March 31, 2017 – Our Sinless Savior

[Christ] committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who when He was reviled, did not revile in return.

1 Peter 2:22–23


Jesus would have been prominent in Peter’s mind when he wrote today’s verses because he personally witnessed Jesus’ pain—though from afar. In spite of the severity of His pain, however, Christ committed no sin in word or deed.

Isaiah 53:9 says, “He had done no violence.” “Violence” is translated as “lawlessness” in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament). The translators understood that “violence” referred to violence against God’s law—or sin. In spite of the unjust treatment He had to endure, Christ did not and could not sin (cf. 1 Pet. 1:19).

Isaiah 53:9 adds, “Nor was any deceit in His mouth.” Sin usually first makes its appearance in us by what we say. In Jesus there was no sin, neither externally nor internally.

Jesus Christ is the perfect model of how we are to respond to unjust treatment because He endured far worse treatment than any person who will ever live, and yet never sinned.[1]

Believers’ Perfect Standard for Suffering

since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; (2:21b–23)

As discussed in the previous chapter of this volume, Christians have been called to persecution and suffering, whether in the workplace or any other realm of life (2:20–21a). In all forms of suffering, they must look to Christ as their standard, their example. For Him, the path to glory was the path of suffering (Luke 24:25–26), and the pattern is the same for His followers.

Peter’s phrase since Christ also suffered for you certainly recalls the reality of His efficacious, substitutionary, sin-bearing death—His redemptive suffering (cf. the discussion in the next section of this chapter). His redemptive suffering as the one sacrifice for sin has no parallel in His followers’ sufferings. But there are features of His suffering that do provide an example for them to follow in their own sufferings. For instance, in a complete breach of justice and goodness, He was crucified as a criminal (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 27:38) even though He committed no crime (1:19; cf. Isa. 53:9; John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26). He was perfectly sinless. Life in this world has always been filled with such unjust treatment of God’s faithful (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12). His execution demonstrates that one may be absolutely faithful to God’s will and still experience unjust suffering. So Christ’s attitude in His death on the cross provides believers with the ultimate example of how to respond to unmerited persecution and punishment (cf. Heb. 12:3–4).

That is clearly Peter’s point, because he adds the words leaving you an example. Believers will never suffer for others’ salvation, including their own. But they will suffer for Christ’s sake, and His example is their standard for a God-honoring response. The word translated example is hupogrammon, which literally means “writing under” and refers to a pattern placed under a sheet of tracing paper so the original images could be duplicated. In ancient times, children learning to write traced over the letters of the alphabet to facilitate their learning to write them. Christ is the example or pattern on which believers trace their lives. In so doing, they are following in His steps. Ichnesin (steps) means “footprints” or “tracks.” For believers as for Him, the footprints through this world are often along paths of unjust suffering.

In view of the suffering they were enduring (1:6–7; 2:20; 3:14, 17; 4:12–19; 5:9) and would yet endure, Peter wanted his readers to look closely at how their Lord responded to His suffering. Since Christ endured unequalled suffering when He went to the Cross, Peter, to set forth the example, focused on that event as the ultimate experience. The apostle examined Jesus’ response to intense suffering through the prophetic words of Isaiah 53, the most significant Old Testament chapter on Messiah’s suffering.

Peter first borrowed from Isaiah 53:9 to describe Christ’s reaction to unjust treatment. The phrase who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth is a close parallel to the prophet’s words in the second half of that verse, “Because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” Isaiah used “violence” not in the sense of a single act of violence, but to signify sin, all of which is violence against God and His law. The prophet indicated that the Suffering Servant (the Christ to come) would never violate God’s law. The Septuagint translators understood this and used “lawlessness” rather than “violence” to translate the term. Peter chose the word sin because under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration he knew that was Isaiah’s meaning.

Peter further drew from Isaiah, affirming Christ’s sinlessness by declaring that there was no deceit found in His mouth. The heart of man expresses sin most easily and often through the mouth, as the prophet made clear even in documenting his own experience: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5; cf. Matt. 15:18–19; Luke 6:45; James 1:26; 3:2–12). Jesus’ mouth could never utter anything sinful, since there was no sin in Him (Luke 23:41; John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 3:5). Deceit is from dolos (see the discussion of that word in 2:1, chapter 8 of this volume), which here is used as a general term for sinful corruption.

Peter then describes Christ’s exemplary response to such unjust torture by saying while being reviled, He did not revile in return, again echoing the prediction of Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” During the cruel hours preceding His actual crucifixion, Jesus suffered under repeated provocations from His accusers (Matt. 26:57–68; 27:11–14, 26–31; John 18:28–19:11). They tried to push Him to the breaking point with their severe mockery and physical torture but could not (Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63–65). He did not get angry at or retaliate against His accusers (Matt. 26:64; John 18:34–37).

Being reviled is a present participle (loidoroumenos) that means to use abusive, vile language over and over against someone, or “to pile abuse on someone.” It described an extremely harsh kind of verbal abuse that could be more aggravating than physical abuse. But Jesus patiently and humbly accepted all the verbal abuse hurled at Him (Matt. 26:59–63; 27:12–14; Luke 23:6–10) and did not return abuse to His tormentors. That He did not revile in return is all the more remarkable when one considers the just, righteous, powerful, and legitimate threats He could have issued in response (cf. Matt. 26:53). As the sovereign, omnipotent Son of God and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, Jesus could have blasted His cruel, unbelieving enemies into eternal hell with one word from His mouth (cf. Luke 12:5; Heb. 10:29–31). Eventually, those who never repented and believed in Him would be sent to hell; but for this time He endured with no retaliation—to set an example for believers. While suffering, He uttered no threats; instead of giving back threats for the repeated, unjust abuse, He chose to accept the suffering and even ask His Father to forgive those who abused Him (Luke 23:34).

Jesus drew the strength for that amazing response from His complete trust in His Father’s ultimate purpose to accomplish justice on His behalf, and against His hateful rejecters. He kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. The verb for entrusting (paredidou) means “to commit,” or “hand over” and is in the imperfect tense signifying repeated past action. With each new wave of abuse, as it came again and again, Jesus was always “handing Himself over” to God for safekeeping. Luke records how that pattern continued until the very end: “ ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). Undergirding Jesus’ peaceful, resolute acceptance of suffering was an unshakeable confidence in the perfectly righteous plan of Him who judges righteously (cf. John 4:34; 15:10; 17:25). He knew God would vindicate Him according to His perfect, holy justice. Alan Stibbs comments,

In … the unique instance of our Lord’s passion, when the sinless One suffered as if He were the worst of sinners, and bore the extreme penalty of sin, there is a double sense in which He may have acknowledged God as the righteous Judge. On the one hand, because voluntarily, and in fulfillment of God’s will, He was taking the sinner’s place and bearing sin, He did not protest at what He had to suffer. Rather He consciously recognized that it was the penalty righteously due to sin. So He handed Himself over to be punished. He recognized that in letting such shame, pain and curse fall upon Him, the righteous God was judging righteously. On the other hand, because He Himself was sinless, He also believed that in due time God, as the righteous Judge, would vindicate Him as righteous, and exalt Him from the grave, and reward Him for what He had willingly endured for others’ sake by giving Him the right completely to save them from the penalty and power of their own wrongdoing. (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, The First Epistle of Peter [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 119)

He is believers’ perfect example in suffering for righteousness’ sake and sets the standard for them to entrust themselves to God as their righteous Judge (cf. Job 36:3; Pss. 11:7; 31:1; 98:9; 119:172; Jer. 9:24). Though saints are not sinless, they are righteous in Christ and have the promise of God’s vindication of them. Such hope undoubtedly prompted Stephen to fix his eyes on the exalted Christ and ask God to forgive his murderers (Acts 7:54–60). Paul wrote,

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17–18; cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Tim. 2:12; Heb. 2:10; James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–7)

The apostle suggests that the intense but comparatively trifling amount of suffering believers experience in this life will result in an infinitely greater weight (lit., a “heavy mass”) of glory in the life to come.[2]

21–22 While a revolutionary call to undermine the social structure is not Peter’s emphasis, Jesus’ attitude toward suffering and unjust treatment is. To facilitate this model, the “suffering servant” song of Isaiah 53 is utilized, of which Jesus’ attitudes are reminiscent (cf. also its use by Philip, Ac 8:26–40). This establishes an immediate and obvious link to the readers’ situation—committing no sin, no deceit being found in his mouth, refusal to respond in kind, and not threatening under the heat of suffering but entrusting himself to God. After all, Christians constitute the “community of the cross” (so Davids, 106–8).

Peter is by no means fatalistic about persecution for the sake of Christ, but once more he enlists the language of election: “To this [i.e., suffering for good] you were called [eklēthēte, GK 1721]” (cf. up to this point 1:1; 2:4, 9). The Petrine perspective on suffering is that Christians endure hardship for the sake of Christ precisely because he suffered, as an example (hypogrammos, GK 5681), for us. The words “To this you were called” are a reiteration of the conditions of basic Christian discipleship, and the call of Jesus is to “take up the cross” and “follow” him (Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23; 14:27). For this reason, the saints are called to “follow in his steps.” In recalling Jesus’ penetrating post-resurrection challenge to Peter to “follow” (Jn 21:19), Peter’s failure earlier in his life to do precisely this doubtless imbues his present exhortation to “follow in his steps” with deep meaning.[3]

2:22 This crucial verse underscores the sinlessness of Christ (committed no sin) and his substitutionary death for sinners (cf. 3:18). Jesus’ freedom from deceit alludes to Isa. 53:9. Isaiah 52:13–53:12 especially emphasizes that the servant of the Lord died as a substitute to remove the sins of his people.

2:23 when he suffered, he did not threaten. It is common to long for retaliation in the face of unjust criticism or suffering, but Jesus behaved like the meek lamb of Isa. 53:7. He could do so because he continued entrusting both himself and those who mistreated him entirely to God, knowing that God is just and will make all things right in the end. Likewise believers, knowing that God judges justly, are able to forgive others and to entrust all judgment and vengeance to God (cf. Rom. 12:19). Every wrong deed in the universe will be either covered by the blood of Christ or repaid justly by God at the final judgment.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 103). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 166–169). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 324–325). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2409). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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