World English Bible translation
3:17For it is better, if the will of God should so will, that you suffer for doing well than for doing evil. 3:18 Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 3:19 in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison, 3:20 who before were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ark was being built. In it, few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 3:21 This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you - not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3:22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him.
Today's Scripture begins with another set of phrases extolling Jesus Christ. Peter repeats the theme of yesterday's lesson by reiterating that it is better to suffer for doing good than it is for doing evil. Then he returns to the example of Christ. Jesus suffered for sins once and was put to death. His suffering was a sacrifice of the righteous (Jesus) for the unrighteous (you and I). We should follow in the example that He set for us. If we are to suffer, let us suffer for doing the will of God in our lives, for then we will be blessed through our suffering.
From that point things become more complicated in our text. There are two issues that come up in this unique passage. The first is the idea that is expressed in verses 19 and 20. Peter writes that Jesus died in the flesh but was made alive in the spirit and he went and preached to certain spirits. These spirits are in prison for something that happened a very long time ago during the days of Noah. These are the spirits of beings that were disobedient to God in the days before the flood and they have been imprisoned ever since.
Now, to my understanding, this is the only passage in scripture that teaches about this event. That is not to in any way invalidate the teaching here, it is simply an effort to express caution as to how we should interpret this passage. We do not know if the spirits that were imprisoned are the spirits of disobedient men or of disobedient angels. We do not know for what purpose Christ preached to these spirits or what result took place from His preaching to them. All that we know is that Jesus went and preached to these spirits that were imprisoned.
The best explanation that I have ever heard of this passage was that Jesus went and proclaimed the resurrection to certain fallen angels that had been imprisoned since the flood. I do not press this opinion on anyone and if you are led to believe something else that is equally plausible from this passage, well and good. I would warn you to be cautious of people who declare to you that they understand completely what this passage means. There are some passages in scripture where we simply are not given all the necessary information to draw complete conclusions and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with saying that we are not meant to understand everything in this life.
The next passage here is not as complicated but it is equally interesting and can be confusing to some people. Peter writes that during the time of Noah, "eight souls were saved through water." He says that "this" is a symbol of baptism "which now saves us." "This" might apply to the ark or equally to the water. Or it may also apply to the idea of souls being saved. I tend to believe that it is this last idea that Peter has in mind but I have heard people who believe any of the three ideas. The passage itself is so tortured it could be any of them.
He does go on to say that baptism does not save because of "the putting away of the filth of the flesh." Baptism saves because it is "the answer of a good conscience toward God. " It saves because it is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and He is now exalted in the heavens and all created beings are subject to Him. About this last part we can be absolutely certain. Christ is raised from the dead and glorified in heaven. He sits in a position of authority and rules the heaven and earth. We are all answerable to Him. We are all His subjects, because He has been crowned the king of all living things.
It is okay to say that there are some things that we cannot be certain about. We walk by faith and that means that God does not always give us all the answers. But, we know enough to know what is important. Christ is living. Christ reigning. Christ is preparing to come again. Are you expecting His return? Do you live today with "a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ"?
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