For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:18–22).
First, let's stick with what is clear from this most enigmatic of NT texts:
- Christ suffered (and died) unjustly for the unrighteous to bring believers to God (v. 18)
- By the power of the Spirit, Jesus was raised from the dead and proclaimed victory over [demonic] powers (the real enemy) (vv. 18-19)
- Jesus is now exalted on high as the resurrected and ascended Lord and all the powers are subject to Him (v. 22).
And, then, second, this text is good news to the church, to believers in that . . .
- Suffering isn’t the last word
- Our enemies (the church's enemies) will not have the last word
- And, those in charge of defining what it means to be human, to live, in society, and define relationships do not have the last word
It is amazing that this small, embattled church made up of unequals and strangers, should have scared or alarmed anyone, especially those in power. Yet, it did. We, today, are quite harmless–this is perhaps why so many Christian social justice advocates and, as well, Christian conservatives rely on the government (i.e., earthy power) to do justice and enforce (always through some form of violence and/or punishment related actions) justice. I believe our lose of the power God gives his church, his local gathered-church has been lost because we hate the idea of suffering (like Jesus) and so want the acceptance and comfort our earthly powers grants us–as individual believers and as local gathered-churches.
Here is my thought on the significance of this text in 1 Peter. And by "in," I mean in the flow and thought of Peter's Letter to the "elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1:1b):
"Following Christ’s example of suffering isn’t some magic formula for prosperous living or redemptive like Jesus’ for the forgiveness of sins, but it is like Jesus’ suffering in that it (the way He did it) turns everything regarding power and the flesh on its head, it turns up-side-down the meaning and value of weakness and strength, it reveals the difference between flesh and spirit, and subverts everything we know about power. When early believers, in gathered-churches, throughout the Greco-Roman world and empire believed in Jesus and followed His example, it changed everything—e v e r y t h i n g ! Following Jesus’ example of unjust suffering helped believers to endure and preserve, and it changed and outlived an empire. See how that’s done? Go do likewise!"
I am the author of Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church's Task of Evangelism, a deep, exegetical read into the Gospel of Mark. All royalties from this book go to support our church planting ministry in the Hill community of New Haven, CT. The book and its e-formats can be found on Amazon, Barns'n Noble, (and most other online book distributors) or through the publisher, Wipf & Stock directly.
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