Glory through suffering. 3:18-22
Peter, having spoken about suffering for righteousness sake, 3:13-17, now goes on to speak of the inevitable victory of the faithful who suffer, 3:18-22. This passage contains a number of difficult verses which are sometimes used to support extreme points of view.
v18. Peter describes Jesus acting rightly, suffering for it, yet victorious in his resurrection. The NIV says that Jesus was made alive by the action of the Holy Spirit rather than "quickened in the Spirit." "Quickened in" implies that Jesus was alive in some spiritual state while he lay in the tomb. Some have wrongly suggested that in this state he visited a notorious group trapped in the underworld, and preached the gospel to them.
v19-20. In these verses we are introduced to the idea of Jesus preaching to the "spirits in prison." They are described as a disobedient group who lived during the time of Noah. Are they the spirits of the dead bound in hell? Are they the people who lived before the flood, or even all those who have never heard the Good News? Although these ideas are popular, they are probably a long way from the truth. It is more likely that Peter is using an illustration of suffering for righteousness sake. Noah was someone who was faithful to his calling. He spoke the word of God to his generation, but no one listened to his words. He suffered humiliation and even more, he suffered the violence of the surging flood. Yet, in the power of God he came through it all with his family. The preaching of Jesus, referred to here, is best understood as the divine word preached by Noah to his own generation. That generation was "the spirits in prison." Noah was the agent of Jesus' words in that he preached the way of salvation. His generation failed to listen to the gospel and thus perished in the surging flood.
v21. Here again we face an extremely difficult verse which seems to imply that baptism saves us. The verse is often used by those who believe in baptismal regeneration. It is also used to support other teachings on water baptism. Yet, the chances are that the text is not referring to water baptism at all, but rather the baptism of fire - of suffering, cf. Mk.10:38-40. Noah's trial, through surging water, symbolizes the trials believers go through in their journey to eternity. Such suffering doesn't actually save us, but we will inevitably be saved, and this through the death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly rule of Christ. Our struggle reflects his, as it does for all who went before, eg. Noah. Suffering is a "pledge of a good conscience", an outward expression of our standing with Christ which involves both living the gospel and proclaiming the gospel.
To make sure we understand what type of dunking he is talking about, Peter states clearly that he is not talking about being immersed in water - bathing. Rather, he is speaking about another kind of "baptism", an immersion in persecution, of being submerged in suffering and trouble. This kind of "baptism" demonstrates a right relationship with God through Christ. Our willingness to serve Christ in difficult times is an expression of his renewing work within and thus, our right standing in the sight of God.
v22. As for coming through this suffering ("baptism"), it is our identification with Christ's resurrection and ascension that saves us. All powers ultimately submit to Him, thus we are secure in him.
Glory in suffering
Our passage for study is an extremely difficult one to understand, although Peter's point is simple enough. What Peter does is link the suffering of his readers, first with the suffering of Noah and his family, and then with that of Christ. Christ's suffering achieved wonderful results and ended in glory. For a believer, who similarly suffers because of their witness to Christ, there is set before them ultimate glory.
Good flows from suffering because of the involvement of Christ in our suffering for him, an involvement which brings with it ultimate vindication and glorification. The word of testimony "preached" by Noah was actually the living Word, Christ. Noah was rejected and suffered through the flood, but in the end he was vindicated. Believers throughout the world now suffer, suffer as they proclaim their faith in Christ. Yet, this is not the end of the matter. As Noah and his family came through the surging waters to dry land, so believers will prevail and together share in glory. In Christ's resurrection, ascension and present rule we possess life in all its fullness, here and forever.
Peter reminds his readers of the example of Jesus - the one who suffered for righteousness sake and who through that suffering entered into glory. Living for Christ involves living the truth and speaking the truth. The consequence of such a life is trouble - suffering. Yet, in the power of our risen and ascended Lord, troubles are but an intrusion on the pathway to glory.
1. Discuss what is meant by:
i] preaching to those in prison, and
ii] a baptism which saves.
2. "Troubles lift us up where we belong", Joe Cocker. Comment.
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