1 Peter - Lesson 10

By Curt Niccum

1 Peter 3:18-22

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The class will realize that God knows those who belong to Him and He will vindicate them at the Judgment.
  2. The class can explain that God also will punish those that are not his.
  3. The class can show that Christians, by imitating Christ, may also bring souls to God.


  1. Bibles for every student
  2. Copies of worksheet for lesson #10
  3. If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.


Concerned about the impact of persecution on the church, Peter writes 1) to assure the Christians of their place in God’s kingdom and 2) to urge them to live as members of that kingdom rather than to capitulate to the surrounding culture. Employing Jewish traditions about Genesis 6, Peter again offers Christ as the supreme example of how believers should live (and die). Christ also suffered unjustly. Whereas before Peter promoted how he suffered (2:21-25), here he elevates the idea of vindication. As a result of suffering for doing good, Jesus brought us to God, proclaimed victory over his spiritual opponents, and was exalted to the right hand of God. Those who believe in the resurrected Christ can, like him, bring others to God, have victory proclaimed over our earthly opponents, and be exalted.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)

  1. Read 1 Peter 3:18-22.
  2. Sing at least two songs (you may choose from the following)
    1. Victory in Jesus
    2. Lord I Lift Your Name On High
    3. Soon and Very Soon
    4. Because He Lives
    5. Is He Calling Me?
  3. Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
    1. For the Lord’s swift return
    2. For the vindication of Christians being persecuted throughout the world
    3. Of thankfulness that the Lord has saved us

Introduction (2 minutes)

  1. Welcome visitors.
  2. Distribute study sheets.

Evaluation (5 minutes)

  1. Ask members to share stories about sharing their answer to the hope they have in Jesus Christ.
  2. Discuss how people reacted to this.

Review (5-10 minutes)

  1. Remind the class that Peter began this larger section of his letter with a call to abstain from sinful desires and to live good lives among unbelievers so that they would glorify God because of your deeds on the day of judgment (2:11-12).
  2. Note that the world may respond in two ways to the good that Christians do.
    1. negatively - as shown in the discussion of slaves (2:18-25).
    2. positively - as shown in the discussion of wives (3:1-7).
  3. Review the points of the last lesson where Peter offers practical answers as to how to keep peace and unity in the church during times of stress (3:8) and how to live and talk to unbelievers(3:9-16).

Learning Experiences (20 minutes)

  1. In the previous week’s reading (3:8-17), Peter stated that even if Christians suffer for doing good, they are blessed (3:14). He also drew a comparison between 1) suffering in this world for doing good and 2) suffering in the world to come for doing evil(3:17). The former is temporary and pales in comparison to the latter which will be eternal. Both of these statements he now supports by returning again to the story of Jesus.
    1. Some suffer for doing good. Jesus, God’s own Son, did more good than any other, and yet he died at the hands of evil men (vs. 18). That the same happens to God’s other children should be no surprise; we can suffer in this life just as he did (see 4:12-16).
    2. All are blessed for doing good. Jesus was blessed because of what he did. He was made alive in the Spirit (verse 18), resurrected, and now sits at God’s right hand (verses 21-22; see also 1:11 and Philippians 2:6-11). The same extends to those of us who have been born again with imperishable seed through baptism. We can expect the same. The events of the past attest to God’s faithfulness. As proof, Peter mentions two of them.
      1. Peter refers to the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9.This is certainly appropriate since Christians also live as righteous in the midst of an unrighteous world. Since God saved Noah and his family from a corrupt and evil generation because they were righteous (vs. 20). We can expect the same.
      2. Furthermore, Christ’s resurrection offers proof of ours (vs. 21).
    3. Christians have hope for the coming judgment while the wicked can only expect doom. Although Peter focuses on Christians and their hope more than on the wicked and their doom, the reality of punishment remains.
      1. Language about the spirits in prison (verse 19) and the subjection of spiritual creatures to Jesus (verse 22) reveals judgment dispensed at the“highest” levels. (If possible, the subsections below should be omitted or only lightly touched upon. Too often the real message of this passage is missed due to mistranslations of the words and misunderstandings of the imagery Peter uses. Hopefully Travel Tip #9 will suffice to prepare class members for discussing the real message found in these verses.)
        1. Peter makes use of Jewish traditions about Genesis 6 here. According to that text, the sons of God married the daughters of men. Although originally talking about descendants of Adam marrying spouses descended from Cain, Jewish interpreters had developed an elaborate story of fallen angels cohabiting with human women. God works with the current understanding of the passage in order to communicate an important message; that of vindication.
        2. According to many English translations Jesus “preached” to those spirits (fallen angels) when he was made alive in the Spirit. Although the word used can mean “preach” in some contexts, its real meaning is “to proclaim” or “make proclamation.” (There is another word that means “to preach the gospel message.” It occurs, for example in 4:6.) The translation “preached” for 3:19 has suggested to some that the evil spirits were given a chance to repent. This could not be farther from the truth.
        3. Jesus made a proclamation to the spiritual world at his resurrection. (“Spirits” here cannot refer to people, dead or alive. “Souls,” as in vs. 18, is used to refer to people. “Spirits” can only be spiritual beings.) In the first century, it was believed that there existed several heavens that divided the earth from God’s presence. Various spiritual beings lived or were imprisoned in those intervening heavens (see also Ephesians 2:2).
        4. That proclamation Jesus made was one of “victory.” As a result of Jesus’ suffering, all the spiritual realms were subjected to him (vs. 22).
        5. On that basis, what fear do we have of earthly lordships? If we submit ourselves to Jesus’ Lordship, all those who would put us in subjection, all who make competing claims to lordship, will eventually be put into subjection themselves, and that at the time of our exaltation!
      2. The use of the flood story implies that God will again visit punishment upon all the ungodly. Thus, just as the righteous were saved and the unrighteous destroyed in the days of Noah, the same will occur on Judgment day.
      3. Therefore, all who oppose God will eventually have to give an accounting for their practices (see also 4:5).
    4. The result then is assurance that God knows who His people are. They will be vindicated in the future, even if suffering in the present. Again, though, the mark of God’s people is their persistence in doing good.
  2. Since doing good marks us out as resident aliens in an evil world, that must also shape how we respond to evil, especially evil perpetrated against us. We are called to love our enemies just as Christ did.
    1. Christ died unjustly, and WE were the ones who unjustly did it. Christ died for OUR sins to bring us to God. How then, as persecutors of Christ, can we find satisfaction in the destruction of our persecutors? We have met the enemy, and they are we.
    2. When we suffer unjustly, we too like Christ should have the good of the persecutor in mind. Perhaps through our good actions we will bring someone to God too (3:1). If persecution continues despite our good deeds, we can rest assured that God will in the end be praised (see 2:9, 12;3:1, 16; and 4:5). It is only the good that can conquer evil.
    3. Peter’s key word for the Christian attitude (and corresponding action) is “conscience.” This word also occurs (in the Greek) in 2:19 and 3:16. (In 3:16 it is also called “good” although the NIV translates it “clear.”) In both 2:19 and 3:16 “good conscience” is associated with our attitude when facing persecution. At baptism God transforms our character. Our conscience is now good. It no longer should follow the world’s desires but put into practice the will of God. Q: Can anyone think of another New Testament passage where baptism signifies a change of nature? A: Romans 6. (Read 6:1-6). This “good conscience” includes suffering for doing good and responding to evil with kindness and gentleness. What begins at baptism should not be stopped by persecution. A good conscience produces good action.
    4. Peter reminds us of this action by closing this section with a military metaphor, just as he began the section. Just as we need to prepare our minds for action (1:13), we also need to arm ourselves with the same thought or mind (4:1).
    5. As Jesus has shown, good conquers evil. In fact, Jesus won precisely at that moment when evil declared its victory. Thus, Christians must do that which is good, even in the face of death (see 3:9 and Romans 12:17 and 21).
  3. Two options then exist: resurrection and condemnation. For those who put their faith in God and imitate Christ, they will be exalted as he was exalted. They will be saved as Noah and his family were saved. For those who rebel against God and reject Christ, they will be judged as the evil spirits were judged. They will be put into subjection as they were put into subjection. Q: Whose side do you want to be on?

Application (10 minutes)

  1. Living the Christian life is a difficult challenge. Many today would prefer to redefine Christianity in terms of “sinful desires” (2:11). Q: Can you think of ways that this occurs today? A: Any number of answers could be appropriate. There are two ways in particular this gets promoted in contemporary society.
    1. Some proclaim that Christ called us to riches and honor in this life. The “health and wealth gospel” finds an easy hearing in our culture. Americans in particular are susceptible to the belief that greed is somehow acceptable toGod. The cross truly is a scandal.
    2. Others take a similar view but postpone it until after Christ’s return. In their minds the Christian life is for the golden streets, not the asphalt ones. Christianity is merely “punching the clock” (usually measured by church attendance) until the Second Coming. At that point the Christian life kicks in. Such people sometimes rationalize thus: “I can sin as long as I want this side of heaven. Life in the kingdom only begins when I reach heaven.”
  2. The problem is that too many people associate Christianity with the resurrection rather than the cross. The paradox of Christianity is that Christ’s death teaches us how to live. Christ’s resurrection teaches us how to die. (See, for example, Philippians 1:21 and 2:1-11. If time permits you might ask the class how these passages in Philippians support this idea.)
    1. Christ has called us to suffering: “Take up your cross and follow me!”
    2. Christ has called us to action now, not later.
  3. Read Romans 12:9-21.

Assignment (2 minutes)

  1. Each member should read 1 Peter 4:1-11.

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