1 Peter’s Reflection Upon The Death of Christ (3)

The Treasury:  Diptych with New Testament Scenes.
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Continuation from 1 Peter’s Reflection Upon The Death of Christ (1), and 1 Peter’s Reflection Upon The Death of Christ (2)

Christ’s Descent into Hell

Moving on to the third and last, major text that looks into Peter’s reflection on Christ suffering, this passage follows through with the exhortation found in 2:20 that is to do good. Here, when reading through the context it speaks largely about Christ vindication by means of resurrection after suffering and dying unjustly. The main idea being played out here is that Jesus has gone to heaven. The problem that generally comes when reading through this passage is seen in v.18b-21.[1] According to Jobes, this passage is among the most difficult that is found in the NT.[2] Here, we have to deal with the issue of what Peter means by Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison to the context of Christ death or rather with the doctrine known as Christ’s descent into hell. McKnight presents the three traditional views that have always been used when interpreting this passage; “(1) the descent-into-hell view, (2) the preexistent Christ view, and (3) the triumphal proclamation over the spirit world view.”[3] Space warrants us to go into detail in explaining this as others have done well in answering this textual problem.[4]

Although these difficulties are evident, it is to the third view, mentioned by McKnight above that seems to be the most likely because it follows the train of thought of the preceding verses to the passage of 3:18-22, which are 3:13-17 which gives the rationale of why it is unjust suffering is better compared to the other extreme.[5] Hence, suffering in this manner is not a stance of total defeat but rather as seen in how the passage of 3:18-22 moves, to the realization of victory and vindication, where resurrection took place.

3. Christ’s Death as Vindication (3:18-22)

We now move on to the passage in drawing Peter’s reflection on Christ’s death. V. 18, which parallels 2:21 where Christ suffers unjustly with the addition of Christ has done with suffering for sin which emphasizes the finished work he had done in his death.[6] Jesus’ sinlessness is again emphasised here where it is mentioned that “the righteous for the unrighteous” in that Jesus died on behalf of sinner, namely those who heard this letter. The reason behind this death, which is finished and substitutionary, is for paving the way of coming to God. The phrase that comes after this which is “He was put to death in the body and made alive in the spirit” could be understood in Jesus death and subsequent resurrection.[7]

V. 19 forms the crux in which interpretation falls. But as mentioned earlier, the conclusions that we made does not warrant an understanding that Jesus descended into hell. Forbes is helpful here in that he summarizes some conclusions concerning the three major interpretive questions[8]. The proclamation made, which was more a victory over evil spirits or over evil powers is a more reasonable understanding that would deem correct.

In v.20 God’s patience is the highlighting factor during the period of Noah specifically “between the sin of the angels (Gen 6:1-4) and the flood (Gen 7:11), during the time the ark was constructed.”[9] Forbes renders the description of the flood and waters of baptism as a form of analogy that Peter used. But his suggestion to what this means is unclear, although I agree with him that “the water was the instrument of salvation”[10] where v. 21 completes this idea.

According to Green[11] baptism forms an understanding of new birth to the saved life through the flood during Noah’s time. This is where the effects of the flood destroyed the evil inhabitants on earth during that time. But the lasting effects of being purged from evil come from a changed life not being separated by it. In the same way baptism is a pledge by the believer to live in response to the promise of resurrection, by whom was made possible by Jesus who now sits over all authorities submitting to him (v.22).

Therefore, Christ’s unjust suffering is something that he endured following God’s will. It is also an event, completed by him, by way of his substituting death on behalf of the unrighteous. This is only made possible by one who is sinless. The achievement of his death thus opens the way for us to God. But his death is not something marked by defeat; rather, it is one that promises victory, where Jesus’ suffering unjustly was vindicated by way of being resurrected from the dead. Thus, believers live in reality of this promised vindication by constantly continuing in living under the authority of Christ (3:15). Suffering unjustly does not entail defeat but rather, like in Jesus, the promise of vindication will surely come.

[1] Forbes. Asia Bible Commentary Series: 1 Peter. Pg 97

[2] Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 236

[3] McKnight. 1 Peter NAC. Pg 215

[4] For detailed discussion concerning this see: Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT Pg 236-237 and McKnight. 1 Peter NAC. Pg 215-217

[5] Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 237

[6] Forbes. Asia Bible Commentary Series: 1 Peter. Pg 97

[7] Ibid. Pg 98

[8] Forbes asks these three question 1)Who were the spirits in prison? 2)What was the nature of proclamation that Jesus made and 3)Where was the location of this prison? Forbes. Asia Bible Commentary Series: 1 Peter. Pg  99-100

[9] Ibid. Pg 100

[10] Ibid.

[11] Green. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary: 1 Peter. Pg 137


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