1 Peter 3:18-22 Christ Suffered Once for Sins WC McCarter
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
When you first read this passage (if you are like me, and I imagine you are), there are a lot of questions that are raised. For example: How does this connect to the previous passage? Who are the “spirits in prison”? When and how did Christ preach to them? What does Noah have to do with anything we have been talking about? And, maybe most importantly, what does any of this have to do with our lives today?
Logic of the passage:
1) v17 Christians, it is ok to suffer for doing good
2) v18a Christ suffered, even though He was righteous—for the unrighteous
3) v18b Although Christ suffered, God favored Him and raised Him to life
4) v19 In the Spirit, Christ preached to those who are now in prison
5) v20 The spirits are imprisoned because of rebellion in Noah’s day
6) v20 Salvation for the righteous few was through water
7) v21 Baptism is like that salvation (empowered by the resurrection)
8) v22 Christ, who suffered, has now been exalted (Christians will be too)
Christ’s Suffering and Resurrection (18)
Notice the word “For” to start the sentence in verse 18. This links us back to v17 and the previous paragraph. The sentence begins literally in the original, “Because also.” What is the link? The link is from our unjust suffering to Christ’s unjust suffering. The point, of course, is that Christ’s suffering serves as an example for us when we suffer, but, more than that, Christ’s suffering and exaltation guarantees our ultimate victory. It is not as much about imitating Christ as it is hanging on to Him by faith because of the victory He has secured for us. The great promise is that even though we may suffer in this life, even unto death, we will be victoriously raised with Christ and will reign with Him in the next age. Although it may look like we are on the losing end in this age, we will certainly triumph in the next age.
Christ’s suffering was unique:
1) “Once”: Christ’s suffering was a one-time event. This will not take place again, it is not re-enacted at any other time, and there is no need for any other sacrifice besides His.
2) “For sins”: Christ death was totally unique, also, for the reason that He died for sins. He did not die for His own sins, but for ours. He died for the sins of the whole world—past, present, and future. He bore our penalty.
3) “The just for the unjust”: This seems to allude to Isa 53:11. Christ is completely righteous, that is, He was and is perfectly sinless (2:22). This is the only way that He could pay for the sins of the world. Not only that, but He died for the unjust. He bore our penalty as our substitute.
4) “That He might bring us to God”: The chief end of the suffering of Christ was to reconcile humanity to God. He had to suffer. He had to suffer unto death. He had to be the sinless sacrifice. He had to suffer in our place as our substitute. He had to pay for our sins. And He did it all so that He might bring us to God. There was a great obstacle between us and God, but Christ was set forth as our propitiation. He removed the obstacle and has become the meeting place between God and man. You can have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Christ’s Preaching to the Prisoners (19-20)
Christ went after His resurrection and proclaimed the victorious completion of His redemptive work to the fallen angelic spirits who are now imprisoned because they were instrumental in leading the sinful rebellion in the days of Noah that brought down God’s wrath. Let’s look at Gen 6, 7:21-24.
I think we underestimate or do not even think much about the interchange between God and the angelic hosts. There is so much going on that we are either not privy to or we know very little about. This is one of those things.
We do not want to do Bible study, just for the sake of study—as fun as it is. We want to know God’s message to us. So, why the Noah illustration?
1) Christ has been present with us in His humanity and has suffered for us.
Christ was with Noah and his family in their suffering.
Christ is with us in our suffering.
He was there, He is here, He is everywhere and reigns over all.
2) However severe the suffering of this present age may be, it does not compare to the suffering of an eternal prison, that is, Hell.
3) While Christians may be in a considerable minority and surrounded by slanderers, haters, and persecutors, the same is true of righteous people of ancient generations—for example, Noah and his family. You may feel outnumbered and overwhelmed at times, but just as Noah and his family were saved, so too will you be saved.
Christian Baptism (21)
One of the great scholars on the book of 1 Peter, Peter Davids, has said of baptism in the apostolic age, “In baptism the person officially pledged his or her commitment to Christ and therefore was only considered a Christian afterward. It was the official moment of salvation. . .” (ZIBBC, 140).
Peter says that baptism saves us, but then he quickly qualifies that statement with three more statements. (1) “Not the removal of filth from the flesh”: this is what plain ol’ water does, not what baptism does. (2) “The answer of a good conscience toward God”: in baptism, we ask God to cleanse our consciences and forgive our sins on the basis of Christ’s finished work. We throw ourselves at His mercy and submit to His redemptive plan. We do not trust in ourselves but in His mercy and grace. (3) “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”: there is no special mojo in the water. Baptism’s source of power is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You see, the water of Genesis Flood separated the righteous and the unrighteous. It was salvation for Noah and his family, but it was destruction for the unrighteous world. The waters of baptism, like the flood, signify that destruction is inevitable, but believers are rescued from that judgment when baptized into Christ because He has emerged victoriously and with power from the wrath of God. In baptism, we are united with Christ’s death and also His resurrection.
Christ’s Ascension and Reign (22)
This last verse in our sermon text today provides another point that may prove our interpretation right about Christ’s proclamation over the fallen angels because it specifically refers to them. After Christ’s resurrection He went and preached and now He has gone into heaven. He went and preached to the spirits in prison, and now He has gone to the right hand of God with angels subjected to Him.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Let me encourage you to hang on in this life because Christ’s victory has secured our victory for the next age.
(2) Let me also encourage you, if you have not been baptized, to come and experience the resurrection power of union with Jesus Christ.
(3) In our suffering, in the big things of life and the small, Jesus reigns.