One of the main themes of Peter’s letter is suffering as a Christian. As we finished part 1 with the instruction to be kind and love one another, he continues with the instructions not to pay back evil with evil or cursing, but to pay back with a blessing. This of course is not easy to do as our natural desire is to get revenge but God say that he will do that (see Deuteronomy 32 v 35 and Romans 12 v 19.
Whoever wants to enjoy life and wishes to see good times must keep from speaking evil and stop telling lies. They must turn away from evil and do good; they must strive for peace with all their heart. For the Lord watches over the righteous and listens to their prayers but he opposes those who do evil (v 10-12)
Peter reminds us again that if we continue to behave with gentleness and respect. doing good with a clear conscience, those who try to speak against us will be ashamed.
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if this should be Gods will than for doing evil (17)
If we do evil and suffer for it; well, we probably deserve it.
Change of subject?
In verse 18 onward, Peter continues by talking about Jesus suffering on our behalf, but then he makes a comment in the middle which despite many years of reading I have never noticed or thought about and is a little mind-blowing – I had to go and read up a little more on it which is why it has take a day or two longer…
He repeats again how Christ was crucified once and for all to lead us to God, but then he says this…
He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually, and in his spiritual existence he went and preached to the imprisoned spirits. These were the spirits of those who had not obeyed God when he waited patiently during the days that Noah was building his boat. The few people in the boat – eight in all – were saved by water, which is a symbol pointing to baptism, which now saves you. It is not the washing away of bodily dirt, but the promise made to God from a good conscience. It saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone to heaven and is at the right-hand side of God, ruling over all angels and heavenly authorities and powers. (v 18-22)
Now I know about baptism and Jesus rising from the dead and ascending to heaven, but had never noticed or thought about the comment of Jesus preaching to the “imprisoned spirits”. What was this?, When? How? Why have I never heard this in 40 years?
I suppose that one of the reasons it that depending on your interpretation, it challenges our belief on salvation and death. The bible teaches that we will be judged on death depending on how we have lived and our relationship with Christ and acceptance of his gift of salvation, but here Peter seems to be saying that while Jesus was in the tomb, he went and preached to the lost souls, perhaps giving them a second chance.
It had never occurred to me to think about what Jesus was doing in that time. I guess most of us think in human terms that he was dead and that was it until God raised him on the third day.
(Incidentally, although we traditionally remember Jesus crucified on the Friday being the day before the Sabbath, John’s account tells us that it was a special Sabbath, not the regular Saturday. The Passover is celebrated at a fixed time in the same way that we always celebrate Christmas on the 25th December, the day of the week changes. Historical records follow this and indicate that the Passover in the year Jesus was crucified probably began on the Wednesday or Thursday meaning that Jesus was crucified on one of these days rather than the Friday – this then makes fitting in the 3 days before the resurrection clearer.)
Anyway – It is clear that Peter, having spent time with Jesus afterwards was informed of what went on in the meantime. One of the difficulties we have with several of the letters in the New Testament is that they very often refer to things that have been taught or spoken of, but we do not have written down so are sometimes left with things like this where knowledge appears to be assumed.
There are several “theories”on this part of the passage;
- Jesus went and preached through Noah to the wicked generation of that time while in his pre-incarnate state – this is unlikely as it does not specify the timescale being between his physical death and resurrection.
- Between his death and resurrection, Jesus went to the fallen angels and evil spirits and declared his victory and/or gave them opportunity to repent
- Jesus went to the place of the dead and preached to the the spirits of the dead indicating that there may have been a chance of repentance to those who died before this.
- Jesus went and preached to those who were lost in the flood of Noah’s time and were given a “second chance” due to God’s promise never to destroy the earth in that way again – that they were treated unfairly by God when he destroyed the earth.
- The comments about baptism which immediately follow this declare Christ’s victory over evil both in the time of Noah where only 8 were saved to now where we are baptised and represent that death and resurrection
As it is not said what was preached it is difficult to draw any conclusion on which, if any, of these theories are correct so I am certainly not going to attempt to try and make any.
What is clear though is that Jesus as God, remained active, even when apparently dead in our understanding. That we are made up of body and spirit – the physical body dies, but the spirit lives on.
This verse brings up a lot of questions which I am not qualified to answer and certainly the commentaries I have looked at do not seem to be able to give a definitive conclusion either, but it does go to show that no matter how well you think you know your bible – there is always more to learn.
Quotes from the Good News Bible