Today is the traditional remembrance of when Jesus was still in the tomb before the traditional remembrance of Resurrection Sunday on Easter. We’ve been considering some of the more supernatural events during this, the most supernatural week in history.
Peter suggests that Jesus did something amazing after he died on the Cross. First, let’s look at the larger context of Peter’s statement, in 1 Peter 3:14-22 and then we’ll explore it.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him
In this passage, Peter encourages us to endure suffering for the sake of righteousness. To illustrate his point, Peter links baptism to the events surrounding the Watchers, the giants, and the flood as depicted in what we might call an international bestseller in his day: 1 Enoch.
1 Enoch’s Tale
1 Enoch was widely read and discussed in the 1st Century by Jews everywhere. It is one of dozens of books that the biblical writers used as source material to make their points.
In 1 Enoch, the writer describes the Watchers (the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4) descended from heaven to earth at Mt. Hermon, corrupted human flesh through the sexual cohabitation with human women, who produced giants. These giants began consuming all flesh, even drinking human blood, and so God sent the flood to destroy the corruption while preserving Noah.
Before the flood, however, God locked up the Watchers in Tartarus, which was basically the really bad part of the underworld. The Watchers asked Enoch to intercede for them before God. Enoch made their case to God, and God denied the request.
Enoch then descended to Tartarus to tell them the bad news. The bad news was this: They LOST. Their plan to ruin God’s plan for Creation FAILED. And they will remain locked up for eternity.
But really the bad news was good news for us, because these Watchers were really bad news.
Peter uses this story as a “theological analogy between the events of Genesis 6 and the gospel and resurrection.” 1 He saw Enoch as a type foreshadowing Jesus, who, just like Enoch, proclaimed to the spirits in prison the gospel that, although the Domain of Darkness had conspired against the Lord, God was still triumphant!
Jesus then left hell through the resurrection and eventually ascended to sit at the right hand of God in heaven, above all the spiritual powers, including all the Watchers, both good and evil.
Baptism is Spiritual Warfare
Peter says baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The word translated “appeal” is best understood as “pledge.” Moreover, “conscience” doesn’t reflect the inner voice of right or wrong, but, consistent with its use in other Greek literature, a loyalty oath. 2
Thus, according to Peter, baptism does not produce salvation, but rather reflects the salvation that already occurred as a public “pledge of loyalty to the risen Savior.”
Water baptism is a public declaration on who is on the Lord’s side in the Kingdom Conflict.
Every new baptism reminds the spiritual forces in the Domain of Darkness that they lost and to those loyal to the Kingdom of God that they won.
So did Jesus literally descend to Hell to preach? I don’t know how literally we should take Peter because it’s a sermon illustration he’s drawing on cosmic events chronicled in non-biblical texts. But in a sense, Jesus’ death-burial-resurrection literally preached and continues to preach to the spirits in prison, those spirits who left heaven and tried to corrupt God’s good creation. I personally love the idea of Jesus showing up in hell to the demons and locked up Watchers who thought they had won, only to tell them they fell for God’s secret plan to destroy them and move forward with God’s plan to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
It’s like a mafia boss locked in a prison, still trying to orchestrate events outside, only to learn that all of his orchestrations resulted in his worst defeat ever. I just think that’s cool.
But however literally you want to read it, it’s just awesome. But my question to those who have made a public profession of loyalty to Jesus Christ: have you been baptized yet? If not, what are you waiting for? It’s a great way to remind the forces of darkness that THEY LOST and JESUS WON.
This is excerpted from my forthcoming Kingdom Warfare on the Home Front: Spiritual Cleansing of Life and Land. If you enjoyed it, sign up for the newsletter to get more updates.