I Peter 3:18-22

Sunday, April 10th, 2016




There are a number of controversial passages in the Bible which are difficult to understand and over which there has been much debate. The passage which we want to study in this service contains two difficult statements which are also highly controversial.


The thought of the believers’ suffering unjustly brings Peter back to the sufferings of Christ which brought about eternal redemption for all those who receive Christ as their personal Savior.

The first controversy is regarding the time when –



I Peter 3:18-20 a – 18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20a Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing. . . .


To understand this passage, we are going to have to ask and answer a number of questions:


To whom did Christ preach?


When did Christ preach?


What did Christ preach?


I Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.


For is the word ordinarily translated because and should be understood in this sense in this verse. Its use here indicates that the Lord Jesus Christ is being cited as an example of someone Who was in the center of God’s will and Who suffered for doing good. Since Jesus suffered for righteousness’ sake, the believer should not be surprised if he is also called upon to suffer for righteousness’ sake.


Christ’s suffering is thus given as the reason for what Peter has written in verses 13-17. He had suffered for righteousness’ sake. He did not fear their terror and was not troubled. He sanctified the Lord as God in His heart. He was always ready to give an answer for the hope that should be in men. When He spoke, it was with meekness and respect. He had a good conscience and a good manner of life. In fact, He was sinless and perfect in every way. Yet, He was crucified upon the cross at Calvary; but it was all done according to God’s will.


Christ is our Lord and Savior. In this verse believers are reminded of what He did for them and of the pattern He established for suffering.


Also suggests that what He did was similar to what believers may be called upon to do: He suffered unjustly, and they may also be called upon to suffer unjustly. Believers are not the only ones who have suffered unjustly: so they should never begin to feel sorry for themselves or to feel that they are all alone in their sufferings.


Hath once suffered for sins indicates that His suffering was completed at the cross.


Once is once for all (time). It was a never-to-be-repeated experience. He does not suffer over and over again. He suffered for sins on only one occasion. The same word was used in Hebrews 9:28 .


Hebrews 9:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.


Without sin suggests without a sin offering or without any relation to sin and implies that the sin question was settled once and for all at His first appearing. The fact that this sin offering was accepted by God the Father is demonstrated by the fact that Christ was raised from the dead. Without sin indicates that Christ will not be making any additional offering for sin.


Once was again used in Hebrews 10:10-14 ,


Hebrews 10:10-14 – (10) By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all [i.e. once for all time, not once for all persons even though it is true that Christ suffered for all persons]. (11) And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: (12) But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; (13) From henceforth expecting [i.e. from that time waiting] till his enemies be made his footstool. (14) For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.


Back to I Peter 3:18

Hath . . . suffered for sins gives the reason Christ suffered.


For suggests on behalf of and, when used with sins, suggests to take away sins or to atone for sins. His suffering was on behalf of our sins to take them away. He had no sins of His own for which He had to die. He gave His life as an offering for sin on behalf of others.


The just for the unjust tells us that Christ died as a substitute for the sins of all others.


The just is the Just One, the Upright One, or the Righteous One and refers to Christ. Hath suffered must be supplied from the previous phrase to complete the thought.


For the unjust is for the unrighteous ones or for the unjust ones. It clearly indicates substitution. Christ suffered in His death on the cross at Calvary for every human being who ever lived. They deserved to be there dying on that cross paying for their own sins, but He died there in their place paying the penalty for their sins so that they themselves would not have to pay the penalty for their own sins. Christ’s blood was shed for all of the unjust or unrighteous ones, and it becomes effective for each individual unrighteous person at the instant he places his trust in Christ as his own personal Savior.


That he might bring us to God indicates the purpose of the Just One’s suffering on behalf of the unjust ones. It was in order that He might bring us to God the Father.


That is in order that or for the purpose that.


He is Christ, the Just One.


Might bring us to implies might bring us forward to, where us refers to believers, i.e. these unjust ones who have received Christ as Savior by faith.


God is God the Father. We have access to God the Father because of Christ’s work on the cross. Christ has opened the way of access to God the Father for all believers, thereby reconciling them to Him.


Since we have access to God the Father, the writer of the book of Hebrews could write –

Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.


Some day Christ will return for believers and take them to heaven where God the Father dwells and where He will then present them to God the Father.


Being put to death in the flesh indicates the manner in which Christ suffered. He suffered by being put to death physically. It was when, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, He shed His precious blood on the cross at Calvary in order to atone for the sins of all humanity. One remembers, of course, that it was not just death of any kind, as if death by strangulation, by heart attack, by stroke, by accident, by disease, or by some other means. It had to be death by crucifixion and not the sort of crucifixion where He might have been tied to a cross and left there to die, perhaps by strangulation, exposure, exhaustion, or some other means after several days, but by the shedding of His blood. In fact, after shedding His blood, but before He died by dismissing His spirit, Jesus triumphantly shouted in John 19:30 , It is finished, referring to His blood atonement satisfying the righteous demands of the law. After He completed the atonement, He immediately gave up the ghost. It was no swoon or fainting spell. It was death. He did die.


In the flesh indicates that He died physically, and Peter emphasizes the fact that it was in flesh or physical. Jesus died physically.


But quickened by the spirit indicates that it was the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.


But quickened is but made alive or but given life to; and as a result, He is alive forevermore (according to Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:18 ). He will never again die. Also for Him to be made alive He had to have died. He had to be dead before He could be made alive.


By the spirit indicates that it was the Holy Spirit who gave life to Christ and raised Him from the dead.


By is by means of.


As far as the Greek text is concerned, spirit may be used of the Holy Spirit or of Christ’s human spirit. Although understanding it as Christ’s human spirit provides a parallel with Christ’s flesh, the issue will be ultimately decided on the basis of how one understands the next verse.


I understand spirit in the next verse as a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, rather than to Christ’s own spirit.


I Peter 3:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.


Verse 19 indicates that Christ preached by the Holy Spirit to the spirits in prison.


By which is by Whom and refers to the Holy Spirit. It was by means of the Holy Spirit that Christ preached. This implies that Christ was not necessarily doing the preaching directly. His preaching was done indirectly. He preached through someone else who actually served as the human mouthpiece.


If, on the other hand, spirit refers to Christ’s human spirit rather than to the Holy Spirit, then by which should be understood as in which, meaning in Christ’s human spirit.


Also indicates that Christ’s preaching mentioned in this verse was in addition to His suffering. Although this preaching was done indirectly, His suffering was done directly.


He went indicates that Christ proceeded to wherever the spirits were at the time of the preaching, and He preached unto them there.


Preached is announced, proclaimed, or made known. What He preached is not specified in verse 19.


Unto the spirits indicates the group to whom Christ preached. Who these spirits were is not specified in verse 19.


In prison modifies the spirits. It is literally the in-prison spirits. Since it does not modify preached, thereby indicating the location of the preaching, it does not necessarily tell where these spirits were when He went to them and preached.


In prison indicates where these spirits were confined or guarded at the time Peter wrote his epistle, but they were not necessarily in prison at the time Christ preached to them by means of the Holy Spirit. What prison this was or where it was located, Peter does not specify.


A number of views of this difficult text have been suggested. For example some have held that Christ, following His crucifixion, went to Hades and preached to the spirits of the unsaved dead, giving them a second chance to be saved. This contradicts Scripture which knows nothing of a second chance; and, therefore, this view must be rejected without hesitation.


Hebrews 9:27-28 – And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many. . . .


This passage clearly teaches that one had better take care of the matter of his salvation before he dies because he will not have another opportunity after death.


Once a person has died, there is no hint of any second chance for salvation. In fact, the opposite is the case. Whatever someone did that was good or evil was obviously done before he died.


It has also been suggested that Christ went to the demons confined in Tartarus where He proclaimed what He had done and where He proclaimed victory over Satan without giving these demons a chance to be delivered. This supposedly occurred between the crucifixion and the resurrection.


A third view of I Peter 3:19 is that Christ preached by the Holy Spirit through Noah while Noah was still alive and was in the process of building the ark. Christ was the preacher; Noah was the mouthpiece. Noah was a preacher of righteousness according to II Peter 2:5 . This means that he was telling his contemporaries how to attain the righteousness they needed. These persons rejected the message and subsequently died. At the time of their deaths, their spirits were imprisoned in hades awaiting the resurrection of the dead at the Great White Throne Judgment after which they will be cast into the lake of fire, also known as Gehenna or hell. The preaching took place in Noah’s day while the ark was a preparing, and their spirits were imprisoned in hades at the times of their deaths and were still confined in hades in Peter’s day when Peter wrote his epistle.


Which . . . were disobedient describes the . . . spirits. It means that they were disobedient in the sense that they did not obey the message Noah was proclaiming to them. It is understood in the sense who were disbelieving or who were unbelievers. They were disobedient to the message of salvation which Noah, a preacher of righteousness, proclaimed. Inasmuch as Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their three daughters-in-law were the only ones saved by being on the ark, this entire group who lived until the time of the flood remained unbelievers until the day in which they died. So, any who responded favorably to Noah’s preaching must have died before the flood took place.


Sometime is at some time or other (of the past), once, or formerly. At one time in the past they were disobedient or unbelieving. They rejected the message Christ proclaimed to them through Noah. Now they are in prison awaiting the resurrection of the unsaved dead at the Great White Throne Judgment.


When once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah gives the time when the preaching took place.


Once is once for all (time). It was used also in verse 18 where Christ once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.


Longsuffering means patience or forbearance (toward others).


Of God indicates that it was God’s longsuffering that waited. Now this was not just any god; it was God the Father.


Waited is understood in the sense of expected, and its tense denotes continuing action in past time. It is used in the sense of was looking for, was expecting, was waiting for, or was awaiting.


In the days of Noah is literally in Noah’s days. It indicates the time in which God’s patience was waiting, i.e. when Christ preached to the people whose spirits are now in prison.


While the ark was a preparing further limits the time Christ preached to these people whose spirits are now in prison. It was not throughout the lifetime of Noah but only during the 120 years during which the ark was being built.


The ark is the one Noah built.


Was a preparing is was being made ready, was being built, or was being constructed.


The second controversy is regarding the meaning of –

  II.     SAVED BY WATER – 3:20B-22


I Peter 3:20 b-22 – 20b . . . Wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.


Wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water indicates that eight people were saved from death in the flood by being on the ark.


Wherein is in which or upon which and refers to the ark.


Few is used in contrast to the many who died in the flood and is later limited to eight.


Eight souls is used in the sense of eight lives. These eight souls were Noah; his wife; their three sons, Ham, Shem, and Japheth; and their three daughters-in-law, the wives of Ham, Shem, and Japheth.


Were saved refers to their physical deliverance from the destruction of the flood. It is used in the sense of were brought safely through, were rescued, or were delivered.


By water is by means of water. It was the same waters which drowned those who rejected the preaching of Noah that buoyed up the ark (or caused the ark to float), resulting in the preservation of Noah and his family. In reality, the water did not save Noah and his family. If they had not been on the ark, the water would have drowned them along with the rest.


I Peter 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.


The like figure is literally corresponding to. It is a fulfillment of the type. The type was the saving of Noah and his family, and the antitype, i.e. the fulfillment of this type, is baptism.


Whereunto is to which or by which.


Baptism is believer’s baptism. It was first practiced by John the Baptist, and Jesus Himself was baptized by John. It was made part of the Great Commission by Christ and was practiced by the local churches. In the New Testament only those who had already been saved were baptized, and baptism was always and only by immersion.


Also suggests that, in addition to water saving the eight souls in verse 20, baptism doth now save us. Throughout the New Testament, however, baptism was only and always practiced on those who had been previously saved. Baptism did not then, and does not now, actually save them from their sins any more than the water itself saved the lives of Noah and his family. Had it not been for the ark, Noah and his family would have drowned along with the rest of the people. Instead, baptism pictures the union of the believer with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. The one being baptized is publicly proclaiming that Christ is his Savior. He is confessing his trust in Christ’s death for sin upon the cross, his trust in Christ’s burial, and his trust in Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead. He believes that Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead, and he is saved because he does. By his immersion the one being baptized is publicly testifying that he is dead and buried to the old way of life just as Christ died and was buried. By his coming out of the water, just as Christ was raised from the dead, the believer is testifying publicly that he intends to live the rest of his life for the Lord.


Us is limited to believers.


Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God limits the way by which baptism saves us. Negatively, it is not putting away the filth of the flesh; but, positively, it is the answer of a good conscience toward God.


The putting away is the removal of or the getting rid of.


Filth is literally dirt. Figuratively it means uncleanness. Filth describes it well.


Flesh is not physical flesh as if Peter were saying that baptism is more than just a bath. Flesh refers instead to the old sin nature. Baptism does not save from sin as if it removed our old sin natures, and Peter made this clear to his readers. Instead, baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God.


The answer is the request or the appeal.


Conscience is moral consciousness, and it is good in the sense that it is clear.


Toward God indicates the direction or focal point of his good conscience: it is good toward God. He has not seared his conscience by disobedience. He has been saved by the grace of God through faith in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows that his sins have been forgiven, and he has taken the first step of obedience in the Christian life, that of baptism, thus getting his Christian life off to a good start and in the right direction.


By the resurrection of Jesus Christ indicates the means through which we were saved. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there would be no salvation.


If it were not for the fact that Christ rose from the dead, the believer would not now have a good conscience. Similarly, Peter wrote in I Peter 1:3 that God the Father has begotten us unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.


I Peter 3:22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.


Who is gone into heaven indicates where Christ is now. Forty days after His resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven where He is now on the right hand of God.


That Christ is on the right hand of God indicates that He is co-reigning with God the Father over the entire creation.


Angels and authorities and powers are three designations of spirit beings. Peter is referring to the entire class or group of angels, and the entire class of authorities, and the entire class of powers under consideration. None are omitted.


Authorities is translated powers in Ephesians 6:12 .


Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.


Powers is used also in Romans 8:38-39 .


Romans 8:38-39 – (38) For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, (39) Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Authority and power are both used in I Corinthians 15:24 .


I Corinthians 15:24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and authority and power.


Being made subject to him is descriptive of the angels, authorities, and powers. It means that they were subjected to Christ or subordinated to Christ. He is sovereign over them. They obey Him.



Have you been saved?


Have you been Scripturally baptized?