How we know the significance of Jesus’ work
Quotes are from New International Version unless otherwise noted.
Peter wrote about Jesus: “When they hurled their insults against him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats …” That was something Peter could have seen with his own eyes, or heard about, but then Peter continues with something he could not have seen: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:22 and 24).
How did Peter know that sins were being borne during that time of suffering and death? You can see suffering, but you cannot see “sins being borne.”
For one thing, Peter had some exposure to this idea right from the beginning: John the Baptist had said about Jesus, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The purpose of a lamb in the Old Testament sacrificial system was to die for the sins of people.
When someone named Andrew heard this description, he went to find his brother Peter and said to him, “We have found the Messiah (which translated means Christ).” (John 1:36 and 41) So from the beginning there was a connection in their minds between the concept of Messiah (the promised king who would rule forever) and the idea of taking away sins.
Other verses make clear that the people of that day in general did not make this connection, but apparently these disciples did, so as the disciples came to realize that Jesus was the Messiah, they would have expected that he would deal in some way with sins.
Peter had also heard Jesus say “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Yet even Peter was not completely clear about all of this, for when Jesus began to teach the disciples that he must “suffer many things from elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised up on the third day,” it was Peter who took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:21-22 NASB)
When did Peter gain a greater depth of understanding? It was not so much while Jesus was on the cross, but in the days after the resurrection, when Jesus said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that was written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.”
There follows an amazing scripture verse:
“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” (that is, to understand the Old Testament)
He (Jesus) told them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer, and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47)
That is why the disciples could speak with such authority about what happened on the cross. That is why the Old Testament quotes scattered throughout the New Testament can be taken as authoritative use of the Old Testament – Jesus himself told them what these verses meant.
In the letter of Peter quoted at the beginning, Peter illustrated his point about Jesus being patient in suffering by making a quote from the Old Testament: 1 Peter 2:22 says about Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” This is a quote from Isaiah 53:9, written about 700 years before Christ. By using this verse, Peter shows us that it is correct to refer this verse to Christ, and that this verse does provide insight into Christ.
But Peter does more than this. Later in the same sentence, when he mentions that Jesus “bore our sins in his body,” he is using another idea found in Isaiah 53, where verse 12 says, “he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors, for he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
A few lines later, Peter adds about Jesus, “by his wounds you have been healed,” which is quoting the end of Isaiah 53:5 – “and with his wounds we are healed.”
And a verse later, Peter writes, “you were like sheep going astray.” Where does this come from? Isaiah 53:6 says “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquities of us all.”
Imagine the goosebumps the disciples must have felt as Jesus explained to them that these verses were about himself! The disciples then passed this knowledge on to others, even before they wrote it down in the New Testament books. How else would Philip, a Grecian Jew selected to help the disciples (according to Acts 6:5) have known what to say when he overheard the eunuch from Ethiopia in his carriage reading verses from Isaiah 53? Here is the story, as found in Acts 8:32-35:
The eunuch was reading this passage of scripture: “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
The eunuch was reading Isaiah 53; Philip apparently had been taught that Isaiah 53 could be used to explain the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death.
Isaiah 53 is not the only Old Testament place that is related to Jesus’ death in the New Testament. The New Testament provides many examples of connections between Old Testament verses and New Testament events. These connections, which we can believe were given by Christ himself, help us in these three ways:
1. Some of them are used to assert that Jesus is the real Messiah, and therefore the real savior of the world.
2. Some of them show that the prophets are valid because the things they said have come true.
3. Some of them provide the underlying meaning of the New Testament events.
As we think about the gory sight of Jesus on the cross as seen by Peter and portrayed in so many paintings and movies, let us permit the words of Isaiah 53 to help us reflect on us what was going on behind the outward suffering and death, the “Part You Cannot See:”
|Isaiah||Reminds us of:|
|Quotations from King James Version|
|53:3 He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.||The crowd laughed while he was on the cross|
|53:4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.||Jesus was our substitute|
|53:5 but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that brought us peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.||Pierced by nails;Pierced by spear;
“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
|53:6 All we, like sheep, have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.||Sin defined as going astray|
|53:7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he did not open his mouth.||He was silent while he was being judged|
|53:8 … For he was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.||His trial was unfair;|
|53:9 He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth||Placed in a rich man’s tomb;|
|53:10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief; when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shallprolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.||God loved the world so much that HE GAVE his only son;Guilt offering, like a lamb in Old Testament sacrifices;
Came to life again
|53:11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.||Rose from the dead“we have been justified by faith”
“He bore our sins”
|53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoil with the strong, because he hath poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors, for he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.||Therefore the Lord has highly exalted him, and given him the name above every name (Phil 2)He really did die;
Transgressors were crucified with him;
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do;”
Now look once more at the words of Peter, with which this presentation began:
Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in his steps:
“Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth”
Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25, NKJV)
This verse invites us to make a transition from the past explanation of “The Part You Cannot See,” to the present effect of the cross in our daily lives.
NIV = HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Use by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
KJV = King James Version. Public Domain.
NKJV = New King James Version. Copyright 1984 Thomas Nelson Inc.
TEV = Today’s English Version (also called Good News for Modern man). Copyright American Bible Society, 1966.
NASB = New American Standard Bible. Copyright by the Lockman Foundation, 1973.
Addendum: What about Paul?
Paul was not one of the original 12 disciples; there is no mention that he was an eye-witness of Christ’s death on the cross; and in fact he felt he was totally in line with Old Testament tradition when he persecuted the Christians before he became a believer and missionary. Yet the death of Christ and its meaning was central to his message.
Paul writes about “the gospel which I preached unto you … by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached unto you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered unto you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures …” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NASB)
Paul twice said “according to the scriptures,” which did not mean the New Testament (for it was still being written) but the Old Testament. To see Paul’s insight into “The Part You Cannot See,” look at his letter to the Colossians, chapter 1:21-22: “At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into His presence.” (TEV) Do you hear the echo of Isaiah 53? “All we like sheep have gone astray (verse 6); and “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (verse 5)
How could Paul speak with such authority, even though he was not present that day when Jesus opened the minds of his disciples? He explains why in Galatians 1:11: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” In Galatians 2:6, he affirms that his gospel was the same one taught by the earlier disciples, for he says “those men added nothing to my message.”
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