COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 3:20b . . . while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us; baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him." (1 Pet 3:21-22, NKJV)
If you are a student of Scripture, you know they contain numerous statements that contradict commonly accepted theologies. For example, some men say "Believers cannot fall away." The Scriptures say of believers, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance" (Heb 6:4-6). We have a text before us that contradicts certain opinions about baptism-baptism in water. The very spirit of the text will confirm the significant role baptism plays in our association with God. It will be declared as a line of demarcation between the old and new life of the believer.
SAVED BY WATER
" 3:20b . . . while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21a The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us . . . " NKJV The words "while the ark was a preparing," or "during the construction of the ark"NASB, convey the power and durability of faith. The instructions for building the ark are found in Genesis 6:14-22. It was "450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high" (Gen 6:15NIV). The time Noah spent building the was probably around 120 years, particularly if he started immediately. Elsewhere we read, "By faith, Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." (Heb 11:7). In one of the most informative verses in the Bible, it is written, "And the LORD said, 'My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years'" (Gen 6:3). While some say this refers to the reduction of man's normal span of life, that does not fit into the judgment at all. God did not have man's length of normal life in mind when He said those words, for He was preparing to destroy all flesh. It would be absurd to speak of the average length of life in that kind of context. All through this time, God was "waiting," being longsuffering with sinful humanity. While men often say this was a period during which the repentance of men was sought, there is no basis for such a conjecture in Scripture. It took that long to complete the ark, and that was what God was waiting for. If God could endure gross and irrecoverable sinners for that length of time, we should be encouraged that He can give us grace to endure suffering in our time.
"Eight souls were saved by water." The phrase "by water" literally reads, "by means of water." Contemporary versions read "through the water," meaning the water was the agent of the salvation. The very thing that destroyed "all flesh," became the agent of salvation for Noah and his household. This was a shadow of the final day, when the same glory that destroys the wicked will save the godly. As it is written, "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" (2 Thess 1:7-10). Too, the same waters that drowned Pharaoh and his armies rose up in heaps to allow the children of Israel to pass through them. The same fiery furnace that destroyed those who threw the three Hebrew children into it, refused to kindle its flames upon the three young men.
"Baptism doth also now save us." The flood waters of Noah were a type of our baptism. Noah emerged safe from the waters, believers emerge safe from the waters of baptism. Those, therefore, who say, "Baptism does not save us," are simply wrong. We are "saved by water" as surely as Noah was. The water carries us through spiritual death to spiritual life. It stands between the curse and the blessing, the saved and the lost. The water is a passage through which we are identified with Jesus. In the "water" we die with Jesus, are buried with Jesus, and are raised with Jesus (Rom 6:3-8). Men who do not attach any value to baptism, choose to refer to it as an outward sign of an inward grace-something already possessed. It is best to speak of baptism like the Holy Spirit does: "baptism doth also now save us,"KJV "baptism now saves you,"NASB "baptism that now saves you."NIV
Just as the ark was not Noah's invention, so baptism is not the creation of man. Both the ark and baptism came from God. Too, while the world must have derided Noah for building the ark, so ungodly men speak reproachfully of baptism. Noah and his family were also confined to the ark-completely separated from the rest of the world. So in baptism, men are "buried with Christ," becoming separated from the rest of the world.
As with all Divine ordinances, the effectiveness of baptism is owing to the faith of the individual. Just as Noah's ark survived the flood because he built it by faith, so our baptism saves us because it is undergirded by faith. That is why Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). No person should be ashamed of baptism.
WHAT BAPTISM IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
" 21b . . . (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." NKJV The Spirit now instructs us concerning the manner in which baptism "saves" us. This is a powerful expression, provoking much thought in the believer.
"Not the removal of the filth of the flesh." The contemporary versions manage to obscure the meaning of this text by translating this phrase, "removal of dirt from the body." However, the phrase "filth of the flesh" refers to a ceremonial procedure, much like those instituted under the Law. Hebrews 9:10 calls such procedures "divers washings." A leper, for example, who had been cleansed, was to "wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp" (Lev 14:8). Thus the defilement of his flesh was ceremonially cleansed, allowing him to come again into the camp. The man who let the scapegoat [that had the sins of the people placed upon it], was to "wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward come into the camp" (Lev 16:26). After the priest had sacrificed the red heifer [an offering for impurity], he was to "wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp" (Num 19:7). In all of these cases, the cleansing was ceremonial, or outward, in the flesh. It did not allow a person to come into the presence of the Lord, but only cleansed him for entrance into the camp once again.
Baptism is NOT that kind of cleansing. While "water" is involved, as well as outward action, it is not an empty and powerless ceremony like those of the Law. It is tragic that many view baptism from this point of view, as though heartless conformity to a code suffices to remove sin and bring one into the presence of the Lord for blessing. The effects of baptism are proof of its validity. The outward part of baptism is nothing of itself. It is a serious error to trust in the form, while lacking its content.
"The answer of a good conscience." Other versions read, "but an appeal to God for a good conscience,"NASB "the pledge of a good conscience toward God"NIV "an appeal to God for a clear conscience."RSV Here the fundamental part of baptism is clearly spiritual, though it is joined to an outward activity. The "answer," in this case, comes from God to the one who obeys the form of the doctrine (baptism) from the heart (Rom 6:17). The words "appeal t to God for a good conscience" emphasize that the believer, in his baptism, is seeking for a purged conscience (Heb 9:14)-a persuasion that he is pure and accepted by God. This kind of appeal was made by the Ethiopian eunuch when he said, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (Acts 8:36). The text confirms he did receive a good, or clear, conscience, for "he went on his way rejoicing" (8:39). A "good conscience" enables us to stand confidently before the Lord, appropriating grace to help in the time of need.
Now the Spirit returns to complete the thought about baptism saving us. It does NOT do so because we have obeyed an outward requirement. Rather, baptism obtains its effectiveness "by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." To be more specific, it is in our union with the risen Christ that our appeal for a clear conscience is realized. That is something God Himself does. As it is written, "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom 6:5-6). Here our baptism is called being "planted together in the likeness of His death." It assumes hearty acquiescence to the will of God. When this is done, God WILL raise us to, giving us a purified conscience.
Baptism, then, saves us by connecting us with the resurrected Christ. The effects of that union include a purified conscience-something every believer is represented as seeking. The emphasis of baptism is not being buried, but being raised. It is not being dead with Christ Jesus, but living with Him. That puts a distance between us and our world, like the flood put a distance between Noah and his world. With these things in mind, it becomes utterly absurd to argue about the necessity or effectiveness of baptism.
JESUS HAS GONE INTO HEAVEN
" 3:22 . . . Who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him." NKJV Jesus did not stay in this world. As soon as His work was completed, He went back to heaven. The Spirit frequently affirms this to be the case. "So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19). "And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven" (Luke 24:51). "Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The center of Divine activity is found in heaven, not upon the earth. Jesus was not raised from the dead to remain in the world, but to minister to His people from heaven. He "has gone" where we are going-where our citizenship is presently located. The objective is to get us where He is, not bring Him to where we are (John 14:3). Jesus went back to heaven, because this world was not a suitable place for Him to remain. He is now ministering in prospect of His enemies becoming His footstool, and His children being gathered to Him forever. The church must not lose this perspective.
"At the right hand of God." Much is made of this in Scripture. The Spirit tells us He is presently making intercession for us from that position (Rom 8:34; Heb 8:1). The things He is dispensing from that station are to be sought (Col 3:1). He was seated "at the right hand of the Majesty on high" only after He had by Himself purged our sins (Heb 1:3). If, therefore, He is there, then our sins have been purged! That is how the child of God must reason. A single offering accomplished the purpose. As it is written, "But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God" (Heb 10:12).
The "right hand" of God is His working side. The days when He worked mightily among men are referred to as "the years of the right hand of the most High" (Psa 77:10). Again, it is written, "The right hand of the LORD is exalted: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly" (Psa 118:15-16). The significance of Jesus being "at the right hand of God,"is that God is presently working BECAUSE of the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son. Now, He is "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph 3:20).
God's "right hand" is also the place of favor, confirming that everything Christ did in our behalf has been accepted and is being honored by God. That is precisely why He is "able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God through Him" (Heb 7:25). If He was not in good standing with God, He could not bring many sons to glory.
Powers subjected to Jesus. The range of powers and authorities subject to Jesus is staggering. All angels, principalities, and powers are subject to Jesus, whether they are good or they are evil. Holy angels and powers are dispatched by Jesus to minister to the heirs of salvation (Heb 1:13-14). They protect the saints, camping about them (Psa 34:7). Wicked angels bow at the feet of Jesus, and are not able to separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:39). The "principalities and powers" against which we "wrestle (Eph 6:12), are all subject to our Lord. He can rebuke them, and they will obey Him instantly. All powers have been "made subject" to Christ. This is something God has done. It is power or authority that has been "given" to Jesus (Matt 28:18).
All of this is calculated to encourage us to hold up under suffering. Like Noah, we are in the process of building an ark-preparing for the end of the world. When we suffer unjustly, let us remember that Christ suffered for us. When life becomes a burden, consider that Jesus is bringing us to God. Your baptism, prefigured b y Noah's deliverance, is a prelude to your coming salvation, to be revealed when Jesus appears again (1 Pet 1:5). Jesus has already been exalted, and He is our "Forerunner" (Heb 6:20). He has arrived ahead of us to ensure that we also arrive. He is exalted, and God listens to, and honors, Him. There is no power and authority that is not under Him, no influence, whether for good or evil, that does not answer to Him. Those who place their faith and hope in Christ have every reason to be joyfully optimistic - even in the midst of their suffering.