Glory after Suffering (1 Peter 3:17-22)Series: 1 Peter (Living in Exile)
Read Genesis 6:1-13 with me and consider what it would have been like to be Noah and his family before the flood. This is a sad and strange account. Eve previously saw that the fruit looked good when Satan presented it to her, so she took it and ate it. Here, the “sons of God” see that the daughters of men look good, so they take any they want as wives. God immediately expresses displeasure — saying his Spirit won’t abide with man forever. It appears that “Nephilim” — giants — were the result of these mixed marriages. This is admittedly strange. Some say the “sons of God” refer to the godly offspring of Seth going after Cain’s daughters; however, my opinion and the standard Jewish interpretation in Jesus’ day was that these Nephilim were the result of sexual relations between angelic beings and the daughters of men.
Notice Jude vs. 6–7 ESV, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” It appears we could say of Genesis 6 that angels did not stay within their own position of authority, left their proper dwelling, and desired foreign flesh as Sodomites later did, and the human women (and their fathers) went along with it. Now, mighty Nephilim, giants, have resulted. The woman’s offspring was supposed to crush the head of the snake and his offspring, but it appears angelic beings — the sons of God — have joined the side of the snake, and are taking over the offspring of the woman by taking these women for themselves.
I recognize this seems strange to us, but this appears to be how Jews saw this event and the world. When you talked about Noah and the angels, this narrative came to their minds (see the first few pages of Enoch). Imagine what it would have been like to be Noah and his family in these days before the flood. Everyone’s thoughts are continually evil. The earth is filled with violence. People and angels are seeing, taking, and sleeping with whomever they want. Fearsome giants are around. Wickedness and death filled the earth, and here they are as a small minority — righteous and blameless. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. How easy do you think that was for Noah and his family? Do you ever think they felt scared by it all? Vulnerable? Isolated? With all the sexual immorality and violence, I have to believe they did.
But God sent the flood to cleanse the earth and rescue Noah and his family from that perverse, and violent generation. Furthermore, it appears God did not spare these sons of God — these angels — either, but has committed them to the chains of gloomy darkness in the deep abyss of hell until the judgment of the great day. All this stands behind our text today in 1 Peter 3:17-22.
How can we as exiles and foreigners like Noah not give in to fear, discouragement, and pressures when we do good, love and proclaim truth, but are only repaid with hatred, malice, slander, and threats of violence? When the world is only questioning us, listening with respectful curiosity, and sometimes even turning to the Lord, it is hard to understand why anyone might be afraid, discouraged, or even be comforted by a passage like this. But empathy for the experiences of other Christians will motivate us to pray for them and to get ready for the day when we could meet similar fates. We might lose jobs, family, friends, and be threatened or intimidated for doing and saying what is good and true.
Peter’s main thrust here is to help us recognize that if it is God’s will it is indeed better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Peter offers two examples of those who suffered for doing good — Jesus and Noah — but who were likewise saved and glorified as we will be. Note, Peter doesn’t encourage us in the ways we would naturally expect to be helpful, and yet, the Spirit of God believes we need this, and so, it is an act of true humility to attempt to grasp Peter’s thrust here.
1. Christ’s Suffering and Glorification
The first example is Christ. He suffered as a sin sacrifice. He was righteous, but he suffered for the unrighteous. He gave himself over to the violent, slanderous, Satan-filled mob. But consider Peter’s point here that this was actually good and that the forces of evil did not win. (1) Through his suffering he brought us to God. (2) Though put to death in the flesh, he was made alive — resurrected — by the Holy Spirit. (3) Those evil spirits — the sons of God — who brought sexual deviancy, violent carnage, and idolatry upon the earth? After his resurrection, Jesus went and preached to them. Maybe he proclaimed, declared his victory over them.
Jesus’ suffering and death was the means by which he brought us to God, experienced the Spirit’s resurrection, and had ancient cosmic powers subjected to him. When you see Jesus suffer all that evil and yet you see the good and the victory that resulted, we can say in the midst of fearful oppression and slander and loss, “You know what? Clearly I’m not on the wrong side here. When I suffer for good, I’m aligned with winners who conquer death and cosmic powers.” But that’s not all.
2. Noah’s Flood and Salvation
Second, Noah and his family was, as one writer put it, a “small embattled minority in a hostile world.” (Schreiner) He was a preacher of righteousness in a world where everyone’s thoughts were continually evil, where violence and might made right, and even a world where it seems that dark spiritual powers had invaded and spread sexual deviancy and raised up mighty giants. Noah likely looked like a fool heralding righteousness and constructing a massive boat. He himself may have woken up some days and wondered what in the world he was doing and if this was really worth it. But this embattled minority was rescued from that wicked world through the ark in the water — God actually ordained those scary, chaotic waters of judgment were actually their salvation. His suffering led to him being glorified as a new Adam over the world.
Peter says that baptism actually corresponds to this. If we can see it, there is a rich picture of baptism here. Think about it. The scary, chaotic floodwaters simultaneously judged the evil world and saved Noah from it, and those same waters save us today. As with the flood, when we are baptized the old man — the old creation — is judged, killed, buried; but as God’s Spirit-wind blew and brought dry ground and new life after the flood, by the power of the Spirit and Jesus’ resurrection, we come through and out of those chaotic flood waters alive, conscience cleansed.
Just as that small, embattled minority was saved from that corrupt world through its destruction by water, we are saved by the destruction of the old man in that water too. As Jesus suffered, was killed, and was raised and all rebel powers were subjected to him, we too will be raised up even from death to reign with him — all powers under our feet as well.
Ramifications for Today
I got on Facebook a few days ago to deactivate my account — I feel there is limited fruitfulness for me keeping it any longer. But, before I could, I saw a post from an acquaintance from the Christian college I attended in Florida. What she posted was a logically fallacious attack against an unpopular Christian teaching. Two other Christian friends that we went to school with replied that her argument wasn’t sound and they invited further conversation. But then, two more that we went to school with joined the conversations and immediately started mocking their replies and even falsely accusing one of the Christians of promoting heinous practices and beliefs he has never promoted. They misquoted and publicly slandered him. When I urged him to re-consider his slander so we could engage in a friendly conversation about truth, he refused to back down. Then, all three — the author and the two mockers — joined in with the other friends in a final round of mocking.
Fourteen years ago, these were Christians who cared enough to pay — or let their parents pay — good money to attend a private Christian college. But now, they and their friends gang up to publicly slander and humiliate Christians. Psa. 22:12–13, 16-19 NIV, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me… Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” I wish this was the only time I have seen this same thing happen, but this is not uncommon. It’s coming. And, as we discussed last time, we have to be ready for a real defense — we can help some of these same enemies with well-informed defenses — but we also have to be ready for when people mock our defenses of Jesus and tear us to pieces. Based on this text, in that day…
1. Remember our baptisms. Noah too preached righteousness and suffered and then when the waters of judgment came, he was brought safely through. There’s a reason we declare “Jesus is Lord” with our mouths, there’s a reason we believe his resurrection in our hearts, and there’s also a good reason our actual bodies are plunged in water. It is a concrete reminder that we have already lived through that old world’s destruction and renewal in the flood, we have already crossed through the Red Sea and escaped Pharaoh’s army, and we have already entered the death and burial of Jesus at the hands of sinners, and yet come out victorious. At that moment, we appealed to God for a clean conscience and he delivered us through. We are clean. They may accost our ears, take our things, hit our bodies, but we have already emulated and tasted our Noah-like salvation in baptism. In the words of Hebrews 10:22, our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
2. Remember all powers have been subjected to Jesus. When Jesus was raised, he went and proclaimed his victory over those ancient cosmic powers. When evil people slander us, we need to know that the evil powers animating their actions are under Jesus’ control. Do not fear! In a vision, Daniel sees that the kingdoms of men have become like frightening beasts trampling down the earth, devouring much flesh, and even oppressing the saints. It’s a reversal of Genesis 1 where humans are given dominion over the beasts; but now the humans have become like animals and they are ruling the world. But then the beasts are slaughtered and he sees a human one — a son of man — coming in the clouds and he receives dominion. And then the promise is made that the people, the humans with him will receive dominion too. We are on the bottom now, but through the suffering of Jesus and Noah we see that we are on the right side. We are saved. We will be glorified.