“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” – 1 Peter 3:18-4:6
The particular passage of scripture at hand is one that brings interpretation difficulties. However, when rightly understood, it sheds light on our purpose as a believers to live in victory. The New American Commentary says, “The main idea of the previous paragraph is that believers should not fear, even though unbelievers may inflict pain on them (3:14). Instead they should set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts and be prepared to respond to questions posed by unbelievers (3:15). The reason believers should not fear is that they will be rewarded and blessed by God for suffering (3:13–14). Hence, suffering is the pathway to glory. The word “for” (hoti) introducing v. 18 relates back to the constellation of ideas we have just traced from the previous paragraph. Believers should not become intimidated in suffering but continue to sanctify Christ as Lord because the suffering of Christ was also the means by which he was exalted. Just as suffering was the pathway to exaltation for Christ, so also suffering is the prelude to glory for believers. This paragraph, then, with all its interpretive difficulties does not veer away from the situation of the readers. Rather, the emphasis on Christ’s victory reminds believers that the troubles of the present time are temporary, that victory is sure because Christ has triumphed over evil powers. The theme of the text therefore is not the imitation of Christ, contrary to some scholars, but his victory over evil. Peter did not summon his readers to follow Christ in these particular verses. He encouraged them by reminding them of Christ’s victory over evil powers.” The point here is that as believers we should not fear persecution, because Christ is victorious over evil and, therefore, so are we.
In 3:18-22, we see how Christ was victorious over sin and death. Verse 18 is a perfect summary of the Gospel. (1) Atonement. Jesus Christ gave His life and shed is blood in order to provide the payment for sin. He atoned for our sin. He paid the penalty of sin for us. He is the perfect Lamb of God, who knew no sin. He is the just One, giving His life for the unjust. (2) Propitiation and Reconciliation. The purpose of the death of Christ on the cross was to provide a way that we as sinners, who are separated from God, can be reconciled to God and have a relationship with God. This is made possible as Christ is the propitiation for our sin. In His death, he satisfied God’s righteous demands and therefore paved the way for our salvation. (3) The Resurrection. By the Spirit of God, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. He was made alive by the Spirit. The resurrection gives validity to the cross. Since Jesus was victorious over death, we as believers are also guaranteed victory over death by the Spirit who lives within us.
Verses 19-22 are difficult to interpret. As a matter of fact, Martin Luther wrote, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” Who are these spirits that Jesus preached to? How does verse 20 compare with verse 21? These and many other questions are raised when it comes to these verses.
There are many views regarding these verses: (1) Christ preached through Noah as he was preparing the ark. Jesus was not physically present, but the Holy Spirit empowered Noah to preach to those ‘spirits in prison’ or those in Noah’s day who were prisoners to sin. (2) Old Testament saints who died were liberated sometime between the death and resurrection of Christ. (3) The imprisoned spirits are sinful human beings who died in the flood. Jesus descended into hell and preached to them, giving them a ‘second chance.’ If this view is true, the natural assumption would be that those who end up in hell will also have a second chance especially those who have never heard the Gospel. However, such an idea has no backing in scripture. (4) Those in prison are evil angels who, according to Genesis 6:1-4, had sexual relations with women and were put in prison because of their sin. The point of this view is that Jesus has victory over evil spirits.
Personally, I have not come to any conclusions as to which view is correct. I tend to lean toward the final view, due to the context and theme of this passage, however, I am not certain. The main point to realize is what we are told in verse 22. Jesus Christ is victorious over all sin and evil. He is at the right hand of God the Father and has all power and authority.
Since Jesus is victorious, we as believers, are also victorious and in the face of persecution and suffering we should live as the victors that we are. Notice in 4:1-6, we see some principles concerning victorious living.
The victorious Christian realizes his victory over sin. This is seen in verse one. Since Jesus was victorious over sin by His death on the cross, we too are to live in that victory. Christ took away our sin, therefore, we should cease from sin. As believers, we need to understand that sin has no power over us. We do not have to sin. We are no longer enslaved to sin. Therefore, as the world continues on a downward spiral of sin and depravity, we do not have to follow them. We can do what is right even when the whole world is against us. We have the power of God living within us. We do not have to be like the world. In Christ we have victory over sin.
The victorious Christian lives according to the will of God. In verses 2-3, we see that we do no need to live according to our fleshly lusts like we once did before we knew Christ. Instead, we are to live according to the will of God. What is the will of God? That we should glorify Him. How do we glorify Him? By obedience to His Word. What does His Word teach us to do? To live in holiness.
The victorious Christian does not participate in nor endorses the sins of the world. Verses 4 and 5 mention that as Christians, we are not to run with those who practice sin. They may speak evil of us since we are not like them, but that’s okay, we are to live right anyways. This applies to not only what we actually participate in, but also what we accept and endorse in others.
The victorious Christian understands the necessity of preaching the Gospel. We live in a world full of dead people. Dead in sin. In verse 6, we see that we are to preach the Gospel to them in order that they too may be alive in Christ as we are. The victorious Christian is one who is actively involved in the furtherance of the Gospel through every means necessary.
Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, there is victory for all who believe on Him. Do you have that victory? Have you received Jesus as your Savior? If so, are you living in victory?
 Schreiner, T. R. (2003). 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Vol. 37, pp. 180–181). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Schreiner, T. R. (2003). 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Vol. 37, p. 184). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.