Tuesday, November 04, 2008

First Peter 3.19-20

7:44 AM Update -- Trae and I have just returned from breakfast at Chick-fil-A (shock, I know). Anyway, Angelina informed us that if you stop by the Blackstone and Nees Chick-fil-A today between 2:00 and 7:00 pm with your "I Voted" sticker, you will receive a FREE #1 Sandwich.


Today I will vote as a citizen of the state in which I currently reside.

But the outcome of today's vote has no bearing on my ultimate citizenship! I am a citizen of heaven, where there are no elections for King. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, a resident of the kingdom of God; called to live as an alternative to the powers and principalities of this world.

I will exercise the opportunity afforded my earthly citizenship in a democratic nation and cast a vote. But tomorrow, I will awaken and resume the mission of God in my life as a proclaimer of a kingdom that is not of this world, regardless of the outcome.

Some have suggested the political centers of this world need to be shaken up. Today, I am eternally grateful for the privilege, blessing and security of being a citizen of a kingdom that cannot be shaken.


Thanks for your patience on First Peter 3.19-20. After soliciting your email input last week, my inbox was overwhelmed with suggestions as to what in the world Peter might have meant. Thank you for sharing with me your diligent study. I am a better student of the latter part of 1 Peter 3 as a result of all you shared with me.

Essentially, three primary viewpoints have been suggested for these confusing verses: (1) As the Apostles' Creed declares, Jesus literally descended into hell between his death and resurrection to the preach the gospel to those who'd never heard. (2) Noah served as a pre-existent type of Jesus Christ by preaching good news of hope to the unbelievers of his generation; (3) Jesus proclaimed victory upon his ascension to the right hand of God.

Immediately, I dismiss option #1. Suggesting that Jesus offered a second chance by preaching the gospel to those who'd never heard undermines some of Jesus' very teaching, i.e. the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. If there is no purgatory of second chances, then having Jesus descend into hell serves no valid purpose, other than to one-up those suffering away in the prison. Option #1 just doesn't fly because it doesn't fit Scripture or the attitude of Jesus.

Option #2 has some merit. It does connect with Peter's writing in his second letter (2 Pet 2.4-5) where Noah is presented as a preacher of righteousness. Certainly, during his boat-building days, Noah proclaimed hope to a generation that wouldn't listen.

However, in the context of suffering as a paradoxical means of victory and vindication, Option #3 makes the most sense to me. The Greek word translated "preached" is actually kerusso, a very general word meaning "to proclaim; to herald." We tend to assume, upon reading the word "preached," that the gospel is always the subject of the preaching. But kerusso is a word never attached to the preaching of the gospel in the New Testament.

Add to that, our fundamental assumption that "went" means Jesus went down is unnecessary. Couldn't Jesus have gone "up" just as logically as he could've gone "down"?

When was the victory of Jesus completely finalized? When he returned to the right hand of God, providing access to the Father for those who would believe in faith. This brings together the entire context of the latter portion of First Peter 3. Peter is writing to suffering Christians who are in the center of God's will (3.17). Their suffering is not prompted by the Law of the Harvest -- they are not reaping what they've sown. Rather, they are suffering unjustly for no other reason than their obedient faith in God. This puts them in good company -- with Jesus himself -- who suffered unjustly to rescue the relationship mankind forfeited with God because of sin (3.18). Peter then speaks of the proclamation of victory within the spirit realm (3.19-20), connecting the victory provided by Jesus with our response in baptism (3.21). Peter concludes by declaring Jesus to have ascended, where he now reigns with all authority in submission to him (3.22).

Contextually, that makes sense to me. But as I shared with the church family Sunday, I'm not going to fight anybody over that interpretation. This is one where a certain measure of obscurity exists, despite our best effort to understand.

But the obscure should never overwhelm the obvious! And what is very obvious is that Jesus rescued our relationship with God the Father, securing access to the very throne room of God, through unjust suffering. Paradoxically, his unjust suffering secures our salvation and provides for believers an example for how to respond when injustice comes our way (2.21-24).