April 5 – Our Substitute

[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.

1 Peter 2:24

 

The substitutionary death of Jesus Christ is an essential truth of the Christian faith. Redemption, justification, reconciliation, removal of sin, and propitiation are all corollaries of Christ’s substitutionary work.

The apostle Paul also emphasized this work when he said that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), and that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us”(Gal. 3:13).

Some claim it’s immoral to teach that God would take on human flesh and bear the sins of men and women in their stead. They say it’s unfair to transfer the penalty of sin from a guilty person to an innocent person. But that’s not what happened. Christ willingly took on our sin and bore its penalty. If He had not willed to take our sin and accept its punishment, as sinners we would have borne the punishment of sin in hell forever. Christ’s work on the cross wasn’t unfair—it was God’s love in action![1]


Believers’ Perfect Substitute in Suffering

and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (2:24)

Peter then moves to the essential reality in the Lord’s suffering—His substitutionary death (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:2; cf. Heb. 2:17). Leon Morris comments,

Redemption is substitutionary, for it means that Christ paid the price that we could not pay, paid it in our stead, and we go free. Justification interprets our salvation judicially, and as the New Testament sees it Christ took our legal liability, took it in our stead. Reconciliation means the making of people to be at one by the taking away of the cause of hostility. In this case the cause is sin, and Christ removed that cause for us. We could not deal with sin. He could and did, and did it in such a way that it is reckoned to us. Propitiation points us to the removal of the divine wrath, and Christ has done this by bearing the wrath for us. It was our sin which drew it down; it was He who bore it.… Was there a price to be paid? He paid it. Was there a victory to be won? He won it. Was there a penalty to be borne? He bore it. Was there a judgment to be faced? He faced it. (The Cross in the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], 405)

Paul, like Peter, placed supreme importance on Christ’s substitutionary atonement. To the Galatians he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ ” (Gal. 3:13; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). The significance of Christ’s substitution cannot be overstated:

To put it bluntly and plainly, if Christ is not my Substitute, I still occupy the place of a condemned sinner. If my sins and my guilt are not transferred to Him, if He did not take them upon Himself, then surely they remain with me. If He did not deal with sins, I must face their consequences. If my penalty was not borne by Him, it still hangs over me. (Morris, 410)

Peter explained Christ’s sacrifice in believers’ behalf with additional allusions to Isaiah’s familiar description of Messiah’s death (Isa. 53:4–5, 11). He Himself (hos … autos) is an emphatic personalization and stresses that the Son of God voluntarily and without coercion (John 10:15, 17–18) died as the only sufficient sacrifice for the sins of all who would ever believe (cf. John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:5–6; 4:10; Heb. 2:9, 17). The very name Jesus indicated that He would “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Bore is from anapherō and means here to carry the massive, heavy weight of sin. That weight of sin is so heavy that Romans 8:22 says “the whole creation groans and suffers” under it. Only Jesus could remove such a massive weight from the elect (cf. Heb. 9:28).

Anyone who understood the Hebrew Scriptures, as Peter did, and experienced the sacrifices in the temple, would have been familiar with the truth of substitutionary death and thus grasped the significance of Christ as the full and final offering for sin.

That Jesus bore believers’ sins means that He suffered the penalty for all the sins of all who would ever be forgiven. In receiving the wrath of God against sin, Christ endured not only death in His body on the cross (John 19:30–37), but the more horrific separation from the Father for a time (Matt. 27:46). Christ took the full punishment for saints’ sins, thus satisfying divine justice and freeing God to forgive those who repent and believe (Rom. 3:24–26; 4:3–8; 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10). Explicit in the pronoun our is the specific provision, the actual atonement on behalf of all who would ever believe. Christ’s death is efficacious only for the sins of those who believe, who are God’s chosen (cf. Matt. 1:21; 20:28; 26:28; John 10:11, 14–18, 24–29; Rev. 5:9; see also the discussion of election in chapter 1 of this volume).

When Christ died, He died so that believers might die to sin and live to righteousness. This is Peter’s way of saying what the apostle Paul says in Romans 6:3–11,

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Union with Christ in His death and resurrection does not change only believers’ standing before God (who declares them righteous, since their sins have been paid for and removed from them), but it also changes their nature—they are not only justified but sanctified, transformed from sinners into saints (2 Cor. 5:17; Titus 3:5; James 1:18).

Apogenomenoi (might die) is not the normal word for “die” and is used only here in the New Testament. It means “to be away from, depart, be missing, or cease existing.” Christ died for believers to separate them from sin’s penalty, so it can never condemn them. The record of their sins, the indictment of guilt that had them headed for hell, was “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:12–14). Jesus paid their debt to God in full. In that sense, all Christians are freed from sin’s penalty. They are also delivered from its dominating power and made able to live to righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:16–22).

Peter describes this death to sin and becoming alive to righteousness as a healing: by His wounds you were healed. This too is borrowed from the Old Testament prophet when he wrote “by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Wounds is a better usage than “scourging” since the latter may give the impression that the beating of Jesus produced salvation. Both Isaiah and Peter meant the wounds of Jesus that were part of the execution process. Wounds is a general reference—a synonym for all the suffering that brought Him to death. And the healing here is spiritual, not physical. Neither Isaiah nor Peter intended physical healing as the result in these references to Christ’s sufferings. Physical healing for all who believe does result from Christ’s atoning work, but such healing awaits a future realization in the perfections of heaven. In resurrection glory, believers will experience no sickness, pain, suffering, or death (Rev. 21:1–4; 22:1–3).

In fair consideration of this explanation, it must be admitted that the apostle Matthew seems to relate Jesus’ physical healing ministry to Isaiah’s prophecy:

When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.” (Matt. 8:16–17)

Some say that proves Christians can now claim physical healing in the atonement. However a more accurate understanding of Matthew’s narrative (8:16–17) reveals that Jesus healed people to illustrate the physical healing all believers will experience in the glory yet to come.

Disease and death cannot be permanently removed until sin is permanently removed, and Jesus’ supreme work, therefore, was to conquer sin. In the atonement He dealt with sin, death, and sickness; and yet all three of those are still with us. When He died on the cross, Jesus bruised the head of Satan and broke the power of sin, and the person who trusts in the atoning work of Christ is immediately delivered from the penalty of sin and one day will be delivered from the very presence of sin and its consequences. The ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s redeeming work is yet future for believers (cf. Rom. 8:22–25; 13:11). Christ died for men’s sins, but Christians still fall into sin; He conquered death, but His followers still die; and He overcame pain and sickness, but His people still suffer and become ill. There is physical healing in the atonement, just as there is total deliverance from sin and death in the atonement; but we still await the fulfillment of that deliverance in the day when the Lord brings the end of suffering, sin, and death.

Those who claim that Christians should never be sick because there is healing in the atonement should also claim that Christians should never die, because Jesus also conquered death in the atonement. The central message of the gospel is deliverance from sin. It is the good news about forgiveness, not health. Christ was made sin, not disease, and He died on the cross for our sin, not our sickness. As Peter makes clear, Christ’s wounds heal us from sin, not from disease. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). (John MacArthur, Matthew 8–15, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1987], 19)

If the atonement’s physical healing were fully realized now, no believer would ever be sick or die. But obviously, all do. The Lord’s substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of His own heals their souls now and their bodies in the future.[2]


24 Peter returns here to the notion of sacrifice (cf. 1:19), which provides a thematic link to Isaiah 53, making application to all in describing Christ’s willingness to “bear our sins in his body on the tree” (cf. Isa 53:4, 12). That Christ did so “in his body” accents his identification with the human situation as vicarious sufferer; Jesus is representative through his suffering. The sins of all humanity were being borne, “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” Christ, therefore, redeems our plight. Suffering, thus seen, has a redemptive element: “by his wounds you have been healed” (cf. Isa 53:5). Sin-sick humanity is restored, and Christian “freedom” is predicated on the bedrock of redemption (as already suggested in 1:18–21).[3]


2:24 The Savior’s sufferings were not only exemplary, but expiatory as well. We cannot imitate His sufferings in this respect, and Peter does not suggest that we should. Rather the argument seems to be as follows: The Savior’s agony was not brought on by His own sins, for He had none. It was for our sins He was nailed to the cross. Because He has suffered for our sins once for all, we should never allow ourselves to get into the position where we have to suffer for them too. The fact that He died for them should cause us to die to them. And yet, it is not simply a matter of negative goodness; we should not only die to sin but live to righteousness.

By whose stripes you were healed. The word stripes is actually singular in the original, perhaps suggesting that His body was one massive welt. What should be our attitude toward sin when our healing cost the Savior so much? Theodoret comments: “A new and strange method of healing. The doctor suffered the cost, and the sick received the healing.”[4]


2:24 bore our sins. Christ suffered not simply as the Christian’s pattern (vv. 21–23), but far more importantly as the Christian’s substitute. To bear sins was to be punished for them (cf. Nu 14:33; Eze 18:20). Christ bore the punishment and the penalty for believers, thus satisfying a holy God (3:18; see notes on 2Co 5:21; Gal 3:13). This great doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is the heart of the gospel. Actual atonement, sufficient for the sins of the whole world, was made for all who would ever believe, namely, the elect (cf. Lv 16:17; 23:27–30; Jn 3:16; 2Co 5:19; 1Ti 2:6; 4:10; Tit 2:11; Heb 2:9; 1Jn 2:2; 4:9, 10). we might die to sin. This is true by the miracle of being in Christ. We died to sin in the sense that we paid its penalty, death, by being in Christ when He died as our substitute. See notes on Ro 6:1–11. live to righteousness. Not only have we been declared just, the penalty for our sins paid by His death, but we have risen to walk in new life, empowered by the Holy Spirit (see notes on Ro 6:12–22). by His wounds you were healed. From Is 53:5 (see note). Through the wounds of Christ at the cross, believers are healed spiritually from the deadly disease of sin. Physical healing comes at glorification only, when there is no more physical pain, illness, or death (Rev 21:4). See notes on Is 53:4–6; Mt 8:17 for comments on healing in the atonement.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 110). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 169–173). 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, p. 325). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2265). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Pe 2:24). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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