1 Peter 3:21-22

1 Peter 3:21‑22  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The water of the deluge leads to the spiritual meaning of baptism in ver. 21: the figure of death judicially; whether for the world that perished thus, or for the believer salvation by grace through Him Who went down for our sins and rose that He might be the true ark for us. The water was the instrument of God's judgment in destruction. Those in the ark were saved through it, but this only because they submitted to God's word and were secured by the ark. But the ark prefigured Christ, not the church as some vainly imagine; for no such thing existed then, nor, if it had, could it have saved, but rather consists of those that needed the salvation which is in virtue of Christ's death and resurrection.
“Which 1figure (or, antitype) also now saveth you, baptism, not a putting away of filth of flesh, but a request of a good conscience toward God through Jesus Christ's resurrection; who is at God's righthand, having proceeded into heaven, angels, and authorities, and powers being subjected to him” (vers. 21, 22).
It is of all moment to understand the mind of the Spirit; for superstition has caught at words here also to support its delusion. But we must read scripture in the light of other scriptures, as well as of the context, if we are to walk in the truth. All scripture, we may say, points to the Savior and faith in Him for salvation of the soul. Nor is any part of it plainer as to this than the foregoing doctrine of the Epistle before us. Christ is pointed to as the quickener of men dead in trespasses and sins, Christ the Son in communion with the Father, made known in the Holy Spirit's power through the word (John 3:5; 5:21-255Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
21For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. 22For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: 23That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent him. 24Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. 25Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:21‑25)
). So in the first chapter of our Epistle the apostle says, “Having purified your souls in obedience to the truth unto unfeigned brotherly affection, love one another out of a pure heart fervently.” How could this be, considering what man is naturally? “Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, through God's living and abiding word. Because all flesh [is] as grass, and all its glory as flower of grass; the grass withered, and its flower quite fell; but the Lord's word remaineth forever. And this is the word preached unto you.” Hence in James 1:1212Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. (James 1:12) it is written, “Of His own will He (the Father) begot us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
These are but a few of many scriptures which one might cite from the Gospels and the Epistles; but they amply show that, as life is in the Son, so He is the giver of life to the believer, and this now not only for fellowship with the Father and with the Son, but for walking in the light, cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Baptism has its place of deep interest and importance; but scripture never attributes quickening to it. This is a very old and inveterate error of Christendom. All the so-called Fathers who speak of life-giving assign it to baptism. It was the error of darkened times long before the Popish day; and its necessity was founded on the wholly misunderstood words of our Lord in John 3:3, 53Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
. This was so universal after the apostles that Hooker lays down, in opposition to Cartwright (Eccles. Pol. v. § 59), “that of all the Ancient, there is not one to be named that ever did otherwise either expound or allege the place than as implying external Baptism.”
Now it is a striking fact that, beyond the allusion to the disciples baptizing as John did long before our Lord's death and resurrection, and His subsequent commission to baptize all the nations, the Gospel of John avoids even the mention of Christian baptism and the Lord's supper. Its design was to bring out, not the blessed institutions of Christianity, but the life eternal and the gift of the Holy Spirit with their precious issues. No institution is ever said to give life, nor can any restore the communion which indulgence in sin may have interrupted. In John 3 the Lord urges the absolute necessity of being born anew, that is of water and spirit, in order to see or enter the kingdom of God. Being by nature a child of wrath, a new nature is requisite. Water, as in John 15:33Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. (John 15:3), Eph. 5:2626That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26), refers to the word of God brought home by the Spirit in faith and repentance. This Nicodemus as a Jewish teacher should have known, especially from Ezek. 36:2525Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. (Ezekiel 36:25), &c.; whereas neither he nor anyone else could have known of Christian baptism, instituted years after.
It is similar with John 6:5353Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. (John 6:53), &c., which means communion by faith with Christ dead for redemption, as verses 32, &c., speak of Him incarnate. The language in chap. 3 goes far beyond baptism, as that of chap. vi. far exceeds the Lord's supper. This last ought to be evident to anyone who bows to scripture. He who so applies this passage ought to affirm, that none can have life eternal without the Supper, and that none who partakes of it can fail to have life eternal: both statements as dangerous as they are false.
Still baptism, is the expression and confession of part in Christ's death; or as the apostle Paul puts it, “Know ye not that we as many as were baptized unto Christ Jesus were baptized unto His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism unto death.” This is its meaning: Christ's death, not life, which hangs on faith in Him. So too in the Lord's Supper we announce His death till He come; for this is as it ought to be a constantly recurring feast, as Christian baptism is expressly once only. Christ must come, not by birth alone, but by water and blood with the Spirit given as witness. Till then Christianity could not be, because God had not been glorified nor sin judged in His death. He was straitened, however great His grace, glory, and moral perfections, till that baptism was accomplished. The Christian institution followed.
Baptism was as Peter taught “for remission of sins,” as we read in Act 2:3838Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38). Hence Ananias was sent to “brother Saul,” already having life in Christ risen, and bade him arise and get baptized, and have his sins washed away, calling on the Lord's name. So here “Which figure,” for this it is, “also now saveth you, baptism.” But the apostle carefully adds, “not a putting away of flesh's filth, but a request (or, demand) of a good conscience.” For the life of Christ given to the soul seeks and can be satisfied with nothing less. And as He Who is and gives us life eternal suffered for sins, we also receive the rich blessing of His death in all its value. It figures therefore not life, as says tradition ever dark and misleading, but salvation, the present salvation of our souls, and pledge of the glorious change for our bodies at Christ's coming. Baptism sets forth our passing out of the fallen estate into the new standing of salvation “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” All was holy and acceptable in Him incarnate; but such was our guilt, such our ruin, that nothing short of His resurrection could bring us into salvation. “Verily, verily, I say to you, Except the grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.” Remission of sins and salvation are thus part of our blessing. Baptism as the initiatory institution proclaims it; and so does the Lord's Supper throughout, as we wait for Christ; but it all depends on the efficacy of His death and resurrection to our faith.
We can thus see the consistency of the truth in Christ. For in Him God came down to poor lost sinners, that believing in Him they might live who were dead. But in Him dead and risen we come to God, cleared by His atoning blood and in the power and acceptance of His resurrection. And here it is that Christianity finds its basis and character. We are thus not merely safe, as all were who had life; but now we “are saved,” and become God's righteousness in Him, Hence Christian baptism follows Christ's death and resurrection. A good conscience toward God is the thing demanded, when we are alive in Him to God: our clearance by His work of redemption. “Request” or “demand” (not “answer”) is the true force of ἐπερώτημα. And what a grand demonstration of it is in Christ on God's right hand, the same Christ Who suffered once (it was enough) for our sins and bore them away, and proceeded in due time into heaven and its highest seat of honor, angels and authorities and powers subjected to Him, instead of disputing His righteous title. There they indeed pay Him divine homage, as Heb. 1 declares according to O.T. prophecy, and the Revelation discloses in its visions of heavenly glory, seen by John and made known to us, to act now on our souls. For all things are ours, things present and things to come. May we profit by a privilege so wondrous!
We may remark too, that (though God was pleased to give an advance of privilege and truth by Paul in Rom. 6 and Col. 2, as compared with Peter's testimony in this text), the words in Heb. 11:77By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (Hebrews 11:7) coincide with “now saveth you.” “By faith Noah, warned oracularly concerning things to come, prepared an ark for the saving of his house.” This was the figure. But the true salvation to which baptism points figuratively is of a divine and everlasting character on the foundation of Christ's death and resurrection. Whatever be the place and value of baptism, the same Paul thanks God in 1 Cor. 1 that he baptized only a few at Corinth, lest any should say that they were baptized to his own name. How could he possibly say this, if thereby any get life eternal? And further, that Christ sent him not to baptize but to preach the gospel, by which, in chap. iv. 16, he says that in Christ Jesus he begot them. Whereas in chap. x. 1-12 he warns them by the examples of Israel's history that neither baptism nor the Lord's Supper avails to hinder falling in the wilderness through unbelief and the sins to which it exposes. See also Heb. 3, 4. The astonishing thing is, how any saint can have become so bewitched by human pretensions, and so dull to the infinite work of grace (engaging as it does all the Trinity to save a guilty sinful man), as to receive an evident delusion of the enemy. As God in Christ alone could save, so nothing short of His power can keep souls through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.