Victory Through Suffering and Death (1 Pet 3:18-22)
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Victory through Suffering and Death-part 2
1 Peter 3:18-22
I’m currently reading a great biography and history of the old west, primarily focused on Kit Carson–a very interesting man, and the reason there is a place called Carson City, Nevada today. Carson lived during the time of the Mexican-American war, then the Civil war, and before and after this time, the Indian wars. It was not our nation’s high point. Almost every single battle fought during this period of history had a clear winner and clear loser, and the loser was determined by who lost the most troops and had to retreat from battle.
When you were able to kill your enemy and not get killed yourself, you were the winner–and those who died were the ones who lost. This is not rocket science—in a battle, if you die you lose, and if you live you win. But there is a stunning exception to that universal rule, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. With Christ, through His death He wins and those who are His true children win with Him, even if they suffer in this life, and even if they die.
This is the message of 1 Peter 3:18 to 22–please open your Bibles to that passage and take your outline to follow along. Peter is encouraging his readers and us today to stand firm in God’s grace. To do that, Peter has reminded us to remember our salvation every single day, to remain submissive to God-appointed authorities, and to do good to those who persecute Christians and cause us to suffer.
Salvation, submission and suffering–and in this section on suffering, Peter is emphasizing unjust suffering, hurt for doing good, loving others, acts of kindness, and doing the right thing when everyone else wants to do wrong and they hate you for it. So now Peter wants to make a crucial point in verses 18 to 22–Christ suffered and died unjustly but was victorious and won. Jesus Christ is the only person who has ever lived who didn’t deserve to suffer or die. But in His death, burial, proclamation over His enemies, resurrection, ascension and exaltation Christ was victorious over sin, death, Satan and demons–Jesus won.
And if you’re born again and follow Christ as Lord, you will win through suffering in this life and will be victorious in death–how? You will be blessed by His spirit through suffering, rewarded by Christ after suffering, and live in eternal bliss, forever freed from the punishment of sin, the power of sin, and the very presence of sin and death.
Peter is writing to Christians who are experiencing suffering, persecution, and a few are dying for their faith. And He wants to encourage them and us that when life gets hard and unfair–when living for Christ gets a hostile reaction, that Christ has gone before us and shown us victory is ours.
The main point of these verses is unjust suffering and death for the believer results in victory because Christ’s unjust suffering and death led to great victory. This passage celebrates Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. These verses also contain two problematic statements that cause people to get distracted from the main focus, but we are not going to let those thorny issues turn our hearts away from Christ. Last week we started the celebration, and this week we will finish it–but don’t lose sight of the Christ and His victorious death, burial, proclamation, resurrection, ascension and glorification. It starts with verse 18, and we looked at point #1 last time . . .
#1 Christ was victorious in His death for you
Verse 18 encapsulates the Gospel in a single verse. It says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” Peter says:
1 Christ died to solve our sin problem
2 Christ’s death was a once-for-all transaction
3 Christ’s death accomplished its purpose
The One who was totally innocent, totally perfect and without sin died for the many who were unjust, full of sin, unholy and imperfect so that He might bring us to God. The only way you will ever be brought to God is to completely put your entire life in Christ’s hands–to trust only in His work on the cross for your sins, to give all that you are for all that He is.
The verb translated “He might bring” was used in ancient Greek to describe permission to come into the king’s presence. Christ alone is the One who can give you access into God’s presence now and forever. So Christ was victorious in His death–He defeated death and was able to open the door for us to come into God’s presence.
Now, at the end of verse 18 Peter says Christ didn’t stop with His death—he says, “having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” Jesus’ body died in the flesh and was buried, but His spirit, the immaterial part of his being was definitely alive, which gives us hope in our suffering because, as we saw last week . . .
#2 Christ was victorious in His proclamation over His enemies
Verses 19 to 20a say, “In which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient,” After Christ died and His body was placed in the grave, His spirit traveled to a special demonic jail. There Christ proclaimed His victory over death, over sin and over the power of the devil. Satan and his army had failed in all their evil efforts to stop Christ. This proclamation caused these demons to realize that all their attempts in Old Testament history, the gospels, Christ’s persecution, suffering and ultimate death on the cross had not worked. All their efforts to sabotage our salvation through the cross were nullified. Christ proclaimed His victory.
This is a huge encouragement to the original readers of 1 Peter who were currently being persecuted. Christ won even though He suffered and died, and Christ announced His win to His enemies. “Made proclamation” is the same word used in New Testament times of heralds who preceded generals in their processions, celebrating military triumphs, and announcing their victories won in battle. Christ went to proclaim His victory to the enemy by announcing His triumph over sin, death, hell, demons and Satan.
Who are these demons? In verse 20 Peter tells us these spirits “once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark.” These demonic spirits were involved in disobedience during the time of Noah, before the worldwide flood. Genesis 6 tells us these demons either possessed willing men and had evil offspring with women or they actually somehow physically had relations with women and corrupted the human race. But either way, things got so bad God was grieved over the pervasive wickedness that so fully corrupted the human race that it brought about His judgment of a worldwide flood.
Three other New Testament passages confirm that these pre-flood demonic spirits were wreaking wicked havoc and were punished for it. Jude 6 says, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” Second Peter 2:4 says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” Colossians 2:15 says, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”
These fallen angels and their heinous lifestyle were wiped out with the judgment of the flood. But they were not drowned–they were incarcerated instead. Verse 19, they are “now in prison.” The original language calls this the Alcatraz of the spirit world, pits of darkness, the bottomless pit or the abyss. Those wicked spirits were sent to the abyss because they overstepped the boundaries of God’s tolerance–they filled the earth with their wretchedness to such an extent that not even 120 years of Noah’s preaching convinced anyone beyond his own family to repent, believe in God and escape His judgment on the ark.
Now because of the cross, these demons must have thought that Christ had lost the upper hand–but Christ appeared in spirit in their midst and proclaimed His triumph. The point is, Jesus Christ was victorious over evil. Jesus suffered and died but won the war over sin and death. And just when the enemy was having their victory party after the cross of Christ, His spirit went to demon Alcatraz and declared to them that they had lost and He had won. Because Christ beat sin and death on the cross, Jesus won over the demons and told them so.
He was not preaching an evangelistic message of salvation, since demons can’t be saved anyway. Since angels or demons cannot die, no one can pay the wages of sin which is death on their behalf. And so all demons are damned forever, because they chose to rebel under Satan against God, and have worked against God ever since they fell. And if you are reading this 2,000 years ago you get the point–no matter what kind of hurt happens to you, no matter how you might suffer for following Christ, no matter if you’re persecuted or slandered, you who are in Christ have won too. But Peter is not done.
#3 Christ was victorious by rescuing us from judgment by rising from the dead
This passage is about Christ’s victory even in suffering and death. Some lose that focus because there are two thorny statements in these verses. One about Christ proclaiming His victory over His enemy and now this one found in verse 20b, “when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.” Like a succinct news report, let me give you the meaning, then explain the text in detail.
Those eight people in Noah’s family were the only people of all the millions who lived in that era to make it through the flood of God’s judgment. It was because of the ark that Noah and his family were brought safely through the water. Here Peter is highlighting the symbolic significance of the flood for the believer. The flood waters were waters of death that buried the people in a watery grave. But, and don’t miss this point, these same waters that swallowed up the earth in judgment and death also lifted the eight who were in the ark to safety. That is a vivid picture of our salvation.
Today we have another lovely picture of salvation called baptism. The water of baptism, like the flood waters in ancient days, pictures death. As we go down into that water we illustrate our death to sin and our burial with Christ. As we rise up out of the water we illustrate our resurrection to a new kind of life.
Then Peter adds this difficult statement in verse 21, “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The thread we need to pull to unravel this knotty statement is the phrase, “and corresponding to that”–corresponding to what? To what Peter has just been talking about in the previous verse–the symbolic picture of the ark.
In other words, Peter is saying this—“as the waters in Noah’s day lifted up the ark and gave safety to those within, so the waters of baptism today symbolize salvation to those who are born again.” The act of baptism does not save us–it just symbolizes the salvation that has already taken place. My wedding ring does not marry me, or make me married–it just symbolizes that my marriage has already taken place.
Water baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality. Water baptism is the first step of obedience since it is a command–it’s the first one you obey. But the Bible talks about salvation as a baptism, and internal work of God where you die to sin and live to Christ. And Peter wants to make sure you understand that here. Peter clearly states that those baptismal waters in no way cleanse the external flesh, either literally or figuratively. He clearly says this dry baptism of salvation is not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but this dry baptism of salvation does give us a good conscience toward God–it transforms us internally.
And how was all this accomplished? Peter ends verse 21 with “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It was Christ who suffered unjustly for the unjust and was victorious in bringing us to God, proclaiming victory over His enemies and rescuing us from judgment through His resurrection. Now go back to the beginning of verse 20 and look at the detail. Moved along by the Spirit to write, the apostle Peter saw the time when God was patient with evil men during that 120-year grace period when Noah was preaching as an analogy. Noah was announcing coming judgment, but also offered the only way of deliverance–the ark, verse 20, “when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark.”
The human race was so wicked and had been so thoroughly corrupted by really bad demons, that it was only Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives that actually heeded God’s divine warning and escaped the coming catastrophe of a worldwide flood.
Right now in this room, and hearing this message at a later time, are non-Christians. Some know they are not Christians, and others are deceived and parade as Christians, but they’ve not been born again and do not follow Christ as Lord alone. And one of the reasons these non-believers and make-believers do not submit to Christ is because God is a patient God. Like before the flood, today people live wickedly, continue in sin, live in rebellion to God, live their own way, even develop a self-centered form of Christianity, because as it says in verse 20, God is patient.
Slightly modifying AW Pink’s definition of God’s patience is that power of control which God exercises over Himself, causing Him to bear with the wicked and wait a long time before punishing them. As Nahum 1:3a says, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power.” Those of you without Christ, the only reason you are getting away with your sin right now is that God is patient–that’s all. The rest of Nahum 1:3 says, “and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” Then later in verse 6 he says, “Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire.”
God will not be patient forever, and we who know Him like Noah are trying to warn you before it is too late and you finally experience His wrath, which will be too late for you. If your sin does not fall on Christ, Who bore God’s wrath on the cross, then you will face God’s wrath personally and forever in hell. God was patient in Noah’s day, and God is patient in our day–but judgment is coming, and it will certainly fall on all those not in Christ with the gavel of finality as the judge says, “Guilty.”
During the grace period in Noah’s day, verse 20 says people witnessed the construction of the ark by Noah and his sons. Though its purpose was to rescue Noah’s family from the flood, it was also a vivid object lesson to unbelievers of God’s coming judgment on the world. The lack of responsiveness to the sermon of the ark again reminds us of the pervasive and profound wickedness that had permeated the entire human race at that time.
So now Peter shares his analogy in verse 21, “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Corresponding to that means copy, counterpart, a figure pointing to, in order to point to what Christ has done for us in salvation. Peter wants to illustrate what Christ did on the cross. He wants to give you an earthly expression which will point to a heavenly reality–a symbol you can understand so you can embrace a spiritual truth–an analogy.
The preservation in the ark of those who believed God is analogous to the salvation believers have in Christ. God preserved Noah’s family from the flood waters in the ark while the rest of mankind perished in the flood. Noah and his family are a genuine type of salvation in Jesus Christ, who preserves believers safely through God’s judgment on sinners. “Baptism now saves you” does not teach spiritual salvation occurs by water baptism–that is the heretical teaching called baptismal regeneration. But the word baptism simply means immerse, and not just in water. Peter here uses baptism to refer to a figurative immersion into Christ as the ark of safety that will sail over the holocaust of coming judgment on the wicked who are not in Christ.
Noah and his family were immersed not just in water, but in the world under divine judgment. All the while they were protected by being in the ark, God preserved them in the midst of His judgment, which is what He also does for all those who trust in Christ. And Peter makes it clear that he didn’t want readers to think he was referring to water baptism as what saves you, because as soon as those words “baptism now saves you” were out of his mouth, he clarifies what he means with the very next statement in verse 21, “not the removal of dirt from the flesh.”
Water would remove dirt from your skin, but water baptism is not what Peter is describing here. He is talking about salvation in Christ as a spiritual reality. Salvation in Christ which will not wash you on the outside, but wash you on the inside, which is why the next phrase in verse 21 says an appeal to God for a good conscience. The only baptism that can save people is dry–the spiritual baptism into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. And only those who appeal to God are those who will be saved. Only genuine Christians come to God on His terms, and those come to Jesus Christ by faith through Christ alone. Only those who appeal to God can ride on the new ark to safety from God’s coming judgment.
Just as the flood immersed all people in the judgment of God, yet some passed through safely on the ark. So also the coming final judgment will involve everyone, but only those who are genuine believers will pass through securely in Christ. The Greek word appeal is a technical term that was used in making contracts. Here it refers to you agreeing to meet God’s divinely required conditions so that He can place you into His ark of safety, the person of Christ. Anyone who would be saved must first come to God with a desire to obtain a good conscience, meaning a cleansed conscience, washed from sin inside and out. This means from the New Testament you are willing to meet the conditions necessary to obtain this internal cleanness, which is through faith and repentance.
The only way to get a clean, guilt-free conscience is to turn to Christ by dependent faith and turn from your sin in directional repentance so God will wash you from the inside out and place you in Christ, which is the only place of safety from coming judgment. It is the Holy Spirit who must baptize you internally and wash you from the inside that can make you clean from your sin. Internal baptism always leads to external baptism. When you’re baptized internally, then as a genuine Christian you will desire to be obedient. So as a result, you will desire to take the first step of obedience in Christ, and that is to be baptized externally with water, which demonstrates that you have been baptized internally already.
Just like Romans 6:3 to 6 says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”
When we are baptized by the Spirit in salvation, we die to sin and our hearts are made new, so that we are no longer under punishment for sin and we are delivered from the power of sin. Verse 21 speaks of the clean conscience and the results of true salvation–we appeal to God to be saved.
Part of the testimony of every real believer is a hatred of their own sin. Real believers come to a point where they are disgusted with themselves, sick of their own sin, and horrified by the choices for evil they’ve made–whether they were raised in the world or in the best Christian home, all real believers once had dirty consciences filled with guilt. So they appealed to God, willingly fulfilled His requirement of faith–which is total dependence upon God, exchanging all that you are for all that He is–and repentance, turning from and hating the sin in your life. Are you a real believer or a make-believer? Real believers, though forgiven, still hate the sin in their lives and turn from it.
So how do we know that Christ was victorious over sin and death? Where is the proof that Christ is the new ark of safety from judgment? Where is the proof that Christ alone can save us from sin’s punishment and power? Peter answers at the end of verse 21, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” No matter what happens to you in this life, you know you are on the winning team because Christ proved to be the winner over death, the winner over sin, the winner over evil enemies by rising from the dead. You and I have been given a guaranty.
Christ can rescue sinners from hell and bring you securely to heaven because Christ proved He won the battles against all that would keep you from heaven, forgiveness and eternal life. And the guaranty of His victory over sin and death is His resurrection–what more proof do you need? Christ beat sin and death by paying the price for sin through His death on the cross and coming back from the dead. But Peter says it is even better than that–really? Yes!
#4 Christ was victorious by ascending into heaven and reigns supreme over all
Not only did Christ die for the unjust, proclaim his victory to His enemies, overcome sin and death through His resurrection, but Christ also ascended into heaven and now has all authority over everyone and everything. Verse 22 says, “who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” Both the Old Testament and New Testament affirm that the right hand is the place of prestige and power—and the right hand of God is the preeminent place of honor and authority for all eternity. That is the place Christ went after He finished His work of redemption, and that is where He rules today.
Turn to Philippians 2:9 to 11–after describing Jesus’ humility, suffering and death, Paul worships with these words. “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Turn to Hebrews 1, for there the author exalts Christ in a similar fashion in verses 3 to 4a, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high 4 having become as much better than the angels.”
Genuine Christians adore Christ and worship Him as their authority. True Christ-followers have bowed the knee to Christ at salvation and continue every day to bow the knee to their new Master. Real believers exalt Christ every single day as the one who suffered unjustly, died, and rose again for them.
You see real believers know that Christ has ascended. Look at verse 22 again–Peter says, “who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven.” Having gone into heaven is a reference to Christ’s ascension, which Luke describes in the opening chapter of Acts. Turn to verses 9 to 11, “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
When Christ ascended into heaven, He immediately became our high priest forever, continuously interceding for all believers. And after He ascended, Peter says in verse 22 that Christ assumed His position of supremacy over angels and authorities and powers. Angelic beings, including Satan and His demons, and all people of authority are under Christ’s rule now and forever. Christ has ascended and has subjugated all under His rule.
Look at Peter’s concluding statement in verse 22, “had been subjected to Him.” This phrase emphasizes that the cross and the resurrection are what subjected the fallen and rebellious angelic hosts to Christ and saved souls from eternal judgment–this is the greatest triumph ever of a suffering righteous person. Jesus won, Jesus was victorious, Jesus did it all and those in Him win too.
Turn to Ephesians 1, for there Paul says the same thing in verses 19 to 21, “And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
There is no higher appeal. There is no one who has any control that Christ has not given. Christ is far above all rule, authority and power and dominion–no name is greater and He’s your Friend, Master, Savior, Co-heir if you are in Christ. The word subjected in verse 22, “had been subjected to Him” means to line up, rank under, describing the present status of all demons, angels, humans or other great creatures in existence. They all line up and rank under Christ. Christ is supreme over all.
Take this one thought with you in preparation for your suffering. No harassing, oppressing, deceiving, accusing human authority or demon is free to do as he pleases to you. All people, demons and Satan himself are subject to Jesus Christ. Jesus reigns at God’s right hand, and all are under Him. No one can do “nothin’” without His permission. Satan, his demons and any people who threaten you are all cats on a chain. They cannot touch you unless He lets them. And He will only let them touch you to the degree that their actions will turn out for my good and for His glory.
And get this: from the beginning of creation, Christ was sovereign over them–that’s not new. But now Christ has nullified the one thing that they could use to destroy us, our sin and our death. It’s as if the human and demonic world had many weapons to harm us, but only one great tank of poison that could destroy the children of God–sin and death. And when Christ went to the cross, He drank the entire tank–that poison exists no longer for the Christian. We cannot be defeated, even in death. To live is Christ and to die is what? Gain.
Listen, Christ suffered and died, but He won. Christ won victory over sin and death on the cross, Christ proclaimed His victory to his evil enemies in prison. Christ proved that sin and death are conquered by His resurrection. And Christ now sits in the place of authority over the universe. Nothing can happen to you that He does not allow. No being can touch you unless allowed by His purposes. No suffering or persecution can stop you from being ultimately victorious since you are baptized into Christ Himself.
It was lost human beings for whom Christ died–the lost angels could only listen in dismay to Christ’s proclamation of victory. Even the elect angels can only marvel at what they cannot fully understand. Believers should be grateful that while they were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Christ suffered and died but was victorious and won. So you too, Christian, can be confident that your suffering and possible death for following Christ will also lead to victory.
Will you trust Him with your current pain or hurt? Will you turn to Him for a clean conscience and forgiveness of sins? Will you depend on Him for all that is weighing you down today? Can you say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”