He Did Not Revile in Return

Following Jesus in an Age of Anger

Few saw as much as Peter did.

One of the first disciples, and chief among them, he heard Jesus’s public teaching, and his private explanations. He saw Jesus heal, raise the dead, and feed thousands with a few loaves and fish. He walked Galilee with Jesus, on land and sea.

Along with James and John, Peter witnessed the transfiguration, and accompanied Jesus deep into Gethsemane to pray on the night before he died. Then, watching from a distance on Good Friday, Peter saw what Jesus did, and did not do. Jesus’s enemies mocked him, slandered him, insulted him, maligned him, reviled him — as verbal thrusts of contempt conspired with nails and spear.

How Jesus handled it left an indelible stamp on Peter. And it came to mark his letter to insulted, maligned Christians, tempted to respond in kind to their revilers. In short, “When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23).

Mindful of God

The holy composure that Jesus showed when mistreated, and while dying in agony, was not only truly divine, but like Christ himself, fully human.

“Not reviling in return” didn’t just happen. This is not how humanity naturally responds when verbally attacked. No, for years Jesus prepared for it. He trained his soul for these trials. Through rhythms of communion with his Father and compassion for immature sheep, through seasons of prayer and ceaselessly rehearsing what “is written” in Scripture, through shaping his own pliable human soul with habits of Godward praise and glad obedience, Jesus had long readied himself for the gauntlet of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Christ was not caught off guard when they first flogged him with words. Jesus knew that mocking would come, and warned his men of it ahead of time. He would be “mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon” (Luke 18:32). “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be . . . mocked and flogged and crucified” (Matthew 20:18–19; also Mark 10:34). Not only flogging and crucifixion, but also mocking would be a genuine trial, requiring his readiness.

How did he prepare for the onslaught? In the words of his watching disciple, Jesus entrusted himself “to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). He lived “mindful of God” (1 Peter 2:19), not just fellow man. He readied himself for the assault of spoken and acted evil by becoming the kind of man who would not respond in kind.

Mocked and Maligned

Preparation was one thing. Many are willing to talk theory. But when mocking words begin to fly, they often sting and disorient far more than anticipated. After his arrest,

the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. (Luke 22:63–65)

They shuffled him off to the puppet king Herod, who “with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him” (Luke 23:11). Then back to Pilate, and Mark reports in more detail what shape the mocking took: they clothed him in purple, put a crown of thorns on him, and saluted him in jest, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spit on him, and knelt down in sneering homage (Mark 15:17–19; also Matthew 27:28–31). Once they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers came by for another round; they “mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine” (Luke 23:36).

Now that he seemed safely affixed to the cross, his own countrymen unleashed the barrage they had waiting. Passersby “derided him, wagging their heads” (Matthew 27:39). Even as he writhed in agony, and public humiliation, they taunted him: “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!” “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40).

Even the dignitaries of Israel could not hold their tongues but descended into the same cowardly insults: “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42). “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Matthew 27:43). Never one to exaggerate, Luke simply reports that “the rulers scoffed at him” (Luke 23:35).

Even the two criminals crucified to his left and right “reviled him in the same way” (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32).

Reviled, Keep Trusting

How, then, did Jesus respond?

Clearly, he was capable of putting it all right back in their face with some perfectly crafted reply. No one had a way with words like Jesus. When he chose to speak, even foes confessed that “no one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). None could silence the proud with one simple word like Jesus. Yet hear it from eyewitness testimony: “When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

Jesus had cultivated a life of trust in his Father. He was ever “mindful of God.” Then, even when the thrusts of reviling and mocking came, he did not let the hurt pierce his heart, and he did not respond to evil with evil. Instead, he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. Mindful of his Father, he could trust that justice would come in due time, and at least in this moment, it was not his own to enact. The wicked words of man would not unseat his own obedience to God. If we only had such wherewithal today.

This, of course, was not raw willpower, without joy. When pummeled by spoken contempt, Jesus would not fail to practice what he had preached: “Rejoice and be glad . . . when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you” (Matthew 5:11–12). He was a man of sorrows, but not joyless. In the whole horrible enterprise, says Hebrews 12:2, Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him.”

Joy does not mean fun. There was nothing fun about the odium and shame of the cross, nor its nails, nor its blasphemies. Nor was it without the deep joy that could sustain him.

Gethsemane and Golgotha were not yet the time, but they prepared the way. The day would come to “leap for joy” (Luke 6:23). Which leads to Peter’s emphasis on what Jesus did not do.

Do Not Respond in Kind

Jesus did not descend into the very sin that had been sinned against him. He did not give in to evil by repeating it. “He did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23).

On such authority, Peter says to his embattled readers, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (1 Peter 3:9). No matter what terrible evil has been uttered against you, keep your tongue from speaking evil (1 Peter 3:10). Have you been slandered? “Put away . . . all slander” (1 Peter 2:1). The kingdom-disqualifying sins of others, including reviling (1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:9–10), are no excuse to give ourselves to sin. Would you too go to hell because the hell-bound scoff at you?

On the one hand, Peter should not have been surprised to see Jesus’s response to reviling. This very concept of not responding in kind had been one of the hallmarks of Christ’s teaching. Turn the other cheek. Go another mile. Give him your cloak as well. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Still, Peter marveled to see the Christian ethic in its first and greatest act. It’s one thing to hear of a miracle; another to see it for yourself. And he would see still more.

Bless Your Revilers

Remarkably, Jesus didn’t stop at holding his tongue, magnificent as that was. He spoke blessing, rather than curse. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Human, he could find the impulse to respond in kind. But holy, he acted the miracle of not reviling in return, and then went even further. The joy that led him not to respond in kind held his peace and filled his mouth with words of blessing for his foes.

So Peter writes, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Peter 3:9). Who would dare venture such an ethic without the teaching and example of Christ? Christians are constrained not to silence, but to righteousness. Peter would have us be ready, in fact, to speak with grace and truth: “Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” And however well-meaning or slanderous their talk, do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Paul also got the message, and gave it: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. . . . Repay no one evil for evil” (Romans 12:14, 17).

Blessed and Vindicated

In the end, Jesus not only blessed but he was blessed.

God did not leave him in utter humiliation, but exalted him. He did not abandon him to the tomb, but raised him. God counted to three, and fully vindicated Jesus with resurrection life, then counted to forty, and raised him up to heaven, and then seated him on heaven’s very throne. And in his threefold rising, Jesus looked in triumph over his enemies and saw them put to shame.

So too, “you will be blessed,” writes Peter (1 Peter 3:14). In fact, you already have a down payment: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). True, insults will not first strike us as blessings. But then, like Jesus, we go to work on them by the Spirit, mindful of God. With the calculus of heaven, which is never flippant, but ever earnest, we learn to live what Jesus taught and realized:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:11–12; also Luke 6:22)

When mocked, maligned, reviled, we follow in Jesus’s steps (1 Peter 2:21). In him, we do not sin in response to sin. And one day soon, if not already in this life, the folly of our revilers will be exposed. “When you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:16).

When Reviled, We Bless

Make no mistake, we do not take reviling lightly. We do not celebrate opposition to Jesus, in and of itself. And true reviling is unavoidably painful. We don’t seek it, try to provoke it, or enjoy it. Not eager for it, yet we are willing for Jesus’s sake to endure it — when it comes.

In times when talk is cheap and unbelievers are prone to take aim, we look to our Lord, admire his magnanimity, and, when attacked, we seek to walk in his steps.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:12, “When reviled, we bless.”