The 800# Gorilla of 1 Peter 3:18-20


1 Peter Part 14b

The Fellowship of His Suffering

1 Peter 3:13-22


Before we even get into the text in detail this morning, it might be good to acknowledge the 800# gorilla in the room.

What I mean by that, is that we need to think just a bit about the unique statements Peter makes in vss. 19-20:

1 Peter 3:18–20 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”

What in the world is going on here?

Some of you will remember our series in the book of Daniel.

 In that series, we talked about dealing with certain portions of Scripture which are difficult to understand – in that case, Biblical Prophecy. What needs untangled.

And you will recall that we set out a little grid for dealing with difficult passages.

We consider obscure passages in 3 ways. We major on:

1. What is CERTAIN in the passage.

We treat carefully –

2. What may be REASONABLE to infer.

And for the most part, we avoid camping on –


We noted then, as we need to do with today’s passage, to be sure we major on what is CERTAIN above all else.

There may be some reasonable inferences we can draw, but we do not base any doctrine upon them.

And, there may be ideas which we might speculate upon, but once again, we do not want to base our conclusions on those ideas – but focus upon what is certain.

Why do I bring that up here?

Because, as one commentary I consulted on vss. 18-20 noted: There are no less than 18 major interpretations of what precisely is meant here. (Holman Bible Commentary)

So we have a real need to tread lightly.

It is obvious we cannot treat all 18 of those possible interpretations today, but let me lay out the 4 most prominent, and why I personally hold to one particular view – while leaving the door slightly open to one other.

At the same time, let me add that should you disagree with me in some of the particulars in the precise interpretation here, I’ll not wrestle you to the mat over it, as long as we all confine ourselves to keeping the CERTAIN points in view.

So difficult are these several verses that Martin Luther wrote, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.”[1]

Tom Schreiner – James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology (1997); Associate Dean of the School of Theology @ SBTS in Louisville KY helps us greatly here summarizing top 4 interpretations.

This passage is speaking of:

VIEW 1: Christ’s Spirit preaching through Noah in days before the Flood.

VIEW 2: Jesus, after death and before resurrection, preaching to the OT saints in Hades, and leading them to Heaven.

VIEW 3: Jesus, after death and before resurrection, preaching to those who perished in Noah’s Flood, offering them a 2nd chance.

VIEW 4: Jesus’ proclamation of His victory over the evil angels who co-habited with human women precipitating the Flood, and who are imprisoned forever in Hell. Maybe before resurrection, or after.


I must acknowledge here that the 4th seems to be most common today among conservative scholars.

The truth is, there are problems with each of the views here – mine included. Either on grammatical grounds, or a mixture of grammar, or in comparison with the rest of Scripture, and in the immediate context.

View #2 Seems to be ruled out because it is based on a view of Hades as a double compartmented abode of the dead, the righteous on one side and the wicked on the other.

But a careful study of how the words Hades and Hell are used in the OT demonstrate that this dual compartmented view comes from Pagan thought and not Bible teaching and fails at the outset.

View #3 Seems ruled out due to unambiguous Scripture statements such as: Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, The idea of a 2nd chance at salvation after death is not only not taught in the balance of Scripture, it is flat out denied.

View #4 In my estimation fails on 4 main fronts – tho as I said, it is the most common view today. While it offers the most in-depth grammatical solutions to the passage:

a. I believe it fails to follow Peter’s logic as carefully as it should leading up to this point.

b. It relies heavily on the extra-Biblical book of Enoch – which in my opinion falls into the category of Jewish myth.

c. It relies on a view of angelology which I believe Scripture does not support.

d. It presupposes Peter’s readers would have a working knowledge of this extra-Biblical material to draw from, take to be truth, and know how to apply it even though it is only mentioned in passing.

I think that stretches credibility a bit farther than I can go.

If you would like to discuss that in more detail, in a way I simply cannot this morning – then perhaps we can arrange a Wednesday night to do so.

In short – regarding this 4th view, we have no Biblical data supporting the idea that angels even CAN co-habit with human humans. At that, the Bible says they neither marry nor are given in marriage (Luke 20:35), and do not appear to be a race which propagates itself, but each are individual creations.

The idea that the offspring of such unions were the “Nephelim” of Gen. 6:4, seems disproved by the fact that Nephelim still exist after the Flood (Numb. 13:33) – which would create so many other exegetical problems as to be (in my opinion) impossible to overcome.

That said, this 4th view is held by many whom I would gladly sit under the feet of to learn. They are both godly and scholars in the highest degree, so I do not take their view lightly, even if I take issue with it.

So where does that leave us? With View #1. It seems most likely to me, that Peter is saying that the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead, was active even back in Noah’s Day, preaching through Noah for 120 years – and that the example of Noah laboring so is to be an encouragement to Believers now.

That said, let’s get back to the start of this text and try to work it through.

Vs. 17 – You as one of Christ’s elect are suffering – so why is it “better” to suffer for righteousness if that should be God’s will?

Why does the Believer have SUCH hope, that our sufferings are “better” than those that our neighbors endure?

In short, because, above all else – we have the promise of not only suffering with like and with Jesus, but of also being raised with Him.

Our union with Him in our being born again is more than just a nice notion – It is a most powerful and living reality – Something we even taste a bit of now –  Colossians 3:1 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

So, 1 Peter 3:14 “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”

What then can we take away from these portions in terms of what we can be certain of?


5 Great Certainties:


A. SUFFERING IS NOT SHAMEFUL:  Because Christ also suffered under God’s will, this is nothing to be ashamed of should it happen – since it was even part and parcel of how Christ came as our substitute to die in our place.

In the culture where Peter’s first readers lived, humility in the face of adversity was NOT considered a positive trait. In fact, is was downright shameful.

Jesus’ willingness to go to the Cross without putting up a good fight would have been seen as gutless and the mark of an exceedingly weak character. The same would have attached itself to those who followed in Christ’s steps the way Peter is calling for.

But Peter is urging his readers – and us: Do not let the World make you ashamed of suffering for His name’s sake. Peter is building to a point he will reiterate in the next chapter: 1 Peter 4:12–16 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.


B. SUFFERING BRINGS EVANGELISTIC OPPORTUNITY: As Christ suffered “to bring us to God” – so too, as we’ve seen already in the whole argument up until now, HOW we suffer for His name in this present world, is a powerful apologetic to bring make Christ known in this present darkness, and to see them brought to saving faith.

2:5 – Our Priesthood in this present world

2:9 – The Proclamation of His excellencies

2:12 – Testimony to the persecutors which will be verified on the last day

2:15 – Putting to silence the ignorance of foolish people

3:1 – In winning the lost


C. SUFFERING FOR BELIEVERS ALWAYS TERMINATES FINALLY IN RESURRECTION: Should our suffering even bring us to death – remember that resurrection through the Spirit of Christ is ours.

The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.)

The very same Spirit which raised Christ will raise us, and this same Spirit has always proclaimed forgiveness and deliverance from God’s judgement, even all the way back to the dark, dark days of Noah – days darker even than our own.


D. DISCOURAGEMENT NEED NOT SPOIL YOUR SUFFERING: If so few as only 8 responded to the preaching of the Gospel in face of coming judgment in Noah’s Day – do NOT be discouraged if you do not see many come to Christ as a result of your witness of suffering righteously for His sake.

Whatever else may be going on in these verses as regards preaching to the spirits in prison who did not obey in Noah’s time – whether the preaching referred to is the Spirit of Christ preaching through Noah then, or Jesus proclaiming to those imprisoned spirits after His death –

FEW LISTENED. And that is never reason to be discouraged, or to stop being those who endure suffering in this present age – in a way that makes the Spirit of Christ evident to our detractors.

Don’t lose heart!

We are about the business of fulfilling God’s eternal plan in Christ Jesus.



As Tom Schreiner notes – who takes VIEW #4 by the way: Believers should not become intimidated in suffering but continue to sanctify Christ as Lord because the suffering of Christ was also the means by which he was exalted. Just as suffering was the pathway to exaltation for Christ, so also suffering is the prelude to glory for believers…the emphasis on Christ’s victory reminds believers that the troubles of the present time are temporary, that victory is sure because Christ has triumphed over evil powers. The theme of the text therefore is not the imitation of Christ, contrary to some scholars,265 but his victory over evil.[2]


All of this is wrapped up in this one great reality – That Jesus Christ has been raised up from the dead, and so will all of those who are His with Him, when He comes.


Paul summarizes Peter’s thought here, in Ephesians 1:15–23 (ESV) For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


[1] Schreiner, Thomas R. 2003. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. . Vol. 37. (The New American Commentary). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Schreiner, Thomas R. 2003. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. . Vol. 37. (The New American Commentary). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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