The Suffering Of Christ

by Ken Green, Gospel Anchor Magazine

In the third and final major section of this epistle, we are instructed in the doctrine of suffering. Those to whom Peter initially wrote were soon to undergo immense persecution. We know not what may loom on our horizon. It may be that we need this instruction as greatly as they did.

Verses 18 through 22 speak to us of the suffering of Christ. We have here somewhat of a rerun of what was emphasized in chapter 2, verses 19-24. Jesus was there held forth as the supreme example in suffering. Such is just what we find in the section we're about to study. But there is one major difference. His victory over suffering and death is made the central issue here!

Let us now look at the points which are made, one at a time:

Christ Suffered

"For Christ also hath suffered." We need to be impressed with the fact that He suffered. He did not come to this world as a superhero. He surrendered the glories and privileges of being God (Phil. 2:7,8). Some seem to have the idea that Christ becoming man just involved taking on our physical appearance. But listen to what Heb. 2:17 says about that: "Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren." He became like us, not just in appearance, but in all things. This would include human infirmities. He became hungry. He became thirsty. He became weary.

We should also be aware that He refused to use His power as the Son of God to escape any infirmity. After forty days of fasting, He rejected totally the temptation to turn stones to bread. To have done so would have been to forsake His mission: to suffer and die on the same terms we do.

He became like us in limitation of knowledge. When Jesus was a little infant feeding at His mother's breast, He did not know all things. In fact, I submit that He knew no more than other infants. It's my opinion that the account of the twelve year old Jesus (Luke 2:40-52) carries greater significance than is often imagined. That only then was He made to realize as a human that He had to be about His Father's business. But even then, He did not know all things. He continued to grow in knowledge (Luke 2:40,52).

Jesus became like us in His dependence on others. As a child, He had to depend on His parents for food, shelter, and clothing. There was a mutual dependence among the disciples for material things.

He also became like us in His temptations (Hebrews 4:15). He was subjected to the same daily frustrations and temptations we are all subject to. As a young person, He was tempted. As a man, He was tempted. As One in business, before His teaching ministry, He was tempted. Probably the greatest temptation was that of forsaking His mission.

Jesus was vulnerable to every emotion and appetite, and every need and pain that we are subject to. When the Bible says He suffered, it means just that!

He Suffered Once

"For Christ also hath once suffered." This doesn't mean that He just suffered on one occasion. It means His suffering was once for all, never to be repeated. The sacrifices in the temple had to be repeated daily, but Christ made the perfect sacrifice that never has to be repeated (Heb. 7:27; 9:28; 10:10). The cross of Christ is something that happened once, and never has to happen again.

He Suffered For Sins

"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins." What does this word for mean? The little preposition has different meanings. It may mean "in order to" ("I take Rolaids for relief."). It may mean "because of" ("I take aspirin for a headache."). It may mean "concerning" ("I look in the dictionary for a word."). Or, it may mean "in the place of" ("I will give you this for that.").

Such may present a problem in English but in the Greek it is not a great problem because there is a different word for each one of these. In the first example, eis (in order to) would be used; in the second, dia (because of), in the third, peri (concerning); and in the fourth, huper (in the place of) would be used. I realize that this is an oversimplification, since these prepositions may have different shades of meaning in different contexts, but the Greek is more specific than the English in the use of such prepositions.

The Bible never says that Christ died eis (in order to) sins. It does sometimes affirm that He died dia sins (Rom. 4:25). But here, the word is peri. He died concerning sins! Sins are the reason Jesus came, suffered, and died. Isa. 55:1,2 teaches that sin separates us from God. It builds a wall between God and man. Perhaps, more properly, it constitutes the wall. Jesus came to tear down the wall. In this sense, the sins of us all sent Him to the cross (Isa. 53:5,6).

"The Just For The Unjust"

The "for" in this phrase is huper. He died in our place. He suffered so that we would not have to bear the penalty. He who deserved no suffering bore that penalty for us who deserve to suffer. Isaiah 53:7 prophesied, "He opened not his mouth." Why? Because He was taking my place, and I have no defense!

The Purpose Of His Suffering

"that he might bring us to God." He came to destroy that wall. He came that we might have access, peace, reconciliation with the Almighty.

Put to Death Quickened

"being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." This is a difficult and a poor translation. It's difficult because it uses a word we just don't use very much. This word "quickened" means to make alive. We sometimes speak of cutting our nails in the quick. We mean the living tissue, where it hurts. The Lord will judge "the quick and the dead" we are told. One fellow was asked what that meant, and he thought it meant like in some of the large cities when you walk across a street. If you're not quick, you're going to be dead! But no, it refers to the living and the dead.

It's a poor translation because the words "in" and "by" are translated from the same word and should be translated by the same word. The American Standard Version says: "Being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit. " In other words, when the flesh of Jesus died, His Spirit did not die. In fact, in comparison with life now, His Spirit was made alive!

I believe that's something that will be true of all Christians. When we die, we will learn what real life is. We look upon this world as the real world. Many have trouble thinking of heaven as a real place. They think of it as a place of shadows and ghosts. To them, it is a very unreal place. It shows how backwards our thinking tends to be. From the Biblical viewpoint, it is this world that's a shadow, and heaven is the real world! (Look at Heb. 8:14.)

It's understandable why we tend to think the way we do. Our situation might be compared to that of an unborn child. Though the womb is a place of darkness and shadows, it is nevertheless the only real world conceivable to that being. Yet, when the child is born, the new reality soon causes the world he once knew to disappear in the shadows of his memory.

It will likely be so for us when we enter heaven. When we think along these lines, we begin to understand how silly it is to chase after the things of this world, rather than prepare for the real world.

His Victorious Position Now

''Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." Verse 22 continues the thought of verse 18. The intervening verses (19-21) constitute a parenthesis. Peter affirms here in this final verse of chapter 3, that Jesus is now in heaven. He is on God's right hand, signifying His authority. Angels, authorities, and powers are subject unto Him.

In this, the supreme example of suffering, glory follows the cross. Psalm 84:11 promises that God will give grace and glory. He gives grace now that we might bear our burdens. He will give all His faithful ones glory in the hereafter.

The Spirits In Prison

"By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison." This has been called by some the most difficult verse in the Bible. Since I think I understand what this verse means, I cannot concur in such an opinion. There are other verses that I readily admit I'm at a loss to explain. They are obviously more difficult to me.

1. Some say that Christ went to hades after His death and announced that He had paid the penalty for sin, and He gave them a second chance for salvation.

2. Some say He went into the part of hades where the saved are and told them that their redemption was complete. Others add that He then led these out of hades, into the presence of God.

3. Some say the word "spirits" refers to angels, and that Christ went and preached to the fallen angels in hades and told them their doom had been sealed.

4. Some connect this with a peculiar interpretation of Genesis 6 which speaks of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men. They say this refers to angels marrying women, and that it was the evil offspring of this union that Christ preached to.

I view all these theories as absurdities, and believe the truth to be very simple. Christ went by the spirit and preached to the spirits in prison, not while they were in prison in the hadean realm, but while they were alive upon this earth.

Look at the passage again, along with verse 20. When did He go? "In the days of Noah." How did He go? He went by the spirit. He did not go personally, but He went by the mouth of Noah. This man of faith is described in 2 Peter 2:5 as a preacher of righteousness. It was in his lifetime that the longsuffering of God waited for those people. Just as the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets who testified before hand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory to follow (1 Peter 1:11), so the Spirit of Christ was in Noah.

Yet, despite the preaching of Noah as he was guided by the Spirit of Christ and despite the longsuffering of God, those people were disobedient. In our next lesson we shall study verses 20 and 21 of this third chapter.

(Gospel Anchor, Vol. V, No. 10, June 1979, Ken Green was a staff writer; Gene Frost was editor)

Ken Green and Gene Frost in Gospel Anchor on Humanity and Deity Of Christ