1 Peter 2 ends with a rich little exhortation to follow the example of Christ’s trustful suffering (v. 21).

For starters, we can note the word “example,” which in Greek is hupogrammos . This is a New Testament hapax legomenon , but outside the Bible it refers to a tool used to teach the letters of the alphabet. All the letters would be written on the hupogrammos , and the student would become literate by copying the letters. The word also means “example,” but Peter’s choice is noteworthy. He could, after all, have described Jesus as a typos for believers, but he chose instead to use a metaphor of writing. The reviving Word preached (1 Peter 1:22-25) is Jesus, who, as Alpha and Omega, is the alphabet of Christian living. We are called to learn that alphabet by copying, over and over again, Jesus’ patient, faithful suffering.

This exhortation is supported by a neat summary of the gospel story, bracketed by direct quotations from Isaiah 53 (cmp. v. 22 with Isaiah 53:9; v. 24 with Isaiah 535). Verse 24 neatly structured:

A. He bore our sins on the cross

B. That we might die to sin

B’. And live to righteousness

A’. By His wounds you were healed.

A and A’ both contained allusions to Isaiah 53, and within these allusions Peter sums up the effect of the cross with a complex double binary: die/live, sin, righteousness. The effect of Jesus death here is not to secure a status with God, but rather to raise us from the dead so we can live in righteousness (cf. Romans 6). And, significantly, that is the purpose of Jesus sin-bearing. In fact, the wound that is healed by the wounds of Jesus is the wound of sin, sin in practice. It is not the wound of guilt. In systematic terms, Peter reads Isaiah 53 not under the heading of “justification” but under the heading of “sanctification.”

And that sheds some new light on portions of Isaiah 53 that Peter does not quote. Isaiah 53:11 says that the Servant will “justify the many” because He bears their iniquities. But for Peter the bearing of sin is for the sake of deliverance from death and the power of sin, so that those enslaved to sin might have new life. It is reasonable to think that, for Peter, Isaiah 53:11 is a statement about God’s delivering act, the judgment of sin and death and liberates the many from their sins. That is to say, Peter reads “justify” in Isaiah 53:11 as a “deliverdict.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...