Peter summarises the death of Christ in verse 23: ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.’ In this summary, Peter mentions two doctrines that many people regard as contradictory, the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
Perhaps Peter was anticipating an obvious response: ‘If Jesus was attested by God as his Messiah, why were the Roman authorities able to kill him?’ The answer Peter gives is one that silences such an objection: ‘The primary reason why Jesus died is the eternal plan of God.’
The significance of the death of Jesus being according to the sovereign will of God is that it means his death was always God’s way of salvation. This decision was made by God long before he created the world. It was not an after-thought forced upon him by the rebellion of Adam and Eve shortly after their creation. Instead it was always the plan of eternal God that his Son would come to earth and die in the place of sinners.
Obviously, it is beyond our abilities to understand how God came to the details of his purpose. When the wisest and most powerful leaders on earth decide on a programme, they do so after consultation. God did not need to consult with anyone. Yet we can say that one feature would have been at the centre of God’s decisions: this feature is that he does all things for his own glory.
The glory of God can be sub-divided in various ways: there is the glory of his love, the glory of his wisdom, the glory of his power, the glory of his justice etc. We could suggest ways in which each of these attributes are revealed and displayed in the death of Christ. Over it all can be written, God planned this for his own glory. The death of Jesus, which seemed initially to be the collapse and permanent defeat of his glory, actually became the means of revealing and displaying for ever the glory of God. When we look at the cross of Christ, we are to look at what it tells us about God.
Yet Peter does not stress the sovereignty of God to the exclusion of human responsibility. Courageously, and no doubt with an awareness of the power of the Spirit strengthening his words, Peter states clearly the guilt of his hearers in the death of Christ. Most of them could have said that they had not physically harmed Jesus. Nevertheless Peter reminds them of their corporate guilt in the matter when he says, ‘you crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men.’ Very likely, Peter means that they were part of the crowd who had called on Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. This was as much an involvement in the death of Jesus as was the separate actions of the Sanhedrin’s and Pilate’s sentencing him to death.
Of course, we can easily recognise the corporate nature of their guilt. Yet we must not forget to remind ourselves that our sins caused the crucifixion of Jesus.