1 Peter 3:18-22
Stephen Caswell © 2000
Fearing His Scars
Adoniram Judson, the renowned missionary to Burma, endured untold hardships trying to reach the lost for Christ. For 7 heartbreaking years he suffered hunger and privation. During this time he was thrown into Ava Prison, and for 17 months was subjected to almost incredible mistreatment. As a result, for the rest of his life he carried the ugly marks made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly bound him. Undaunted, upon his release he asked for permission to enter another province where he might resume preaching the Gospel. The godless ruler indignantly denied his request, saying, My people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might SAY, but I fear they might be impressed by your SCARS and turn to your religion!
Last Sunday we saw how Peter encouraged believers to be willing to suffer for their faith. Peter emphasized three things, Unity, Purity and Opportunity. Firstly, for Christians to stand firm in persecution they need to stand together. This involves having the same mind, Christ's mind, and being compassionate toward each other. Secondly, for Christians to withstand trials they need to live holy lives and thereby receive the Lord's help. Thirdly, persecution provides us an opportunity to defend our faith before the lost. We do this as we give an account of our hope in Christ. In today's passage, Peter again encourages believers by citing Christ's example of suffering. We will look at this passage under three headings:
1. The Ministry Of Christ 2. The Ministry Of Noah & 3. The Ministry Of Christians Today
Firstly The Ministry Of Christ
a. The Death Of Christ
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
Peter presented Jesus Christ as the perfect example of one who suffered unjustly, and yet obeyed God. Jesus Christ was our substitute. He bore our sins in His body on the tree. Because He was perfect Jesus needed to die but once. Christ collected the wages of our sin which is death, so that we might receive the gift of God, eternal life. If Jesus Christ the holy one suffered and died as part of God's will should we expect any less? No! Paul said, that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Jesus Christ suffered for us and we must suffer for Him. But there is much encouragement in this. Jesus the just one died to bring us to God. This means that we can come boldly before the throne of grace in time of need to find grace and mercy. We don't have to stand firm in affliction on our own, God's grace is available to us. Jesus' Christ death did not lead to defeat. It brought us back to God!!
b. The Proclamation By Christ
1 Peter 3:19-20 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
After Christ died on the cross He descended into the lower parts of the earth and preached to the spirits in prison. What did He preach to them? Those who say that these spirits in prison were the spirits of lost sinners in hell, to whom Jesus brought the good news of salvation, have some real problems to solve. Firstly, the word preach khrussw means to proclaim as a herald. It is not the word used to preach the Gospel eujaggellizw. Therefore, Jesus Christ preached judgment to those spirits now that He had conquered Satan and sin on the cross.
Colossians 2:15 refers to this. Secondly, they are referred to as spirits and not souls. The word spirits always refers to angels; not to men. These spirits were somehow involved in wickedness just prior to the flood. They may have been the Sons of God that cohabited with women of that time referred to in Genesis 6:, Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4-5. Thirdly, nowhere in the Scriptures are we told that people will have a second chance to be saved after death. Hebrews 9:27 says: And as it is appointed unto men once to die but after this the judgment. So Christ's suffering and death not only provides salvation for mankind, it also condemns the wicked to eternal suffering! The cross provides both salvation and condemnation from sin.
c. The Resurrection Of Christ
1 Peter 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Although baptism is a picture of our salvation, it does not provide our salvation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and His finished work accomplishes this for us. The resurrection speaks of victory over sin and death. Since death comes when the spirit leaves the body, then resurrection involves the spirit returning to the body. The Father raised Jesus from the dead, but the Son also had authority to raise Himself. It was a miracle! It is because of His resurrection that Christians have the living hope. Death is not the end for a believer.
We must never minimize the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It declares that He is God, and that the work of salvation is completed and accepted by the Father. It also proves that death has been conquered. The Gospel message includes the Resurrection, for a dead Savior can save no one. It is Christ's resurrection that freed us from sin. It is the risen Christ who gives us the power we need on a daily basis for life and service. It was through suffering and death that Jesus Christ gained His supreme victory. He came forth from the tomb in resurrection power. Therefore when believers suffer for Christ they can also experience Christ's resurrection power. Philippians 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
d. The Ascension Of Christ
1 Peter 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
Forty days after His resurrection, our Lord ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, the place of exaltation. Believers are seated with Him in the heavenlies, and through Him we are able to reign in life. He is ministering to the church as High Priest, and Advocate. He is preparing a place for His people and will one day come to receive them to Himself.
But the main point Peter wanted to emphasize was Christ’s complete victory over all angels, authorities and powers. This refers of course to the evil hosts of Satan. The unfallen angels were always subject to Him. As Christians, we do not fight for victory, but from victory. The mighty victory that our Lord won for us in His death, resurrection, and ascension. Believers are not defeated through suffering. They are victorious through Jesus Christ. We are super conquerors because we overcome through the very trials themselves.
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A Liturgy on the Incarnation
He whom none may touch is seized;
He who looses Adam from the curse is bound.
He who tries the hearts and inner thoughts of man is unjustly brought to trial;
He who closed the abyss is shut in prison.
He, before whom the powers of heaven stand trembling, stands before Pilate;
The Creator is struck by the hands of his creature.
He who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the cross.
The destroyer of hell is enclosed in a tomb.
O thou who dost endure all these things in thy tender love,
Who has saved all men from the curse,
O long-suffering Lord, glory to thee.
Secondly The Ministry Of Noah
1 Peter 3:20-21 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
a. Noah Obeyed God
Unlike the wicked people around him, Noah obeyed God. He lived righteously walking with the Lord. He obeyed God when the Lord commanded Him to build the ark. Even though the ark took 120 years to build and it hadn't rained from creation till then, Noah obeyed God. He didn't try to work out how God would bring a flood, he just did as he was told. We are told that Noah was a preacher of righteousness in 2 Peter 2:5. When the whole world was involved in wickedness Noah stood up for what was right. He preached righteousness and warned of God's coming judgment. It didn't matter that only 8 people were saved, Noah remained faithful in a very difficult period of time. Noah obeyed God by building an ark. He obeyed God by telling the lost why he was building it. We should follow His example and warn the lost of coming judgment!
b. Noah Believed God
Noah obeyed God because He believed what God said was true. Noah walked with God by faith. Genesis 6:8 says that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He sought to please the Him. When God warned him of the coming flood Noah believed God and set about building the ark so that he and his family might be saved. Noah is included in Hebrews 11 amongst the great men of faith.
Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. When God named three righteous people in the book of Ezekiel, Noah was listed with holy men like Daniel and Job. Noah believed God and obeyed Him. He lived by faith.
Noah was a man of faith who kept doing the will of God even when he seemed to be a failure. This would certainly be an encouragement to Peter’s readers. If we measured faithfulness by results, then Noah would get a very low grade. Yet God ranked him very high!
c. Noah Identified Himself With God
Peter saw in the Flood a picture of a Christian’s experience of baptism. No matter what mode of baptism you may accept, it is certain that the early church practiced immersion. It is a picture of our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. Many people today do not take baptism seriously, but it was a serious matter in the early church. Baptism meant a clean break with the past, and this could include separation from a convert’s family, friends, and job. Candidates for baptism were interrogated carefully, for their submission in baptism was a step of consecration, and not just an initiation rite to join the church.
The Flood pictures death, burial, and resurrection. The waters buried the earth in judgment, but they also lifted Noah and his family up to safety. The early church saw in the ark a picture of salvation. Noah and his family were saved by faith because they believed God and entered into the ark of safety. So sinners are saved by faith when they trust Christ and become one with Him.
When Peter wrote that Noah and his family were saved by water, he was careful to explain that this illustration does not imply salvation by baptism. Baptism is a figure of that which does save us, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Water on the body, or the body placed in water, cannot remove the stains of sin. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can do that. However, baptism does save us from one thing: a bad conscience. Peter had already told his readers that a good conscience was important to a successful witness, and a part of that good conscience is being faithful to our commitment to Christ as expressed in baptism. God calls sinners to identify with His Son by faith. Part of this identification is baptism.
Romans 6:3-4 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
What is a mature Christian?
What is a mature Christian? Assuming that evangelistic concern is a vital part of maturity and discipleship, there was one troubling tendency in the statistics: "older Christians" (believers of eleven or more years) are less committed to evangelism than "newer Christians" (believers of ten years or fewer).
When asked whether respondents agreed with the statement, "I have been more active in telling others about Christ in the past year than ever before," twice as many newer Christians than older strongly agreed. Some might think that doctrinal beliefs would intensify over time. But 88 percent of newer believers strongly agreed with the statement, "I believe faith in Christ is the only way to salvation," versus 73 percent of the older group.
Church consultant Bill Hull, author of The Disciple Making Pastor, says, "I think this reflects the deadening effect of much institutional Christianity. When you have a pulpit-centered, institutional church model, where accumulating Bible knowledge and being involved in insulated programming shuts you off from the world, it desensitizes Christians to others' needs. There's an old axiom, 'No contact, no impact.' Redemption and lift eventually cuts off the young believer from the unchurched.
Also the newer Christians have come to Christ in the more passionate renewal movements of the last ten years. They take the commands of Scripture more literally and are more responsive to them. Some of the statistics suggest that the idea of evangelistic division of labor takes hold once you cross the great divide. Twice as many newer Christians than older strongly disagreed with "It's possible to be a committed Christian and not be active in telling others about Christ" (42 to 21 percent). At the same time, older Christians are more certain about their spiritual gifts: 67 percent of older believers agreed with the statement, I feel I have a good understanding of my spiritual gifts, versus 49 percent of younger Christians. This may reflect the mentality: My gift isn't evangelism; I serve God in other ways. But that's a cop out. Christ calls us all to be witnesses! He wants us to warn the lost!!
Thirdly The Ministry Of Christians Today
Although this is a difficult passage of Scripture to fully understand, it is easy to agree on the main lessons Peter was sharing with his readers, lessons which we need today. First of all, Christians must expect opposition. As the coming of Christ draws near, our well doing will incite the anger and attacks of godless people. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth, and yet He was crucified like a common criminal. If the just One who did no sin was treated cruelly, what right do we who are imperfect have to escape suffering? We must be careful, however, that we suffer because of well doing, for righteousness’ sake, and not because we have disobeyed.
A Second lesson is that Christians must serve God by faith and not trust in results. Noah served God and kept only seven people from the Flood; yet God honored him. From those seven people, we take courage! Jesus appeared a total failure when He died on the cross, yet His death was a supreme victory. His cause today may seem to fail, but He will accomplish His purposes in this world. The harvest is not the end of a meeting; it is the end of the age. People wouldn't listen in Noah's day but He kept preaching. Christ said that the last days would be like the days of Noah. So let's be faithful to Christ and keep on sharing the Word.
Third, we can be encouraged because we are identified with Christ’s victory. This is pictured in baptism, and the doctrine is explained in Romans 6. It is the baptism of the Spirit that identifies a believer with Christ, and this is pictured in water baptism. It is through the Spirit’s power that we live for Christ and witness for Him. The opposition of men is energized by Satan, and Christ has already defeated these principalities and powers. He has all authority in heaven and on earth, and therefore we can go forth in confidence and victory.
A Fourth practical lesson is that our baptism is important. It identifies us with Christ and gives witness that we have broken with the old life and will, by His help, live a new life. The act of baptism is a pledge to God that we shall obey Him. To use Peter’s illustration, we are agreeing to the terms of the contract. To take baptism lightly is to sin against God. Some people make too much of baptism by teaching that it is a means of salvation, while others minimize it. Both are wrong. If a believer is to have a good conscience, he must obey God.
Finally, Jesus Christ is the only Savior, and the lost world needs to hear His Gospel. Some people try to use this complex passage of Scripture to prove a “second chance for salvation after death.” Our interpretation of “spirits in prison” proves that these were angelic beings, and not the souls of the dead. But even if these “spirits” were those of unsaved people, this passage says nothing about their salvation. And why would Jesus offer salvation (if He did) only to sinners from Noah’s day? And why did Peter use the verb proclaim as a herald instead of the usual word for preaching the Gospel?
Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that death ends the opportunity for salvation. This is why the church needs to get concerned about evangelism and missions, because people are dying who have never even heard the Good News of salvation, let alone had the opportunity to reject it. It does us no good to quibble about differing interpretations of a difficult passage of Scripture, if what we do believe does not motivate us to want to share the Gospel with others.
1. Suffering. When Christ called us for salvation that call included suffering. Jesus Christ Himself suffered to provide our salvation. Shouldn't we be prepared to suffer for Him also?
2. Faithfulness. Noah obeyed God in the midst of a very wicked generation. He remained true to God when everyone else was becoming more wicked. He left the results with God and stuck to His task. Will you remain faithful like Noah did in the midst of a wicked generation? Will you walk with God by faith? Will you leave the results with God?
3. Witnessing. Noah faithfully preached the Word for 120 years even though people didn't listen. He warned the wicked of God's coming judgment. People are dying all around us, they need to hear the Good News. Will you share the Gospel with them? Will you warn them of the coming judgment? People need to hear now, there is no second chance after death.
4. Victory. Jesus Christ has conquered the enemy; Satan is a defeated foe. Will you stand against Him in Christ's victory?
5. Baptism. Noah wasn't ashamed to be identified with the Lord. He stood up and was counted for righteousness. Have you identified yourself with Christ? Have you believed in Him for salvation? Have you testified of your commitment through the waters of baptism?
One Day I Had A Dream
One day as I was fast asleep - I had this stirring dream;
I was caught up to be with God. With angels it did seem.
And while up there, I met God’s saints - From many parts of the earth.
Now some were great and famous men, And some of humble birth.
I talked to one great saint of God, The first one I had met.
He told me how he died for Christ. His words I can’t forget.
He lived, he said, in Bible days - And died at Nero’s stake.
“It was a joy to give my all - And burn for Jesus’ sake.”
“I was so glad to die for Christ,” With humble words he said.
But as I listened to it all. I bowed my guilty head.
Another man then gently spoke, “Here is my story, friend.
’Twas cannibals that took my life, Because I would not bend.
“I tried to tell those heathen souls - Of Christ who came to die.
They ate my flesh and drank my blood - But sent my soul on high.
“Of course up here are millions more - With stories rare and true.
But friend, before I tell you more, Let’s hear your story too.”
I am ashamed of how I’ve failed, I’ve known no sacrifice.
I am ashamed of how I’ve failed, I’ve paid such little price.
I’ve never even given funds - To send the Gospel out,
I’ve lived a life of luxury - And never done without.
Those costly cars, those extra clothes - Seem needless now, and vain;
The very thought of how I’ve lived - Now fills my heart with pain.
Just then it seemed that Jesus said, “Take up my cross today;
I’ll give to you another chance - To work and give and pray.”
My guilty heart began to burn, My nervous body shake.
Then I awoke with tear-filled eyes - With new resolves to make.
I told the Lord from that day forth - My best, my all I’d give
To win the lost in every place, For this alone I’d live.
I told the Lord that from then on - I would not waste a dime;
That I would give myself to prayer - And really use my time.
That I would seek with all my heart - That power from above
To help me tell a heathen world - Of Jesus’ grace and love.