DAILY DEVOTION - MAY 30
Listen to excerpts from today's daily devotion on this video.
This Daily Devotion is from A Living Hope, by Sarah Viggiano Wright, published by Bible Study Media, and made available to us through Presbyterian Women.
“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
What is the “therefore” there for? This is one of the most frequently asked questions in exegetical study. In other words, what’s the connection? When “therefore” begins a section, it signals to us that we must understand what preceded it in order to connect what comes after it, as is the case with the “for” in verse 18. Understanding the connection to what comes before today’s reading will help us discern the most complicated passage in 1 Peter (or possibly in the New Testament).
Previously, in 1 Peter chapter 2 (vv.18–25), Peter shows that Christ suffered on our behalf, giving us an example to follow. Peter has also been describing a series of circumstances in which we Christians are “likewise” to serve others, even those who mistreat us, and entrust ourselves to God for our vindication and eventual exultation. We are to have a reasoned apologetic to give the world, confirmed by the attractiveness of our godly behavior—this is to be our witness to God’s grace. And, though we are suffering for Christ, Peter reminds us that there’s nothing on earth that ultimately can harm us, and it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (3:17).
Peter then turns to preparing the suffering Christians in his audience for the long road ahead of them. In verses 16–18, Peter reminds them of Christ’s suffering and notes that the kindnesses they offer their adversaries are akin to the mercy Jesus offered us, the unrighteous— they are unmerited grace. Jesus willingly suffered in order to bring us to the Father, destroying death and all our enemies, uniting us as a family. Just as Christ was raised, we will be raised with him.
All of this we comprehend. But then Peter starts expanding on verse 18 with verses 19–20 and suddenly we’re a bit lost! Doesn’t this part about Noah, water, and baptism feel a little out of place? What is it doing here and what does it mean?
Even scholars have asked these questions and have come to a variety of conclusions about this portion of Peter’s letter. So, let’s wade through it as best we can. To help us, we need to stay mindful of the central themes of Peter’s letter and remember that the Word of God is never contradictory or inconsistent.
Here is what we can know. Peter’s main point in verses 18–22 is that Jesus went through unjust suffering and was vindicated by God. Jesus is alive, he has power over sin, death, and every evil. And Jesus’ suffering on the cross was vindicated through his resurrection (vv.18, 21–22). Therefore, Christians also can endure unjust suffering and trust God for vindication. Those in Christ will be victorious through his resurrection, knowing Jesus has all ultimate authority.
This brings us to verse 19, which is most complex. It says Jesus “went” (not “went down” or “descended”) and “proclaimed” (ekēryxen), not “preached the gospel,” (euēngelizeto) to “the spirits in prison” who did not formerly obey. Where is this prison Peter refers to? (Notice it does not say Sheol or hell.) Who are these prisoners? Are they angelic? Are they humans from Noah’s time? What message was proclaimed to them and when? There are many well-thought-out interpretations, but there is no clear consensus among scholars. We must be content to let some mysteries remain.
Next, Peter includes the Noah narrative (a story familiar to those inside and outside the Jewish faith) to show that God had provided salvation then, too. Every day that Noah spent building the giant ark communicated to those around him that God was real, his judgment was real, and it was really coming! But, those who trusted in God and his word were saved.
There are similarities in the contexts of Noah’s and Peter’s audiences. Wickedness was proliferating in Noah’s time as well. Noah, a righteous man, was being reviled by those around him—he was in the world, but not of the world, just like these elect exiles. Noah trusted in God’s word to him, and eight people were saved from the flood. Peter’s audience needs to trust too. Just as the Lord had the authority and power over nature and was mighty to save Noah’s family then, Peter assures his readers that the Lord has the might to save all those suffering in the midst of wickedness now.
There is also some parallel symbolism here. Peter ties the image of Noah and his family being saved through the waters of the flood with the washing of water in baptism. He explains that baptism corresponds to the cleansing of sin from the believer (v.21). He’s not saying that the water is salvific (what causes salvation), but that baptism is an outward symbol of the now clear inner conscience and heart position toward God because of Christ’s work.
All of Peter’s word pictures are meant to yield an understanding that salvation has been achieved for us through God, and God alone. Jesus was put to death and made alive again to bring us back to God. There is no salvation apart from our being presented righteous to God through the resurrection of Jesus, having been cleansed by him. These are the aspects of this passage that are readily understandable.
Thankfully, we don’t have to understand everything in the Bible to know God or to trust him. What we can know for sure is that God is good and that the victory of Jesus means more for humanity than any other event in history. We can understand that God is for us, that Jesus atoned for us, and that he has complete and total victory over sin—and one day we will too!
We can trust in the goodness of the cross even when we don’t understand what is happening around us. When life is confusing and provides more questions than answers, we can know that Jesus Christ is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God, and that everything is in submission to him. In full authority, he tells us that his work is being and will be accomplished; his resurrection is the hallmark of his triumph.
In that resurrection power, he has given us new life!