1 Peter 3:18-22 ~ 20090503 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
05/03 1 Peter 3:18-22 Christ Triumphant!
18 oti kai cristov apax peri amartiwn apeyanen dikaiov uper adikwn ina umav prosagagh tw yew yanatwyeiv men sarki zwopoihyeiv de pneumati 19 en w kai toiv en fulakh pneumasin poreuyeiv ekhruxen 20 apeiyhsasin pote ote apexedeceto h tou yeou makroyumia en hmeraiv nwe kataskeuazomenhv kibwtou eiv hn oligoi tout estin oktw qucai dieswyhsan di udatov 21 o kai umav antitupon nun swzei baptisma ou sarkov apoyesiv rupou alla suneidhsewv agayhv eperwthma eiv yeon di anastasewv ihsou cristou 22 ov estin en dexia yeou poreuyeiv eiv ouranon upotagentwn autw aggelwn kai exousiwn kai dunamewn
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Today we're going to tackle a difficult passage. I Peter 3:19-21 is one of the most difficult texts to interpret in the bible. Martin Luther said “A wonderful text this is, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” [Luther, p.166]; I have to say 'Amen' to Luther. In studying this passage I changed my own view at least four times. But I'm excited for the opportunity to study this text with you today. I'm excited because 'All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable' [2Tim3:16] so this text is profitable. All scripture is profitable, but not all scripture is equally clear. Peter himself said:
2 Peter 3:15-16 ... as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
And I've got to ask 'Peter, have you read your own stuff?' Paul is sometimes hard to swallow, but most of it is not hard to understand. People don't like what Paul says so they try to explain it away, but this passage is just plain difficult to understand.
But here's where we can profit from a passage like this. It teaches us we don't have to understand it all. I'm not 100% sure what Peter is talking about here, and that's OK. I don't need to understand everything the bible has to say. I will be helped the more I understand of the bible, and you should:
2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Part of rightly handling the word of truth is being able to discern the primary teachings from the secondary teachings. The part of what Peter says here that is open to various interpretations is definitely secondary in importance – it doesn't have anything to do with who Jesus is, the nature of God, or salvation by grace. We are free to hold different opinions on issues of secondary importance. I'm not going to call someone a heretic or question their salvation because they disagree over who 'the spirits in prison' in verse 19 are. I will raise serious questions if someone disagrees over verse 18 which teaches the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross paying the penalty for our sins to reconcile us to the Father. Another aspect of rightly handling the word of truth is the ability to discern the obscure from the clear. Maybe Peter's readers knew exactly what he was talking about, but living 2000 years later, we have to piece together as best we can what he meant by what he said. But there are certain things this passage cannot mean, because there are clear teachings elsewhere in the bible that contradict that interpretation. Here's an example: Some interpret this passage to mean that after Jesus died, he went and preached the gospel to people in hell, offering them a second chance for salvation. That interpretation contradicts the clear teaching of scripture.
Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
2 Corinthians 6:2 ...Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Romans 2:4-5 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Jesus described the rich man who was in torment in Hades
Luke 16:24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’...
26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
Jesus described hell:
Mark 9:48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels....46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, …
The clear teaching of the bible leaves no room for a second chance at salvation after death. We cannot take an obscure passage and make it say something that contradicts the clear teaching of the rest of the bible.
Here's what we're going to do today. I don't want to miss the forest for the trees, so we're going to look at the big picture of the context of this passage to see what Peter is doing. Although some of the details can be variously understood, the big picture is clear.
Then we will look at some of the different views and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. And we'll finish up by coming back around to the big picture and seeing how the details contribute to what Peter is saying.
The Big Picture
Peter is writing to encourage believers who are suffering because they are following Jesus. There is no need to fear, because Jesus also suffered and he was ultimately victorious. He will ensure that we who are suffering for him will be brought victoriously to God. The passage concludes with a view of Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father having conquered every spiritual power by his resurrection from the dead. He uses the situation in the days of Noah and the rescue of Noah's family to illustrate the triumph of Christ and the preservation of his people. The questions come when we try to understand the details of the illustration.
The Different Views:
The main questions we have to answer are: Who are the spirits in prison? What did Christ preach? and When did he preach? There have been various answers to these questions. Here are some of the main ones:
1. Some understand the spirits in prison to be the evil angels who sinned in Genesis 6 before the flood, and Jesus after his resurrection made a proclamation of victory over them.
2. An old interpretation going back at least to Augustine is that Christ 'in spirit' was preaching repentance through Noah to the unbelievers who died in the flood and are now 'spirits in prison' in hell.
3. Others have understood the spirits in prison to be Old Testament saints who were kept in a place of waiting until Jesus went and liberated them between his death and his resurrection.
3. The Descent into Hell
This last view finds support in the apostle's creed, an early creed which gradually took shape from around 200 A.D to 750 A.D.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead....
It is interesting to note that the earliest forms of the creed did not include the line 'he descended into hell'. Even though this is very old, it is not infallible scripture. But some see support for this in passages like:
Ephesians 4:8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
But the descent mentioned in these verses most likely refers to the incarnation, not a descent into hell. Jesus told the thief on the cross:
Luke 23:43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus died around 3pm. The two thieves died later, after their legs were broken. That day ended at sundown, about 6pm. If Jesus went to hell between his death and his resurrection, it was a very short trip!
The other two views are much more plausible.
2. Christ Preaching through Noah
We could paraphrase the passage to explain this view: 'in the spiritual realm of existence Christ went and preached through Noah to those who are now spirits in the prison of hell. This happened when they formerly disobeyed, when the patience of God was waiting in the days of Noah while the ark was being built' [Grudem, p.239]
In support of this view, 2 Peter 4:5 mentions Noah as a 'herald of righteousness', using the noun form of the same word we find here translated 'proclaimed'. We find support for the idea that the pre-incarnate Christ could be seen as empowering Old Testament prophets in:
1 Peter 1:10-11 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
But this doesn't fit well with Peter's phrase that Christ 'went and proclaimed'. If he is talking merely about the spirit of Christ in Noah preaching, it would seem out of place to picture him as 'going'.
Another major obstacle of this view is 'spirits in prison' is not a normal way to refer to unbelieving people now in hell. 'Spirits' in the plural in the New Testament almost without exception refers to angelic beings, not human beings. The term used for 'prison' is used in scripture for evil angels, but it is never used to refer to the place of punishment for human beings after death.
1. Victory over Fallen Angels
Genesis 6 describes the time leading up to the judgment of the flood:
Genesis 6:1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. 5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
These 'sons of God' could be the angels that Jude refers to:
Jude 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day––
Peter may also be referring to the same incident when he says:
2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;...9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,
This understanding fits the language 'spirits in prison' much better. This view fits the time sequence well; Jesus
18 ...put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,
And it fits the conclusion:
22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
The question with this view is 'what did Jesus preach?' This word is not the word 'evangelize' that is common to the New Testament. This is the word for a herald to make proclamation. It is also used of the preaching of the gospel in the New Testament. But this cannot be an invitation for the fallen angels to repent.
Hebrews 2:16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.
Rather, the same message – the message of good news of eternal life in Jesus – is a message of death to those who are perishing (2Cor.2:16). In this context, Jesus after his resurrection would herald his victory at the cross to these fallen angels imprisoned and awaiting their final condemnation.
Parallels between Noah and the Readers
Regardless of which view you take, the illustration Peter uses of the days of Noah would hit home with Peter's readers. They, like Noah are a small minority of believers surrounded by hostile unbelievers. Noah witnessed boldly to those around him; Peter's readers are encouraged to give reason for the hope that is in them, even suffering if necessary. In the days of Noah, God was patiently awaiting repentance; God is now patiently waiting for the repentance of unbelievers, but he will surely bring judgment on the unrepentant. Noah was finally saved with only a few others. Even if the majority does not convert, we will be saved because Christ has triumphed and we will share in his victory.
Baptism Now Saves You
Peter now draws a parallel between the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism. The flood waters represented God's judgment and fury at sin. Noah and his family were rescued from the judgment of sin because of God's grace. The waters of the flood brought death. Baptism pictures that immersion into the waters of death and judgment on sin. We have been crucified with Christ. Our sin nature has been put to death. But because we are united with Christ, in his resurrection we come safely through the waters of judgment. Because Jesus triumphed over death, we can now walk in newness of life.
Peter is careful to clarify so that he is not misunderstood to teach that the outward act of baptism has any saving effect. It is NOT the removal of dirt from the flesh. It is the appeal to God for a good conscience. Facing the waters of judgment and wrath against our sin we cry out to God as sinners in need of a savior and he wipes away our guilt through the substitution of Jesus for us. It is the spiritual reality that the outward act pictures that is significant. Because of our resurrection with Christ, we are empowered by the Spirit to live new lives. It is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But that is not all. Jesus suffered to bring us to God.
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Jesus is now at the right hand of his Father. He was victorious over everything. His work finished, he sat down:
Hebrews 10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
And yet he never tires of applying his work to us sinners day after day after day:
Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died––more than that, who was raised––who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
And his victorious resurrection power is at work in us who believe:
Ephesians 1:19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us–ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.