The Just for the Unjust: (Chapter 3 Verses 8-22)
The assurance of what we have just said comes now (vv18-22). For Christ died, he the just for the unjust. The one who suffered for doing good (v17). How did it finish with him? God exalted him, made alive by the Spirit, and exalted him to the right hand of God. Well if you suffer for doing good, God too will exalt you in due time, just trust him. Now these are the difficult verses. The Spirit who raised Jesus, it was through him, the same Spirit that Jesus preached to those spirits, or souls now in prison, eternal prison, hell. It is not that he went into hell and preached to them. No, he preached to them long ago, back in the days of Noah for example. When they walked in the flesh. You see when righteous men like Noah preached to the people of their day, they did it in the power, and with the enabling of the same Holy Spirit that fills us today, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, the Spirit who made Jesus alive. He was in them, preaching to the disobedient of Noah’s day. But of course they didn’t listen, and so they are those whose spirits are now in prison. But they were preached to, Jesus came to them, in the Person of the Holy Spirit. But the only ones who were saved, were Noah and his family (v20b).
But how were they saved, through water (v20b)? Does baptism save, is that what is meant here? No. The water is typical of baptism, the Ark in which Noah and his family were rescued is typical too, of Jesus that is. The Ark was God’s provision for saving them, because they obeyed and took refuge they were saved. Just as today if you believe God’s word of judgment and take refuge in Jesus you will be saved. But many just laugh and scorn as with Noah, they don’t believe it will ever happen, but in Noah’s day it did. Many perished in that water, but not Noah and his family, they were safe in the Ark. The water that was judgment to unbelief was salvation to Noah because he in faith, was in the Ark. That water symbolises baptism, but what is symbolised in baptism, the cleansing away of our sin. But it’s not the baptismal water that does that, it’s Jesus blood’ (3.18). It takes away the guilty conscience, it is God’s provision that saves us. But all that is symbolised in baptism, we are testifying to a good conscience through God’s Son, through faith in him. Not only his death, but resurrection (v21b) and exaltation (v22), confirming God’s acceptance of the cross-work, and the fact that we have been justified freely from all things.
(© James R Hamilton, written May, 1998)