Isaiah 53: Peter’s Example
“Flyover state” is the term that people who consider their land and lifestyle more valued on the coast to the right or the left of us call the ag-land that they fly over on their coast to coast red-eye flight. In most of these states, cows outnumber people. I for one never plan on living in a state where there are more people than cows. Fly over states are places most people don’t want to go. Suffering and the Christian life is a topic that most people don’t want to touch. OT prophecy and the NT is a place most people don’t want to go. Peter had no intention of flying over these topics. Instead of avoiding the topic, Peter uses it as an example.
Peter uses Isaiah 53.9 as an example of how to encounter persecution and suffering.
“How do you live?” is a key component of the letter that Peter writes to those scattered all over the Empire. Things are starting to change and the Church is drawing the ire of Rome. Peter is writing from Rome, the hub of the entire world and the forefront of the hate. He calls it Babylon (1 Peter 5.13) and Babylon wasn’t a real friendly place for the servants of Yahweh in the Old Testament. The change is happening before Peter’s eyes and soon, unbeknownst to him, probably within the next few years, he would be the central figure of that persecution, being hung upside down on a cross at the hands of Nero.
“How do you live when the world is falling apart?”, asks Peter.
- “Do you rejoice?” (1 Peter 1.6)
- “Do you live holy?” (1 Peter 1.15)
- “Do you live in submission?” (1 Peter 2.13)
- “Do you live lovingly?” (1 Peter 3.8)
- “Do you live with the same attitude of Christ?” (1 Peter 4.1)
Woven in and out of these questions is the theme of suffering. The readers are keen to what is happening in the Empire. They know about the suffering going on all over the world (5.9). Peter is bringing them word about how to live in a volatile world.
This world is a hard place to live sometimes. In America, it is easier than other places. I would never compare my life here to those worshiping in underground churches in China, those being beheaded in the Middle East, or those in North Africa hiding scraps of the Bible so as to not have their hands chopped off for possessing the wrong scriptures. However, I do have conversations and cancer, divorce, hunger, addiction, abuse, neglect, poverty, and violence, cross every language, cultural, or physical boundary that man can imagine. Though Peter is talking specifically about persecution, I don’t feel it outside the circle of application, to speak to any and every form of suffering that we encounter; be it from the hands of men, the works of the enemy (5.8), or simply the groaning of a fallen world (Genesis 3; Romans 8.22).
What happens when the worst happens? How do you respond? How do you think? Ministry Handout–A Brief Theology of Suffering
Peter drew back to a time when the world was not a good place: the time of the prophets. Isaiah writes at a time when Egypt and Babylon were the two greatest powers in the world. Stuck between them was Judah. A small country that each one had to go through to get to the other one. They were their own ancient version of a fly over state for Babylon and Egypt. Still, the greatest problem that faced Judah was their own sin. They had wanted a King to lead them, so God answered wanting them to follow His will. Saul, David, Solomon, all failed at leading Israel to religious reform. So God raised up the prophets, to lead His people back to a covenant life…still no good. Isaiah peers into the past, watches the present, and gazes into the future.
Idolatry would be their downfall and exile the punishment. This was the low point for God’s people. Taken at the hands of the Babylonians; seventy years away from home; no more Temple, or sacrifices, or…life.
But God wasn’t done working, however, and gives Isaiah some messages about a Servant who would come someday to bring His people back from another land, from exile.
Peter channels this example from Isaiah; a flickering of light in the darkest of times. The Church is struggling and will continue to struggle with pain and suffering. It’s part of their existence. So Peter, having already used the lamb comparison with Jesus sacrifice on the cross (1 Peter 1.19), would draw on the image again, found in Isaiah 53, in order to show how Jesus responded to unjust suffering.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
It is a direct quote from the LXX except for the word “sin”. Peter uses the common greek word for “sin” (amartia) in 1 Peter. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) chose to translate the hebrew word hamas, meaning “violence” or “injury”, as the greek word anomia which means “weakness” or “illness”. The LXX translators were probably closer to Isaiah’s idea in their translation; but Peter had other, grander, implications in mind.
Jesus was without transgression and completely innocent. Yet he suffered. Back up a few words before the quote. It was done as an example (21). Peter’s real point was not the innocent/perfect lamb. He has already noted the unblemished and without defect sacrifice that was offered on the cross (1.19). This quote is all about how he suffered. He didn’t respond in violence and returned no volley of insults. He “did not repay evil for evil (3.7). The word for “example”, hupogrammos, literally means “written upon”. This is the only place in scripture where this word occurs, called a hapex legomena. They were to write upon themselves, their hearts, how Jesus suffered. It fitting that in chapter 4, Peter commands them to: “have the same attitude as Christ.” (4.1)
The recipients of this letter know suffering. Peter uses the greek word for suffering, pascho, 12 times in this book. He uses the word more than any other NT writer. But Jesus set for us an example to follow in the midst of his unjust suffering. It is fitting that pascho, “suffering”, is a cognate of pascha meaning Passover or Passover lamb. Where sin is Passover is needed; where Passover is needed, death and suffering is there. Remember Passover from the Old Testament. The blood on the door frames had to come from somewhere. Christ was our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5.7) but in doing so not only provided the blood to save us, but Peter’s example in suffering.