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. (1Peter 3:18-22)
Please consider the question before you this evening - Are you a Good Witness in Suffering?
Generally we not very good witnesses of our Lord to our shame. We are, every now and then, shaming our Lord, His gospel and His church in our conversation with people. Our relationships with such people such our landlords and landladies, our customers and our clients, our employers and employees, our parents and children and so forth. We struggle to establish godly relationships with others.
If this is the case, how about when we are under threats and dangers? How much more when our reputations are at stake? How much more when our careers are threatened? How much more when our families are endangered?
How do we conduct ourselves in suffering? It might be mental or physical torture. It might be in times of misunderstanding or when we have been falsely accused. It might be that time when nothing seems to work and everyone seem to be working towards your downfall. Do we provide good witness then? Do we conduct ourselves in a godly way? Do we adorn the gospel then?
This passage is one of the most difficulty passages in the Bible and so many would not want to deal with it. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit I would like us to consider this passage for our lessons because Peter himself concedes that there some things that are difficulty to understand (2Peter 3:16) because Scripture is not equally clear in all parts. We have three truths in reference to suffering in this passage of Scripture that I would like us to consider:
1. We must suffer
2. God is near us suffering
3. God is patient with us
We will consider each one by one.
We live in this world of sin with so many enemies fighting against us. We have the evil powers that are out to extinguish the light of God’s Word in our lives. Our responsibility is resist the devil and fight with the spiritual weapons given us by God. There is the world so full of sin and wickedness that it is pulling all its resources to force us to conform to it. We are to resist and flee from its enticements and pleasantries. There is the enemy within – our own bodies that is so happy to be in the world that for us to be any different then we have to fight forcefully.
It is this background that makes suffering for us inevitable. We suffer because this world has nothing to offer except suffering and so we are to look at the means provided in the Word to eschew these terrible suffering. Let us consider three witnesses in the Bible:
a) First of all let us look at Christ’s witness in suffering
We are told that ‘Christ also suffered’. Why did Christ suffer? For Himself? No! for sinners, the unrighteous! Christ died one time for the sins of His people and this was enough and final so that there was no need for a repeat of his atonement. This means that His atonement was completed for us who have believed in Him.
Now this is the point concerning suffering, if Christ Himself was not exempted from sufferings in this life, though He had no guilt of His own and could have declined all suffering if He wanted, who are you not to suffer? Why should you be excused from suffering which God Himself subjected to Himself?
The reason for Christ's suffering was the sins of men – Christ suffered for sins. The sufferings of Christ were a true and proper punishment for the sake of those of those the Father had placed in His hands. In this punishment their sins were expiated because it was an atoning sacrifice that extends to all sin for all time.
In the case of our Lord's suffering, it was the just that suffered for the unjust. He substituted himself in our stead, and bore our iniquities. He who did not know sin suffered instead of those who did not know any righteousness. The merit and perfection of Christ's sacrifice were such that for him to suffer once was enough. The authorized sacrifices in the Mosaic Covenant were repeated from day to day, and from year to year; and for each person, but the sacrifice of Christ, once offered, purges away all sin for His people, (Heb. 7:27; 9:26, 28; 10:10, 12, 14).
Notice that Christ’s suffering accomplished something that was greater than the suffering itself. His suffering brought us to God! Through His suffering we were reconciled to God though we did not merit an inch of it! What a joy to know that Christ has not only given us access to God but has also brought us to God for all time in order that we may come to His glory of eternal life! And this is what we read elsewhere in the Scripture:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13). “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2:18)”… in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” (Eph 3:12)
“… and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:21-22).
Christ has not hidden His witness for He bore it publically and was even chronicled under His superintendence. He also appointed those who were to proclaim it in all times. He used the prophets like Noah and other Old Testament prophets who testified to the world so that they would not be lost. So let us consider the witness of Noah.
b) Secondly consider Noah’s witness in His day
Noah was a good witness in his day was good. During his time the wickedness of his contemporaries had broken all the scales of perdition. The example of Noah is presented here whereby he was the preacher of righteousness (2Peter 2:5) to a wicked generation. But as a result there are those who believed and obeyed Christ but those who continued in disobedience and unbelief, punished in the waters of the flood.
Noah was Christ’s agent for preaching to those who were in the prison of ignorance, and disobedience who lived in his time and who at the time of writing this letter were dead. He faithfully preached to them for 120 years as he steadfastly built the ark. Christ went and preached, by His Spirit striving with them, and inspiring and facilitated Noah to implore them, and preach righteousness to them, as 2Pet_2:5.
Both Jesus and Noah faced great oppositions and would have reasons for not providing good testimonies in their conduct before the world. However, they both were approved witnesses so that the effect of their witness was salvation of souls either by the ark or by Christ’s body. Let us always know that our witness is always rewarded.
Now, if God didn’t exempt Christ from sufferings, why should Christians expect it? If He suffered, to expiate sins, why should not we be rejoice and be content when our sufferings are only for discipline and correction, but not for expiation? If He, though perfectly just, why should not we, who are all criminals? If He once suffered, and then entered into glory, shall not we be patient under trouble, since it will be but a little time and we shall follow Him to glory? If He suffered, to bring us to God, shall not we submit to difficulties, since they are of so much use to quicken us in our return to God, and in the performance of our duty to him?
God considers our situations and circumstances and deals with us accordingly. It is reassuring to know that He did not just banish those who sinned during the time of Noah to live in their disobedience. He went after them and raised up Noah who had His Spirit so that His Word was proclaimed to them.
It is therefore clear that when we suffer, God is near us. We ought to always take Him seriously in the promise that He has given us that He never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5) because this is our confidence in Him. We might feel left alone by God like the way Jesus felt on the cross – but that is just the feeling because God will always uphold His promise to keep it. God will not leave us at any point – He is ever near us to protect you.
How are we to conduct ourselves in suffering? What are we to do to make His presence more real to us?
a) We are to pray when in suffering. Jesus Himself prayed to His Father. These are some of His prayers: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" (Luke 23:34, 46)
God heard Christ’s prayers in agony. Are we to find a better example on how to witness in suffering than from our Lord? It is Him who prayed for His persecutors that God may not put their sins in their account but instead in His own account. He prayed that His spirit may be in His Father’s hands and this is what we are to do – leave the Lord with everything and trust that He will act in accordance to His promise because He is a faithful promise-keeper. It is from the example of the Lord that Stephen learnt and He also prayed for those who killed Him (Acts 7). Prayer is an effective witness and those who us it find comfort from God who is the Father of all comforts (2Cor.1:3)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2Cor 1:3-4)
b) We are to remind ourselves of the promises of God in His Word. Many of those who have gone through the persecution and have come out victorious, though in death, are those who had taught themselves how to trust upon the Lord and to take Him seriously at His word. God will keep His word and this is what we are always to remember that He is always faithful, because He cannot deny Himself (2Tim 2:13). We has said that though we may go through the valley of the shadow of death, He will be with us (Psalm 23:4). It is the promises of God on which we are to stand because they cannot fail.
c) We are to depend on other Christians. First of all the reasons why we go through these difficulties are so that we may be able to strengthen others when they would be in the same sort of afflictions. So these afflictions are not just for our own discipline but also for the profit of others. So then if that is the case, we are also to depend on other believers to advice and comfort us when such times arise. We are to run to bear in mind that there are those who have gone the same experiences and so seek them for their counsel and fellowship. It is during these times that we are strengthened by others. Please bear in mind that there are people who are going through hard times and seek to be of encouragement to them. Don’t wait for them to come to look for you complaining that they are not open. Go to them and tell them that you understand what they are going through and that you understand having gone through the same in the past and they will open up and share their woes with you.
Because God is near us why should not be the best witness there can be? During the persecutions under the Bloody Mary Tudor in the 16th Century two men, who believed and preached the Christ of the Bible, Hugh Latimer (Bishop of Worcester, and Master Ridley just about to be burnt at stake, the former encouraged the latter, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust, shall never be put out.”
Everything we have depends on one thing – that Christ has brought us to God by His meritorious death and made us righteous. This shows how much God is willing was willing to give to us. This also marks the gravity of God’s patience with us. God is patient with sinners – look at His patience with sinners of Noah’s day.
The problem is that people think that God is slow to fulfill His promise when He is showing patience towards them. It is that God does not wish any to perish in sin but that they should reach repentance (2Peter 3:9). God does not deal with us the way we deal with others – he is a patient and gracious God. He acts at the right time – without haste or delay.
There is a witness we bore in baptism. There is a comparison between salvation in the ark and baptism because in both believers are saved through waters of judgment. There still remains a question how does the baptism save because we read that “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you”
§ Baptism represents inward faith because the inward reality is expressed in outwardly by the symbol of being immersed into water.
§ Baptism is one’s appeal to God for the forgiveness of sins
§ Baptism saves only if it is grounded on the resurrection of Jesus Christ – its union with Christ that is represented in this symbol so that the reality is obvious – just as Christ’s triumph over death and the devil so is a Christian’s victory over sin being in Christ. After the humiliation of Christ there was a total grand exaltation so that He was exalted to the highest to sit at the right hand of God the Father, every under His rule.
Let us then consider the difficulties in this passage. This passage is difficult because of the Roman Catholic background and so it raises the following questions in the minds of the readers:
1. Who are the spirits in prison?
§ Unbelievers who have died?
§ Old Testament believers who have died?
§ Fallen angels?
2. What did Christ preach?
§ Second chance of repentance?
§ Completion of redemption work?
§ Final condemnation?
3. When did He preach?
§ In the days of Noah?
§ Between His death and resurrection?
§ After His resurrection?
There are varied interpretations of this passage whereby some different views have resulted as follows:
View 1: When Noah was building the ark, Christ in sprit was in Noah preaching repentance and righteousness through him to unbelievers who were on the earth then but now spirits in hell. (My view, first proposed by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo)
View 2: After Christ died, He went and preached to people in hell, offering them a second chance of salvation.
View 3: After Christ died He went and preached to people in hell, proclaiming to them that He had triumphed over them and their condemnation was final. (Orthodox Lutheran Theory)
View 4: After Christ died , He proclaimed release to people who has repented just before they died in flood, and led them out of the imprisonment (Purgatory) into heaven. (Roman Catholic)
View 5: After Christ died (or after He rose, but before He ascended into heaven), He travelled to hell and proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels who had sinned by marrying human women before the flood. (Selwyn, Dalton and France, cf. their commentaries – this view is very common today). something to note about this view is that its materials to support it is an extra biblical book called 1 Enoch!
P/S: For further examination of this passage I would highly recommend Wayne Grudem’s commentary on 1 Peter by IVP, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.