Saturday, February 20, 2010

Suffering Messiah, Reigning King

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 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, 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)

Once again, Peter draws on the example of Jesus the Messiah to demonstrate his point that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Jesus was just, yet He suffered for the sins of the unjust. He did that for a purpose — that He might bring us to God!

Jesus was put to death in the flesh, His body nailed to a cross until He died. But He was made alive by the Spirit of God, resurrected in a spiritual body. Not spiritual as opposed to physical. It is still a body after all, but one empowered by the Holy Spirit. Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 15, as he relates how the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the guarantee of resurrection for those who believe in Him: The same body that is sown in corruption is raised up incorruptible. The same body that is sown in dishonor is raised up in glory. The same body that is sown in weakness is raised up in power. The same body that is sown in mortality is raised up in immortality. The same body that is sown as a natural body is raised up as a spiritual body.

It is in this spiritual, resurrection body that Jesus went and “preached” to the “spirits in prison.” The word for “preached” refers to an authoritative proclamation, which can mean the announcement of good news or of triumph and judgment. But who are these “spirits in prison” to whom Jesus makes proclamation? This is a difficult passage, but Peter does give us important clues:

  • They were those from an earlier time who had been disobedient.
  • They were from the time of Noah.
  • They were from a time when God was patiently waiting.
Some commentators think they are the spirits of men who did not believe God and live obediently before Him. In this view, the proclamation Jesus made to them was actually done through the preaching of Noah, by the Spirit, in that earlier time.

Others commentators think Peter is drawing on a common Jewish belief of the Second Temple era concerning the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 who took wives from among the “daughters of men.” They were thought to have been fallen angels. Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian from the first century AD, held this view. The book of 1Enoch, written in the first century BC, describes them as fallen angels who were now in prison, and tells of judgment being proclaimed on them. This apocryphal book was known to the early Church and was well regarded by it; the New Testament letter of Jude refers to it.

These “spirits” were from the days of Noah. God was waiting out a certain amount of time — “Divine longsuffering,” Peter calls it. God said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Genesis 6:3). He was not establishing the length of a man’s life at 120 years; He was giving all men only 120 more years before He brought judgment, because He saw that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (v. 5). Then we are introduced to Noah with the words, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (v. 8).

Peter nests the example of Noah right in the middle of talking about Jesus’ suffering. Think of the abuse Noah must have endured for the sake of faith and living rightly before God. Yet, even though he suffered, Noah and his family were the only ones delivered from destruction. Then Peter uses the figure of salvation through water as a type for baptism that saves us today. However, he carefully notes that baptism does not put away the “filth of the flesh,” the sins that are committed in the body. Rather, it is the “answer of a good conscience toward God.” The Greek word for “answer” speaks of a pledge, a commitment, a declaration.

In the previous section, Peter spoke about giving an answer to those who persecute us about the reason for our hope, with a ready heart, a gentle response and a “good conscience,” because our faith is in God. Now he returns to the matter of a good conscience. It is the obedience of faith, corresponding to the faithful obedience of Noah and in contrast to the disobedience of the “spirits in prison.” The “answer of a good conscience” refers to the confession of faith given in response to questions asked at baptism, answered in good conscience as a true reflection of faith.

Baptism is a sign of faith in Jesus the Messiah, for it is through His resurrection, Peter tells us, that we are saved. Further, Jesus has now “gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” Though He suffered for doing good, He has not only brought about salvation for all who believe in Him, but now reigns as Lord over all, and every offending angel, authority and power are subject to Him. Just as the world in Noah’s day faced the judgment of God I the flood, while only Noah and his family were saved, and just as the disobedient “spirits in prison” were judged by the cross and resurrection of Jesus from the dead by the Spirit of God, so there is coming a day in which everyone who persecutes believers will have to face the judgment of King Jesus.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

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