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Spirits in Prison
A Sermon by Rosco Brong

Christ's Spirit Preaches Deliverance to sin-bound Captives of Satan

"For also Christ once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh but having been made alive in the Spirit: in whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison, to those who disbelieved, once upon a time, when the longsuffering of God was waiting, in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is eight, souls were saved through water." (I Peter 3:18-20, improved translation.)

Our text is controversial and supposedly very difficult merely be­cause commentators have insisted on dragging in an unholy mess of Jewish fables which have no proper place in Biblical interpretation. If we will simply let the Bible speak for and interpret itself, imaginary difficulties will van­ish. God has given us a Book that is really not so hard to understand as it is to practice.

Christ our Example
Context shows conclusively that the main thought here is the example of Christ held before us to encourage like devotion to the will of God. The preceding verse declares (KJ) that "it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing." Then our text, then a reference to baptism and to the resur­rection and ascension, of Christ, and then these words:

"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God." (I Peter 4:1, 2.)

Whatever else we may learn from our text, or whatever strange doctrine some commentators may try to connect with it, we have missed the point entirely if we fail to grasp the spirtual power of the example of Christ in doing the Father's will.

The Just for the Unjust
Self-righteous religionists do not like the doctrine of vicarious or substitutionary suffering, but apart from human theories of morality nothing is more commonplace in human experience than that many of the sufferings in individuals are brought upon them and are rightly deserved not by themselves but by others. This is a hard fact of life, and it is foolish to let theory blind us to facts.

Common experience and divine revelation agree on the paradox: "What­soever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7); but also, "One soweth, and another reapeth" (John 4:37). In the end, the Judge of all the earth will see that Justice is done, but His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways — until we throw away our own and adopt His as ours.

So it has pleased God that His Son should take our sins and their punish­ment upon Himself that He might bring us to God. This truth is vital to genuine Christianity, and any religion that de­nies it is a religion without salvation.

Up to this point, sound Baptists and in fact all true believers in Christ will agree. But, says the shallow Christian, surely in this matter of suffering Christ is unique and I cannot be expected to suffer for others, can I? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Christ's sufferings were meritorious and ours are only instrumental, but He surely does call upon us to have fellow­ship in His sufferings. See Romans 8:17; II Corinthians 1:5-7; Philippians 1:29; Colossians 1:24; II Timothy 1:12; 2:12; etc. Paul understood and ap­plied this truth in his life: "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." II Timothy 2:10.)

Death and Life
Our Savior was put to death in the flesh but was made alive in or by the power of the Spirit. So believers in Christ "crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" and now "live in the Spirit." (Galatians 5:24, 25.)

"Ye are not in the flesh, but hi the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. . . . And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. . . . He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Romans 8:9-11.) By virtue of the resurrection of Christ, therefore, believers enjoy a present spir­itual resurrection and have the sure hope of the resurrection of their bodies.

Spirits in Prison
"Bring my soul out of prison," cried David (Psalm 142:7); and the prophet speaks of "prisoners of hope" (Zechariah 9: 12). There are plenty of prisons and prisoners, material and spiritual, in this world, without looking for them any­where else. Hell is a dreadful reality, but hell does not appear in our text; no, not even hades.

Another prophet, Isaiah, wrote of the Messiah, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to pro­claim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:l, 2) — and early in His earthly ministry Jesus declared, "THIS DAY is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:21.)

So the idea of spiritual imprisonment is not peculiar to Peter, but is common in the scripture. Paul also expressed his desire for certain people "that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." (II Timothy 2:26.) The verb "taken captive" here means "taken alive."

Time Stated
God first preached the gospel to man in the garden of Eden. It was preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:8), and it is still being preached by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. (I Peter 1:12.) But to what time of preaching did Peter refer in our text?

Not one word in the text offers the slightest hint of any preaching while the body of Jesus lay in Joseph's tomb. It there was any such preaching, it is not even hinted at, much less mentioned, in the scripture.

Four expressions of time, in ascending order of exactness, appear in I Peter 3:20, and no more: First, "once upon a time," or "sometime" in KJ version. That is rather indefinite. Second, "when the longsuffering of God was waiting." That describes the time better, but God is gen­erally longsuffering. Third, "in the days of Noah," That limits it to the days pf Noah's lifetime, 950 years. Fourth, "while the ark was being prepared." There we have it: and without any exer­cise of imagination at all!

Peter himself calls Noah "a preacher of righteousness." (II Peter 2:5.) So Christ in the same Spirit in Whom He rose from the dead preached through Noah to the spirits of men imprisoned by their sins, men who disbelieved the message of God. And He did this "while the ark was being prepared." This is exactly what our text says.

Type and Antitype
Why the special mention of the preach­ing in the days of Noah out of all the preaching during thousands of years of history? Remember that the dominant thought of our text and context is the example of Christ. And the great memo­rial ceremony that Jesus committed to His church as a constant reminder of His death, burial, and resurrection is the ordinance of baptism.

As the water of the flood lifted up the ark in which a few believing souls were saved, so the water of baptism lifts up Jesus, in Whom all who believe are saved not merely from physical destruction but unto everlasting life.

As the salvation of Noah's household was not in the water but in the ark, so is our eternal salvation not in baptism but in Christ. Scriptural baptism, how­ever, does save us from a conscience of disobedience in this matter (I Peter 3:21); and moreover saves us from the error of trusting baptism or anything else except Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It does this if it is SCRIP­TURAL baptism.

Time of Judgment
Finally, mention of the flood reminds us that another and greater judgment is coming. The message of salvation preached in the Spirit of Christ is essen­tially the same as it was in the days of Noah; and now, as then, believers are comparatively few. But now, as then, God's word is true and judgment is near. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." (Acts 16:31.)

[From AAB, April 30, 1971, pp. 1, 3. - jrd]

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