5. Appreciating Jesus' Atonement for Our Sins (1 Peter 2:24-25)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (24:31)

There is an early church tradition that Peter insisted upon being crucified head downward, because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same way as was his Lord. Shown above is a detail from the 'Crucifixion of Peter' (1481-82) by Florentine painter Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), fresco, 230 x 598 cm., Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy.
There is an early church tradition that Peter insisted upon being crucified head downward, because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same way as was his Lord. Shown above is a detail from the 'Crucifixion of Peter' (1481-82) by Florentine painter Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), fresco, 230 x 598 cm., Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy. Larger image.

For only being 105 verses long, 1 Peter is exceedingly rich in terms of explaining Jesus' death for our sins. Three gems in particular sparkle from its pages:

  1. "You were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers ... with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1:18-19)
  2. "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." (2:24)
  3. "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God...." (3:18)

The second of those we'll examine this lesson. In Lesson 4 we considered some verses in this passage that dealt with retaliation. In this lesson we'll consider Christ's suffering for our sins.

Christ Suffered for You (2:21)

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (2:21)

Have you ever considered that Christ suffered for you personally? Verse 21 seems to indicate this. "Suffered" in verses 21 and 23 is the Greek verb paschō, which has the basic idea, "to experience something." Nearly always in the New Testament it is found in the unfavorable sense, "suffer, endure," and in the sense, "suffer death, be killed, [have to] die."[115] What did Jesus' suffering consist of? His physical suffering was greatly due to the savagery of his captors and the cruelty of his crucifixion. But he suffered spiritually, too. Verse 24 says, "he bore our sins in his body on the tree." What was that like? We'll consider it in a moment.

What is the example we are to follow? We are to follow Jesus' example of suffering for righteousness without retaliation or threat. Suffering is one of the important themes of 1 Peter.[116]

Q1. (2:21) According to 2:21, in what sense did Jesus suffer for you personally?

Christ Committed No Sin (2:22)

Now Peter quotes Isaiah 53:9, which he associates with the suffering and death of the Christ.

    "'He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.' (quoting Isaiah 53:9)
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (2:22-23)

In several English translations, Isaiah 53:9 reads, "though he had done no violence." But the word "violence" doesn't exhaust the meaning of the Hebrew noun chāmās. The word is used almost always in connection with sinful violence and is often a name for extreme wickedness or injustice.[117] The Greek Septuagint of this passage translates chāmās with the Greek noun anomia, "lawlessness." Peter renders the passage accurately with the Greek noun harmartia, "sin."

Peter's declaration here from Scripture is quite astounding: Jesus not only did no crime worthy of a cruel death, but he committed no sin at all. Jesus was sinless.

Peter, who walked with Jesus in the flesh for three years, is not the only New Testament writer to declare this truth. He is declared sinless in the New Testament,[118] as well as holy and righteous.[119] Though he was severely tempted,[120] beyond anything we have ever experienced, he also knows the temptations we face,[121] yet without sin.

If we don't acknowledge Jesus' sinlessness, we miss one of the central truths of the Christian faith -- that Jesus became a man (called the "incarnation"), that he was subject to temptation, but that he never sinned. He always did what the Father wanted him to (John 5:19).

A sinful man couldn't interpose himself before a holy God on behalf of another sinful person. But because Jesus was tempted and sinless, he could interpose himself between us and God as our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).

Now consider for a moment what it must have been like for a sinless Man to bear our sins "in his body" -- sins that have waged war against our souls (2:11), sins that compromised us in their corruption (2 Peter 1:4), sins which have brought conscience-wracking guilt. Sins that have warped our lives. Our sins -- like human waste poured into a pure well -- caused him deep suffering. He suffered for our sins.

Q2. Why is Jesus' sinlessness important to understanding your salvation? In what way do you think Jesus suffered when your sins were poured into his soul? How could a sinless Man stand this kind of corruption?

He Bore Our Sins in His Body (2:24a)

Now we come to the core of the meaning of Jesus' brutal crucifixion:

"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." (2:24)

Peter's choice of words echoes the technical terms of the Israelite sacrificial system. "Bore" is the Greek verb anapherō, which in this context means, "to offer as a sacrifice, offer up," specifically a cultic technical term.[122] We previously saw this word in 2:5. It corresponds to the Hebrew verb nāsā', "lift, carry, take." This verb is used especially of bearing one's own guilt or punishment of sin.[123] The word can also be used for bearing the guilt of another by representation or substitution (Leviticus 10:17), concerning the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:22), and ultimately of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:4). The word also bridges over to the meaning of "taking away, forgiveness of, or pardon of sin, iniquity, and transgression."[124] "Sins" in verse 24 is the common Greek noun hamartia, "a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness, sin."[125]

I've wondered why Peter stresses Jesus' body in this passage. "Body" is the common Greek noun sōma, "body of a human being or animal."[126] In some circles in the Roman world, a kind dualism flourished that considered body as inherently sinful, while the soul could experience purity. But Peter is speaking here as a Jew, with a strong stress on the unity of body and soul. To say that Jesus bore our sins in his body means that he took our sins upon his very Self. When you meditate on it, it infuses new meaning into Jesus' words, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).

Peter also includes the word "himself" here to emphasize that no one else bore these sins, but Jesus himself.

In the Old Testament sacrificial system, we find the idea of one's sins being transferred to the sacrifice which is then slain. For example, in Leviticus 1:4, when a person brings an animal as an offering for sin, "He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him."[127] Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest selects a goat to bear away the sins of the people, called a "scapegoat."

"He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites -- all their sins -- and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry (Hebrew nāsā') on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert." (Leviticus 16:21-22)

In the same way, Jesus, the sinless One, bore our sins in his body. The theological term for this is "Substitutionary Atonement," that is, the sacrifice becomes a substitute for the sinner and bears the punishment for the sinner's sins. Substitutionary atonement is a very strong theme in Isaiah 53, especially verses 4-6 and 10-12.

The clause we are considering (1 Peter 2:24a) concludes with the idea, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree." Why not say "cross" rather than "tree"? "Tree" is the Greek noun xylon, "wood, tree." But it can also refer to an object made of wood, such as club or cudgel (Matthew 26:47, 55), stocks (Acts 16:24), and a wooden structure used for crucifixion, "cross."[128] We also see "tree" used for "cross" in Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29, probably echoing Deuteronomy 21:22, "A man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree" (quoted in Galatians 3:13 in reference to the cross).

Q3. (2:24a) This may seem like a simplistic question, but give it thought before you answer, and then answer thoughtfully. What is the significance to you personally that Jesus bore your sins in his own body on the cross?

Die to Sins, Live for Righteousness (2:24b)

Jesus bore our sins as he was on the cross. That is very clear. But Jesus' purpose for this sacrifice is equally clear in Peter's mind:

"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." (2:24)

For Peter, the cross isn't just for Jesus, it is for us, too. Of course, this is what Peter heard his Master teach time and time again:

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)

This passage occurs in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and each time a disciple taking up his cross is in the context of losing his life for Christ's sake.

Jesus took up his cross and died in order to give life. For us, taking up our cross consists of dying to our old selfish, sinful way of life and then following Jesus wherever he leads us, in Peter's words: "that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (2:24).

We see this same idea elsewhere in the New Testament. The cross becomes personal. -- we died to sin:

"We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:2)

"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11)

".... The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14)

"For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3)

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin." (1 Peter 4:1)

Baptism typifies this death to sin and newness of life in Christ. As we go down into the water, it typifies death and burial for the old way of life. As we rise from the water, it typifies resurrection and new life in Christ:

"Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:3-4; see 7:6 and Colossians 2:12)

Many, many Christians have missed the point of Jesus' death. It is not only to provide forgiveness for sins and eternal life -- it does that! -- but more than that, he desires to bear our sins away from us entirely, "so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24b). How personally do you take Christ's bearing your sins?

Q4. (2:24b) If Jesus died to set us free from sin's power, why does sin have such power over us still? According to 2:24b, how must we deal with sin? In practical terms, how can we "die to sin"? In everyday language, what does "live for righteousness" mean?

By His Stripes You Were Healed (2:24c)

Now let's consider the last phrase of 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." (2:24)

This is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:5:

"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."

Peter obviously has Isaiah 53 in his mind as he is writing this letter. He had quoted Isaiah 53:9 in verse 22. The early part of verse 24 draws on the vocabulary and substitutionary atonement concepts of Isaiah 53. Now he quotes Isaiah 53:5. To what purpose?

"Wounds" (NIV, NRSV) or "stripes" (KJV) in the 1 Peter quotation is the Greek mōlōps, "welt, wale, bruise, wound caused by blows."[129] The corresponding Hebrew noun is habbûrah, "stripe, blow."[130] Peter is obviously referring to the wounds that Jesus suffered in his beating by the Roman soldiers prior to his crucifixion. But in what sense do these stripes bring healing?

"Healed" in the 1 Peter quotation is the Greek verb iaomai, "to restore someone to health after a physical malady, heal, cure." It can also be used figuratively, "to deliver from a variety of ills or conditions that lie beyond physical maladies, restore, heal," from past evils, from sin (Hebrews 12:13), etc.[131] The Hebrew equivalent is the verb rāpā', "heal, make healthful." The word is also used of the healing and forgiveness of the Gentile nations (Isaiah 19:22; 57:18). The themes of healing and restoration are combined in Isaiah 53:5.[132] What kind of healing does Peter have in mind here? Spiritual healing or physical healing? This verse in 1 Peter is clearly talking about spiritual healing, that is, forgiveness from sins. Physical healing is absent from the context.

But this verse is often cited by those who believe there is healing in the atonement. Even if Peter is talking about spiritual healing and forgiveness, can the verse be used with regard of physical healing?[133] Are physical healing and salvation dual benefits of Jesus' atonement?

I wouldn't put it that way. Having studied Isaiah 53 in some detail, I believe that the author is using words that are part of the healing vocabulary to describe spiritual salvation and atonement for sin.

However, I would strongly affirm that physical healing is one of the benefits of Christ's salvation, is a gift of the Holy Spirit for today (1 Corinthians 12:28-30), and is a blessing that Jesus lovingly bestows as a mark of the presence of his Kingdom in our midst (Luke 10:9). Are all Christians physically healed today in a miraculous way as people were in Jesus' ministry? No. Some are. And sometimes, when the Spirit is moving powerfully, many are healed. The ultimate physical healing, of course, will come with our resurrection bodies. But all can and must be healed spiritually, receive forgiveness of sins, become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and experience the creative power of the Spirit to form Christ in us (Romans 8:1-16, 29; Galatians 5:22-23; etc.).

You Strayed Like Sheep (2:25a)

Peter concludes this section with a reflection on straying sheep.

"For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (2:25)

"Going astray" is a passive participle of the Greek verb planaō, which in the passive voice means "to proceed without a sense of proper direction, go astray, be misled, wander about aimlessly."[134] We get our word "planet" from planaō, which was seen as a wandering star). Peter himself had strayed from Christ and had denied him three times. He knew what it was to wander. And he knew the loving restoration of Jesus his Savior. At one lakeside breakfast following Jesus' resurrection, the Master had taken Peter aside -- the one who had strayed like a sheep -- and asked him three times to feed and shepherd his sheep (John 21:15-17). What mercy! What a privilege to work under the Great Shepherd and help bring back the strays into the fold!

Returning to the Shepherd (2:25b)

Peter loved the Good Shepherd:

"For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (2:25)

Peter encouraged his readers to appreciate their salvation. "Returned" is the Greek verb epistrephō, "to turn around, go back ... to change one's mind or course of action, for better or worse, turn, return."[135] Repentance -- turning, returning -- is necessary for salvation. If we didn't need to turn from the way we were going, then we wouldn't need salvation at all. But we do need to turn and return. And the Good Shepherd calls us to walk with him on the path where he is leading.

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15)

Peter also refers to Jesus as the Overseer of our souls. "Overseer" (NIV), "bishop" (KJV), "guardian" (NRSV) translate the Greek noun episkopos, originally "one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that something is done in the correct way, guardian."[136] Jesus gave his life for us.

1 Peter: Discipleship Lessons from the Fisherman, by Ralph F. Wilson
In book form as PDF, Kindle, and paperback

He is our Sacrifice, bearing our sins in his own body so that we might be set free from sin. He is our Shepherd. He is our Leader, showing us the path to take. And he is our Guardian who ever lives to safeguard us as we walk through this dangerous world. What a wonderful salvation we enjoy in Jesus!


Father, thank you for the gift of salvation and forgiveness we enjoy because of Jesus. I can't imagine how someone so holy and sinless could suffer for me and take my sins upon himself on his own body. But I thank you for your graciousness towards me. Thank you for sending me a Shepherd and Leader and Guardian. Thank you in Jesus' name. Amen.

Key Verse

"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." (1 Peter 2:24)

End Notes

[115] Paschō, BDAG 785-786.

[116] 1 Peter 1:11; 2:19-21, 23; 3:14, 17; 4:1, 12, 15, 19; 5:1, 9-10.

[117] R. Laird Harris, chāmās, TWOT #678a.

[118] John 8:12, 29, 46; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; and 1 John 3:5.

[119] John 18:38; Acts 2:27; 3:14; 4:30; 7:52; 13:35; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19; 3:18; and 1 John 2:1, 29.

[120] Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13

[121] Hebrews 2:18; 4:15-16.

[122] Anapherō, BDAG 75.

[123] Leviticus 5:1, 17; Leviticus 7:18; Numbers 5:31; 14:34

[124] Walter C. Kaiser, nāśā', TWOT #1421. For more on the relationship of Christ's death to Isaiah 53 see my book, Lamb of God: Jesus' Atonement for Sin (JesusWalk, 2011).

[125] Hamartia, BDAG 50-51.

[126] Sōma, BDAG 983-984.

[127] Also Leviticus 3:2, 8, 13; 4:4, 15, 24, 29; 8:14, 22.

[128] Xylon, BDAG 685-686.

[129] Mōlōps, BDAG 663.

[130] Gerard van Groningen, habbûrah, TWOT #598g.

[131] Iaomai, BDAG 465.

[132] William White, rāpā', TWOT #2196.

[133] Matthew does quote Isaiah 53 with clear reference to Jesus' ministry of physical healing:
"This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
   'He took up our infirmities
   and carried our diseases.'" (Matthew 8:17)
When we look carefully at the Hebrew text, we can see how Matthew can interpret this passage with reference to physical healing:
   "Surely he took up our infirmities
   and carried our sorrows." (Isaiah 53:a)
"Infirmities" (NIV, NRSV) and "griefs" (KJV) is the Hebrew noun hôlî, with the basic root meaning "to be(come) sick" or "faint." It usually refers to physical sickness, but occasionally refers to weakness apart from illness (Carl Philip Weber, TWOT #655a). "Sorrows" (NIV, KJV) and "diseases" (NRSV) is the Hebrew noun mak'ôb, from the root kā'ab "can be used to express physical suffering, (but) it much more commonly has to do with mental anguish" (John N. Oswalt, mak'ôb, TWOT #940b).

[134] Planaō, BDAG 821-822.

[135] Epistrephō, BDAG 382.

[136] Episkopos, BDAG 379-380. "In the Greco-Roman world episkopos frequently refers to one who has a definite function or fixed office of guardianship and related activity within a group... The term was taken over in Christian communities in reference to one who served as overseer or supervisor, with special interest in guarding the apostolic tradition.... The ecclesiastical loanword 'bishop' is too technical and loaded with late historical baggage for precise signification of usage of episkopos and cognates in our literature, especially the NT."

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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