Alien Life – A closer look at 1 Peter 3:19-21

Verses 19 to 21 of 1 Peter 3 belong one of those parts of the Bible that has generated a huge amount of discussion, because its meaning isn’t immediately clear. On the one hand, the context of 18-22 give a huge steer – these verses are about the “proclamation” of Christ’s victory (19), and the salvation that comes through his substitutionary death (“saved” 20; “saves” 21). On the other hand, many of the details seem obscure, and it’s hard to know what exactly what some of the words refer to.

First, a literal translation of the text – here’s the New American Standard version.

 18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you– not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience– through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. (1 Pet. 3:18-22 NAS – words in italics are implied but not in the original text).

Next, a look at two of the commonest interpretations.

  1. We know from 1 Peter 1:10 that Noah must have been a prophet. Maybe Peter is saying that Jesus, before his incarnation, was in effect preaching through the prophet Noah, warning people to be saved. It was this wicked generation that were destroyed by the flood.
  2. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension were the proclamation of victory over the powers of evil, represented by these ‘imprisoned spirits’. With Jesus’ victory over death, their condemnation was sealed.

Thirdly, a mention of some of the words used.

The ‘spirits in prison’ may well be angels. A similar phrase is used in 2 Peter 2:4-5 to refer to angels, and Jude 6 refers to fallen angels too. The word for ‘preached’ is also unusual – it refers to something which is heralded, or proclaimed, and could carry the meaning of announcing judgement rather than offering salvation.

In conclusion

It’s not 100% clear, but the passage seems to refer to the time after Jesus’ resurrection, rather than going back to the time of the flood. The risen Jesus went and proclaimed his victory to the spirits (angels?) who rebelled in Noah’s day. From there, he went to right hand of God the Father in heaven. Through him, Peter’s readers can be saved in a way similar to Noah. Noah and his family were saved through water, and we are saved through the waters of baptism, which represent trust in the risen Christ (“baptism… now saves you… as an appeal to God”). In this way, suffering Christians are given assurance in Jesus’ death and resurrection, knowing that they will certainly be saved by him.


Your Kingdom Come: want to discover more?

In the 1 Kings 1-11 series, we’ve looked at a preview of God’s kingdom  – God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule at the time of Solomon in 970BC. Based on a human, imperfect king, it couldn’t last. The kingdom begun in Jesus, though, can. And one day this kingdom, now started, will come to complete fulfilment in the new creation.

Perhaps you’re interested in joining this kingdom. Or maybe you’re a Christian, but you’re not used to considering the Christian life in kingdom terms. Or maybe you’ve never really thought about 1 Kings before & you’d like to know some more. Here are some more resources that you might like to look at over the next few weeks in order to fill you in.

Resources on 1 Kings

There are some great video summaries of Bible books on Youtube put together under the title ‘Read Scripture’. The summary of 1-2 Kings is fast-paced but brilliantly concise.

There’s a sermon by Mark Dever on 1 Kings 1-11 here. Well worth a listen.

Dale Ralph Davis’ book ‘1 Kings: the Wisdom and the Folly’ is a good read and great on the detail, though not always as good on the big picture – you can buy a copy here

Resources on the Kingdom

I’d start with Vaughen Roberts’ summary of the unfolding story of God’s kingdom, ‘God’s Big Picture‘. Calling in at various points in the Bible, it explains the kingdom as one of the main themes of scripture. It’s been made into a free series of videos here as well.

There’s a short, but slightly more technical, summary of the Kingdom of God here. It’s taken from the NIV Study Bible, and makes some helpful connections between Old and New Testaments.

If you want to think about the kingdom in real depth, Tom Schreiner has just published a book about it called ‘The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross‘. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but people who have, have loved it.

Do keep on thinking about the implication of 1 Kings 1-11. And as you do so, keep longing for the kingdom to come.



1 Kings 1-11: Your Kingdom Come

Right at the centre-point of the Bible – at probably one of the greatest moments in the storyline of God’s salvation story – Jesus Christ walks onto the pages of history and begins his public ministry. At that moment 2000 years of promises began to be fulfilled. It was a hugely significant moment. And according to Mark’s gospel, Jesus marks them with these words: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.”

That seems to us like a strange way of putting it. If we were Jesus we might have said “The time has come. I’m going to save people.” Or “The time has come. I’m going to bring forgiveness.” Or “The time has come. I’m giving my life as a ransom.” But we so rarely think – or talk – in terms of the kingdom, that it feels like a strange place to start.

Maybe it’s because we’re individualistic, and we think of ourselves as private individuals… or it’s because we live in a liberal democracy where we feel that we run things collectively… or maybe it’s because of Prince Charles and the idea of a constitutional monarchy. Whatever, we fail to long for a kingdom where people are united together in their allegiance to a righteous and powerful king.

I think it’s fair to say, though, that nothing of real significance happens in the New Testament that hasn’t in some way been talked about in the Old Testament. That’s why we’re spending the next few weeks looking at perhaps the best example of a kingdom working well – the kingdom under Solomon in 1 Kings 1-11. Solomon is the sort of king promised to Abraham way back in Genesis 17:6 (“kings will come from you”), and the sort of king promised to David in 2 Samuel 7 (“he will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom”). He seems to provide the wise kind of kingship that we could trust in, and the sort of kingdom we could belong to.

It turns out, though, that Solomon wasn’t that king, and his kingdom couldn’t last. After he’s been introduced in chapters 1-2, asked for wisdom in chapters 3-4, built the temple in chapters 5-8, and been praised by the Queen of Sheba in chapters 9-10, he falls spectacularly in chapter 11. After talking so much about wisdom, he becomes the hypocrite king – he wrote the book of Proverbs, but couldn’t do what it said.

All of which leaves us asking, when will God’s real kingdom come – the one that will grow and fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:44)? When will the time come when the kingdom comes near under God’s perfectly wise king (Mark 1:15)? And when will the time come when the kingdom is complete (Rev 11:15)?

In short, it leaves us praying “Your kingdom come.”

Take Five

A series at church always leaves a few questions behind it. Here are a couple of reflections on the ‘Take Five’ sermons on Proverbs.

Why the ‘Take Five’ approach?

The puzzle in approaching Proverbs at Trinity was this: we’d covered chapters 1-9 (the prologue) and chapter 31 (the conclusion). But how were we going to deal with the middle section, with its 600-odd individual proverbs arranged in collections, but without clear themes in different sections? In other words, how do you preach on proverbs that seem so jumbled up?

Reading through (or listening to David Suchet reading!) the whole book quite a number of times, it seemed to me that the book of Proverbs works on you in a particular fashion. Each chapter comes at you from a whole variety of different directions (much like in our experience of the day-to-day, as it happens), but some themes keep emerging every now and again in similar ways. A book by Richard Mayhue (‘Practicing Proverbs’) collects proverbs into six different viewpoints on life: spiritual wisdom, personal wisdom, family wisdom, intellectual wisdom, marketplace wisdom, and societal wisdom – and the more I listened, the more that made sense. Take proverbs like 22:2 and 29:13, or 21:19 and 27:15 – they seem to be calling out to be connected, but how?

In the end, we went with Mayhue’s viewpoints (cut down from six to five), and colour-coded a printed-out copy of the whole of the book of Proverbs according to its different themes. The final five proverbs that each of us chose to illustrate a viewpoint were the ones that we felt best told the story of that viewpoint from the whole book. Choosing them, you can imagine, was a labour of love.

How did the readings each week relate to the talk?

The readings each week were taken from the prologue (chapters 1-9). The idea was to be a reminder of wisdom’s call, as essential context to the proverbs in the central section of the book.

How can we make sure that we are understanding proverbs as New Testament Christians?

There are three ways, I think, that the book of Proverbs points us to the gospel.

First, it encourages us to look for someone wiser than Solomon. Solomon asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3), recorded it in the book of Proverbs, but ultimately left the path of wisdom later on in life (1 Kings 11). The book of Proverbs leaves us asking ‘If even Solomon couldn’t live a consistently wise life, where will we find a king who can?’ When Jesus comes fulfilling that role, it is a hugely significant moment (Matt 12:42)

Secondly, it enables us to be astonished at the wisdom of the cross. Jesus is the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3), and yet that wisdom is shown in a shocking way – in the wise king being wisely executed. That wasn’t what Jews were demanding, or what gentiles were looking for, but it represented the power and wisdom of God. Divine wisdom outsmarts us all (1 Cor 1:18-2:5).

Thirdly, it teaches us how to live Christlike lives. The way that Proverbs is quoted in the NT makes for an interesting study (3:11-12 in Heb 12:5-6; 3:34 in James 4:6 and 1 Pet 5:5; 11:31 in 1 Pet 4:18; 25:21-22 in Rom 12:20, and 26:11 in 2 Pet 2:22). But just taking the Romans 12:20 quote, there’s a clear way to understand Proverbs as a Christian. Living out God wisdom is a response to mercy (Rom 12:1), a way that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1), an act of humble service (Rom 12:3), and an example of gospel love (Rom 12:9).

I’ve enjoyed the series. How can I keep thinking about what I learned?

I’ve loved listening to David Suchet reading the book of Proverbs. I bought it on Audible, but you can also get it on Youtube and Youversion. Put it on when you’re on the tube or going shopping – you won’t be able to think about every proverb every time, but some will strike you as the Spirit drives them home, and that (I think) is the way the book is meant to work.

I’ve listed below the proverbs we’ve covered in the series. It would be great to learn them over Easter, maybe. You can relisten to the talks, too. And some books are helpfully practical – I wouldn’t recommend everything he’s done, but Bill Hybels’ ‘Making Life Work’ is a great intro. Another great summary is the 8-minute video done by the Bible Project – you can find it on Youtube if you search for Read Scripture: Proverbs.

Proverbs: Spiritual wisdom

1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

3:11-12 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

20:9 Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?

28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

12: 28 In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality.

Proverbs: Personal wisdom

12:15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

8:10-11 Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

20:1 Wine is a mocker, and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

11:25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes another will himself be refreshed.

27:2 Let another praise you and not you own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.

Proverbs: Family wisdom

14:1 The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down

6:20 My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching…For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.

13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

12:4 A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

5:18-19 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.

Proverbs: Workplace wisdom

5:21 For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.

11:12 A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbour, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

12:16 A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

12:22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

12:14 From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.

Proverbs: Community wisdom

27:9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel

25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

3:27-28 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbour, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”–when you now have it with you.

16:31 Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained by a righteous life.

11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.

Hope you’ve enjoyed looking at Proverbs as much as I have…

To God be the glory.



20th March 2017 – Trinity Prayer Diary

Pray for Christians in Sudan. Pray for the leaders of Sudan, that the Holy Spirit will change their hearts and use them to bring justice and peace to the country. In a country where churches face demolition pray that Christians will still find ways to meet together and pray particularly for Christians from Muslim backgrounds who who face the most intense pressure.

18th March 2017 – Trinity Prayer Diary

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:8-9

Pray that each one of us would be confessing our sin to God and depending on his Spirit to live a godly life. Pray that Trinity would be full of people who take our sin and our need for God’s Spirit to help us seriously. Take time now to confess and pray to God.

17th March 2017 – Trinity Prayer Diary

Give thanks for the Parenting weekend that took place at the end of February. Give great thanks for the work of the Pilgrems over that weekend and for the grace they pointed parents to in Christ. Pray that Trinity parents will keep applying truths they heard and supporting each other faithfully and honestly as they seek to raise their children in grace and truth.