Why did God raise Jesus from the dead? On face value, it seems like a basic question with an obvious answer. We might even brush it off as the simple stuff of a children’s quiz on Easter Sunday. We also might be tempted to think of the resurrection only in terms of its future significance. But when we read 1 Peter, we find an unexpected purpose in Jesus’s resurrection, one that’s meant to help us in the here and now of our suffering and shame.
Peter’s first epistle opens with a recognition of this present suffering. His readers were battered by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6). They were shamed for their faith and maligned for their morals (1 Pet. 4:4). They experienced regular rejection and social exclusion. What they did in purity and goodness their opponents labeled as evil. They suffered unjustly, enduring endless sorrows. They were insulted for the name of Christ. They were outcasts. Rather than minimize these difficulties, brushing them off as temporary or trivial, Peter recognizes their fiery trials as an exile.
In response to this suffering—a kind of “soft” persecution that increasingly mirrors our experience in North America—Peter injects a word of hope. But perhaps it’s not the kind of hope we were looking for. Peter suggests that suffering through fiery trials isn’t a stray shower on the radar screen of our lives. It shouldn’t take us by surprise (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, shame and social exclusion are the extended forecast for the follower of Christ. Yet there is hope, because we know the story of our Savior.
Jesus, as Peter reminds us, was himself an elect exile. He was God’s chosen cornerstone, but he was rejected by men (1 Pet. 2:4–5). He was the precious and foreknown Son of the Father, but his common experience was disgrace and ostracism. He was on the outside among religious conservatives, powerful politicians, and even his own family. In his life, he was dishonored and didn’t have a place to lay his head. At his death, he was beaten, spat upon, slandered, and reviled. He was shamefully crucified. To any witness watching it all unfold, he wasn’t merely rejected by his peers and the powerful. He appeared to be forsaken by God.
Suffering isn’t a stray shower on the radar screen of our lives. . . . Instead, shame and social exclusion are the extended forecast for the follower of Christ.
However, three days later the script flipped. God vindicated his Son by raising him from the dead. And through his resurrection God intends to give us—you and me—a living hope, a hope for today as we sometimes face our own troubled and forsaken narrative (1 Pet. 1:3).
Through Jesus, Peter says, we come to believe in God. We may not often think of Christian faith in this way. We talk primarily in terms of having faith in Jesus, which is, of course, appropriate and biblical. But in 1 Peter 1:21, Peter wants to emphasize how we come to believe in God through Jesus. How does that work? If we keep reading, we see that God raised Jesus and gave him glory in order that our faith and hope would be in God. This is surely an unexpected purpose in Jesus’s resurrection: Jesus was raised so that we would trust and hope in God, our heavenly Father.
Here’s how I understand that working in the logic of Peter’s letter. When I see my life mirroring Jesus’s, when I see how my suffering intersects with his, when I realize that he endured suffering by entrusting himself to our faithful Father, when I recognize that the chosen and precious Son was rejected by others, I’m not so surprised when I could experience the same.
And when I watch Jesus, my King, crowned with thorns and exiled on a cross, and when my own life feels like walking through the valley of death’s shadow in the presence of many enemies, I can still have hope. I can have confidence in our Father, because I know what he did for Jesus.
God raised him from the dead and restored him to unsurpassed honor. He did this so that even when my own story takes a dark turn, when I face rejection, ridicule, and even physical suffering, I know it’s not the end.
Because I know how God treats his servants. I know how the Father treats his Son.
All the Way to Glory
This is an unexpected answer to our question. But this one “why” of God’s raising Jesus is how we can have confidence in him today, during our own affliction. When we follow the footsteps of Jesus into suffering, we know we’ll also follow him all the way to glory. The world’s ridicule and shame will not have the last word, but we’ll be exalted and given honor—and that from God himself!
When my own story takes a dark turn, I know it’s not the end. Because I know how God treats his servants. I know how the Father treats his Son.
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:20, Jesus is the firstfruits of those who sleep. His resurrection and reception of glory is only the beginning of a worldwide harvest. He’s the prototype, the forerunner of many others who would follow him in faith, who will traverse that same path of suffering and subsequent glory. Peter, as an eyewitness to Jesus’s horrific death and his matchless glory, knew that such hope in future praise and honor at Christ’s return enables us today to endure seemingly endless rejection. He knew the antidote to shame and exclusion is God giving us honor and a home.
This Peter, who had crumbled under the weight of shame and denied his Lord, learned how the hope of glory could transform our lives and embolden our witness. This hope empowers us to purify ourselves in personal holiness, to live with honorable conduct during our exile. This assurance in God—that he will exalt us with Christ and grace us with his honor—enables us to honor others, even those who oppose us.
Such future hope also opens our mouths to boldly declare the gospel now, overcoming social embarrassment and our desire to be approved and affirmed. And, as Peter explains, this confidence can even open others to the gospel, as they see in us a contagious and lively hope that makes them curious for an answer.