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The Purpose of Suffering and the Process of Salvation (3:17-22)

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Why do we suffer? The Apostle Peter gives at least three reasons. The first is that suffering may be a result of our own wrongdoing. In chapter 3, verse 17 of his first letter Peter writes, “For it is better, if it is God’s will, that you suffer for doing well than for doing evil.” From this we can see that not all suffering is God’s will. All too often we do what is wrong and then blame God for the consequences. Each one of us needs to ask the question, “Is my suffering a result of my own choice to do what is wrong?”

But there is another reason or cause for suffering. It may be necessary for us to suffer so that someone else may be reconciled to God. To illustrate this point Peter gives the example of Christ. In verse 18 he writes, “Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God...” Just as Christ had to suffer in order to bring salvation to those who believe in Him, it may be necessary for the followers of Jesus to suffer in order to take the message of salvation to those who do not yet believe. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Before Peter discusses a third purpose in suffering he describes the process of salvation. In verses 18 through 21 he writes of Christ, “...being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison, who before were disobedient, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ship was being built. In it, few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

It is important to note that both in the days of Noah and today the need for salvation results from man’s disobedience. In describing Noah’s era Scripture says, “Yahweh [that is, “The Lord”] saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) In regard to the days in which we are living God’s word says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness...” (Romans 1:18) Man’s disobedience not only makes salvation necessary, disobedience also prevents man from obtaining the salvation which is offered to him. Only eight people, including Noah, obeyed by entering the ark and so were saved from the flood. Today, it is only those who obey Christ who will be saved from the judgment that God is bringing on mankind. Peter writes that “...God waited patiently in the days of Noah...” Scripture tells us that God waited 120 years before sending the flood. God is patiently waiting today as well for people to accept the forgiveness He offers. In his second inspired letter Peter writes The Lord, “...is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Each one of us needs to ask ourselves whether we are presuming upon God’s patience or whether we are being obedient to Christ.

What does Peter mean when he says that Christ “...also went and preached to the spirits in prison, who before were disobedient...”? Some think that after Jesus died on the cross He descended into hell and until His resurrection preached to the condemned spirits there. But there is a more reasonable explanation. In chapter 1, verses 10 through 12 Peter pointed out that the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets and it was He that motivated them to speak. When Noah spoke to the people of his generation, his words were actually the words of Christ. They were condemned because they rejected Christ’s message which Noah revealed to them. We too will be condemned if we reject Christ’s message.

From Peter’s account we can learn the following about salvation: 1) Before salvation can be granted, there must be a means of salvation. Noah could not be saved from the flood until the ark had been built. In the same way, it is Jesus’ death and resurrection that prepared the way for our salvation from sin. 2) Those that are saved must have a faith that causes them to obey. Only those who believed Noah’s message that the flood was coming obeyed the command to enter the ark. Only those who believe Christ’s message obey Him. 3) There must be an agent of salvation. In Noah’s time water not only destroyed the earth but lifted the ark above the flood. In the same way the waters of baptism are the agent by which God grants new spiritual life to the sinner. The apostle Paul writes, “Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4) There are many who disagree with this concept. They say that baptism is not necessary for our salvation. But who are we to argue with the Apostles Peter and Paul? Who are we to argue with the method our savior chooses to save us? It is not our place to argue with Christ, but to humbly obey and accept the salvation He offers. 4) Salvation not only looks to the future but also has immediate benefits. The meaning of Peter’s phrase that is translated “...the answer of a good conscience toward God...” is somewhat obscure. One thing that seems clear, however, is that God grants those who are baptized into Christ a clear conscience. 5) Salvation from sin is impossible apart from Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Apostle Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

Christ’s suffering made our salvation possible. But it also brought a reward. In verse 22 Peter writes, “...who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him.”