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From Suffering to Salvation - 1 Peter 3:18-22

The main point of 1 Peter 3:18-22 is to establish the truths in verses 13-17, especially Peter’s statement that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Peter uses the suffering of Jesus in v.18 and His exaltation in v.22 as proof: Jesus suffered once for all, the righteous one for the unrighteous, and even though He was put to death, He has been raised to life, and exalted to the right hand of God.

By suffering, dying, rising, and ascending, Jesus establishes a path to get us to God: as gospel preaching calls forth faith, Jesus brings sinless sufferers through judgment into fellowship with God. This is why it is better to suffer than to sin: God judges sinners, but Jesus will bring you from suffering to salvation.

At first glance, there are two problems about following this path: first, Jesus isn’t here with us to bring us down that path, and second, we’re not sinless! But Peter answers both those objections in verses 19-21. Jesus wasn’t physically present to deliver Noah, but He preached the gospel to and through Noah in the spirit. And even though He judged the sins of Noah’s world in the great flood, He spared Noah and his family through the water.

This provides direct encouragement to the elect exiles: even though Jesus hasn’t come to them in the flesh, He has come in the spirit, and even though they are conscious of their own sin, God has provided a way for them to have their consciences cleansed through water, by means of baptism. This understanding of the text (there are other quite plausible ways to understand Peter’s words) most clearly provides a parallel example to the elect exiles that explains why it is better to suffer than to sin.

And that’s the parallel that Peter wants them to see: Jesus proclaimed to people in Noah’s day through Noah, but they disobeyed and persecuted him. However, God saved Noah, giving a preview of what would happen through Jesus when He came in the flesh. Now, God is speaking to the world through God’s people. He wants you to be heralds like Noah, proclaimers like Jesus, always ready to defend your gospel hope. You’ll suffer, like Noah, and like Jesus, but you will be saved, like Noah, and like Jesus.

In fact, the parallel with Noah runs even deeper than just “salvation” generally. You’ll be saved through water, just like Noah was. Water washed sin from the world in Noah’s day; water washes your sin away today. That’s the point of vs. 21: baptism is the like the flood. They both wash away sin, but in such a way that God’s suffering saints survive. The ark was God’s promise to Noah that He would get Him safely through the flood. Likewise, baptism is God’s pledge to you that Christ’s suffering and death really did atone for sin, so that your conscience can be clear toward God when you put your faith in Christ.

Now, in one sense, Noah was “saved” as soon as he got on the ark, and so you too are saved by baptism. But really, that salvation was not complete until the waters went down and Noah got off the ark. And ultimately, you will be saved when you join Jesus not just in His suffering, but in His resurrection. But until that day comes, remember that you’re baptized. You’re on the ark.

This means that you should hear Peter’s words as an exhortation to endure suffering and put sin to death, which is exactly how Peter applies it in chapter 4. But it should also be a profound encouragement: your suffering isn’t proof that God is punishing you as a sinner; it is how He’s preparing you for salvation. Judgment is definitely coming, but when it comes, you will be saved, because you have been baptized into Christ; in effect “boarding the ark” of salvation. All the suffering that you experience, whether from neighbors, society, the emperor, angels, authorities, or powers, cannot keep you from inheriting salvation and joining Jesus in glory.

In the next chapter, Peter is basically going to tell the exiles to stay on the ark. Keep living a baptized, washed-clean sort of life, even though that means more suffering, more slander. If you stay on the ark, yes, you will suffer. But if you jump into the flood, you’ll drown. So hold on to your pledge, hold on to your baptism, hold on to your good conscience, until Jesus finishes what He promised by getting you through the flood, raising you up, and bringing you to God.

Posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2016 by CJ Bowen