Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 34


“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Peter 3:18-20).

Some Explanations

The above is a mysterious and somewhat neglected passage. It would have been easier to continue the neglect and to have ignored it. So many questions have been asked me concerning it, however, that I feel duty bound to consider it. After studying several explanations and considering them in the light of the passage itself, I have reached the conclusion that these verses say exactly what they seem to say. There have been some clever and sensible sounding explanations that I would like to believe such as the one that Christ preached to the antediluvian world through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a good explanation, as are the others, with just one serious fault. It has to be read into, or explained into the passage. In and of itself the passage teaches no such thing. When we quit trying to explain it in terms of what we think it ought to say and read it carefully for just what it says, we may be amazed but we are not in doubt.

What the Passage Teaches

The passage says that when Jesus suffered for our sins and was put to death in the flesh, he was alive in spirit, and in spiritual presence went and preached to imprisoned spirits who had been disobedient in the antediluvian age. Like it or not, that is exactly what the passage says. I fail to see then how it could mean anything else. Peter goes into no further explanation. There is no desire on his part to analyze it. Why should there be an attempt on our part to analyze it then?

Reason for the Passage

The reason Peter gives for mentioning this matter at all is the fact that it points up the role of sacrificial suffering in the glorious business of redemption. Christ wins his way to the imprisoned souls by means of his suffering on Calvary. The agony and darkness of Calvary is forgotten in the glad mission of redemption but it was the agony of Calvary that made that mission possible. Suffering is linked with joy in the New Testament if only it be redemptive suffering. It is this suffering and this joy that Christ invites us to share with him. It is a costly joy. Peter was aware of this. Read 1 Peter 3:14. “But and if ye suffer for righteousness sake happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.” Again in 1 Peter 4:14-16: “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you; on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”

The Price of Glory

For Christ the price of this glory was a cross. He tells us that if we would follow him we must take up our cross. Many Christians want to bypass their own cross and luxuriate in an easy piety. Such religion may look charming but it falls far short of what God expects of his people.

“Can you drink of the cup that I shall drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Christ asks of the disciples who would sit next him. We can only if we see that the way of the cross is the only way to be redeemed and redemptive. Such knowledge does not come out of an easy going religion.

The Twentieth Century has a great deal to say about getting away from all that horrible old religion of fear and fire and brimstone and strict morals to an easy, casual religion of love. Yet the Twentieth Century knows next to nothing about love so long as it avoids the cross. It is no use to talk about love as if it were an easy tolerance or affectionate indifference to others’ faults. The cross is the way God expressed love and all love must finally come to its cross. I do not treat with casual tolerance the sins of those I deeply love. I am distressed by it and I will make painful sacrifices to change it. Redemptive love is nothing if not vulnerable. Sometimes redemptive love may be even hard to live with but there could be no worthwhile love at all without it. When men start insisting upon a religion of love because they think it will be easier than a religion of law they demonstrate an utter lack of understanding concerning the nature of love. I will argue for a religion of love but I will insist that such a religion will make far greater demands on a man than a religion of simple law. The obligations placed by law can conceivably be met. Law is measurable. Love, on the other hand, is infinite. It forces us to depend on grace, for its demands are never satisfied. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” But even on his way to lay down his life love can stop and weep waver a house desolate and know deep pain that even the ultimate sacrifice of life cannot assure the salvation of all the beloved. Law can leave spirits in prison, but love must go and preach to them again. Law can sit on a dazzling throne and mete out justice but love must descend and suffer for the culprit. Law can sit on a pew and condemn the sinner. Tolerance can make pretty speeches about winking at the sin. But love must identify itself in pain with the sinner and sacrifice itself, if need be, to save the sinner from his sin. The easy religion is the religion of law. Tolerance is not a religion at all but an attitude. The Gospel of Christ tells of a religion of love and so of course, it must deal honestly with the necessity of suffering. All they that live Godly in Christ Jesus will have their part in suffering and out of this suffering is born the deeper sources of their joy.

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