“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us[a] to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited[b] in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:18-22).
Suffering for an End
Peter has called Christians to be like Christ and to be like Christ even in suffering. An understandable question is whether suffering like Jesus is worth it? Peter has us consider two examples from the story of the Flood of delayed judgment and eventual salvation. This story is not only about the salvation of Noah’s family but also the judgment against the fallen angels. Peter points that both the spirits’ judgment and Noah’s salvation come through the victorious suffering of Jesus.
We learn three principles from these verses. Even though God’s judgment may delay for thousands of years, His justice will come like it was declared to the evil spirits. Even in judgment, God saves his people like he saved Noah in the ark. Even though Christ suffered unjustly to death for doing good, that suffering was not defeat but was instead a victory over all angels, authorities, and powers.
The Just for the Unjust (vs. 18)
Peter begins with the suffering of Christ which is the means of our salvation, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (vs. 18). The essence of the gospel is an exchange––Jesus Christ takes our sins and He gives us His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus accomplishes this salvation “being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit…”
A Journey through the Underworld
What is death? We know that death results from separation from the living God due to our sin (Eph. 2:1-2). Death is also the separation of the soul from the body. Joe Rigney said, “God made human beings to be embodied souls and ensouled bodies. Death rips this asunder.” We are familiar with what happened to Jesus’ body after his death (Mt. 27:57-60). But what about Jesus’ soul? Where did his soul go during this time? Christ’s soul went to Hades to proclaim his victory.
Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the souls of the dead went to Sheol. In the New Testament, Sheol is translated in Greek as “Hades” which, yes, is the Greek mythological underworld of the dead. Hades was divided into two regions, one a place of paradise (called Elysium/Abraham’s Bosom) and the other of torment (called Tartarus/Hades), and these were separated by a great chasm. This is confirmed in the quasi parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) where both men die and descend to Hades––Lazarus to the Abraham’s bosom and the rich man to torment in flames. Where did Jesus go when he died? To paradise in Hades (Lk. 23:43). And from here, Jesus preaches across the chasm to the imprisoned spirits in Tartarus (2 Pet. 2:4). What was the specific sin that landed these spirits in Tartarus?
Preached Judgment to the Spirits (vs. 19-20)
This takes us back to before the Flood. Genesis 6 begins with man multiplying on the face of the earth. Then, “The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were beautiful. And they took as their wives any they chose” (Gen. 6:2). The phrase “the sons of God” is used to describe angels (Job 2:1). These fallen angels and human woman were breeding, and God responded with a declaration for a fixed lifespan, a definite mortality. This gets at the sin of the rebellious spirits. They tried to generate immortality outside of God––attempting to reach the tree of life without God.
Their rebellion was a big deal in God’s history of the world since they were reserved for judgment (2 Pet. 2:4, Jude vs. 6) and singled out for Christ’s preaching. Jesus triumphed over them that life does not come through rebellion outside of God. How can we live? Peter points to Noah’s ark––only through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Noah and His Saving Baptism (vs. 20-21)
How were Noah and his family saved? There are two right answers––the ark and God. God used the ark as the means to deliver Noah. Those eight souls were saved because they were in the ark. Peter says this is a type of baptism, which now saves us. Jesus Christ is the ark. Those who are in Christ pass though the water of God’s righteous judgment and are saved. We must note that during Noah’s day it was not enough to know about the ark, memorize its blueprints, live in its shadow, stand right next to it every Sunday morning for years while the ark was under construction. You got to be in the ark, just like you got to be in Christ.
Christ’s Victory and Reign (vs. 22)
The ark, which was the scorn of the world, soon came to define the world. Now Christ, the new ark, defines the world. Jesus Christ is the one “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to him” (vs. 22). And so all these angels, authorities, powers, Caesars, presidents, masters, slaves, husbands, wives, sons, daughters are all under Jesus Christ. We are all under Him, but are we in Him? Christ’s death was his victory. And Christ’s victory is our salvation. And so his victorious suffering should be proclaimed!