Summary: When I follow Jesus He transforms my suffering in the flesh into triumph in the spirit


How many of you know who Vinko Bogataj is? That’s what I figured. That name isn’t real familiar for any of us. But for those of my generation who grew up watching “Wild World of Sports”, you may not know his name but you’re familiar with his infamous accomplishment.

[Show video]

Fortunately for Vinko, his injuries turned out not to be too serious and this previously unknown ski jumper became something of a celebrity here in the United States. So in some ways you might even say that he turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that in your life in a much more significant and important way?

This morning as we continue our study of 1 Peter we’ll once again look at the example of Jesus and see how He turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory and see how we can do the same by following His example.


Before we read this morning’s passage, let me preface it with a few things we need to keep in mind. There is pretty universal agreement among commentators, Bible scholars and pastors that this passage is one of the most difficult in the entire Bible to understand. So, not surprisingly, there are a number of different opinions about many of the details here. So let me share a few general suggestions about how we ought to approach these kinds of difficult passages.

Handling Tough Texts:

1. Don’t become so obsessed with the details that we miss the main point. Most times, and this will be true with this morning’s text, the main teaching in the text is pretty clear, even if we can’t understand all the details. So we need to be careful not to put too much emphasis of those details.

2. Interpret difficult texts in light of the clear teaching of Scripture. Difficult texts should never be the basis for new and novel doctrines or interpretations. In evaluating these texts, we need to choose the interpretation that best fits the context of the passage and the Bible as a whole.

3. Leave room for some mystery. Don’t feel compelled to have a satisfactory explanation for every detail. Tough texts remind us that God is infinite and beyond our ability to understand completely.

4. Don’t be overly dogmatic about the conclusions we reach. We should hold our interpretations loosely and not make them a test of the genuineness of someone’s salvation.

Keep these principles in mind as I read this morning’s passage. You can follow along in 1 Peter 3, beginning in verse 18:

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.

(1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV)

I am going to spend quite a bit of our time this morning on some of the details in this passage because they require the most explanation. But in order to do that accurately, we must keep the big picture in mind. So let’s begin by identifying Peter’s main point here:

When I follow Jesus

He transforms my suffering in the flesh

into triumph in the spirit

This passage begins a section of Peter’s letter in which he is going to draw some sharp contrasts between what we experience in the flesh and what we experience spiritually. And once again he is going to go back to the example of Jesus to make his point. So, not surprisingly, this entire passage is primarily about Jesus and how He has made it possible for us to turn the agony of defeat, which occurs in the physical realm, into the thrill of victory in the spiritual realm.

How Jesus turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory:

The passage that we’re looking at this morning begins and ends with teaching that is quite clear. It is the section that is sandwiched in between those two ideas that is the difficult part of our text. So it seems like a good approach is to begin with what we can understand clearly and use that information to help us make sense of that which is more obscure.

• In the flesh Jesus procured my salvation through His suffering (v. 18a)

At the end of the passage we looked at last week Peter wrote this in verse 17:

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

(1 Peter 3:17 ESV)

Then in verse 18, Peter returns to the example of Jesus, who certainly suffered for doing good rather than for doing evil. There are several important facts about Jesus’ suffering that Peter summarizes in this verse:

o Jesus suffered once. Unlike the Old Testament sacrificial system in which sacrifices had to be offered over and over again, Jesus’ one-time act of dying on the cross is sufficient to cover the sins of all people of all time.

o Jesus suffered for sins – mine not His. Jesus suffered at the hands of evil men because of sin, but since he was 100% sinless, it was not His sins that caused Him to suffer but rather my sins.

o Jesus took my place. Because I am unrighteous, I deserve to be judged for my sins. But Jesus, who was completely righteous, took that judgment upon Himself in my place.

o The purpose was to bring me to God. The verb that Peter uses here was used in classical Greek to describe the person who would verify someone’s right to see the king and then introduce that person to the king. That is what Jesus has done for us spiritually. He has verified our right to have access for His Father and then provided the introduction into His presence.

o That was all accomplished by being put to death in the flesh. It’s important to note that in His humanity, Jesus was just like us in that He consisted of a body, soul and spirit. When the Roman soldiers hung Him on the cross, the only part that they could put to death was His body, His flesh.

From the world’s perspective, what happened to Jesus in the flesh was undoubtedly the “agony of defeat”, which is why even those who had been closest to Him were in great despair after His death. But by the time we get to the end of this passage in verse 22, we see how God turned that into the “thrill of victory”.

• In the flesh and in the spirit Jesus proved his triumph through his resurrection and ascension (v.22)

Just like is true with the death of every man, when Jesus died on the cross there was a separation between His body and His spirit. And just like we will experience in the future when we have a bodily resurrection, at His resurrection Jesus’ body and spirit were reunited. Through the resurrection God turned the tremendous suffering that Jesus had experienced in His flesh into a spiritual triumph in which flesh and spirit were now both alive.

And that triumph was evidenced by the fact that Jesus ascended, flesh and spirit, into heaven, where He is now at the right hand of God and where He put into subjection all those who had been the instruments of His suffering and death. Notice, in particular that He is sovereign over angels, authorities and powers. As we’re going to see shortly, that includes the unholy angels who since creation have been trying to thwart God’s plan of bringing His Son into this world to be Messiah and Savior.

So if Peter had just left out the last part of verse 18 through the end of verse 21, his teaching here would be quite clear and would be consistent with the main theme we’ve already identified:

When I follow Jesus

He transforms my suffering in the flesh

into triumph in the spirit

Jesus suffered and died in the flesh, but because He was faithful in fulfilling God’s purpose, God turned that suffering in the flesh into triumph in the spiritual realm. So the clear implication here is that if I follow Jesus’ example and submit myself to God’s plan for my life, He will do the very same for me – He will transform whatever suffering I might experience in the flesh into spiritual triumph. He will turn the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory. With that idea firmly planted in our minds, we are now ready to tackle the tough part of our passage, in which we see that…

• In the spirit Jesus proclaimed His triumph (vv. 18b-21)

In some of our English Bible translations, the word “Spirit” at the end of verse 18, is translated with a capital “S”, which would make it a reference to the Holy Spirit. We can’t say for sure whether that is correct or not since there are no capitals in Greek. However, the context here leads me and most Bible commentators to believe that the ESV and many other translations correctly translate this word with a small “s” which would make it a reference to the human spirit of Jesus. That seems to be consistent with the overall context of this section of Peter’s letter that carries over into chapter 4, where Peter is going to continue contrasting flesh and spirit.

So the last phrase of verse could accurately be translated something like this:

…being put to death with reference to his flesh but made alive with reference to his spirit…

The first thing I’d like us to note about the spirit of Jesus is that it was made alive, which implies that at some point it had not been alive. While I can’t be dogmatic here, I believe that occurred at the moment when all the sins of mankind were born by Jesus and as a result there was a separation between Jesus and His Father and Jesus cried out. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Then at some point after that – there is no way to know exactly when and how – Jesus’ spirit was made alive again. That idea seems to be supported by the words of Jesus shortly thereafter when He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

And it was in His spirit that had been made alive again, that Jesus went and proclaimed something to the spirits in prison according to verse 19. We have now arrived at the toughest part of this text. I am going to explain it the very best I know how. If you do any study at all on this passage you will undoubtedly find that there are many men much more learned and educated than me who have different opinions on this, but after countless hours of study and prayer over this I’m going to share what I believe to be the best explanation of what occurred.

We need to answer three questions here:

1) To whom did Jesus make His proclamation?

2) What did He proclaim?

3) When did He proclaim it?

I think we actually have enough information here and in some other Bible passages to give a pretty high level of confidence in the answers we’ll arrive at this morning. So let’s tackle them one by one:

1) To whom did Jesus make His proclamation?

The obvious answer is “the spirits in prison”. But who is Peter referring to here? We have several pretty good clues in the text.

First, unless accompanied by a further description that would indicate otherwise, the word “spirits” is always used in the New Testament to refer to angels. In fact, when he refers to humans in verse 20, citing the eight persons that were saved, Peter uses the word that can literally be translated “souls”. So these spirits don’t appear to be humans.

I think verse 22 also gives support to the idea that Peter is using the word “spirit” to refer to angels since he focuses on Jesus’ authority over the “angels, authorities and powers”, rather than over men, after His ascension.

We also know that these spirits are “in prison”. The word translated “prison” clearly indicates this is a physical place and not just a state of being. And nowhere in Scripture are the souls of men described as being imprisoned.

I think it’s also fair to assume that Peter didn’t just throw in the reference to the days of Noah just for the fun of it. So there must be some connection between Noah and these spirits in prison. If you want to get all the details on that, you’re going to have to come to “Connections” this morning. But let me just give you the Readers’ Digest version for now.

We all know that in the days of Noah there was tremendous wickedness in the world. There are some differences of opinion on exactly how they did it, but it is clear from the accounts in Genesis that much of that wickedness was furthered by the activity of demonic spirits. And as a result of that activity, God permanently imprisoned those unholy angels until the Day of the Lord, when they will be thrown into the lake of fire along with their leader, Satan. Peter describes that process in his second letter:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;

(2 Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

The word translated “hell” in that passage is the Greek word which is transliterated into English as Tartarus. In classical Greek mythology it described the subterranean abyss in which rebellious gods were punished. The word was taken over into Judaism and it was used to refer to the prison of fallen angels.

Jude also describes what happened:

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—

(Jude 1:6 ESV)

In “Connections” we’re going to explore how this relates to what occurred in Genesis 6, but for now what we want to note is that there are wicked angels who have been imprisoned to await their final judgement on the Day of the Lord.

So I think we can now answer our first question – to whom did Jesus make His proclamation?

o Wicked angels who had previously been imprisoned to await their final judgment.

2) What did He proclaim?

Before we answer that question, let’s eliminate one possibility:

o There are some who claim that Jesus was making a proclamation of the gospel to those of Noah’s day who had refused to listen to Noah and who were therefore killed in the flood. In a sense they were getting a second chance to put their faith in Jesus. The Roman Catholic idea of purgatory has been developed, at least in part, based on this verse. However, the Bible is clear that once a person dies, he or she does not get a second chance to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. I could cite a number of Scriptures to show that, but one is sufficient for this morning:

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

(Hebrews 9:27 ESV)

So if He is not proclaiming the gospel, what is He proclaiming? Next week in 1 Peter 4:6, we will look at another verse that specifically does refer to the preaching of the gospel. There the verb that is used is the one from which we get our English word evangelism. But here in verse 19, Peter uses a completely different verb, one that simply means to “make a proclamation” or “announce a triumph”. With that in mind, I think we can now answer our second question – what did he proclaim?

o His victory over sin, death, hell, demons and Satan

From the very moment they rebelled against God, Satan and his demons had been seeking to destroy the work of Jesus. And as Jesus hung there on the cross, bearing the sins of all mankind and the physical life was crushed out of Him, it appeared that they had succeeded. But in the spirit, Jesus goes to these imprisoned demons and proclaims that he has won, that he has overcome all their evil schemes and that from now own they are going to be subject to Him.

3) When did He proclaim it?

There are certainly some differences of opinion here. Some claim this proclamation occurred only after the resurrection and others believe it only happened when Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days later. And certainly those are both possibilities. But based on what we’ve already concluded about Jesus’ audience and the nature of His message, it seems most likely to me that this occurred:

• Some time between Jesus’ death and resurrection

Since Peter specifically says that Jesus went “in spirit” to make this proclamation, it seems that it must have taken place after Jesus’ spirit was made alive, but before the resurrection, at which time His flesh was made alive as well.

Even if we’re not 100% correct on all the details here, Peter’s main point is certainly apparent. Although Jesus suffered in the flesh He turned the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory over all His enemies. And because Jesus di that, I can be confident that…

When I follow Jesus

He transforms my suffering in the flesh

into triumph in the spirit

The illustration of Noah in this passage confirms this idea. Noah and his family spent about 120 years building the ark. And, as we saw earlier in 2 Peter 2:5, during that time Noah was herald of righteousness. And as a result, Noah and his family were subjected the scorn and persecution of their peers. They suffered in the flesh for all that time. But then when the rains came and the fountains of the deep burst forth, God saved Noah and his family as they took refuge in the ark, the instrument of God’s salvation. The same flood waters that destroyed the rest of mankind lifted Noah and his family to safety.

That brings us to verse 21, which is another difficult part of our text:

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.

Unfortunately, this passage has been used by some to teach the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the physical act of baptism is necessary for salvation. As I pointed out at the beginning of the message this morning, in dealing with difficult texts like this we have to make sure that we interpret them in light of the clear teaching of Scripture in other texts. And, as we have clearly seen in both 1 Peter and our previous study of Romans, the Bible is consistently clear that salvation is by faith in Jesus alone and not a result of anything we can do, including baptism.

So with that in mind, why would Peter write here that “baptism…now saves you”? To answer that question fully would require a whole other sermon, but let me share briefly one of many answers to that question.

Remember that our English word “baptism” is a transliteration and not a translation of the underlying Greek word that simply means “immersion”. So that word has a far broader meaning than just water baptism. In fact, given the context, I am confident that Peter uses the word “baptism” here in much the way Paul used it in this passage:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

(Galatians 3:27 ESV)

And just to make sure that there is no misunderstanding, as soon as Peter writes that a person is saved by baptism, he immediately adds a disclaimer that he’s not writing about a physical act in which dirt is removed from the flesh by water.

The way that baptism into Christ corresponds to Noah and his family is that they were preserved through the flood by placing their faith in God’s provision of an ark the same way we are saved by placing our faith in God’s provision of Jesus.

Notice that Noah and his family were saved “through the water” and not “by the water.” In fact, let me ask you as question. How much water actually touched Noah and his family? None, right? The water only saved them because they were in the ark that God had provided for them.

The same is true of our baptism. We are not saved by the water, but rather we are saved as we go through the waters because we choose to be “in Christ” through our faith in Him.

That does not mean, however, that baptism isn’t important. In fact, I think the reason that Peter even brings it up at all here is because as Christians in that culture gave witness of their faith in Jesus through baptism, they were suffering persecution for that. So Peter is encouraging them by reminding them that Jesus’s suffering in the flesh did not minimize His witness, but rather it enhanced it. So he is urging them to bear witness of Jesus’ saving grace even if that resulted in their persecution.

Peter’s mention of baptism here is merely for the purpose of reinforcing the principle that is at the heart of this passage:

When I follow Jesus

He transforms my suffering in the flesh

into triumph in the spirit



Many of you here this morning might feel like a lot like Vinko Bogataj that day he skidded off that ski jump and suffered the “agony of defeat”. In the flesh, you are experiencing all kinds of suffering and life is hard. But the good news is that when we take refuge in Jesus like Noah and his family took refuge in the ark, God will save us through those stormy waters. He will turn the agony of defeat which we experience in the flesh into the thrill of victory that we can experience both right now and for eternity in the spirit.



I know most of you have already taken refuge in Jesus by placing your trust in Him alone and also given testimony to that decision by being baptized subsequent to that. But I also know that I would be remiss this morning if I didn’t conclude by giving those who have never done both of those things an opportunity to let Jesus help you experience the thrill of victory in your life by doing so.

So first, let me address those of you who have never taken refuge in Jesus. As we’ve seen this morning, Jesus died once for all in order to make it possible for you to be brought into a relationship with God. And the way that you enter into that relationship is by placing your faith in Jesus alone and relying 100% on what He did for you through His death and resurrection. If you’ve never done that and you’d like to understand more about how to do so, please let me know after the service this morning.

Next, let me address those of you who have placed your faith in Jesus alone, but who have never testified to that decision by being baptized subsequent to your commitment to follow Jesus. As we’ve seen this morning, baptism is not a requirement for salvation. However, that does not mean it is not important. Since Jesus commanded His followers to be baptized as a public testimony of their faith in Him, choosing not to obey that command is not a salvation issue, but it is an obedience issue. So once again, if you’ve never done that and God is speaking to your heart this morning about being obedient in that area of your life, please let me know and we’ll arrange for you to be baptized.