Monday on the blog we introduced 1 Peter 3:18-22 as one of the most confusing and difficult passages in the entire New Testament. Our goal this week is to study this passage as an example of how to rightly handle difficult texts. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
· Step 1—Affirm What is Clearly Taught
· Step 2—Reject What is Clearly False
· Step 3—Examine What is Unclear
Today let’s consider the final two steps.
Step 4: DETERMINE the Main Idea.
What’s the main idea that Peter is trying to get across to his readers? Remember these are exiled believers living in a world that is increasingly hostile to their faith. He’s writing to remind them of God’s grace and to encourage them to stand strong amidst suffering. Why does he include verses 18-22 in his letter?
If you want to see Peter’s main idea, you need to notice the progression in the passage. In the original language Peter uses three words to communicate three huge ideas. Jesus was put to death (18) . . . made alive (18). . . [and] has gone into heaven (22). So what does that progression teach us about Peter’s main idea? Jesus is victorious! He’s the winner! Even when it looks like He’s losing, He’s not! Jesus wins!
Or, if you want to see Peter’s main idea you can focus on one word in verse 22: “subjected.” That word has been a theme lately in our study of this letter. Christians should be subject to government officials, even if they persecute us. Slaves should be subject to their masters, even if they’re unjustly treated. Wives should be subject to their husbands, even if they don’t believe. Living as an exile is living under subjection. And often that means you’re subject to people who hate you, people who revile you, who persecute you, who mistreat you, ignore you, gossip about you, and worse. But take heart, Christian, because in the end everyone and everything is subject to Jesus!
In many ways, Peter’s hearers (and us today) are just like Noah and his family. They’re living in a wicked world that is not their home. The world mocks them, mistreats them, ignores them. In the world’s eyes they look foolish, wasting their time building something that the world says doesn’t matter. But even when all seems lost, even when the world is dark, even when everything is turned upside-down, Jesus still wins.
And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him
There’s a final step we must take if we’re going to rightly handle a confusing passage like this. Actually, this step is crucial to any passage of Scripture. . .
Step 5: APPLY What You Know.
James 1:22-25—But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (23) For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. (24) For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (25) But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. It’s not enough for God’s Word to be understood.
It must be responded to. It must be obeyed. How is God calling you to respond to passages like 1 Peter 3:18-22?
· Unbeliever: God’s patience won’t last forever. Repent and believe!
· Uncommitted Christian: The only path to a clean conscience in your relationship with God is to identify with Jesus through baptism and connection to a local church.
· Committed Christian: Don’t be anxious if/when you suffering. It’s the pathway to glory.
The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 pitted the Napoleon the Great of France against the forces led by the Duke of Wellington. After Napoleon was defeated, a ship from Europe sailed across the English Channel to relay the good news by signal flags to London. When the report was received in London at Winchester Cathedral, the flags atop the cathedral began to spell out Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon to the entire city. The message began: “Wellington defeated. . .” But before the message could be completed, a heavy London fog set in and the rest of the message was hidden.
Based on incomplete information, the citizens of London thought Napoleon had won, which would’ve been a devastating defeat for England. Gloom and sorrow filled the nation as the bad news spread quickly everywhere. But when the mist began to lift, the flags high up on Winchester Cathedral completed the news: “Wellington defeated the enemy!” The English fears were unfounded! Joy immediately replaced the gloom. All over England people danced in the streets, rejoicing at the victory over one of the most dangerous enemies the nation had ever faced.[i]
Even though portions of our passage will forever remain foggy, the most important truths have been clearly revealed. Let’s live in joy-filled faith in the One who defeated the enemy. Let’s live in hopeful anticipation that He’s coming again to make all things new.
[i] As told in David R. Helm, 1–2 Peter and Jude, Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 122.