Summary: In His victory we are made victorious, even when we suffer unjustly, and for His cause.
THE VICTORY OF CHRIST’S SUFFERING
Yet even if we do seem to suffer for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14), we have the blessing of Jesus (Matthew 5:10-12). Peter exhorts us not to fear, and echoes Jesus’ encouragement to us not to be troubled (John 14:1). We are to be of good cheer, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
We are to reverence the Lord God within our hearts (1 Peter 3:15). We need fear no other (Isaiah 8:12-13). We must always be ready to give a reasoned account of the hope that is within us, to give a legal defence if need be.
The consensus of this passage, and others like it, is that it is better to suffer for well doing than for evil doing (1 Peter 3:17). Thus we submit ourselves to the will of God. If we continue firm and persevere in the face of unjust sufferings, ‘this is grace’ (1 Peter 2:20): this is acceptable to God; this is thank-worthy with God.
Again the example of Jesus’ sufferings is set before us as our paradigm (1 Peter 3:18): we suffer, just as Christ suffers. Yet His suffering is unique in that it is vicarious: He suffered for us to bring us to God. He was put to death as to this physical mode of being, but was made alive by the Spirit.
By the Spirit, says Peter, “He went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). The language suggests that Jesus “went” somewhere, and the flow of the passage suggests that this took place between His death and resurrection. In that place, Jesus made a declaration, no doubt of His victory wrought at the Cross of Calvary.
Neither hell nor Hades is named here, but 2 Peter 2:4 mentions the angels as being held captive in Tartarus, which was popularly understood as a place of imprisonment and torment within Hades. This raises the possibility that it was fallen angels who heard the Lord’s announcement. The Bible gives the designation ‘spirits’ to both angels (Hebrews 1:14), and demons (Luke 10:17; Luke 10:20).
These spirits are identified as those who refused to obey God during the time of God’s longsuffering (patience) when Noah was building the ark (1 Peter 3:20). In this context this might refer to men rather than fallen angels. Peter does go on to make a more explicit reference to the good news of the gospel being preached to those who are now dead (1 Peter 4:6).
Yet the question remains: when was the gospel preached to the dead? Was it between Jesus’ death and resurrection? Or by the preaching of the Spirit of Christ through the prophets of old when they were still alive (1 Peter 1:10-11) - and particularly through Noah (2 Peter 2:5) ?
To whoever, wherever and whenever this proclamation was made, whatever it was, we are reminded that we also are living in a time of God’s patience (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus is not willing that any should perish, and His coming is delayed to give the greater number of people the greater opportunity to repent. Eight souls were saved from the water of the Flood by the bearing up of the ark on the water (1 Peter 3:20): thus the medium of judgement, water, also became the medium of salvation.
This becomes a symbol of baptism (1 Peter 3:21), which in turn becomes a symbol of our inner cleansing. It is not the water of baptism that saves us, but what it represents: the putting away of the works of the flesh, and the answer of a good conscience towards God. The key to Christian living is found in our union with Christ, both in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4).
Jesus is represented to us here as the victor, who has made an open show of His triumph over the forces of evil (1 Peter 3:22). Suffering may well be our calling, as it was His (1 Peter 2:21). Yet it is in His victory that we are made victorious, even when we suffer unjustly, and for His cause (Romans 8:33-37).