The Just For The Unjust
“For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God…” (1st Peter 3:17-18)
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins!
O, there can be no doubt about it, even though we repeat it with fear and trembling, our Lord is not the only one, though He be the Chief, that suffered for sins. He suffered for sins also. . . .
Our Lord may not be, He must not remain the sole sufferer for sins. Or rather: because He suffered for sins once, we, too, dare not hesitate to suffer likewise for sins! For He suffered, hence, we must also suffer.
And this is corroborated by the entire context.
We must suffer for sins, yet not as sinners. “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing,” refraining our tongues from evil, and our lips that they speak no guile, eschewing evil, and doing good, seeking peace, and ensuing it; and that, too, as just among the unjust, suffering for righteousness’ sake, without being afraid of the terror of the wicked; having a good conscience, that whereas they, the unjust, speak evil of us as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse our good conversation in Christ; for it is better, if the will of God be so, that we suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. Suffer, therefore, we must, not on account of our own evil doing, not for our own sins, but for the sins of others, on account of their hatred of the light, and to condemn and reprove their evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins. . . .
O, but indeed, there is a comparison, amazing though it be, between His suffering and ours!
And we dare not ignore it, lest in our zeal to enshrine the wonder of His passion all by itself, we become disobedient to His good commandment.
We will humbly take cognizance of it by faith, that we, too, may be willing to suffer for well doing.
But having done so, we will, nevertheless, remember at once that in the same sense as He suffered for sins, we can never suffer!
His suffering must needs stand alone.
Amazing in its incomparableness!
Always becoming more profound as one attempts to fathom it; becoming more adorably mysterious, as one gazes into its impenetrable depths!
He suffered for sins!
He, the Christ, the only begotten One, as He came into the world, and as He tabernacled in the midst of sinners, the Just among the unjust, was the object of the hatred of all the children of darkness. It lies quite within the scope of our comprehension that they contradicted Him in all His work and speech, that they numbered Him with the transgressors, and treated Him as the lowest of criminals. But that God would make Him sin who knew no sin, we believe, we trust in it, but we will never fathom. And that He would suffer for sins, the Just for the unjust, is but the corollary of this same inscrutable, yet adorable mystery.
God made Him, Who knew no sin, sin for us: this is the one side, God’s side of this glorious, though incomprehensible truth.
Himself, the Just, met God in this act whereby He made Him sin, in the most perfect obedience: He suffered for sins! That is the other aspect of this same wonder!
The two dare not be separated.
God made Him sin. . . . He suffered for sins: the latter were impossible without the former; the former would be vain without the latter. Nor dare we represent these two aspects as the result of co-operation between God and man, or even between God and Christ. For all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us unto Himself through Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. O, but indeed, it is all of God! The Christ is of God, and His being made is of God, and His suffering is of God: the God of our salvation is the Reconciler. . . .
He suffered for sins!
Not mere passivity, but action of the highest kind, clear, perfectly conscious, deliberate, purposeful action is expressed by the words. The apostle does not intend to say merely: He underwent something, that He was the pitiable victim of a cruel fate, that He was the bearer of a load of suffering that was imposed upon Him. On the contrary, the meaning is that He deliberately accomplished something, and that something which He did, accomplished, performed, is His suffering! That is evident from the context. But it is also implied in the original of the expression for sins. And, finally, it follows inevitably from the fact that He was the Just.
He suffered for sins!
O, to be sure, this implies that He suffered on account of sins, because of sins, so that His suffering had its explanation, its reason, its ground in sins. This is always true of all suffering, no matter in what form it may present itself. All pain and agony, all sorrow and grief, all the sufferings of this present time, and all the suffering in hell, of soul and body, have their cause and legal ground in sin. There was no suffering whatsoever in the original state of rectitude in paradise; there will be no death, neither sorrow nor crying, in the perfect state of glory when the tabernacle of God shall be with men. But in our present world suffering is inseparable from existence itself, so that we cannot even conceive of existence without suffering.
For all suffering is essentially death.
And death is the punishment of sin. And the punishment of sin is the expression of the justice of God. And the justice of God is God’s maintenance of Himself as the only Good, and the inevitable revelation of His goodness to the sinner that attempts to ignore, to deny, to negate Him! God is good. He is the sole Good. He is the implication of infinite perfection. And He will reveal Himself as the Good. He will have Himself known, experienced, acknowledged by the moral creature as the Good, that He may be glorified in the work of His hands. Hence, He blesses the righteous. He rewards the good with good. And He curses the wicked, He rewards the evil with evil, suffering, wretchedness, death, hell. For the sinner is he, who proudly boasts that it is good to depart from the living God, that apart from Him and in opposition to Him he will seek and find bliss, joy, peace. And God causes that sinner to know and experience that He alone is good, by making Him unspeakably wretched.
That is God’s justice.
And because of this unchangeable justice of God, suffering is inseparable from sin.
Thus Christ suffered.
He suffered on account of sin. Sins were the legal ground of His suffering. The reference in the text is not now to His sufferings as they were inflicted upon Him by the wrath and wicked fury of men. God caused Him to suffer. He poured His wrath upon Him. He caused Him to experience to the full His awful goodness by making Him feel the dreadful wretchedness of the sinner that would negate Him, until He, the Christ, was utterly amazed and forsaken of God, and cried out in the anguish of His soul: “O, My God, why?
He suffered for sins.
O, but this does not exhaust the meaning of this mysterious word.
That He suffered because of, on account of sin, is not even emphasized here according to the original. For literally translated, the original reads: He suffered concerning sin. On account of sin, yes, for no man can suffer except on account of sin; but also: concerning sin! And that plainly expresses that He had an end in view, that He had a purpose in suffering: His suffering was concerned with sin! Or rather: in His suffering He was concerned with sin, so concerned with it, that by His suffering He purposed to remove, to destroy it for ever; so concerned, that with that end in view He battled with sin to the bitter end before the face of God.
And do you not see how this makes of His suffering an act in the supreme sense of the word?
He suffered deliberately. He had an end in view that must be attained. But that end could be attained only in the way of suffering. Only through His suffering could sin be destroyed, could eternal righteousness be obtained. The sole way to perfect righteousness lay through the depth of hell. So concerned He was with sin, that He deliberately chose and travelled that dreadful way.
He suffered concerning sin.
He suffered actively. Suffering was not imposed on Him. For He was the just. No suffering could be legally required of Him. Willingly, actively, He placed Himself under the load of suffering, lifted it, assumed it, bore it even unto the bitter end.
With all His heart and soul and mind and strengtn He was actively engaged in suffering!
As the sacrifice of perfect obedience He suffered!
Finally, He suffered.
That is, He suffered in such a way, that the end He had in view was actually attained.
Sin was removed, blotted out, destroyed for ever.
Righteousness, perfect righteousness, eternal righteousness was obtained.
For, He suffered for sin once!
And, O, this does not refer merely to the “hour” of His cross, or to the moment of His deepest agony on that cross, or to the fact of His death on. Calvary, His giving up the ghost. To be sure, that “hour” was the climax of His suffering concerning sin. There, on Calvary, He drank His bitterest cup. But the fact remains that all His life in the world is covered by this “once” of His suffering. He suffered once, that is, all His life. He was concerned with sin when He came into the world, assuming the form of a servant, the likeness of sinful flesh. He was concerned with sin when He preached and labored, witnessed and performed miracles, and was contradicted by evil men. He was concerned with sin when He endured it all, the shame and reproach that was heaped upon Him, the buffeting and spitting in His face, the scourging and the crown of thorns, the cruel agony of the accursed tree.
But, nevertheless, He suffered only once!
That one act of suffering for sins was sufficient, final.
By it all was finished.
He does not have to suffer again. Nor do they, in whose behalf He suffered, with whose sins He was so deeply concerned, ever have to suffer for sins.
Sins, the sins that were upon Him, are blotted out!
Eternal righteousness has been obtained!
His one act of suffering is perfect!
It is finished!
Vicariously He suffered!
For it was not His own sin concerning which He suffered.
Christ hath once suffered concerning sin, the Just for the unjust!
They, the unjust, could never have so suffered for sins. O, they could suffer on account of sins. And on account of sins they would have had to suffer, temporally, eternally, in everlasting desolation. But it could only be a suffering in utter passivity, the terrible passivity of eternal death! Concerning sin they never suffer. Or, how could they? Were they not the unjust? And what else does this mean than that they were guilty and damnable before God, objects of the wrath of God, worthy of being utterly forsaken of God, delivered unto chains of death? And how could they, whose constant obligation it was to love and to serve the living God, and who, for that very reason, could never work “overtime” with the Most High, pay the load of debt that oppressed them? And, what is more, does not their being unjust also imply that they are corrupt, dead through trespasses and sins, darkened in their understanding, perverse of will, obdurate in heart, impure in all their desires? How, then, could they possibly suffer concerning sin? How could they even be willing to bring to God the perfect sacrifice for their sins? . . . .
On account of sin they must, concerning sin they could not suffer!
Hence, their case was hopeless!
But He came, the Just!
And He had neither guilt nor pollution. The Lamb without spot was He. For, though in our flesh, He was the Person of the Son of God: personally free from the sin of our race. And, though He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, yet He did not assume sinful flesh, for by His Spirit He prepared His own nature in the womb and from the flesh and blood of the virgin.
In His deepest suffering He could be concerned with sin!
And He might suffer in behalf of the unjust, and, therefore, in their stead. For He was the Christ, God’s Anointed, placed at the head of the unjust, His own unjust, from before the foundation of the world!
In their behalf He suffered concerning their sins!
And, O wonder of mysterious love! He never ceased being concerned with their sin, though in the hour of His greatest suffering they revealed most horribly the corruption of their sinful heart, nailing Him to the accursed tree! While we were yet enemies. . . .
And He prayed for the transgressors!
Father, forgive them! . . . .
The Just for the unjust!
It is finished!
The Just has once suffered for the unjust, concerned with their sins, blotting them out for ever, obtaining for them eternal righteousness.
To God He may now bring them!
For, indeed, these unjust may not remain unjust. To God they must be brought. For to be with God is eternal life. O, the sense is not, that they must be with God in the providential sense. In that sense God is everywhere, and even in hell one cannot hide himself from His presence. But to be with Him in His tabernacle, in His blessed fellowship, to know Him to taste that He is good in His everlasting favor, to walk with Him and to talk with Him, and to see Him face to face,—that is life eternal!
To God He may now bring them. And He does.
By the power of His marvelous grace!
O, blessed Redeemer!
Herman Hoeksema – 1944