Is Peter’s Baptism Old Fashioned?
Peter’s baptism is as relevant today as Noah’s ark was when the ancient rains started the flood. But how?
First we need to read. “13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive,[d] he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient 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, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[e] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” 1 Peter 3:13-22
Jesus resurrection made something definitive. His resurrection made it clear that wicked spirits of any era will fight a losing battle against God and His purposes to redeem the world. In fact, wicked spirits were behind the scenes and influential in the generation of Noah just as much as they as present in today’s generation.
In Noah’s generation wicked spirits wielded so much power and influence over mankind that God was grieved for creating man. Genesis 6:11-12 says this “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” God was filled with pain (6:6) because of the corruption. God’s plan for man was to thrive and fill the earth with blessing. Mankind instead chose corruption and violence. Evidently, mankind willingly submitted themselves to this evil and corruption so that they mirrored those wicked spirits behind the scenes rather than mirroring the blessed Creator. Their rebellion was a losing battle against God.
God took severe judicial action. He wiped out mankind with a flood. Within that action was the preservation of humankind through Noah. God was also keeping a promise from the beginning. Redeeming Noah meant ultimately redeeming mankind in the future through Jesus. Delivering Noah began the process of blessing the earth again. Genesis 9:6 seems to remind the reader of Genesis 1:26-27, and recalls the image of God being man, who was intended to rule the earth as God would have it ruled.Notice that God wanted Noah and his sons to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth (9:1). God wanted to bless the earth again with His righteousness, peace, justice, mercy, etc., through man. Peter summons this very familiar story to make a point for his readers then and now.
Peter’s readers are experiencing a scenario and an era similar to Noah’s. Noah was a herald of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). Peter’s readers are also heralds, but of a newly shaped righteousness. Jesus has suffered for the unjust even though He was just. These new Christians are called to suffer for the unjust as well but they shouldn’t be ashamed of this or surprised. Their suffering is not an indication of God’s displeasure with them. It’s actually something to recognize as honorable. It indicates that they are in league with their hero, Jesus the King, whom God vindicated. God will also vindicate them, so they should not overreact to the suffering with ungodliness.
Jesus’ vindication by God illustrates that the rebellion against Jesus proved futile. Jesus still became King over heaven and earth, over all principalities, powers, and forces darkness (cf. 1 Peter 3:22). That’s the reality. In fact, His resurrection was the exclamation point to all of those wicked spirits already locked up in God’s prison where they await a final judgment (1 Peter 3:19; cf 2 Peter 2:4). Peter says that Jesus “went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” I’m assuming this means that Jesus ascended after being resurrected. His ascension implicates that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. He has triumphed over the wicked forces that influence mankind to sin and rebel, and the ones causing the suffering of Peter’s readers. [As an aside, I understand traditional thought has Jesus going into Hades during death and making this proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. However, the text appears to say Jesus did “this” after he was made alive. In other words, Jesus didn’t descend into an underworld and taunt spirits. His ascension after His resurrection implies a victorious proclamation.]
Sandwiched between verses 19 and 22 Peter explains that the ancient story of God saving eight people through the waters of the Flood points to his reader’s baptism. The water that saved Noah and his family was a public demonstration of God vindicating the righteous. The water of baptism that saves us today is also a public demonstration of how God has vindicated believers through their dying and rising with the Messiah, who intends to reshape the earth in righteousness.
That’s why baptism for Peter wasn’t a mere symbol for those who believe. Peter isn’t telling his readers that baptism only cleanses the believer from their former wickedness. Peter is adding another dimension to Christian baptism. He’s saying that baptism into the Messiah is the proof of our victory over an evil and corrupt generation. Baptism is a promise of vindication. Here, through faith in Jesus’ accomplishments on the cross and through the ascension we can understand God’s victory over cultures that speed down a highway of evil and corruption toward death. An opportunity for a clear conscience toward God has been provided through Jesus, one that confronts the evil and corruption of the world. Through proper faith and with a correct understanding of Peter’s baptism, which is Christian baptism, God is able to promise vindication as we’re able to join the community of Christ, just as if we’d joined the eight on the ark.