“’He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’”—1 Peter 2:24
Here is Simon Peter’s theology of the cross. Here the apostle is reliving these last tremendous hours of his Master’s passion. In the preceding chapters he has been urging his congregation to fulfill the law of Christ. He has been beseeching them to live “as strangers and pilgrims.” He summons them to prove the reality of their life in Christ by the quality of their love for God and men. And then he undergirds his appeal in precious words as he recalls the suffering and submission of his Lord (1 Pet 2:21–25). It is at the cross that Peter rests his case. The inspiration of a holy life is found only in the Savior’s death. And the glory of the cross is there seen in a life that is “crucified with Christ.”
All this is Peter’s theme. To him, Christ is all in all. And as he recalls so vividly the road from Gethsemane to Golgotha, he stresses three elemental things.
I. THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST
First, Peter recalls the suffering of Christ, and then goes on to describe the suffering. “When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” And as he sums up the work of his Lord upon the cross he says, “And by his stripes [by the wounds he suffered] ye were healed.”
When Jesus died upon the cross, He died as a common criminal. The Romans considered death by the cross as teterrimumet crudelissimum—that is, the cruelest death possible, and the most terrible and terrifying of all departures from life. And in the hours immediately preceding crucifixion, we can see something of the nature and extent of His suffering.
Think of them for a moment: “They bound him.” Three of the evangelists refer to this fact. They bound the hands that had blessed the little children. They bound the hands of Him who carved furniture in His father’s shop. They bound those healing hands. They bound the hands that broke and distributed the bread at the Last Supper, with the words, “Take, eat: this is my body, broken for you.” But that is not all. “They spat at Him.” This most degrading insult was offered to the majestic person of Christ. Out of the darkened hearts of Jewish priests and Roman soldiery, the poison of their hate smattered His face. And this they also did: “They blindfolded him.” Could they not bear those eyes of holiness? Could they not stand the flashing light that smote their conscience like a flame of fire?
Who can tell? The awesome record reads that they blindfolded him, and thus, without those eyes continually upon them, they were able to continue their cruel and vulgar jesting around Him. He was bound. He was spat upon. He was blindfolded.
But there is more. In the Praetorium, they clothed Him with “purple” and plaited a crown of thorns, put it about His head, and “they mocked him.” Can anything go beyond this sin? Man must have his sport even though it be with his God. Here is worship in the reverse. The hard steellike spikes were crushed down upon His forehead; He was smitten with a reed and mocked. All the indignity that perverse and diabolical minds can conjure up was heaped upon Him. Truly we can say, “We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear.”
II. THE SUBMISSION OF CHRIST
Peter also recalls the submission of Christ. It is in Gethsemane that Christ’s yieldedness, submissiveness, and final sacrifice of surrender are best seen. He was scarcely in the garden, when something unheard of happened. “He felled dying to the ground.” Mark depicts more graphically the Savior’s distress when he writes, “He began to be sorely amazed.” This word implies a sudden and horrifying alarm in the face of a terrible object. Ellen G. White observes, “He had borne that which no human being could ever bear; for He had tasted the sufferings of death for every man.”1 He reeled before the threat, and sweat drops of blood as he “wrestled with death.” It was then He prayed, “Take this cup from me; nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” This is an impenetrable mystery! But this much is clear. He accepted the cup that was given Him. He submitted Himself. He did not draw back. He came to the cross not as victim, but victor.
And here we begin to see the glory of the work of Christ. He suffered. But he did so actively. It was much more than suffering; it was “atoning action.”
After all, it was for this cause that He was born. And now, at last, the prince of the world finds Him as he had ever been— delighting to do the will of his Father. Thus He endured the cross and despised the shame.
III. THE SUBSTITUTION OF CHRIST
But here is a third emphasis of the apostle. He declares the substitution of the Sinless One in the place of sinners. “[He] did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” And then he writes, “Who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree.”
In writing thus, Peter is at one with the whole New Testament that the death of Christ was vicarious. He, the Sinless One, presses past all obstacles on the road in order that he might stand in the place of sinners. In the words of the hymn:
“Bearing shame, and scoffing rude, In my place condemned He stood; Sealed my pardon with His blood Hallelujah!”—P. P. Bliss
In a way that is beyond human understanding, the sin of the world was laid upon Him. All the darkness and depravity of the ages, all the pride of Ninevah, all the scarlet sin of Babylon and Egypt, all the horror of Hiroshima and the beastliness of Belsen, all the betrayals of Judas, and the denials of Peter, the pride, anger, greed, envy, impurity, and gluttony of mankind, all the rebellion of Israel and the Gentiles, all the sins of mankind, past, present, and future, were laid on Him. For our sins He died.
If this is not substitution, I know not what it is. Without it there is no redemption, and because of this there is forgiveness, full and free and everlasting.
One final word Peter would say to us. He would point us to the Good Shepherd of all who have found salvation. “Ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned to the Good Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”
And here Peter finds the ultimate insurance that the redemption of the cross will issue in holy living. The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep, but He rose again, triumphant and glorious. And He leads His people in the ways in which He delights.
This is the glory of the Cross. It is the story that will never grow old. It is the hope of the world. And still at the cross the Savior meets the sinner. Come then and let us worship Him and Him alone.
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 694.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.