Bible Class Notes on 1 Peter 3:18-20 | Notes on the Petrine Epistles
Peter points to the example of Jesus. He says: “Christ also suffered.” In essence, Peter says, “you Christians may have to suffer, but Jesus, our example, also suffered.” These Christians were not alone in their suffering—Jesus knew what it was like to suffer.
Christ suffered for sins. There is some idea of the completeness of Christ’s death here. He suffered “once for all.” Jesus did not need continually to offer up his body for sin—he did that one time. Throughout the New Testament there is the idea that Jesus died once for all. “The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God” (Rom 6:10). “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:27). “For then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:26). “Christ [was] offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28). “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).
Jesus suffered for sins. There was a purpose to the suffering of the Christians who might suffer: “if that should be God’s will.” There was also purpose for Christ’s suffering—he “suffered for sins.” The phrase “on behalf of sins” was often used of sin offerings in the Old Testament. “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring, as his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering” (Lev 5:7). “Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days” (Is 53:10).
The New Testament borrowed this imagery and pictures Christ as dying for our sins. “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb 10:18). “If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:26). “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for our only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2).
The suffering of Christ was the suffering of “the righteous for the unrighteous.” In the New Testament, a difference is made between “the righteous” and the “unrighteous.” “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). “There will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).
Jesus is here called “the righteous.” This idea probably comes from Isaiah 53:1 where God’s servant (who is Christ) is called “the righteous one.” Based upon this text, “Righteous One” was used as a title for Christ in the early church. “You denied the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14). “They killed those who announce beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (Acts 7:52). “If any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn 2:1). “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him” (1 Jn 2:29). “He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 Jn 3:7).
Jesus truly was “righteous.” Righteous refers to being right. “He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips” (1 Pet 2:22).
We are truly unrighteous. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10//Ps 14:1-3; Ps 52:1-3; Eccl 7:20). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Because we are unrighteous, it was necessary for Christ to die for us.
Christ brought us to God. This is an unusual expression that really doesn’t occur anywhere else. This seems to refer to reconciliation. Christ reconciled us to God, i..e, he brought us back into fellowship with God. Reconciliation has the idea of bringing friends back together. “For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20).
Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” Here we have a contrast between flesh and spirit which is not at all uncommon in the New Testament. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63). This dichotomy is present in Galatians 5:16-25 where Paul discussed the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” “[Jesus] was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3-4). “He was manifested int eh flesh, vindicated in the Spirit” (1 Tim 3:16).
Jesus was put to death in the flesh—the Lord was crucified.
Jesus was made alive in the spirit. This does not mean, as some might assume, that Jesus’s spirit continued to live even after his body was crucified (although that is, of course, true). This refers to the resurrection. The text says that Jesus “was made alive”—this clearly implies coming to life after having been dead. If this refers to his spirit’s continuing to live, his spirit would have had to be dead at some point.
The verb here is passive. Jesus was made alive—he did not make himself alive; another acted upon him and he was made alive. Of course, God is designated as the subject of make alive.
He was made alive in the spirit. Some commentators believe this means that Jesus had a new relationship with God after his resurrection. Our spiritual lives are new after our resurrection from baptism (Rom 6:3-4). His new relationship could possibly be as the mediator between God and man. However, this understanding doesn’t seem likely.
This could mean that the Holy Spirit was the agent by which God raised Jesus from the dead. “In the spirit” could be translated as “by the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit would be the means by which Jesus was raised from the dead. This understanding seems probable.
Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison. Before we attempt to exegete this text, we need to examine what the text actually says.
- “In which he went.” There are several ways we could understand “in which.” However, the clear antecedent is “in the spirit.” Jesus, therefore, went “in the spirit.”
- “He went.” Jesus did not merely preach to the spirits in prison; he went to them. At one point, Jesus went to the spirits in prison.
- “He preached.” The term here does not mean “evangelize;” another Greek term is used to mean that. The term used here simply means “to announce” or “to proclaim.” The term is used of the angel with a. loud voice who made proclamation (Rev 5:2). The term is also used of the leper who was healed who told widely what Jesus had done (Mk 1:45). The term occasionally does refer to preaching the gospel. However, “the gospel” is always used as the direct object. There isn’t any idea inherent in the term as to what is preached. The Greek term simply tells us that Jesus proclaimed something. The term does not have any bearing on what he might have proclaimed.
- He preached “to the spirits in prison.”
- “Spirits” refers to nonhuman spiritual beings. “[You have come] to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:23). Spirits here seems to have that same connotation—the inner part of man separate from his body.
- These spirits are in prison. “Prison” obviously refers to the realm where the ungodly wait for judgment. “If God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment. . . .” (2 Pet 2:4). This understanding is enhanced because these spirits were disobedient to God during the time of Noah.
There are several understandings of what this text means.
Some commentators believe Enoch is the one who went and made proclamation.
The name Enoch is much like the Greek for “in which also.” There is a tale in a Jewish apocryphal book which tells that Enoch descended into Hades and made proclamation to the disobedient spirits. However, there isn’t any evidence that this is what Peter means.
Others think that the spirit in which Jesus went to preach to these spirits was the Holy Spirit.
They believe that Noah was inspired by the Holy Spirit through Jesus (an idea one really cannot dispute). This idea is enhanced by 1 Peter 1:11: “They inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and subsequent glory.”
Although Noah obviously preached by the Holy Spirit, one must still ask, “Is this really what Peter means?” One needs to remember that Peter says that Jesus went. If Noah merely preached by the Holy Spirit, could we really say that Jesus went? One also needs to remember that the text says that Jesus went to the spirits in prison. The most natural understanding of this is that Jesus actually went to prison. If Jesus merely preached through Noah, how did the Lord go to the spirits in prison?
Several (myself included) believe that Jesus went to the spirits in prison between his death and resurrection. Some believe that he gave these spirits a second chance to obey. However, we can quickly refute that idea.
What seems to have happened is that:
- Jesus went to Paradise between the time of his death and his resurrection.
- Those in Torment would have been able to see over into Paradise (Lk 16:23).
- Being in Paradise, Jesus proclaimed to those in torment who were disobedient during the days of Noah.
- Jesus would have proclaimed that they had no hope and that they had no second chance.
God was patient during the building of the ark. Those spirits to whom Jesus preached were disobedient in the days of Noah.
Yet, God did not automatically destroy the disobedient—he was patient with them. Noah took basically one hundred years to build the ark. God could have automatically destroyed the world when he saw “that the wickedness of man was great int eh earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Yet, God was patient and waited for the world to repent.
Jewish tradition also speaks of God’s patience during this time. The Mishnah says, “There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, to show how great was the long-suffering, for all generations provoked him continually until he brought upon them the waters of the flood.”
God is a patient God. Although God desires to punish sin (and will punish sin), he desires to give man an opportunity to respond to him. The Scriptures teach that God patient.
- When God revealed himself to Moses, God revealed himself as “slow to anger” (Ex 34:6).
- “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
God’s patience waited during the building of the ark. This shows God’s patience. Instead of automatically destroying the world, God was patient with the world, and God gave the world time to repent while Noah built the ark.
In the ark, eight persons were saved through water. Eight souls were saved—Noah, his wife, his sons, and his daughters-in-law. They were saved through water. They were not only saved from water—they were saved through water. Water supported the ark and allowed it to be a life-boat for Noah and his family.