1 Peter 3:13–4:6comment (0)
April 12, 2007
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13–4:6
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Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
PREPARE FOR SUFFERING
1 Peter 3:13–4:6
Suffering’s Cause: Living Right (3:13–17)
Christians may find themselves persecuted for doing right. In that case, what should Christians do? They should not fear their opponents or be frightened by enemy threats and brutality. They should sanctify (NASB), reverence (RSV) or set apart (NIV) Christ in their hearts, i.e. let Jesus be their real and unrivalled Lord. They should defend their faith, offering a rational defense with gentleness and respect. And they must continue to live in such a way that they have a clear conscience.
Suffering’s Motivation: Christ’s Suffering (3:18–20)
“A righteous one” (Christ) was put to death for “unrighteous ones” and rose again to bring them to God. Because the innocent suffering of Christ opened access to the presence of God, perhaps the innocent suffering of Christians would do the same. The original New Testament language could be translated “made alive in spirit” or “made alive by (the Holy) Spirit.” Either way, the reference is to Jesus’ resurrection.
Verses 19–20 are obscure. The best approach may be to ask and try to answer five questions. The following comments reflect one of the three major interpretations of the passage. Who did the preaching? The best answer is that Christ did. He is the subject of the verbs in verse 18, the immediate context.When did He preach? If sequence is significant — and it seems to be — Christ must have preached after His resurrection.
Whom were the spirits? These are probably not the spirits of human beings who were alive in Noah’s day, but long dead in Christ’s, because only once in the New Testament does the word “spirit” refer to that part of a person that survives death (Heb. 12:23). Usually it refers to demonic beings. Almost certainly this is the reference here. These are mentioned in verse 22. In what sense were they disobedient in Noah’s day? Possibly the rebellion that led to the flood was inspired by such evil beings. What did Christ preach? He did not preach the gospel. The verb translated “preach” (kerusso) can mean “to herald triumph.” Probably Christ went to proclaim His victory and the final condemnation of evil spirits (cf Eph. 1:21, Col. 2:15). What and where is the “prison?” It is impossible to locate geographically, so it may mean the spirits are in custody and awaiting judgment.
Suffering’s Symbolism: Baptism (3:21–22)
The experience of Noah parallels the Christian experience in baptism. Noah was saved, not by the flood but, from the flood. Although several New Testament passages emphasize the need of baptism, the dominant teaching is that salvation is by faith alone, not by baptism. Peter qualified his statement by saying baptism does not remove “filth from the flesh,” i.e. moral and spiritual defilement from the sinful nature. It is rather a pledge made to God to maintain a good conscience.
The Old Testament shadow is the events connected with Noah — obeying God, building and entering the ark and traveling through the waters. The corresponding New Testament reality is the events connected with baptism — hearing and obeying the gospel, believing in Christ, repenting from sin and confessing publicly the death and resurrection of Christ, which is symbolized by water baptism.
Suffering’s Result: Lessened Desire to Sin (4:1–6)
The last part of verse 1 suggests that a Christian’s sufferings will lessen the desire to sin. Verse 2 speaks of two basic elements in the Christian life — avoiding human passions and doing the will of God.
Verse 6 is hard but seems to refer to Asian Christians who had died and whose loved ones were naturally concerned about them (cf 1 Thess. 4:13–18). While they lived in the flesh, they were “judged” by human standards, i.e. abused, persecuted, etc., but in reference to their spiritual nature, they will be judged by divine standards, i.e. they will be shown right and rewarded.