Strangers And Aliens (17c): The Ascended Lord (1 Peter 3:18–22)

18For 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, 19in whom he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because 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. 21Baptism, 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 (1 Peter 3:18–22) 18ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν, δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων, ἵνα ὑμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι· 19ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν, 20 ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ εἰς ἣν ὀλίγοι, τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν ὀκτὼ ψυχαί, διεσώθησαν δι᾿ ὕδατος. 21 ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα, οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν, δι᾿ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 22 ὅς ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ [τοῦ] θεοῦ πορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανόν ὑποταγέντων αὐτῷ ἀγγέλων καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ δυνάμεων.

v.22: The Suffering Savior Now Glorified
Here Peter continues the thought he began in v. 18 and he turns our attention away from ourselves, away our place in redemptive history, and away from our suffering and he points it to the ascended Jesus. At the beginning of the passage he considered Christ as the Suffering Servant of Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah (52–53). In v. 22, however, Jesus is he who has passed through the flood for us, who has brought his people safely through, and who, after conquering sin and death, has entered into royal glory.

This idiom may not be familiar to us late moderns but it is was a very familiar image to Peter and his readers and to the ancient world in which this epistle was written. The Christians in Asia Minor (Turkey) would have been familiar with representations of royal power and authority. They would also have been familiar with this imagery from Scripture. Peter’s language here about Christ being “at the right hand of God” (ἐν δεξιᾷ [τοῦ] θεοῦ) echoes the song of Moses and the people in Exodus 15:6:

Your right hand (ἡ δεξιά) O Yahweh, is extolled in might,
Your right hand (ἡ δεξιά σου χείρ) O Yahweh shatters your enemies

In Exodus 15:12, Yahweh extends his right hand (τὴν δεξιάν σου) and causes the earth to swallow the enemies (Egypt) of his people. In Deuteronomy 33:2, in his benediction of the people before his death, Moses describes Yahweh at Sinai as coming from “thousands of holy ones (Καδης), out of his right hand (ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ) with his angels” (LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures). Consistently in the Psalter Yahweh’s right hand is the place of power (Ps 48:10; 89:13), military conquest (45:4), and safety (Ps 16:11; 17:7; 20:6; 98:1) for his people [NB: the number differs in the LXX].

Nowhere in the Psalter is this imagery clearer than in Psalm 110 [LXX = 109] where Yahweh says to Adoni, “sit at my right hand” (Κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου) until I make your enemies my footstool (v. 1). In the LXX, as in English, the distinction between the persons is less clear because “The Lord” says to “my Lord” (κύριος τῷ κυρίῳ μου). The Hebrew text, however, clearly says, “Yahweh says to Adoni” (‏יְהוָ֨ה לַֽאדֹנִ֗י). The parallel, in v. 5 says, Adoniis at your right hand (κύριος ἐκ δεξιῶν), he will shatter kings in the day of his wrath.” This follows the only verse that does not have a parallel, v. 4, in which Adoni is declared to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The writer to the Hebrews explains this Psalm exactly this way. Jesus is Adoni. He is the high, Melchizedekian priest, on cross he has conquered his enemies, and he has ascended into royal glory where he reigns over all at the right hand of the Father. This is how our Lord interpreted Psalm 110 when he refuted the Pharisees:

“How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’?
If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt 22:43–45)

According to Jesus, Psalm 110 is not speaking about David but about David’s Lord, Jesus the Messiah, God the Son incarnate, who mysteriously is also David’s son. Peter himself quoted Psalm 110:1 in his great sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:33–35). He explicitly said that Jesus ascension was the fulfillment of the Psalm.

Thus, when Peter here says, “at the right hand” and “having gone into heaven” (πορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανόν) and “having subdued angels and authorities and powers” (ὑποταγέντων αὐτῷ ἀγγέλων καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ δυνάμεων) we must understand this language in light of its background in the Old Testament and especially Psalm 110 as interpreted by Christ himself.

This explanation was intended to comfort a people who were suffering informal persecution and who must have feared that the informal could easily become government program, as it had in Rome and as it would later in Asia Minor. They needed to know that these things are not beyond the control of the sovereign Lord Jesus who reigns over all kings, even over wicked Nero. Those kings do nothing apart from his will and permission. They needed to know that should the Lord will for them to die as martyrs, i.e., giving witness to faith, confessing Christ to the last (as Stephen, Peter, Paul and later Polycarp did) that he would receive them into his glorious kingdom by his grace.

We too need to trust that Jesus is now ruling over all things. We live in a time of unprecedented change and challenge to the divinely instituted order. Christians face heavy fines and even jail for refusing to participate in homosexual weddings. Never has a government before declared that homosexual marriage is a legitimate institution. Never before has a government declared that males may declare themselves female (or vice versa) and cohabit bathrooms and showers. We have descended into moral and social anarchy and that descent is being led by a president who declared just a few years ago that he was opposed to such things on the basis of his Christian convictions. In light of these things some Christians might be tempted to conclude that Jesus is not yet ruling, that we will know that he is ruling if and when some sort of glory age descends upon the earth. Such a notion, however, is entirely contrary to Peter’s way of thinking. Peter was a theologian of the cross (theologus crucis). It is the theologian of glory (theologus gloriae) who seeks this-worldly glory and triumph before the return of Christ.

In fact, Jesus was ruling when Stephen was stoned to death, when Peter was crucified upside down, and when Paul was beheaded. We must know that he is ruling now, even though things may be miserable for Christians—and they are much worse for Christians in other parts of the globe where martyrdom is not a mere possibility but a daily reality—and that he is accomplishing his saving purposes and extending his Spiritual kingdom through the preaching of the holy gospel and through the use of the keys of the kingdom. We do not look to circumstances or try to interpret his mysterious providence. We look to Christ, who is seated in power and authority, at the right hand of the Father. There he intercedes for us and there he rules and from there he is extending his kingdom in his own mysterious way and time.

Here are all the posts on 1 Peter.

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  1. Amen! Without this sure conviction, what would be the point of anything? All things must serve to further our salvation…even an immoral and ungodly king who rules

  2. Yes! He was born a King ‘Where is He born King of the Jews?’ died a King, ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews’, rose to the right hand, all things being placed under His feet, and will return as King of Kings.

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