Christ, Our Substitute


Reading the Word

1 Peter 3:18–22 (ESV)

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Understanding the Word

In this brief passage we find two statements that are often debated. The first is found in verse nineteen. What does Peter mean that Christ went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison? Does this mean he went into hell between the crucifixion and resurrection to preach? Does this speak of the proclamation of the gospel in the days of Noah? Is it speaking of something else?

The second is found in verse 21 where Peter says that baptism “saves you”. What does he mean by that? Does Peter mean this literally? Does the act of baptism save a person even though other places in Scripture say that salvation comes by faith? Or, is Peter saying that baptism points beyond itself as a sign of something else, which is what saves a person (i.e. “an appeal to God”)?

While these are important an fruitful questions to discuss and find answers to, let us not miss Peter’s main point: Christ suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God.

Applying the Word

Jesus Christ has taken our place. He lived a perfect, sinless life and then offered himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. He took the punishment we deserve and in return, we receive forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As the hymn states:

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

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