Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.
1 Peter 3:18
It’s incredible to think that One who was perfectly just would die for the unjust. Pilate was correct when he said of Jesus, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). The charges brought against our Lord were fabricated. The witnesses were bribed, and the conviction itself was illegal.
Yet Christ triumphed through such unjust suffering by bringing us to God. And though believers will never suffer as substitutes or redeemers, God may use our Christlike response to unjust suffering to draw others to Himself.
So when the Lord asks us to suffer for His sake, we must realize we are only being asked to endure what He Himself endured so that we can point others to Him.
His Triumphant Sin-Bearing
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, (3:18a)
The conjunctions also and for point Peter’s readers back to the previous passage (3:13–17) and remind them that they ought not to be surprised or discouraged by suffering, since Christ triumphed in His suffering even though He died an excruciating death, and that of the most horrific kind—crucifixion. In contrast, the author of the letter to the Hebrews reminded his readers who suffered that they had “not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (12:4). Most believers will not die as martyrs, but even when they do, that death is the wages of their sin (Rom. 6:23). All people die because they are sinful, which makes even a death for righteousness’ sake a just death, in a sense. Man deserves to die; Jesus did not.
Some translations (e.g., kjv, nkjv) of this verse render died as “suffered,” a reading based on variant Greek manuscripts. But the different translations do not change the meaning: Christ suffered in that He died for sins. Sin caused the sinless Christ’s death. This is the supreme example of suffering for righteousness’ sake (v. 18), and He willingly endured it on behalf of sinners (Isa. 53:4–6, 8–12; Matt. 26:26–28; John 1:29; 10:11, 15; Rom. 5:8–11; 8:32; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:15, 18–19; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:13–16; Col. 1:20–22; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 2:5–6; Heb. 2:9, 17; 7:27; 9:12, 24–28; 10:10; 13:12; 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10; Rev. 1:5; 5:9). Earlier in this letter, Peter asserted that Christ “committed no sin” (2:22). He never had a single thought, word, or action that did not fully please God; rather His behavior in every respect was perfectly holy (Isa. 53:11; Luke 1:35; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; cf. John 5:30; Heb. 1:9).
So Jesus died for sins in that He was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28; cf. Rom. 8:3; Heb. 10:5–10). In the Old Testament economy, God required animal sacrifices to symbolize the need to atone for sin by the death of an innocent substitute (Ex. 29:31–33, 36; Lev. 1:4–5; 8:34; 16:2–16; 17:11; 23:26–27; Num. 15:25; 1 Chron. 6:49); the New Testament presents Christ as that perfect sacrifice who fulfilled all the symbols in the reality of atoning for all sinners who would ever believe (John 3:14–15; Rom. 5:6–11; 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:11–14, 24, 28; 12:24; 13:11–12).
The phrase once for all translates the word hapax, which means “of perpetual validity, not requiring repetition.” For the Jews so familiar with their sacrificial system, that was a new concept. To atone for sin, they had slaughtered millions of animals over the centuries. During their annual Passover celebration, as many as a quarter million sheep would be sacrificed. But Jesus Christ’s one sacrificial death ended that insufficient parade of animals to the altar and was sufficient for all and for all time (Heb. 1:3; 7:26–27; 9:24–28; 10:10–12), as He took the punishment due the elect and bore it for them, thus fully satisfying God’s righteous judgment.
Thus, in Christ’s substitutionary death, He suffered the just for the unjust. As the perfect offering for sin, He willingly (John 10:15–18) and in accord with the Father’s redemptive purpose from before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23; 4:27–28; 13:27–29; cf. 2 Tim. 1:9; Rev. 13:8) took upon Himself the entire penalty due the unrighteous (2:24). No text says it more concisely than 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Much more can be said about sin and imputation, as is elsewhere (cf. Rom. 3–6), but here Peter directs his statements at the practical, referring to the substitutionary suffering of Jesus as an illustration of how the most extreme affliction and injustice resulted in the singularly supreme triumph of salvation. This should be eminently encouraging to believers who suffer unjustly.
The triumph in Christ’s death is expressed in the phrase that He might bring [believers] to God. The divine tearing of the temple veil from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51) symbolically demonstrated the reality that He had opened the way to God. The heavenly Holy of Holies, the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16), was made available for immediate access by all true believers. As royal priests (2:9), all believers are welcomed into God’s presence (Heb. 4:16; 10:19–22).
The verb translated He might bring (prosagō) expresses the specific purpose of Jesus’ actions. It often describes someone’s being introduced or given access to another. In classical Greek the noun form refers to the one making the introduction. In ancient courts certain officials controlled access to the king. They verified someone’s right to see him and then introduced that person to the monarch. Christ now performs that function for believers. Hebrews 6:20 says concerning the inner court of heaven that He “has entered as a forerunner for [believers], having become a high priest forever.” Christ entered to bring the elect into communion with God (cf. Ps. 110:4; Heb. 2:17–18; 3:1–2; 4:14–15; 5:4–6; 7:17, 21–22, 25; 8:1–2, 6; 9:13–14).
3:18 The rest of chapter 3 presents Christ as the classic example of One who suffered for righteousness’ sake, and reminds us that for Him, suffering was the pathway to glory.
Notice the six features of His sufferings: (1) They were expiatory, that is, they freed believing sinners from the punishment of their sins. (2) They were eternally effectual. He died once for all and settled the sin question. The work of redemption was completed. (3) They were substitutionary. The just died for the unjust. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b). (4) They were reconciling. Through His death we have been brought to God. The sin which caused alienation has been removed. (5) They were violent. His death was by execution. (6) Finally, they were climaxed by resurrection. He was raised from the dead on the third day. The expression made alive by the Spirit means that His resurrection was through the power of the Holy Spirit.
18 Immediately preceding this verse, the writer stresses the Christian response to persecution. Believers are thus to look to their Lord: “For Christ suffered …” (NIV, “died”; paschō,GK 4248, used twelve times in 1 Peter, roughly one-third of all its occurrences in the NT). This suffering, moreover, was vicarious, for the sins of others; it was substitutionary atonement—“the righteous for the unrighteous,” unique and once-for-all (hapax, GK 562) in character (Heb 7:27; 9:28; 10:11–12; cf. Jude 5). This was done, writes Peter, “to bring [prosagō, GK 4642] you to God.” Accessibility to the divine throne, where Peter ends in this parenthetical insertion (3:22), is of critical importance to the readers psychologically if they are enduring considerable hardship in the present cultural context.
That Christ was “put to death [thanatoō, GK 2506] in the body” establishes immediate and crucial identification with the readers. Both share a common existential experience (lit.) “in the flesh”: both suffer. But this is not the end; the story progresses. While Christ was put to death in the flesh, on the one hand, he was also and subsequently “made alive by the Spirit” (zōopoieō pneumati). This flesh-Spirit contrast serves several purposes. At one level, it counters any divorce or dichotomizing of the two that would have typified Hellenistic thinking (cf. 1 Jn 4:2). The scandal of the early church’s preaching was its Christology: Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine (cf. Col 1:19). At another level, it reminds the audience that, while “the body is weak,” indeed, the Spirit is willing (cf. Mt 26:41). The same Spirit who sanctifies (1:2), grants revelation (1:11), makes us holy (1:15–16), and raised Jesus from the dead (3:18) also quickens the believer. The Spirit helps us transcend our earthly limitations.
 MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 125). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 206–208). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2271–2272). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 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. 338). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.