When people mock us for our faith, it can be disheartening. And when we are persecuted for our faith, it can be easy to ask why.
“Why does God allow this? Why does he let us suffer? And how long will we have to endure it?”
I think we can find at least some of the answers to that here as Peter compares our experience of suffering and persecution to that of Christ’s and Noah’s. He says,
For Christ died for sins once for all, the unrighteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.
In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him. (18-22)
Noah was undoubtedly mocked and possibly persecuted for warning the people about the coming judgment, and the salvation that God was providing through the ark. He suffered for many years like this before the flood came. Why? Because God was showing patience, giving people the chance to repent. Ultimately, they did not and died in the waters of judgment.
In the same way, many Christians suffer for Jesus sake, and that suffering may seem long. But the reason for this is that God even now is waiting for people to repent.
But just as judgment eventually fell on the unbelievers in Noah’s day, it will fall once again when Jesus returns to judge all people. And their judgment is certain. That, I think, is the point of Peter talking about the “spirits in prison.”
It’s a little unclear who these “spirits in prison” were. Some think they were demons who had had sexual relations with human women. Others think they were the humans living at the time of Noah who rejected God. I tend to think it’s the latter, but whoever they were, they are now in some kind of prison, apart from God, and awaiting judgment.
Some people think that when Christ went to preach to them, he was preaching one last chance at salvation. But as I said yesterday, the scriptures are clear that there is no second chance after death.
The word “preach” can also be translated “proclaim.” (The new NIV translates it “made proclamation.”) And I think what Christ did was proclaim his final victory to those who had rejected God in the past, and to let them know that their fate is now sealed.
But just as Noah was saved through the waters of judgment, so all who put their trust in Christ will be saved through judgment as well. Peter points out that this is one of the things that water baptism symbolizes, our salvation through judgment.
And that’s the hope that we have. That ultimately justice will come to those who persecute us and don’t repent. But more importantly, mercy and grace will be shown to us and all those who have put their faith in Christ.
But until that time, God is patiently waiting in order that he might show the mercy and grace he gave to us to as many people as possible.
Our suffering is but for a little while. So let us not lose heart. When we suffer for the sake of the gospel and of Christ, it will not be in vain. For Jesus is the king, with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.
We may not see that now. But we will some day.
So remember the words of the writer of Hebrews.
In just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:37-39)