1 Peter 3:13-22 – Undeserved Suffering

13 And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, 15 but honor the Messiah  as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused,  those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, 

the righteous for the unrighteous, 

that He might bring you to God, 

after being put to death in the fleshly realm

but made alive in the spiritual realm. 

19 In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits  in prison 20 who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 22 Now that He has gone into heaven, He is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him.

This passage breaks down into two parts. The first is verses 13-17, and the second is 18-22. The first is relatively straightforward to interpret, while the second part is quite challenging, with theologians having dozens of interpretations of the meaning. 

Before we break down the individual verses, let’s summarize the first section. The promise of eternal fellowship with God overrides the trials and distress of the present life. When contrasted against eternity, the span of our lives is a mere blip on the timeline. That doesn’t mean that our struggles are easy, but when viewed through the lens of comparison, we should weigh future glory as priceless compared to the short-termed pleasure of ease of life.

Verse 13

Peter is presenting a rhetorical question. No one is able to harm believers on the day of judgment as God will reward them for their faithfulness. Yahweh will look favorably on the righteous but is against those who practice evil. A believer should never fear what the world can do to them for being obedient to God. Romans 8:31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

God will vindicate believers on the day of judgment.

Verse 14

The word “but” at the beginning of the verse provides further clarification and could be understood to mean “indeed.” Peter’s underlying point here is that regardless of what happens to our physical bodies or the trials we suffer through in this life, we are still blessed because of our future destination. There are two implications to Peter’s point.

  • Since believers are blessed (eternal implication) by God, they shouldn’t fear what unbelievers can do to them.
  • They should fear (respect) God and be obedient. True fear of Yahweh removes the fear of anything else.

Verse 15

A reminder from 1 Peter 1:22 and 3:4 is that the heart is the origin of our human behavior, and character and everything we do flows from our heart. Because of this, if Jesus occupies our heart, our behavior will reflect His character as we live out our faith regardless of our circumstances. Every believer should be able to explain why they have joy and hope regardless of their trials or struggles. We should be able to explain the basics of our faith. Our response to difficulties will be noticeable to unbelievers and demonstrate that our hope is in God and not anything of this world.

Verse 16

Will the previous verse explained what we should; this verse explains how to do it, why you do it, and the result of right behavior.

  • Always interact with others in a spirit of gentleness and respect.
    • We should never be arrogant.
    • We should never argue.
    • We aren’t prosecuting attorneys or a judge. There is only one judge, and none of us are qualified to sit on that throne.
    • The point isn’t to win an argument; it is to bring the lost to Jesus.
  • Believers do this because the Spirit of God lives within us, and we are to reflect the character of God in our lives.
  • When believers live in a righteous, not self-righteous, manner, those who abuse them will be ashamed. 
  • There are two viewpoints on what “shame” means in this verse.
    • It could be the shame of realizing that believers are acting in a righteous manner and the unbeliever is not.
    • It could be the shame and humiliation that unbelievers will experience on the day of judgment.

Verse 17

The correct understanding of this verse is that it is better to suffer in this life for doing good than to suffer on the day of judgment, and for all eternity, for doing evil.

Verse 18

Peter’s intention here is not that believers should focus on imitating Christ in their suffering, although we may suffer for being a follower of Jesus. Instead, Peter is calling on the reader to focus on Christ’s victory over suffering and death. 

  • We can never suffer to the extent that Jesus did as He bore the sins of the world.
  • Suffering is a prelude to future glory for each believer.
  • Emphasizing Jesus’ victory reminds us that our troubles are of a temporary nature, but our future glory is permanent.
  • Though Jesus suffered death, the Spirit raised Him. In the same manner, we will suffer a physical death but will share in Jesus’ resurrection.

Verse 19-22 The second portion of the passage is quite challenging, with many different interpretations. 

Verse 19 – The three main views are:

  • Descent into hell.
  • Preexistent Christ.
  • Triumphal proclamation over the spirit-world.

The third view is the most widely accepted, and a proper understanding of the text would lead one to agree. It also fits the overall context of vindication presented in the passage. 

In the New Testament, the word “spirit” is used to describe angels or demons, not humans. Peter also used the term “people” in verse 20, so to use a different term to refer to humans in both cases doesn’t make sense.

The point of verse 19 is that Jesus proclaimed His victory over evil.

Verse 20

The reason the spirits were imprisoned is that they were disobedient. The act of disobedience is not crystal clear, but some explanation is provided in Jude 6-7 and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, the angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as angels did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. 

It also ties into Genesis 6:1-4, indicating that angels had sexual relations with women. In this context, it is possible to view what occurred in Genesis 6 as the climax of sin, prompting Yahweh to release His judgment on the world. In the same way that the water killed almost everything on the earth, the water saved Noah and his family by separating them from the evil in the world. Once the waters receded, they entered a new life.

Verse 21

An important to bring up at the very beginning of the discussion on this verse is that baptism by itself does not lead to eternal life. Peter is using an illustration here. The flood serves as an illustration of baptism in the New Covenant and for the church. New Testament baptism should be understood and being immersed in water. Anyone who goes completely underwater will eventually die. The illustration is that baptism represents death to the old life, and once lifted from the water, the new life begins. Baptism doesn’t remove our sin (filth of the flesh), but it is an outward expression of an inward change (good conscience toward God). Placing our faith in Jesus and repenting of our sin is the only way to eternal life. Although baptism is something that every believer should do after placing their faith in Jesus, it is not a requirement for eternal life. The narrative in Luke 23 with the two thieves is proof of that. Jesus told the one that he would be with Jesus in paradise, but there was no chance for the thief to receive baptism.

Verse 22

The culmination of this passage, Jesus’ victory over His enemies. There is a reference to Psalm 110:1 This is the declaration of the LORD to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.” The conclusion to draw is that even in the suffering that believers experience, Jesus reigns and rules. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has triumphed over all the forces of evil, and His followers will reign with Him together for all eternity. The theme here is vindication. Jesus occupies a position of royal dignity and authority beside God the Father. Jesus has broken the power of evil. He has authority over good and bad spirits (good and bad angels), as well as authorities and powers in the spiritual realm. All of creation is subject to the lordship of Jesus.

A summary of the passage includes the following principles:

  • Jesus, as Messiah, has fulfilled the hope of Israel by defeating all the evil spiritual powers of the world.
  • All the wickedness and corruption from the beginning of time are overthrown.
  • Regardless of our struggles or persecution, we should never lose sight of the victory we share with Jesus. 
  • We need to be a witness of our hope and the truth of the Gospel regardless of our circumstances.

Applications

  • Are you committed to pursuing goodness and righteousness regardless of the cost or consequences? If you falter in this area, you may have a faith problem. Pray for your faith to be strengthened.
  • Are you bold in sharing your faith? Are you proactive in finding those opportunities, or are you reactive, only sharing when confronted or asked? We are called to be proactive in our witness and do it with a humble spirit and gentleness.
  • Do you have complete confidence and trust in the victory of Jesus? If not, pray that you would completely trust in Him. 
  • Your behavior should demonstrate a spirit of joy, victory, and humility to the world around you. Jesus doesn’t need arrogant or self-righteous victors. He wants victors who bask and are filled with love and joy at the victory He secured by going to the cross, paying our debt, and redeeming us from all unrighteousness.

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