Christ Our Example
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it,
you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you
endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to
this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for
you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in
1 Peter 1:20-21
First, Peter clearly shows the inevitable suffering followers of Jesus will experience in this world.
In I Peter 2:13–25, he deals with the call for believers to submit themselves to the various institutions of this world, whether it be to the emperor or governors, or other civil authorities (2:13). This is followed by an exhortation for slaves to submit to their earthly masters. This parallels similar teaching from the apostle Paul regarding how slaves are to treat their earthly masters (Ephesians 6:5-9). But Peter adds the caveat that the believer is to respect and submit, not only to the “good and gentle but also to the unjust and unreasonable” as well (2:18). Why? The most important reason the apostle gives is that we are to imitate the Lord Jesus, who suffered unjustly, yet patiently bore it.
The apostle continues by describing in specific detail the manner in which Jesus suffered for righteousness (2:22-25). Here, Peter exhorts believers to follow in His footsteps (vs. 21). He suffered greatly, especially when it came to experiencing what led up to his crucifixion, as well as the crucifixion itself. Peter begins by describing how Jesus refused to speak slanderously or revile those who reviled him, no doubt a reference to those who mistreated him before the crucifixion at his trial, as well as those who reviled him as he hung on the cross. What was his secret to not respond in kind? Peter supplies us with an answer in the phrase, “when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (2:23). He (Christ) knew that if he entrusted his life into the Father’s hands, his Father, who is the judge of all the earth, would come to his aid. As Abraham stated so clearly as he communed with the Lord regarding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, “shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just” (Genesis 18:26).
Peter’s detailed description of Christ’s sufferings is not for teaching us his atoning work. There are many other texts in Scripture that inform us that his death on Calvary was not simply the death of a martyr but the death of a sacrificial lamb (see I Peter 1:18-19). But here in these verses, the apostle is clearly teaching that Messiah’s death not only atones for our sins, but serves as an example for us on how we also are to endure suffering (I Peter 2:21). These verses primarily teach us that believers will suffer persecution for standing up for the Gospel. It was due to his obedience to his Father that Christ suffered.
Paul teaches us the same thing when he writes to his young son, Timothy telling him that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12). It is impossible therefore to live a godly life in an ungodly world without suffering persecution. Believers in the first century had to be ready to give up their lives at any time. This theme of martyrdom is a major theme in the book of Revelation:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls
of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness
they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord,
holy and true, and long before you will judge and avenge our blood on
those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe
and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants
and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they
themselves had been.
While it is unlikely that the majority of believers today will suffer death for the Gospel, we must always be prepared to suffer for the Gospel. Those who come to faith in the Moslem world today know this in experience. The Twentieth Century was the bloodiest century on record. In the quote above from the book of Revelation, we should take account of the fact that God has appointed a certain number of believers who were destined to be killed as they themselves had been. Jesus sought to prepare his disciples for the inevitable suffering they would face for remaining faithful to the Gospel:
If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.
If you were of the world know the world would love you as its own;
but because you are not of this world but I chose you out of this world,
therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you:
A servant is not greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they
will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.