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7. The Cross And Christ’s Suffering For Sins (1 Peter 3:18-22)

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As with all study of Scripture, in order to rightly understand the teaching of this passage we need to read it in its context. The theme that cycles throughout 1 Peter is that of suffering as a Christian (cf. 1 Peter 2:15, 18-25; 3:8-17), undoubtedly because his readers were suffering for their faith at the time of his writing. His point is that it may be, in the will of God, that Christians will suffer even when doing good, but we can take courage that blessings follow suffering for righteousness (3:9, 14).

One area of life in which we may experience suffering for righteousness is when we speak up for Christ (3:13-17). On this subject Peter makes the following points: (1) When we speak up for Christ, we must not fear our opponents (3:13-14); (2) When we speak up for Christ, we must honour Christ privately in our hearts (3:15a); (3) When we speak up for Christ, we must honor Christ publicly in our words (3:15b-16). In conclusion, though doing good (like honoring Christ publicly) may incur suffering, Peter’s exhortation in such case is that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (3:17). This exhortation leads naturally from the Christian experience of suffering for doing good to two examples for us to follow and be encouraged by, first…

I. Christ Suffered For Our Eternal Gain (3:18).

1. Christ suffered as the sin-bearer: For Christ also suffered once for sins” (3:18a; cf. 2:21-25). “Also” connects back to the suffering that Peter’s readers were experiencing, for not only were they experiencing suffering but “Christ also suffered.” He was the only perfect man who ever lived and yet he suffered. He suffered blamelessly as our perfect example and encouragement. So, the implication is, if he, the perfect man, suffered, how much more should we expect and endure suffering. In one sense, Peter is saying to his readers, “Like you ‘Christ also suffered.’” But in another sense, Christ did not suffer like us, for his example of suffering for doing good goes far beyond anything that we could experience in our lives. Nonetheless, suffering for doing good identifies us as believers with Christ who also suffered for doing good.

Just as Peter’s readers were suffering, so they should remember the example of Christ who “also suffered once for sins.” That Christ suffered “once” emphasizes the fact that his suffering for sins took place at a specific point in history, that it was a definite event at which our redemption was accomplished, that such an event had never occurred before and that it will never happen again. Indeed, his work of redemption was only required once for all time because it satisfied all of God’s holy requirements on account of sin, as the author of Hebrews reminds us: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12, 14; cf. Heb. 7:27). Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sins was universal in its scope and sufficient in its efficacy for the sins of the whole world: “He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2; cf. Jn. 3:16). His suffering was once-for-all because it had eternal validity – his death never needed to be repeated. That’s why he “sat down at the right hand of God” - the work was finished; he could rest in the place of highest authority and honor at the right hand of God. The Scriptures emphasize the necessity, the efficacy, the completeness, and the finality of Christ’s suffering on the cross. This is particularly brought into focus when he declared on the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). The necessary sacrifice for sins had been offered, completed, and accepted by God.

Christ suffered once for sins and in so doing he had suffered at the hands of wicked men and at the hand of God. At the hands of wicked men he had suffered the most egregious mockery, torture, and unjust death by crucifixion. On the cross, men hurled insults at 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” (Matt. 27:40). Beside him two criminals were justly crucified, one of whom railed on him saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Similarly, the religious leaders, 41 the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 ‘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. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matt. 27:41-44).

This and so much more, Christ suffered at the hands of wicked men and he suffered also at the hand of God. On the cross he was abandoned by God, which abandonment was amplified by the isolation of the darkness: 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed” (Lk. 23:44). At that moment of complete darkness, Jesus reached the apex of his suffering when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46). Yet, in that moment of abandonment by God, though he was completely alone in the darkness, Jesus expressed his complete control over, and voluntary submission to, what was happening to him, “calling out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Lk. 23:46).

So, Christ suffered as the sin-bearer. And…

2. Christ suffered as our substitute. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (3:18b). The comparison with the suffering of Peter’s readers is most vivid. We suffer often for our own sins, but Christ had no sins for which to suffer. Christ suffered innocently and unjustly, not for his owns sins but for ours, “the righteous” one suffered for us, “the unrighteous.” How unjust is that! The unjustness of Christ’s suffering far exceeded anything Peter’s readers suffered, as he, the perfectly righteous one, suffered at the hands of and on behalf of those who were thoroughly unrighteous. He suffered as our substitute.

If Peter’s readers were concerned about unjust suffering for their faith (and they were), should not Christ’s suffering alleviate their concerns. Peter is not saying that their suffering was insignificant. He isn’t demeaning or minimizing their suffering, but he is pointing out that any suffering that we may endure for the name of Christ is nothing compared to his suffering on our behalf. We deserved death under the condemnation of God, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Death was God’s just judgement for sin. But Christ’s suffering and death was for us, the unrighteous people who had persecuted and hated him without a cause. He died the death we deserved under God’s holy judgement for sin. Whoever heard of a righteous person bearing the punishment of an unrighteous person? Well, Christ did, 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).

The theology that Peter describes as “the righteous for the unrighteous” is often referred to as Christ’s substitutionary atonement or his penal substitution. As to Christ’s substitutionary atonement, we mean that in his suffering and death on the cross, Christ took our place in dying the death we deserved for our sins. The idea in the term “substitutionary atonement” (or, “vicarious atonement”) is that our sins and their penalty were transferred to Christ on the cross, where he died in our place so that we would not have to die but, instead, could live eternally. Thus, Christ, the sinless one, took our sins on himself. This is what our text here in 1 Peter 3:18a says and means, For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” In addition to our text, many other Scriptures affirm this truth, for example…

2 Corinthians 5:15, “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake, he (God) made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.”

1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”

Isaiah 53:6, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Hebrews 9:28, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Christ’s substitutionary atonement also includes what is often called, in theological terms, Christ’s penal substitution. Penal substitution conveys the idea of punishment, that in Christ’s substitution for us on the cross he bore God’s punishment for our sins, in our place. He took the punishment we rightly deserved and which he did not deserve at all (1 Pet. 2:24). The perfectly “righteous” one suffered once for the sins of the “unrighteous.” By doing so, Christ satisfied God’s holy and just requirements against our sin. Thus, of course, by Christ’s death and by faith in him we are forgiven, set free from the punishment for our sins, and reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10). Such is the manifold grace and unbounding love of God for us, that he would send his one and only Son to die for us when we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8).

3. Christ suffered for our reconciliation: “…that he might bring us to God” (3:18c). Only through the death of Christ on the cross can we be reconciled to God. This was the great purpose in Christ substitutionary atonement that (1) we could be brought near to God (Eph. 2:13), (2) we could have new life in him (2 Cor. 5:17; Jn. 20:31; Eph. 4:24; Rom. 6:4), (3) we could be united with God (Jn. 14:20; Jn. 17:20-23), (4) we could know God (Jn. 17:3; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 12:2), (5) we could be reconciled to God through the death of his Son (Rom. 5:10), (6) we could live for God (Mk. 12:28-31; Rom. 14:8), and (7) we could have fellowship with God (1 Jn. 1:3).

Through his substitutionary death on the cross, Christ opened up the way for us to come to God through faith in him. Indeed, there is no other way to God. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). The gospel is exclusive in its scope. By this I mean that Christ is the only way to God through the salvation that he offers by faith in his substitutionary death. This is an unpopular teaching today. Society wants us to believe that there are many ways to God through all kinds of beliefs and religious systems, but Jesus teaches otherwise. He said, 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). All roads do not lead to heaven. Jesus is the only way, as the following Scriptures (and many others) affirm:

Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Rom. 10:9, “For, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

1 Tim. 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Through faith in Christ we now have access to God (Eph. 2:18-19; 3:12; Rom. 5:2; Heb. 10:19-22). Through faith in Christ we now have been been brought into a vital, living, intimate, and personal, and eternal relationship with God, such that we can now come into God’s presence with confidence, to his very throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). And all of this has been made possible because of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for us, by which he, as our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), has brought us to God.

Doesn’t that just thrill your soul? To think of who we were in our fallen, sinful, depraved condition and to compare that with who we are now in Christ is just beyond our comprehension. That God would provide such a remedy for our sins is incredible. Why would he bother? Because he loved us. Why would God actually give his one and only beloved Son to be our Saviour (Jn. 3:16)? Because he loved us. And by faith in Christ we enter into all the riches that are ours in him – (1) we are chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:4); (2) we are predestined for adoption (Eph. 1:5); (3) we are redeemed (Eph. 1:7); (4) we have an eternal inheritance (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:17); and (5) we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). The great, eternal purpose, then, in Christ’s suffering for sins was our reconciliation to God, to “bring us to God.”

And the great means of bringing us to God was by “…being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (3:18d). He was “put to death in the flesh” but that was not the end. No! Our Savior rose triumphant over sin and death. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Death could not hold him in the grave. He was “put to death in the flesh” and subsequently “made alive by the Spirit.”

It was of paramount importance for Peter’s readers, these suffering believers, to know that Christ’s suffering did not overcome him. Though his one-time suffering culminated in his death, he was also resurrected “by the Spirit.” From this perspective Peter shows here the relative insignificance of temporary suffering in this world compared to the eternal joy and blessing in the world to come (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Jesus suffered even to death for the sake of our eternal, spiritual gain.

The contrast between “flesh” and “Spirit” here does not infer a material-immaterial dualism. Rather it is intended to convey the contrast between Christ’s physical death (“in the flesh”) by men and his physical resurrection to life by the Holy Spirit – i.e. the Holy Spirit was the divine agent of Jesus’ resurrection. While many translations render this word “spirit” with a small “s”, it seems unlikely from the context that this is correct. Jesus suffered on the cross and was crucified by men but God raised him from the dead by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:10-11; 8:11-13). The danger with rendering this word with a small “s” (referring to Jesus’ spirit) is that it could lead to the false teaching that only Jesus’ spirit was raised and not his body, that his resurrection was a spiritual resurrection not physical. But Scripture is clear that his physical resurrection is the guarantee of our physical resurrection at his return (1 Cor. 15:13, 16). Furthermore, this statement is a wonderful vindication of Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death. He died for us and God showed that his sacrifice was fully accepted and complete by raising him from the dead by the Holy Spirit. The Trinity, as always, acted in complete agreement and unity.

From the example of Christ who suffered for our eternal gain (3:18), Peter turns next to the example of Noah…

II. Noah Suffered For His Faithful Testimony (3:19-20).

Continuing his theme of suffering for doing good (from 3:8-17), Peter has reminded his readers of Christ’s example of suffering for sins, which he sustained in view of the great purpose “to bring us to God,” and which he accomplished through the great means of “…being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”

In order to understand 3:19-20 correctly, we need to consider the entire section (3:18-20) together: 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 by the Spirit, 19 by whom he also went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who in the past were disobedient when God patiently waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”

The “also” in 3:19 echoes the “also” in 3:18, indicating a continuation but also a distinction in Christ’s activities. So, the sequence is this: 18 Christ also suffered once… was put to death… made alive” and “he also went and preached to the spirits in prison” (3:19).

There is much debate about and much difficulty over the translation and interpretation of 3:19-20. While I readily concede the interpretive challenges in this passage, and while I respect the conclusions of other preachers and scholars, and since I cannot examine all the issues and arguments here, let me briefly give you the results of my own analysis and research in seeking to answer the following interpretive questions...

1. Who were “the spirits in prison” to whom Christ preached? Various answers to this question have been put forward, the two most common being that “the spirits in prison” could refer either to fallen angels (cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6) or to unbelievers who had died and were in the place of punishment (2 Peter 2:9). After much study and consideration of the various arguments, the context and the language seem to me to indicate that “the spirits in prison” refers to unbelieving human beings in the place of punishment. Let me briefly support that conclusion.

First, grammatically the phrase “the spirits in prison” (3:19) is the antecedent (or, preceding referent) to the subordinate clause “who in the past were disobedient when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared” (3:20a). Grammatically then, 3:20 explains that “the spirits in prison” were all the people who refused to believe and obey Noah’s testimony, who consequently perished in the flood, and who are now “in prison” (hades) pending the final judgement. Or, to put it even more simply, “the spirits in prison” (cf. 2 Pet. 2:9) and those “who in the past were disobedient when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” are one and the same. They are not, therefore, fallen angels as some scholars assert.

Second, “when God’s patience waited” also supports the interpretation that “the spirits in prison” refers to disobedient humans (not fallen angels), since it was for the repentance of human beings that God patiently waited in Noah’s day. “When God’s patience waited” conveys the extent of God’s grace throughout that entire time period of violence and corruption (specifically, “while the ark was being prepared”) despite the unjust response to Noah from the rebellious and unbelieving people. The phrase does not refer to an opportunity for the fallen angels to repent, for there is never a hint that fallen angels have a chance to repent.

Third, those who assert that the “spirits in prison” refers to fallen angels usually quote 2 Peter 2:4-6, Jude 6-7, and Genesis 6:1-13 in support of their position. But, in 2 Peter 2:4-6, Peter is simply citing various examples of God’s judgement on rebellion as follows: (1) God’s judgement on “the angels when they sinned” - presumably those who followed Satan in his rebellion against God - and who were cast out of heaven at that time to await their final judgement (v. 4); (2) God’s judgement on “the ancient world” who refused Noah’s invitation to enter the ark and who subsequently perished in the flood (v. 5); and (3) God’s judgement of fire on Sodom and Gomorrah because of their immorality (v. 6). Similarly, Jude 6-7 repeats these examples of God’s judgement on the fallen angels and Sodom and Gomorrah. But these passages by no means indicate that those fallen angels are “the spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19. Further, Genesis 6 records (1) the utter depravity of the women who cohabited with “the sons of God” (fallen angels) and (2) the wickedness of man that was great in the earth, in response to which God declared, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man…So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land’” (Gen. 6:2-7). It’s important to note that God’s anger here was directed to the human race, not to fallen angels. Moreover, I don’t think that our passage in 1 Peter 3 is talking about the fallen angels anyway because nowhere are angels said to have disobeyed “while the ark was being prepared.”

Fourth, it was from humans that Noah suffered rejection, not from fallen angels. This is important since unjust suffering from other human beings is Peter’s theme.

Since that is who “the spirits in prison” refers to, then…

2. How and when did Christ preach to the spirits in prison? Again, the grammatical and literary unity of 3:18-20 is vital in answering this question. As to “how” Christ preached to the spirits in prison, we learn that it took place by the ministry of the Holy Spirit: 18 Christ… (was) made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (3:18-19).

As to “when” Christ preached to the spirits in prison, we learn that it took place “when God patiently waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared” (3:20a). This indicates that Christ preached to the spirits in prison through the agency of Noah by the same Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead.

While recognizing the difficulties inherent in this passage, my conclusion is that the “spirits in prison” refers to those same persons who were alive when Christ preached to them by his Holy Spirit through Noah, but who, at the time of Peter’s writing, were “in prison” awaiting judgement for their rejection of Noah’s testimony. This interpretation is consistent with Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 4:6, “For this is why the gospel was preached to those who are (now) dead (but who were alive at the time the gospel was preached to them), that though judged in the flesh according to men, they might live in the spirit according to God.

The notion of Christ preaching through Noah is also consistent with Peter’s assertion in 1 Peter 1:9-11, where the “Spirit of Christ” is said to have been active in the O.T. prophets. Thus, Christ, by the Spirit, “went and preached” through the agency of Noah.

3. What did Christ preach to the spirits in prison through Noah? While the text does not specify the content of Noah’s preaching, nonetheless it clearly conveys the idea that during the entire period when Noah was building the ark, “God waited patiently” (3:20) for that sinful generation to respond to Noah’s testimony by repenting and entering the ark by faith (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9, 15; 1 Tim. 1:16; Rom. 2:4). Evidently, that was what Noah preached to them on behalf of Christ - a message of repentance and the offer of salvation. Sadly, despite Noah’s faithful testimony over many years, despite his obedience to God in constructing the ark, despite his faithful warning of a coming flood, and despite offering the people certain escape from judgement in the ark, that entire generation was “disobedient” to his message, rejecting his testimony and the opportunity of salvation in the ark. Consequently, everyone perished except for Noah’s family in the ark, “in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (3:20b).

In addition, we can infer what the content of Noah’s message was from three other passages…

a) 1 Peter 2:5 and 9, 5 if (God) 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.” Here we read that Noah was a “herald of righteousness.” A “herald” is someone who publicly proclaims important news. This is what Noah proclaimed publicly in addition to his silent testimony in building the ark. He was a righteous man who declared a message of righteousness – (1) that God “preserves” the righteous from his judgement and “rescues” them from trials; and (2) that God keeps “the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement.” Indeed, Noah himself “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8) and the only way to find favor with God is through righteousness on the basis of faith. Undoubtedly this is the message Noah preached – salvation by grace through faith (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).

b) Hebrews 11:7, By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” Here we read that by his preaching Noah “condemned the world.” Through the Holy Spirit he preached the gospel to those who were facing God’s imminent judgement. He must, therefore, have told them about their sins and alienation from God and warned them that unless they repented and got right with God they would perish under the judgement of God, which judgement would take the form of a flood. Hence, they must flee to the ark for safety.

c) Luke 17:26-27, where Jesus also affirmed that this was the content of Noah’s message: 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” Here, Jesus issues both a warning for unbelievers and a comfort for believers. The warning is that, just as God did not spare the unbelievers in the ancient world from the flood, so he will not spare unbelievers in our world from the final judgement. The comfort is that, just as God preserved the believers in the ancient world (Noah and his family) from the flood, so he will preserve believers in our world from coming judgement, the final outcome of which (condemnation for one and salvation for the other) depends entirely on one’s response to the gospel. This should surely motivate us to be faithful preachers of the gospel today.

From all this evidence, it seems fair to conclude that Noah preached the gospel. Since Christ was preaching by the Holy Spirit through Noah while Noah was building the ark (2 Pet. 2:5), then Noah was effectively Christ’s mouthpiece proclaiming that judgement was coming and that salvation could be secured by repentance and faith, demonstrated by entering into the ark.

4. When did Christ preach to them? Given my understanding of this passage as outlined above, this question is redundant. Christ preached to “the spirits in prison” through Noah by the Holy Spirit during the time that Noah was building the ark - not while Christ was in the grave or after his resurrection as some scholars assert.

Thus, Peter argues, Noah is another example of suffering for doing good, specifically for his faithful testimony concerning impending judgement.

Final Remarks.

The interpretation of these verses hangs on the context of the entire paragraph. Peter skillfully presents two illustrations in which his audience would readily recognize the similarity to their own situation. Together with Jesus and Noah, they (1) were a minority surrounded by hostile unbelievers; (2) were the righteous in the midst of the wicked; (3) bore a bold witness to those around concerning the reality of impending judgement; and (4) were spiritually empowered for their witness as God waited patiently for people to respond in repentance.

All of this is recorded by way of encouragement to Peter’s readers. Christ was vindicated after having suffered (3:18) and so was Noah (3:20). Similarly, they too would receive the approbation of God for enduring unjust suffering from unbelievers. Moreover, just as Noah was saved through the flood waters, so “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (3:21a). This verse presents some interpretive challenges but, as with 3:19-20, it can only be properly understood when read in context. Just as, in the ark, the “eight persons were saved through water” (3:20b), so the antitype of baptism “saves” us in the sense of our identification with Christ (1) in his death and burial symbolized in immersion in water; and (2) in his resurrection symbolized in rising up from the waters of baptism (cf. Rom. 6:4). Just as Noah and his family took refuge in the ark, so we take refuge in Christ’s death and resurrection, by which we are saved from future judgement. Peter is not teaching the erroneous doctrine of baptismal regeneration; it’s the death and resurrection of Christ alone, which baptism represents, that saves us. Peter is teaching that the significance of baptism is not in its external, physical cleansing – “the removal of dirt from the body” (3:21b) – but in its internal, spiritual cleansing - “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (3:21c). A “good conscience” can only be enjoyed through the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God, all of which is signified in baptism.

As further encouragement to his readers, Peter concludes this section (3:18-22) on a note of praise and triumph concerning the vindication of Jesus Christ, who “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (3:22). Just as Christ was vindicated for his unjust suffering by his resurrection and exaltation to a position of power and triumph, so we can take courage that, if we suffer for doing good, we also will be vindicated by our resurrection and glorification at the return of Christ. For Peter, glory always follows suffering. Even the prophets of old, who inquired into the coming salvation of which the Holy Spirit had testified, knew of the sufferings of Christ and “the subsequent glories” (1:11). And Peter himself was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (5:1). Similarly, his readers, too, will experience the “eternal glory in Christ” (to which they had been called) after they “have suffered a little while” (5:10). All of this provides the impetus for Peter’s readers to press on towards their ultimate glorification.

May this passage of Scripture also be an encouragement to us as we contemplate the centrality of the cross, specifically in connection with Christ’s suffering for sins. He suffered rejection on our behalf and for our benefit. When we try to speak up for Christ in the midst of a hostile world by “giving a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15), when we feel the opposition and ridicule of unbelievers against the gospel, let us take courage that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to testify for Christ, even as God continues to extend his grace in waiting for people to respond in repentance.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Soteriology (Salvation), Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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