Summary: It’s worth following Jesus—even if it brings mistreatment—because, in the end, there will be victory.
THE BIG IDEA: It’s worth following Jesus—even if it brings mistreatment—because, in the end, there will be VICTORY.
Think about how absurd Christianity sounded back when it was brand new (in the first century): Christians worship a man who was executed as a criminal and who they claim came back to life. Pagan society didn’t understand who Jesus really was. Most people today don’t understand who Jesus really is.
The One we follow:
1. He is the One who suffered UNJUSTLY (v. 18a)
Peter says that the reason Christ suffered was “to bring [us] to God.” Jesus died in order that He might reach across the gulf between God and humanity and, taking our hands, lead across the territory of the enemy into the presence of the Father.
2. He is the One who rose from the grave (v. 18b)
3. He is the One who ASCENDED into heaven (v. 22a)
4. He is the One who is at God’s RIGHT HAND (v. 22b)
5. He is the One who is ABOVE ALL (v. 22c)
“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (vv. 13-14a). The words “suffer” and “blessed” don’t seem to go together. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Jesus suffered unjustly but later vindicated (through His resurrection, ascension, and reign). The crucifixion was not the final word. So too believers who suffer unjustly—who are ridiculed, mistreated, or even killed—will one day be vindicated in the presence of God. The world’s opinion is never the final word. We follow in Christ’s footsteps through death to victory.
“‘Do not fear what they fear [or, do not fear their threats]; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (vv. 14b-15a). In other words, don’t fear man; obey Christ. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after than can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:4-5).
In verses 14-15, Peter quotes Isaiah 8:12-13: “Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy.” In verse 15, Peter says, “Set apart Christ as Lord.” This reveals that Peter believes Jesus is “the LORD almighty.”
Verse 17 says that sometimes God wills that we suffer (“if it is God’s will”). It’s not the God wants us to suffer, but that He wants us to do what is right, even if and when it results in suffering.
What do verses 19-20 mean? Where did Christ go? Who were the “spirits in prison”? What did He say to them? We need to see these verses in light of the context: the overall theme of victory and vindication. Three main views:
1. The PREEXISTENT CHRIST view
a. “Spirits” = the contemporaries of Noah who needed to hear the word of God
b. “Prison” = a metaphor for sin and ignorance OR a literal description of their location now
c. “He went” = Jesus spoke to that generation through Noah
d. “Preached” = a genuine presentation of the gospel of salvation to the contemporaries of Noah
2. The DESCENT-INTO-HELL view
The Apostle’s Creed: “[Jesus Christ] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
a. “Spirits” = the fall angels of Genesis 6:1-4 OR the spirits of those who died prior to the Flood
b. “Prison” = the underworld
c. “He went” = a descent into the underworld (during the time between Christ’s death and resurrection)
d. “Preached” = a proclamation of victory over the spirit world OR a genuine offer of salvation to those who never had an opportunity to hear the gospel
Wouldn’t it have been a bit premature for Christ to make His proclamation of victory before the resurrection?
3. The TRIUMPHAL PROCLAMATION view (my preferred view)
a. “Spirits” = the FALLEN ANGELS of Genesis 6:1-4 (the “Watchers” of 1 Enoch)
“When we look at the use of the term spirit in the New Testament, we notice that it is almost never used of dead people. When it is used of dead people, it is always qualified in some way to make it clear that it is people who are being written about (for example, Heb 12:23). Normally dead human beings are referred to as ‘souls.’ Since there is nothing in this passage to make it clear that it is human beings who are being written about, it is unlikely that these are dead people.”—Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 715