We have all heard the question, WWJD?. It is meant to challenge us to be more like Him in our lives, especially in areas where we need to submit to God’s Will in our lives and be less self-serving.
The question on our minds in this passage though is WDJD? What exactly did Jesus do?
What on earth was Peter thinking when he wrote this section? Did he know what confusion it would cause us?!
Hearing phrases that have inspired creeds to say, “ He descended into hell…” , may well make us say, just like in common vernacular, “ You say what?”. If that isn’t confusing enough, he will go on to say, “ Baptism now saves you!”.
It sounds like we are getting impossible information, contradictory information compared to what we know the rest of scripture says.If you haven’t learnt the valuable lesson “ context is everything”, then this passage is the perfect example! Peter’s context of course, is that he is preparing believers for suffering innocently, wrongfully. He has just stated that it is better if we suffer for doing good, than for evil, and he then gives us the ultimate example of innocent suffering in Christ, Who seemed to be defeated by evil, but yet, was victorious over it all.
So what did Jesus actually do, and Who is He for us in His suffering that we could have hope, purpose, and a reason in our’s?
1 – The Sinless Jesus (v 18a): He defeated sin and brought us to God.
What is ultimate cause of offense in this world for you?
One thing we may list is seeing innocent people suffer. We hate injustice. We should hate injustice.
What causes injustice though? Is it just corruption in the minds and hearts of “those” people?
As believer, we know that all injustice comes from something we have in our own hearts. Sin causes us to sin and we see the effects of sin throughout the whole world.
Innocent people who suffer wrongfully have our respect, our love even. We see no point to any of it, and sometimes, no end to it either.
Peter says that Christ suffered, once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, and we would do very well to pay attention to this if we truly want answers to the suffering in our world.
Christ’s suffering FOR sins, not in sins, shows us just how much He as willing to take on Himself for our sakes. He, the just and righteous one, died for us, the unjust and unrighteous.
For what purpose did He do this? To bring us to God.
Our attention may then turn to God, to say to Him, as we do so often with all unjust suffering, “Why?”.
But we cannot go too far with that question in accusation against God, when we see that it was Himself on the Cross. It was the Son of God that died in our place, showing us the great love and grace of God.
Because it was the only way for sin and evil to be defeated, was by letting the Ultimate Innocent suffer for all of sin and evil’s consequences. If Christ had not suffered once for all sins, then we could truly say that all suffering truly is meaningless, and we would all be without hope. ( 1 Corinthians 15).
Christ’s suffering FOR sins, while sinless Himself, frees us from the greatest curse of sin, separation from God. It brings us back to God, where we have the peace of belonging to God.
If you do not have peace about Christ’s suffering for your sin, chances are, you don’t have peace with God. If you think Christ’s death is foolish, you would not be alone either. But the weakness, foolishness and seeming defeat of Jesus, actually is part of the greatest victory that we can ever know.
2 – The Eternal Jesus (v 18b-21): He defeated death and proclaimed life.
What happened to Jesus between His death and resurrection?
There are many views on what the text could mean, but lets look at what it says first:
He was put to death in the flesh. v18b
He was made alive in the spirit. v 18b
In the spirit, He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. v19
He was then resurrected. v21b
He then went to heaven, where He is at the right hand of God. v22
Now, the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus are what we should focus on, and that is actually Peter’s whole point – what do they mean for us? – but we seem to want to draw conclusions about what we don’t know about these verses, rather than what we do know! We would rather make doctrines out of interpretations of what it all MIGHT mean rather than glorify God for what they DO mean!
Who were the spirits Jesus preached to? Where is the prison? What did He say to them? How long was He there? What’s Noah got to do with it? What’s baptism got to do with our salvation?
What we know about the spirits is that they were disobedient in the days of Noah, and spurned God’s grace, and in doing so, condemned themselves to being destroyed by the flood of God’s judgement on the world.
As to where they are now, it would seem that they are in prison, bound until the final judgement. ( 2 Peter 2:4-5;Jude 6). It would seem that if they are awaiting judgement, had already been disobedient to God’s call, them being in prison would indicate their guilt has already been declared.
If their guilt has been declared, and they already await judgement, what could Jesus possibly proclaim to them? The word used for ‘proclaimed’ was ‘the pronouncement of an edict”. It could be said then, that Jesus went to the spirits in prison and announced His defeat of evil, His defeat of the evil one who they had been obedient to and followed instead of God.
Peter likes using Noah and his family as a type of Jesus and salvation, he uses them again in 2 Peter 2:4&5.
Peter is speaking of the death of Christ, and how it defeated sin and death. The flood of Noah’s day destroyed all who were disobedient to God’s call to salvation that came through Noah’s ark. The flood destroyed the world, but saved the world at the same time. The flood came because of the wickedness of mankind, it came so God could start again with Noah, who had found grace in God’s sight because of his faith and righteousness. God was redeeming the world through judgement.
Noah and his family were saved through the waters ( v20b). They were saved because of the judgement of God on the world.What was their salvation, was the judgement of those who refused to obey God.
Christ’s death proclaims to us several things, and the most important of course is that salvation is available. Cleansing is available. You can be made right with God through Christ’s death. You can have life instead of death.
God is in the business of saving people from their own destructive ways of sin. He wants to give life, not death. He has done all that needs to be done in order for us to have life, eternal life. But we must obey the Gospel. If we do not, we condemn ourselves to the very judgement that Christ bore for us, separation from God. If we don’t believe, if we don’t obey, if we don’t die to ourselves, we will be judged by the perfect and holy God. Water can cleanse, or it can destroy.
Baptism signifies all these things to us the same way Noah’s flood does. Water cleanses our outward body, and in baptism, we are identifying with Jesus in His death, we are saying, “This outward act of washing symbolizes the cleansing Christ has done in my inner life”.
Baptism, when done from a pure conscience towards God, shows that we belong to God, through what Christ has done for us. The act of baptism does not save us, but shows that we have been saved, because of Christ.
How are we declared to have a good conscience before God? Not just in Christ’s death, but also in His resurrection, we are justified before God. ( Romans 4:24,25).
“Jesus Christ did not just defeat death. He did not just deny death. He destroyed death.” – Keller
In the cross, He defeats evil by dying in our place, the just for the unjust.
In the grave, He defeats death by rising again, proclaiming life.
In taking on Himself God’s judgement for us, He satisfies the wrath of God, and sets us free from condemnation.
3 – The Vindicated Jesus ( v22): He ascended to heaven, to power, to authority.
Jesus stands alone as the only Savior of mankind, not just in His sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection, but also because one His actions that we so often overlook, His ascension.
If Christ had not ascended to heaven after His earthly ministry, we would not have access to Him with the ministry He has to us now. If Christ was still on earth, although He would have a fully resurrected and glorified body, He would still be limited.
He had to ascend to heaven, not only so the Spirit could come and dwell with every believer, but so He could take His place at God’s right hand to rule over angels, authorities and powers, but also to intercede for us before God as our great High Priest. ( Hebrews 4:14-16).
His ascension to this position shows us that He has been completely vindicated. Not only has He defeated death by dying, the grave by rising, but now He sits in all authority, having everything subject to Him, waiting for the day when every knew will bow and call Him Lord, when final judgement and perfect justice is served to those who have not obeyed the Gospel.
His death, burial, and resurrection make Him our Savior. His ascension makes Him our Lord and King, we have so much to hope in!
“ On the cross, Jesus wins by losing. Triumphs through defeat. Achieves power through weakness. Comes to wealth by giving all away.” – Keller
No other leader of any other religion has suffered or died for sins. Many have suffered and died because of their own sins, but never for the sins of others. Absolutely none.
None have risen again from the dead either.
Only Jesus Christ is the suffering victor. Only in His death do we have life. Only in His life, power, and victory do we have hope in this world despite our own defeats, trials, and persecutions. All the injustice of the world is meets its Champion in the Cross, its justification in the Resurrection, and it’s end at the Judgement throne of Christ. All is redeemed in Jesus’s work.
The question that remains is, what will you do with Jesus did for you?