will share. Lastly, he writes as ‘a witness’ of Christ’s sufferings. There are different views as to the significance of this expression which we cannot delve into now but, without being dogmatic, we take it in the simplest sense, that Peter is reminding the saints that he was an actual eyewitness of the Saviour’s sufferings.
These sufferings are very comprehensive; we cannot be sure how much of the crucifixion Peter witnessed, but he was there in the Garden alongside John and James as one of the privileged trio. Even though withdrawn from Christ, he must have witnessed something of His sorrow, and likewise in the High Priest’s judgement hall where ‘Peter … went in … to see the end’, Matt. 26. 58. In addition to this, the Lord’s sorrows through His life at the rejection and unbelief of the nation must surely have left a great impression upon the mind of Peter. He could not have spent so much time with Christ and not have beheld His grief and anguish during His public ministry. Peter is stressing his fitness to exhort the believers to emulate Christ in His sufferings, because he himself was a witness of those sufferings.
In closing, may we by God’s grace follow the pathway of the suffering Saviour, whose sufferings for our sins have saved our souls, and whose sufferings for righteousness have set us an example.