Jesus in the Writings of Peter
A s we have studied 1 Peter, it should be clear by now that regardless of the context, and whatever the specific issues he’s addressing, Peter’s focus was on Jesus. Jesus permeates all that he writes; He’s the golden thread woven through the letter.
From the first line, where Peter says that he is an “apostle” (“one sent”) of Jesus Christ, until the last, when he writes, “Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus” (1 Pet. 5:14, NKJV), Jesus is his key theme. And in this epistle he talks about Jesus’ dying as our sacrifice. He talks about the great suffering that Jesus went through and uses Jesus’ example in that suffering as a model for us. He talks about the resurrection of Jesus and what it means to us. In addition, he talks about Jesus not only as the Messiah, the Christos, the “anointed one,” but about Jesus as the Divine Messiah. That is, we see in 1 Peter more evidence of the divine nature of Jesus. He was God Himself, who came in human flesh and who lived and died so that we can have the hope and promise of eternal life.
This week we will go back through 1 Peter and look more closely at what it reveals about Jesus.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 20.
An overarching theme of the Bible, maybe even the overarching theme, is that of God’s work in saving fallen humanity. From the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis to the fall of Babylon in Revelation, Scripture in one way or another reveals the work of God in seeking to save “that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And this theme is revealed in Peter’s letters, as well.
1 Peter 1:18, 19 describes the significance of the death of Jesus this way: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” There are two key images in these words: redemption and animal sacrifice.
Redemption is used in the Bible in several ways. For example, the firstborn donkey (which could not be sacrificed) and the firstborn son (Exod. 34:19, 20) were redeemed by the sacrifice of a substitute lamb. Money could be used to buy back (redeem) items that had been sold because of poverty (Lev. 25:25, 26). Most important, a slave could be redeemed (Lev. 25:47–49). First Peter informs readers that the cost of buying them back (redeeming) from their “futile ways inherited from your fathers” (1 Pet. 1:18, RSV) was nothing less than the “precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish” (1 Pet. 1:19). The lamb image, of course, evokes the concept of animal sacrifice.
Peter thus likens Christ’s death to that of a sacrificial animal in the Hebrew Bible. A sinner brought a sheep without blemish to the sanctuary. The sinner then laid his hands on the animal (Lev. 4:32, 33). The animal was slaughtered, and some of its blood was smeared on the altar; the rest was poured at the base (Lev. 4:34). The death of the sacrificial animal provided “atonement” for the one who offered the sacrifice (Lev. 4:35). Peter is saying that Jesus died in our place and that His death redeemed us from our former lives and the doom that would otherwise be ours.
Christians often talk about “the passion of Christ.” The word passion comes from a Greek verb that means “to suffer,” and the phrase the passion of Christ usually refers to what Jesus suffered in the final period of His life, beginning with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Peter, too, dwells on the theme of Christ’s suffering in those last days.
There is particular significance to the suffering of Jesus. He bore “our sins in His own body on the tree [a reference to the cross; compare with Acts 5:30], that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24, NKJV). Sin brings death (Rom. 5:12). As sinners, we deserve to die. Yet, the perfect Jesus—who had no guile on His lips (1 Pet. 2:22)—died in our place. In that exchange, we have the plan of salvation.
“Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 753.
As we have already seen, 1 Peter is addressed to those who are suffering because of their belief in Jesus. It is particularly appropriate, then, that right at the beginning of his letter Peter directs his readers’ attention to the hope that awaits them. As he says, the hope of a Christian is a living hope, precisely because it is a hope that rests on the resurrection of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:3). Because of Jesus’ resurrection, Christians can look forward to an inheritance in heaven that will not perish or fade (1 Pet. 1:4). In other words, no matter how bad things become, think about what awaits us when it is all over.
Indeed, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a guarantee that we also can be raised (1 Cor. 15:20, 21). As Paul puts it, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But because Jesus has been raised from the dead, He has shown that He has the power to conquer death itself. Thus, the Christian hope finds its basis in the historical event of Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection is the foundation of ours at the end of time.
Where would we be without that hope and promise? Everything that Christ did for us culminates in the promise of the resurrection. Without that, what hope do we have, especially because we know that contrary to popular Christian belief, the dead are in an unconscious sleep in the grave?
“To the Christian, death is but a sleep, a moment of silence and darkness. The life is hid with Christ in God, and ‘when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.’ John 8:51, 52; Col. 3:4. . . . [A]t His second coming all the precious dead shall hear His voice, and shall come forth to glorious, immortal life.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 787.
As we saw earlier, one of the crucial turning points in Jesus’ earthly ministry was when, in response to a question about who He was, Peter answered: “ ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ ” (Matt. 16:16, NKJV). The word Christ (Christos in Greek) means the “anointed,” the “Messiah”; in Hebrew it is mashiyach. It came from a root word that means “to anoint,” and it was used in various contexts in the Old Testament. (It was even used in one place to point to a pagan king, Cyrus [see Isa. 45:1].) Thus, when Peter called Jesus the Christ, he was using a word that expresses an ideal derived from the Hebrew Scriptures.
1 Sam. 24:6
Though Peter had been inspired by the Lord to declare Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 16:16, 17), there’s no question that he didn’t fully understand what this meant. He didn’t understand who exactly the Messiah was, what He was to accomplish, and, perhaps most important, how He would accomplish it.
In that lack of understanding, Peter was not alone. There were many different ideas in Israel about the Messiah. In and of themselves, the uses of the word Messiah or anointed in the above texts don’t present a full picture, however much they might foreshadow what the Messiah would ultimately be and do.
John 7:42 reveals some of what was expected of the Messiah: He would be descended from David, from the town of Bethlehem (Isa. 11:1–16, Mic. 5:2). That part they got right. In the popular imagination, however, a Messiah from the line of David would do what David did: defeat the enemies of the Jews. What no one expected was a Messiah who would be crucified by the Romans.
Of course, by the time he wrote his epistles, Peter more clearly understood Jesus as the Messiah (He is called Jesus Christ 15 times in 1 and 2 Peter) and all that He would accomplish for humanity.
Peter knew not only that Jesus was the Messiah but that He was the Lord, as well. That is, by the time of these epistles, Peter knew that the Messiah was God Himself. Though the title “Lord” can have a secular meaning, the term also can be a clear reference to divinity. In 1 Peter 1:3 and 2 Peter 1:8, 14, 16, Peter is referring to Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, as the Lord, as God Himself.
Like other writers in the New Testament, Peter describes the relationship between Jesus and God with the words Father and Son. For example, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:3, NKJV; compare 2 Pet. 1:17). Jesus is described as the beloved Son (2 Pet. 1:17), and some of Jesus’ authority as Lord, and His heavenly status, comes from this special relationship that He has with God the Father.
2 Peter 1:1 says “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (NKJV). In the Greek original, the same definite article (that is, “the”) is used for both God and Savior. Grammatically this means that both “God” and “Savior” are used of Jesus. 2 Peter 1:1, then, stands as one of the very clear indications in the New Testament of the full divinity of Jesus.
As the early Christians struggled to understand Jesus, they gradually put the evidence of the New Testament together. In the writings of Peter, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct (for example, Father/Son: 1 Pet. 1:3, 2 Pet. 1:17; Holy Spirit: 1 Pet. 1:12, 2 Pet. 1:21), as indeed they are in the rest of the New Testament. Yet, at the same time, Jesus is portrayed as fully divine, as is the Holy Spirit. Over time, and after much discussion, the church developed the doctrine of the Trinity to explain as well as possible the divine mystery of the Godhead. Seventh-day Adventists include the doctrine of the Trinity as one of their 28 fundamental beliefs. Thus, we see in Peter a clear depiction of Jesus, not only as the Messiah but as God Himself.
Further Thought: “It seems logical to begin with ‘Messiah,’ since the Christian church owes its name to the Greek equivalent Christos, the ‘Anointed One.’ The Hebrew word relates to the deliverer figure whom the Jews awaited and who would be God’s agent in the inauguration of a new age for God’s people. Both the Hebrew and the Greek terms are derived from roots meaning ‘to anoint.’ Evidently, by calling Him ‘Christ,’ the New Testament writers regarded Jesus as specially set aside for a particular task.
“The title Christos occurs more than 500 times in the NT. Although there was more than one concept of Messiahship among Jesus’ contemporaries, it is generally recognized that by the first century Jews had come to look on the Messiah as someone in a special relationship with God. He would usher in the end of the age, when the kingdom of God would be established. He was the one through whom God would break through into history for the deliverance of His people. Jesus accepted the title ‘Messiah,’ but did not encourage its use; for the term carried political overtones that made its use difficult. Though reluctant to avail Himself of it in public to describe His mission, Jesus rebuked neither Peter (Matt. 16:16, 17) nor the Samaritan woman (John 4:25, 26) for using it. He knew Himself to be the Messiah, as seen in Mark’s report of Jesus’ words about giving one of His disciples a cup of water ‘because you bear the name of Christ’ (Mark 9:41).”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 165.