Christ suffered once for sins 1 Peter 3:18

The First Letter of Peter unwraps for us how the Early Church explained the mystery of God’s plan of salvation. The heart of the message is in chapter 3 verse 18,
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (NIV 2011)
Christ suffered. This is talking about all the events from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, from Jesus’s betrayal and arrest and desertion, through his rigged trials. Christ suffered the mocking and beating and scourging to within an inch of His life. Christ suffered the crown of thorns. And then He suffered the agonies of crucifixion hanging on the cross for three hours with nails through his hands and his feet. Christ did indeed suffer. And then he died.
The Anglicised NIV translation in 2011 is based on ancient manuscripts which say “Christ suffered for sins.” The New Revised Standard Version and the New Living Translation which I also often look at, say the same because they are based on the same original texts. It is interesting that the 1984 NIV we used for 30 years before then preferred other manuscripts which read instead “Christ died for sins”. So does the Good News Bible. However, the central message is the same. It is the cross of Christ which saves us. And “suffered for our sins” fits in very well with Peter’s central message of a Suffering Saviour. Christ suffered and at the greatest depth of his suffering Christ died. In just 5 chapters Peter refers to Jesus suffering 7 times. And it is good for us to reflect on the fact that it was not only the actual moment of Christ’s death on the cross, but all of his suffering on our behalf, which bought us salvation. Those last 24 hours were the most important hours of Jesus’s life. Not His birth. Not his profound teaching. Not his amazing miracles. Not his wonderful example of loving and forgiving. But his suffering and his death.
John 12 23 … ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. … 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’
The moment when Jesus died was the moment when the Son of Man was glorified and when the devil was defeated. It is the cross that saves us. Jesus suffered and Jesus died and Peter tells us that those were the events for which the whole of the Old Testament and the history of the Israelites were merely the preparation.
1 Peter 1 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.
Christ suffered and died. And he suffered and died once for sins.
The Letter to the Hebrews says exactly the same.
Hebrews 9 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Christ suffered once for sins. This was not the pointless death of an innocent victim. This was not the inspiring death of a martyr. This was the atoning and redeeming death of a Saviour.
1 Peter 1 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Jesus was indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The sinless sacrifice. Christ suffered and died “once for sins”. Once and for all!
Bearing shame and scoffing rude. In my place condemned he stood.
Sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah! What a saviour”
Amazing love, Oh what sacrifice, the Son of God given for me.
My debt He pays, and my death he dies, that I might live. That I might live!
We have already looked at how Peter expanded on this theme back in chapter 2.
1 Peter 2 23 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. 24 ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’
According the whole of the New Testament, here is the heart of the meaning of the cross. Christ’s suffering and death was taking away our sins, paying the price we should have paid, taking our punishment upon himself. He Himself bore OUR sins.
As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV)
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,
“The righteous” was Christ himself. Jesus did not deserve to die. He was perfect and holy and sinless.
1 Peter 1 you were redeemed … 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Peter knew Jesus as well as anybody. He quotes Isaiah 53:9 and applies it to Jesus.
1 Peter 2 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
Sin is the cause of death. But Christ was without sin. He didn’t die because of his own sins but because of our sins.
The righteous for the unrighteous – that’s us.
1 Peter 1 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
We are the ones who needed saving. Saving from ourselves. Saving from our evil desires. Saving from our ignorance. Saving from our pride and rebellion which separate us from the Holy God.
The righteous died in the place of the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
1 Peter 2 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 5:4 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
So Jesus’s death brings us back to God and to eternal life which death can never take away! Of course Peter is writing to Christians. Those who have been brought back to God, the sheep who were wandering away but have now been brought back into the fold by Jesus the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. Ransomed! Healed! Restored! Forgiven! All by means of the suffering and death of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
The meaning of Verse 18 is fairly straightforward. Now we need to take a detour to explain verses 19 and 20, which can be quite confusing.
19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.
The events described in verse 19 are often given the name, “the harrowing of hell.”. Some people have misunderstood those verses. Some people wrongly think that “he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits” means that after his resurrection Jesus descended to hell and preached the gospel to people who had died so that some of them could be saved. They wrongly believe that this promises a second chance for people to turn to Jesus after they have died.
That idea that this is talking about some second opportunity to be saved completely misunderstands these verses. Firstly, the word translated spirits could not mean “the souls of people who have died,” or anything like it. It refers instead to evil spirits or demons who are “imprisoned”. “… those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” Peter here is referring back to a story found in the Book of Enoch. That is a book written between the Old and the New Testaments which early Christians would have known which is included in the Greek version of the Old Testament but not in our Bibles. The Book of Enoch tells how some angels rebelled against god and were expelled from heaven and became demons. These evil spirits were imprisoned for rebelling against God.
Peter refers to this story in Enoch again in chapter 2 of his second letter.
2 Peter 2 4 … God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; 5
The Letter of Jude looks back at the Book of Enoch as well. Jude 6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
This story is what Peter is referring to in verse 19. When it says “spirits” it is not speaking about dead people but about demons, fallen angels. Peter says that after Christ was made alive in the resurrection, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. The second thing to note is that the word translated as “made proclamation”. This word means an official announcement – it cannot mean “preach the gospel to give an opportunity for salvation.” The verses are telling us that after the resurrection Jesus made a proclamation of his victory over sin and death to the evil spirits held captive ready for the day of judgment. In passing, a word of caution here that this is one of the rare occasions where the Message translation actually gets it wrong. To repeat myself, these verses do not give any grounds at all for thinking that there will any second chance to be saved after death. It also gives no basis the medieval idea of purgatory as some kind of “celestial waiting room” for people before they reach heaven. This is about Christ’s victory over the devil and all the powers of evil.
Talking about the days of Noah while the ark was being built, leads Peter on to talk about Noah’s ark as a picture of salvation.
In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God.
Though the centuries Christians have interpreted the ark as a picture for salvation. They have described the church as “the ark of salvation.” Just as Noah and his family passed through the waters of the flood safe in the ark, so believers pass through the waters of baptism to salvation in Christ. And so after his detour, Peter finally gets back to his explanation of how God saves us.
It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Christians are saved from our sins by the sufferings of Christ and by the death of Christ. And then we are given eternal life as we share in the resurrection life of Jesus. He is now ascended to God’s right hand in heaven. All the angels and authorities and powers bow before him. And one day all believers will share in that glory forever.
We saw this glorious hope in the first sermon in this series.
1 Peter 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.
So Peter has explained God’s wonderful masterplan of salvation. We are saved by the death of Christ. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
And we are saved by sharing in the resurrection of Christ.
It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

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