In the previous verse, Peter had informed his readers that ‘it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.’ The most obvious and best Example of such suffering is Jesus and Peter draws the minds of his readers to focus on what had happened to their Saviour.
‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God’ is a statement that we can enjoy meditating over individually. It is a succinct summary of the contents of the gospel because it tells us what Jesus did (suffered once for sins), who Jesus is (the righteous), who we are (unrighteous and estranged from God), and why he did what he did (to bring us to God).
Jesus suffered once, because his suffering was for a specific reason – he suffered for sins. Who caused him to suffer for this reason? It was not the civil or religious authorities, although they were to blame for his physical sufferings. But the penalty he was paying could not be imposed by them, no matter their power. The amazing fact is that the One who caused the soul sufferings of Jesus was his heavenly Father. Nor was Jesus ignorant of the fact that this would happen. It had been the eternal purpose of the Father that his Son should take the place of sinners and suffer the penalty required by divine justice. So, when he hung on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of his people, which means that his sufferings were not pointless.
Jesus suffered although he was righteous. Peter does not merely mean that Jesus was more righteous than anyone else; he also means that Jesus was the only truly righteous One, who never had one wrong thought, wrong action, wrong word. I suppose we could ask ourselves, ‘What do suffering people think about in the midst of their pain?’ A range of answers could be given, but when we ask the question of Jesus, the answer is that through it all he loved God and neighbour fully.
Peter’s words can also highlight another aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice, which is that he remained completely sinless throughout his time of intense suffering. Out of all the locations possible, the place where sin was strongest was Calvary. There the spite of the kingdom of darkness had its fullest expressions. On the cross Jesus was tempted to abandon his commitment to the Father’s will, but his love for his Father and for his people could not be overcome by such a temptation. As we look at the cross and listen to the taunts of the crowd and the opposition of the devil, we should gaze on the matchless One who remained sinless through it all. No evil thought fluttered across his holy mind, no wrong expression of regret was uttered by his lips, and his heart was not emptied even of one drop of love. We admire a soldier who fights for his country and does so unreservedly in the heat of the battle. Jesus fought for his people unreservedly at Calvary, and we should admire his sacrifice on our behalf.