I Peter 3:17–4:6. Following Christ in Suffering and Glory.

Key Notes: Suffering changes the perspective.

This passage is about Christ's death and triumph as a model we are to follow. There are two difficult verses (3:19, 4:6). They should not distract us from seeing Peter's main argument.

3:17–18 Suffer for doing right, for Christ also died for sins....
Peter holds up Christ to our view as suffering repeatedly and with two different messages: Christ suffered for our sins; Christ's suffering is an example for us to follow.
•"to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps." (2:21)
•"...it is better to suffer for doing right....For Christ also suffered (died) for sins...." (3:17–18)
•"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought...." (4:1)

3:18–20 He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit, in which (Spirit) he went and preached to spirits in prison who did not obey when Noah was building the ark.

Some interpreters say "spirits" refers to angels, although in Heb.12:23 "the spirits of just men made perfect". indicates departed human spirits. Two passages teach that God has imprisoned angels who strayed, i.e. sinned (IIPet.2:4), or did not keep their own position. (Jude 6). Are these the spirits referred to? That they are angels is the general understanding. I prefer to go with the statement that they are disobedient human spirits, who resisted God while Noah was building the ark. We are inclined to think that the Flood came upon people without warning, but this passage suggests otherwise.

"Those who were disobedient when God's patience waited in the days of Noah", refers to The World that Was, the wicked race of mankind that was destroyed by the Flood:
"...every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen.6:5).
"The earth was corrupt in God's sight...and filled with violence." (Gen.6:11).

3:20–21 Noah, building the ark, saved eight people. Baptism is the corresponding reality to this type. It does not save by washing the flesh, but by the appeal of a clear conscience before God by the resurrection of Christ.
There are two typical pictures of baptism in Scripture:
•Noah and the flood (here).
•Moses and the Red Sea. I Cor.10:2

In our baptism, we are united with Christ in a death like his "so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom.6:40)

3:22 Christ has gone on into Heaven to the right hand of God, with all powers subject to Him.
His exaltation is our exaltation, "...{He} made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...." (Eph.2:6).

4:1–5 We are to arm ourselves with the same thought. Suffering in the flesh leads to cessation from sin. Martyrs do not necessarily die, but the experience of suffering for the Faith leads to a reordering of priorities and direction. One who has suffered for Christ and survived is not the same anymore. There are many examples in the Chinese Church; some testimonies are in print.
We are not to live by human passions but by the will of God.
The time has passed to live as the pagans do, in drunken carousing and illicit idolatry. The pagans don't understand why we won't play, and they abuse us, but will have to give an account to the Judge.

4:6 The Gospel was preached to the dead (now-dead believers?) so that they might be judged, and may live in the Spirit like God. Was the "Gospel" bringing good news to the dead believers or reconciling salvation to the lost? One interpretation is that Jesus preached to those who are now dead, not after they were dead, following Heb.9:27. Were the believing dead in a different place before Christ's descent and after His ascent? "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives and gave gifts to men. " (Eph.4:8). Did Christ bring the believers back with Him from the grave as well as denouncing the wicked? We do not have other information and must admit ignorance.

The argument:
Christ died for us. The atonement reconciling us to God was the primary task. His pioneering death that pierced the grave and showed us the way through was the secondary task. He went into the depths, triumphing over the violent, defiant Ancient World that drowned when Noah escaped. Christ may have brought the righteous dead with him.

The salvation of Noah is a type of our baptism into Christ's resurrection. Our life as witnesses and martyrs is now different from our old ways, the ways of pagan society. Those who died in the Lord live in the Spirit like God. That is our destiny as well. We take what comes because we know what the end is.

Peter's model of the Christian life is different from ours. We enjoy the Good Life, give God a tithe of our time and money, and try to be salt and light in the world. Peter's model is closer to the experience of our persecuted brothers in China, the Middle East and North Africa.

What would Jesus do? We might be surprised by His answer.