1 Peter 3:13-22

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 21, 2017.

This passage is full of difficulties, allusions to apocryphal literature, and obscure references that make it easy to get lost in the process of interpretation. In fact, if the minister is not very careful, he or she will be found trying to find out who are the spirits in prison, why Jesus preached to them, and how His preaching affected them, among other difficulties. Rather than get lost in these obvious difficulties, it would be better for the minister to focus on what can be readily understood in the passage. By looking at the book as a whole and the context of the passage, the meaning of the passage can be discerned.

In 1 Peter suffering is a very common theme. In the very beginning of the book, believers are encouraged to endure trials and suffering just as the prophets had endured them. Not only does the concept of suffering appear in the opening of the book, but it is also found throughout the text. The word suffering appears twenty times in the book. Further, the author goes out of his way to use the term suffering when it is not necessary. For example, the author uses “suffering” instead of “death” in 4:1 when referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. In 3:18 there is good reason to believe “suffered” is the correct word instead of “died” as some translations use.

Now I Peter’s emphasis on suffering does not necessarily mean that this passage is about suffering, but the context leans heavily in that direction. Verse 13 begins by talking about the harm that could come to the believer and discusses suffering immediately. Not only that, the passage mentions Christ’s suffering repeatedly; and it is followed by another section on suffering beginning in 4:1. If one is to get to the heart of the passage’s meaning one must look at it in the context of suffering.

The next major theme of the text is the person of Christ. The reader is told to worship Christ, counseled to be willing to suffer for Christ, informed about the salvific power of Christ’s suffering, reminded of the connection between the work of Christ and baptism, and taught about Christ’s work with of imprisoned spirits. While this last reference is obscure and there is no consensus among interpreters, it is also primarily about the work of Christ. Therefore, if the minister’s goal is to preach what the text says, then the minister will be left with the themes of suffering, and the work of Christ.

Taking the two themes together, the text presents itself as instruction for the believer to follow while suffering for his or her faith, and the power of Christ to overcome their suffering.

The first response to suffering that the text commends is really more of a pre-emptive strike than response. The passage reads, “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” (NRSV) This rhetorical question invites the response, “no one.” The point is that if one is enthusiastically doing good works, then he or she will not invite persecution. While the doing of good works may not preclude suffering, it will give pause to those who would persecute believers.

The second response is to not be afraid. In verse 14 the author refers to Isaiah 8:12b, and his overall point is that fear is reserved for God alone. Believers in Christ Jesus are not to fear those that can harm the body, but God alone.

The third response to suffering is that instead of living in fear, the believer should worship Christ. To “sanctify” Christ, as the NRSV renders translates the term, can mean to hallow, to make holy, or to honor Him. In other words, it means to worship Christ. The connection between the suffering and worship is that the worship of Jesus Christ redefines suffering for the believer. Suffering is no longer ultimate, and those who could bring death through persecution have no real power over the believer. This is true because Christ has overcome death, and those who are in Christ share in His victory. They will never be overcome by death and will share in the resurrection with Christ. Since the resurrection of the believer is assured, death has no actual power and suffering cannot do ultimate harm.

For believers who do not live in a context of persecution this point might seem a little foreign, but it has implications for all believers, not just the persecuted ones. When the believer suffers from the pains that are common in life such as disease, loss, or failure, he or she can turn to Christ and worship, because Christ has overcome death. In worshipping Him, the believer is giving a potent weapon against suffering. It serves as a great reminder that his or her suffering will be overcome. The future victory over suffering is won because of Jesus “. . . has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to Him.” Jesus Christ now rules and reigns, even over the suffering of the believer.


Dr. Layne Wallace
Senior Pastor Rosemary Baptist Church






Tags: suffering, endurance, big picture, resurrection, Jesus

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