Summary: Remember in the midst of your trials who your savior is. Jesus Christ is the victorious Lord. Through his death he broke the bondage of sin; he conquered death itself. Through his resurrection he has subdued the evil powers so that they cannot harm his
We are at a passage that remains one the most complicated passages in the Bible to understand. Not just each verse, almost every phrase is ambiguous. Let me give a few examples. Is Peter saying Christ was raised by the Holy Spirit or simply that he was alive in spirit? Does alive in spirit mean without a body or in his resurrected body? Where did Jesus go as a spirit - to hell or some other waiting station for the dead? Who are the spirits in prison - the spirits of dead people or angels or demons? Did Jesus literally go to spirits who lived in Noah’s day or in Noah’s day did Jesus speak in spirit through Noah? You get the idea. Turning to the commentators, the problem is not that one set likes one interpretation and the other likes another. Every commentator differs from the others in some part.
Let me give to you the principles I worked with in making my own conclusions.
1. I assumed that Peter did not elaborate his teaching because he was not introducing new or esoteric teaching to his readers. Either the teaching was common or at least based on common assumptions.
2. I chose in each instance what went along with the primary elements of the gospel, not what relied on obscure and minor teachings.
3. I sought to understand the main point of the whole passage in light of the context in which Peter was writing. In other words I asked why Peter introduces this passage at all. How does it fit in with the subject of suffering?
Let’s get started.
His Death 18
18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Let’s add the previous verse and then compare these verses with 2:20ff.
It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Now read 2:20ff: But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you…24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
In both cases Peter points out that suffering for good is the calling of the Christian, and for sound reasons. Christ went through the same thing. He was righteous and unjustly punished in regard to his own sin. He took our sin on him. Don’t forget we were the unrighteous for whom he suffered. And he suffered that we would be made righteous and live righteously. To this – living righteously in an unrighteous world – we were called.
Nevertheless, the purpose of Christ’s death cannot be boiled down to being made good people. The primary problem with the sinful nature is that it separates us from God. There is a wall of separation between us and God, formed by our sin and God’s just wrath. Christ, by his death, broke down that wall by taking our sin on himself and receiving God’s wrath. Now, with that wall removed, he is able to bring us to God.
His Resurrection 18b-21
If Christ’s death has brought forgiveness of sin and reconciled us to God, be assured that his resurrection brings us victory over those who would try to harm our souls.
He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. In the Greek the sentence reads this way, “put to death in flesh but made alive in spirit.” Interpreting spirit to mean Holy Spirit like the NIV Bible does throws off the simple contrast that Peter is making. Jesus did die in the natural flesh, but he rose in a spiritual body, i.e. his resurrected body. As Christians we affirm that Jesus rose bodily. His resurrection was not merely a spiritual resurrection, by which we mean his spirit or soul lives on. Rather, we also affirm that Jesus’ body had been transformed in his resurrection. It was no longer bound to the laws to which the natural body is. It was not restricted by gravity barriers, nor did it need to be sustained with sleep or food, though he could eat. This is what distinguished his rising to life from the rising of Lazarus. Lazarus grew old and ultimately succumbed to death again. Jesus lives forever in his resurrected body.
Indeed, we also hope for such a resurrection. We look to the day that our bodies will be transformed. Do you know what the Bible calls such bodies? Spiritual bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:42-45: So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.