Meditations in 1 Peter : 35: Christ’s Work
1 Pet 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
Some think this verse is Peter diverting to the atonement as another subject that comes to mind when he thinks of Christ’s example, but when we look at in detail we will see that it is because of Christ’s work on the Cross that we can now live new lives, lives that will reveal God to the world. This verse is thus an extension of Peter’s ongoing theme here about testimony and witness. Let’s consider it in detail.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” This is without question a reference to Christ dying on the Cross. In the New Testament accounts, the Cross is often referred to as ‘a tree’, e.g. “whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 5:30) and “They killed him by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 10:39) and Paul specifically links it to the Old Testament reference and curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal 3:13 quoting Deut 21:23). So yes, this is a clear reference to him dying on the Cross, but what about the reference to “bore our sins in his body”?
Think about the Old Testament sacrificial system. Within that, when a man sinned, he had to take an animal to the Temple to be sacrificed. He placed his hands on its head, as means of identification, and the animal was then killed. It was a picture of the sins of the man being passed to the animal who then took the punishment (death) for those sins. So the New Testament teaching is that in the same way, when Christ died on the Cross he was dying in our place and took our sins. For it to apply to us, we have to come to God in repentance, believing in Jesus as our substitute and God then declares us forgiven and cleansed. Because he is the eternal Son of God, he acts as our substitute wherever we are in history, even though he died in time-space history two thousand years ago.
Now that is what Jesus did so that two things could then happen to us: “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” We have already explained when and how it takes place (at our conversion) but that is only the start. When we came to Christ, we rejected our old self-centred life of failure and guilt and turned away from that old sin-focused life. Peter uses the same language as the apostle Paul when he refers to this for he speaks about us dying to the old life, dying to sins. The apostle Paul taught, “We died to sin… count yourselves dead to sin.” (Rom 6:2,11) This teaching says the old life has gone; we no longer live like we used to. Sin no longer dominates us and no longer has power over us.
We have been freed FROM that so that we may now ‘live for righteousness’. Righteousness – living rightly according to God’s design for us, is now the basis for our lives. Paul’s counterpart teaching is, “we too may live a new life… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God… offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:4,11,13).
Do you see the link now between what Peter has been saying previously? He was saying, live out lives of witness and testimony, responding differently to everyone else when you suffer unjustly, so that you glorify God, but you also do it and live like that because of what Christ has achieved for you on the Cross and the nature of the life you now live because of that. You cope with suffering unjustly because you are a new person, a Spirit-energised person, a Cross-redeemed person, a person with the nature of Christ being formed in you.
He closes the sentence with, “by his wounds you have been healed.” In that short phrase he uses two shorthand words, words used to summarise a lot more. When he speaks of Christ’s ‘wounds’ he means all that was done to him before and on the Cross. He is in fact quoting Isa 53:5 exactly: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Pierced, crushed and wounded are words that do have specific applications but they also apply generally in a spiritual sense. You might like to meditate on how Christ was pierced in his spirit, crushed in spirit and wounded in the spirit. These are all part of what he went through, and the result is that we are ‘healed’. This is usually taken to mean in spirit. Previously we had been sin-sick, our lives deformed by sin, damaged by sin, and by his work on the Cross Christ made it possible for sin to be removed from our bodies, our twisted lives straightened out and the effects or damage done by sin to be removed. Those are the possibilities that we have to claim and take hold of, part of the salvation that is ours through the work of Christ on the Cross, which now enables us to live as people different from the rest of the world. May it be so!