A brother writes: “First Peter 3:18-22 stumps me. I just can’t understand that preaching to the spirits in prison. Do you have any clue to what Peter is referring?”
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Peter’s first readers are discouraged because their society and companions and sometimes their families have rejected them for their faith in Jesus. The apostle encourages them to rely on God’s judgment of them instead of the world’s judgment. He shows us the difference in those judgments in the first two verses of the epistle. Peter addresses these believers as “scattered aliens” — which tells us the world’s view of them. But he also calls them “chosen” and “elect” — which was God’s view.
In this letter, Peter points out that Jesus also had been rejected by man, but that he was nevertheless honored by God (2:6-8). This has always been the way with those who trusted in God. Even ancient Noah knew that situation. But God reversed man’s judgment of Noah, and he showed that by bringing him through the waters of the Flood.
God also reversed man’s judgment of Jesus, and he showed it by bringing Jesus through death to resurrection. Now Peter promises his readers, who are persecuted for their faithful commitment to Jesus, that God will also reverse man’s judgment against them. God will show that by giving them glory when Jesus comes again (1:6-7; 4:12-13; 5:9-10).