Living Without Fear
1 Peter 3:13-22
When a commitment is made to teach through the Bible verse by verse, there are going to be times when the teacher arrives at a passage that is difficult and defies simple explanation. 1 Peter 3:13-22 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret and teach. We may not be able to solve every problem presented by this passage, but we can find a source of hope in difficult times, which is Peter’s theme for this letter.
Peter starts this passage with a question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (1 Peter 3:13) This verse immediately follows the direct quote of Psalm 34:12-16. If a person seeks to love life and see good days as Psalm 34 describes, who will harm them? It is unlike that an individual who lives a righteous life will be persecuted for doing good. Peter encourages the reader that if suffering does result from a righteous life, they will be blessed. Peter was there when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
With the possibility of suffering for doing good, Peter calls the reader to not fear or be frightened. Two forms of protection are given to defeat fear. The first is to “set apart Christ as Lord,” in your heart. In the Bible, the heart represents the spiritual center of man. When the center of one’s life is rightly focused on God, he is able to defeat fear and live victoriously for Christ. Christ is Lord of our lives. He is in control, and by his grace He will not allow us to face any situation that He will not provide us the strength we need to find hope.
The second solution for fear is preparation to defend the hope we have as believers in Christ. (1 Peter 15) In order to defend the hope we have, it is necessary to understand the depth of Christ’s love for us and what that means to us on a personal and practical level. When a believer is firmly grounded in the Word of God, has experienced the grace of God through Christ, and can explain this hope to those who would ask, they are well on the way to defeating fear and being confident believers who can find hope in every situation. Peter encourages the reader to give this reason with gentleness and respect, and with a clear conscience.
Jesus is the supreme example of suffering for doing good that brings God glory and salvation to man. Peter writes, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18 This is the good news about Jesus in one verse. It is by Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection from the dead that we can have eternal life.
As Peter is describing the death and resurrection of Christ, he describes an event where Jesus “preaches to spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” These verses about this preaching event are difficult and should not take the focus off the hope a believer can have in Christ. It is helpful to answer three questions about this event: 1) To whom was Jesus preaching? 2) When did this event take place? and 3) What was the content of the message?
First, the passage describes the recipient of the message as “spirits.” This is a term reserved to spiritual being like angels or demons. This term would not be used to describe the spirit of man. Peter uses the word “spirits” to describe angels or demons and “souls” to describe man. This message was preached to spiritual beings in prison; fallen angels who were connected to the sin in Noah’s day.
Secondly, when did this event take place? There are two main ideas about the timing of this message to fallen angels. This proclamation took place either during the three days between His death and resurrection or during His ascension. Whichever time it was has the same effect. Jesus made a proclamation to the fallen angels after His death on the cross.
Finally, what was the content of Jesus’ message? Peter does not tell us the content of Jesus message to these imprisoned spirits. We do know that it was not a message of redemption, since angels cannot be saved (Hebrews 2:16). Since this message is linked to the resurrection, we know it was a message of victory over Satan. One can imagine the resurrected Lord strongly proclaiming His victory to these imprisoned spirits in a loud victorious battle cry.
To summarize this difficult passage: After Christ died on the cross and was resurrected, He made a victorious proclamation to fallen angels. (Jude 6)
In the remainder of this passage, Peter uses the symbol of baptism to bring hope to the reader by reminding them of their salvation. Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the same way, the flood pictures death, burial, and resurrection. The waters buried the earth and lifted the ark to safety. The ark is a symbol of the salvation that God provided for Noah and his family. They were saved from the flood by placing their faith in God as He provided a way of salvation from the rising waters. Sinners, in the same way, are saved by faith in God as they trust Christ, God’s provision for the penalty of sin.
It is important to emphasize that baptism does not save anyone. It is a faith relationship with Jesus, that baptism represents, that saves. The symbol should not be confused or substituted for what it symbolizes.
Clear Application for Today
- Teaching verse by verse through the Word of God is both challenging and rewarding.
- As we live for God, we should not look for suffering, but when it comes, we should trust God with the details of our lives.
- In our hearts, we should set apart Christ as Lord.
- We should be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have.
- We should marvel at what Christ did for us on the cross.
- Baptism is an important symbol of our salvation relationship with Christ.
- Jesus is at the right hand of the Father with all of creation in submission to Him. We are His prize possessions!