A reflection on 1 Peter 3:18-22 for the First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2021
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
1 Peter 3:18-22 (NRSVA)
According to Peter, there was purpose in Jesus’ suffering: ‘Christ…suffered…in order to bring you to God’.
The divine plan included you from the very outset!
Of course this is not an expression of God’s desire for you exclusively. The Greek word translated ‘you’ is plural not singular.
This God-desire for you goes far beyond you.
In fact it even goes beyond the people alive today. It extends further than those living at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It reaches past those who lived after this life-giving act of God.
According to the Apostle Peter, the salvation offered in Jesus also extended back in time from the cross. Right back, according to this passage, to the time of Noah and the disturbing account of the flood.
Perhaps you are prone to imagine the flood and arc story as one that points to the revenge and anger of God. As we saw in our reflection on Genesis 9: 8-17, however, the story of Noah and the arc is not told as an account of wrath as much as it is told as one of salvation.
The storyteller’s focus is clearly on God’s actions and Noah’s obedience. It is these that lead to a gracious continuation of life on earth. Noah, his family, and life on earth are ‘saved’.
Peter adds to this salvation perspective in this passage. He insists that, ‘God waited patiently in the days of Noah’. Peter does not view the flood as an act of frustration, revenge, or even wrath. Rather he names God’s part as ‘patience’.
Even more surprising is Peter’s account of the Gospel being preached – by Jesus himself – to these very people. These are described as people who ‘did not obey’. They are – like us all – ‘unrighteous’.
Yet even these ‘spirits in prison’ are invited to follow Jesus to life.
This following of Jesus to life is exactly what baptism signifies. Peter makes it clear that to be baptised is not primarily a ‘removal of dirt from the body’ – or a washing.
Rather, it is an ‘appeal to God…through the resurrection…’ Baptism is a public aligning of ourselves with the path Jesus took from life, through death, and then to resurrection life.
So baptism is ultimately another way of describing Jesus’ invitation – as the Gospels put it – to ‘Follow Me’.
How do you respond to the call of the Gospel including you – and everyone else? Does this disappoint? Does it inspire you?
Often we think of following Jesus as an act in the moral realm. How does considering this invitation in the context of the life, death, and resurrection refocus this call?