Victory of Christ's Sufferings (Easter 2020)


Christ’s Victory Accomplished Through Suffering (3:18a)

An extremely challenging passage. This morning we step into a passage that might be considered an odd choice for an Easter Sunday service.
The first will consider the statement in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
Secondly, in verses 19 through 22, Peter discusses both a proclamation and salvation offered by and in Christ.

Christ’s sacrifice was the ultimate example of suffering.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins” (1 Pe 3:18a). If Christ also suffered, then we can logically conclude that other people have as well suffered. In fact, the primary purpose of the book of First Peter is to encourage a group of suffering believers. We find in chapter 2 a discussion on the suffering of these believers, but more specifically we find a discussion in the immediately preceding context. Look up just a few verses. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (1 Pe 3:14). Just three verses later we read, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Pe 3:17). These believers were suffering and motivated by a desire to encourage them, Peter reminds them, Christ also suffered.
Our present circumstances don’t directly correlate. The suffering Peter mentions involves suffering for the sake of Christ. The suffering or challenges we presently face are not due to our relationship with Christ. However, in the midst of suffering, we appropriately look to Jesus who offers the perfect model amid any type of suffering.
Christ also suffered. In asking you to suffer for righteousness sake He is only asking you to do something that he was willing to do himself and in fact did do himself. He was an example for you.
Consider suffering for doing what is right. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an example of what that might look like? Peter tells us that Jesus offers us an example.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pe 2:21–24).
Perfect example. Christ was not simply an example, but he was the perfect example. We would hate to follow someone’s example only to find that they weren’t good at the task. This is not the case with Christ. He offers us a perfect example. He paid the ultimate price. He was the ultimate example. The author of Hebrews encourages those struggling with concern and worry to “Look to Jesus . . . Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:1–4).

Christ’s sacrifice was a single offering for sins.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins” (1 Pe 3:18a). There is no further work for Christ. It was comprehensive.
Let’s dwell on the fact, for just a moment, that Christ offered one sacrifice. To appreciate the full weight of this singular sacrifice, we should better understand the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Of course, this moment doesn’t allow for much depth in the Old Testament sacrificial system but let me offer the cliff notes for a quick overview.
First, in Exodus, Moses tells the priests to offer two lambs as burnt offerings each day, one in the morning and one in the evening for the sins of the people. (Ex 29:38-39, 42).
Secondly, in addition to these daily offerings, Leviticus outlines for us at least 5 other offerings.
(1) Chapter 1 | Burnt offering | a voluntary act of worship or commitment to God.
(2) Chapter 2 | Grain offering | fruit of the field offered to express thanksgiving to God for his provision.
(3) Chapter 3 | Peace offering | a sacrifice of thanksgiving and fellowship which would often be followed by a shared meal.
(4) Chapter 4, 5 | Sin offering | offered to atone for sin and cleanse from defilement.[1]
(5) Rest of Chapter 5 | Guilt offering | if someone sinned unintentionally and restitution was needed to be made.
Finally, in Leviticus 16, Moses discusses the Day of Atonement on which the annual sacrifice for sins was offered. It was only on this day that the high priest could enter the holy of Holies to perform elaborate rituals to atone for the sins of the people.
These were all sacrifices offered in the temple. These do not include the many types of offerings that God directed them to perform outside of the sanctuary.[2]
So then, each day, numerous sacrifices were offered. Each of these sacrifices followed a prescribed guideline. Imagine the potential shame as once again they had to lead another lamb to be sacrificed for their sin. I imagine the noisy neighbors or the insightful priest that leans over to their companion and whispers, “Isn’t this like the fifth time this week that Joab is making a sin offering? Yikes!”
All of that was comprehensively eliminated with the sacrifice of Christ – once! “For Christ also suffered once for sins” (1 Pe 3:18). So, the perfect sinless Son of God died for the sins of the world.

Christ’s sacrifice restored us back to God.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, [to what end, what was his goal?] that he might bring us to God” (1 Pe 3:18). Have you ever gotten to the end of something and wondered, “what was the point of all that?” Of course, we have already acknowledged that the point – at least in one sense – was to pay for sins. But, why did Jesus desire or need to pay for sins?
Peter answers this question, so that “he might bring us to God.” Sin separates us from God. Isaiah declares, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isa 59:2). In Ephesians, Paul writes about how we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In that state, we were “separated from Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13).
Christ’s sacrifice was not merely a great example of suffering. He is not simply the model martyr. He didn’t die simply so that we would know how to react and live through suffering as well. There was a much greater purpose to his death and that was your reconciliation to God.

Christ’s Victorious Salvation Proclaimed (3:18b-22)

I would like to acknowledge, up front, that this is a challenging passage. As you read this passage, there are probably several confusing statements and resulting questions that jump out at you. How was Christ put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit? What does it mean that Christ made a proclamation to the spirits now in prison? Where was Christ when He made that proclamation? Who were the spirits in prison? Why or How is Noah connected to these spirits? What does it mean that baptism now saves?
We won’t be considering, in any kind of depth, these challenging questions. Instead, I desire to emphasize that as a result of Jesus’ resurrection, a glorious proclamation was made, a glorious salvation was offered, and a glorious reign was initiated.

A Glorious Proclamation was Made (3:19-20).

When did he proclaim? To understand when Christ proclaimed this victory, we must first wrestle with whether or not he proclaimed it when he was “dead in the flesh” (his crucifixion) or when he was “alive in the spirit” (his resurrection).
(1) The pre-incarnate Christ made proclamation through Moses to those in Moses time.[3]
(2) Christ made proclamation during the 3 days his body was in the tomb. This view is a bit more likely than the previous, but the one primary problem with this view is that it has Christ making proclamation prior to his resurrection which seems a bit premature. Is not his resurrection a primary and necessary point in His victory?
(3) Most likely, Christ made proclamation following His resurrection. I would like to propose that this is the best understanding for this passage, for theological reasons, but as well since the proclamation, within the passage, chronologically follows the acknowledgment of Christ’s resurrection.
What did He proclaim? Of course your opinion of what he proclaimed hinges on when he proclaimed his message. However, in taking the view that he made this proclamation following his resurrection, I believe he proclaimed the good news of his resurrection.[4]
To whom did he make this proclamation of victory? This proclamation was made to spirits. The word for spirits is rarely used to speak of people.[5] While people can have a spirit, they are not traditionally considered to be spirits.[6] Spirits almost always refers to angelic spiritual beings.[7]
Therefore, we conclude that, as a result of the resurrection, Christ went somewhere and made a proclamation of victory to some angelic beings, specifically demons.
Where did he make this proclamation? These demons are in an actual place, a prison of some kind. When Satan fell, he took with him a host of fallen angels. These fallen angels consist of those who are loosed and roam the earth and some that are presently bound.[8]
To what event do both Peter and Jude refer? Peter writes, “they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Pe 3:20). While I acknowledge the potential danger in over simplifying this, let me propose that the event to which these two authors refer is found in Genesis 6.
It is traditionally understood that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 refer to fallen angels. Fallen angels impregnated woman and as a result “the mighty men of old” were born. In so doing, they went outside the bounds of what God would tolerate, and he placed them in the abyss. They’ve been there ever since. All along, these demons are hoping that Satan will be victorious in destroying God’s plan and power. They cheer at numerous times throughout the Old Testament as it appears that God’s promised people are going to be destroyed. They cheer as Satan tempts Christ in the wilderness. They cheer as men are enticed to kill Christ. They cheer as Christ is crucified, and they cheer as his body is placed in the tomb. When Jesus died, all hell thought they had won. The demons in the pit were probably anticipating release, but in the midst of their celebration over their perceived greatest defeat, Christ arrives and proclaims that He died and paid the penalty of sin and rose again conquering sin and death. Paul writes, concerning the resurrection, that Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:13–15).

A Glorious Salvation was Offered (3:21)

We now step into what is likely the most challenging section of these verses, the statement, “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pe 3:21). First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that we actually do believe this verse. Baptism does save us. The important question to answer is, what kind of baptism is being referenced in this verse?
We are told that baptism corresponds to something. To what does it correspond? Well, the passage makes it fairly clear that baptism corresponds to Noah and the flood. So then, let’s consider that for a moment. What saved Noah and his family? The ark saved them. So then, they were placed into the ark and they were saved from the water which was the actual and symbolic wrath of God. The water destroyed everything but because they were immersed or placed into the ark, they were saved.
Corresponding to this picture, baptism now saves. But, baptism into what? Peter helps us by very quickly acknowledging that this baptism, whatever it is, isn’t “a removal of dirt from the body.” In other words, it’s not just a physical washing of some kind. Instead, this baptism is somehow connected to an appeal to God for a good conscience.
Simply put, this baptism is not referring to anything physical, but instead spiritual. The sinner is pleading with God to be relieved of the burden of guilt and the threat of hell. Because of this repentance, God places the sinner into the body of Christ, which is symbolized by the ark, and the sinner is freed from the wrath of God and is saved. This placement into Christ, this immersion into the body of Christ, is spiritual baptism – and that baptism, into Christ, now saves you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
This salvation was made possible by the resurrection. The reason that Christ was an effective “ark” of safety was due the victory found in His resurrection. The death and resurrection of Christ allowed Him to be the vehicle through which we pass through the wrath of God unscathed.

A Glorious reign was Initiated (3:22)

Peter concludes this section with one more glorious note due Christ’s triumph due his resurrection. Christ “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Pe 3:22).
Both the Old and New Testament confirm that the right hand is a place of power and prestige. It was to this position that Christ was raised.[9]
[1] The guidelines for this offering are in Leviticus 4. Chapter 5 walks us through some of the sins one might commit to need a sin offering. If someone sins by not testifying to something they witness, they are guilty. If someone touches something unclean, they are guilty. If someone utters rash speech, he is guilty. If this individual comes to realize their sin, they must follow the guidelines, come to the tabernacle (or temple) and offer a sin offering.
[2] Richard E. Averbeck, “Offerings and Sacrifices,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 574.
[3] Taught by Augustine, Aquinas and many of the Reformers. The primary theological reason for this view was the rejection of the Catholic dogma that Christ descended into hell and proclaimed the gospel to those bound in hell for the purpose of offering them postmortem salvation. Driven by a desire to refute such a doctrine, men such as Augustine concluded that Christ’s proclamation must have taken place at another point – likely the time of Noah through Noah’s preaching.
[4] If we reject the idea that Christ did not descend to hell and offer postmortem salvation, then we could logically conclude that this proclamation is not the gospel. Instead, he heralded the good news of His resurrection. The word translated as “proclamation” in this passage is kerusso whereas euangelizo is the word more often used in the context of preaching the gospel. This alone would not be sufficient to draw a conclusion, but just a couple words later we see the word for spirit.
[5] Likely its only use is found in Hebrews 12:23. “and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” In Hebrews it contains a modifier. It doesn’t stand alone.
[6] People are referenced in verse 20, and the word used there is different (psyche).
[7] As well, Peter makes a point to reference how all the angelic realm is subjected to Christ, in verse 22.
[8] At some point following creation, a group of angelic beings, led by Satan, defied Christ and were cast from heaven to earth. This group of fallen angels is made up of two subgroups. (1) The first subgroup is loosed and roam the earth. We read of some of them in Luke 8:31. Jesus healed a man possessed by demons. When Jesus cast them out, “they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss” (Luke 8:31 ESV). This abyss is a bottomless pit, and a place for shutting away the devil and his spirits. (2) The second subgroup of fallen angels are presently bound. Both Peter and Jude mention these bound spirits (2 Pe 2:4-5; Jude 7).
[9] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34). looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2). He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Heb 1:3–6).
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