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1 Peter 3:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
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;
For Christ also suffered once for sins. Comp. 2:21. The design of the apostle in this reference to the sufferings of Christ, is evidently to remind them that he suffered as an innocent being, and not for any wrong-doing, and to encourage and comfort them in their sufferings by his example. The reference to his sufferings leads him (verses 18–22) into a statement of the various ways in which Christ suffered and of his ultimate triumph. By his example in his sufferings and by his final triumph, the apostle would encourage those whom he addressed to bear with patience the sorrows to which their religion exposed them. He assumes that all suffering for adhering to the gospel is the result of well-doing; and for an encouragement in their trials, he refers them to the example of Christ, the highest instance that ever was, or ever will be, both of well-doing, and of suffering on account of it. The expression, ‘hath once suffered,’ in the New Testament, means once for all; once, in the sense that it is not to occur again. Comp. Heb. 7:27. The particular point here, however, is not that he once suffered; it is that he had, in fact, suffered and that in doing it he had left an example for them to follow.
The righteous for the unrighteous. The one who was just (δίκαιος,) on account of, or in the place of, those who were unjust (ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων;) or one who was righteous, on account of those who were wicked. Comp. Notes, Rom. 5:6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:28. The idea on which the apostle would particularly fix their attention was that he was just or innocent. Thus he was an example to those who suffered for well-doing.
That he might bring us to God. That his death might be the means of reconciling sinners to God. Comp. Notes on John 3:14; 12:32. It is through that death that mercy is proclaimed to the guilty; it is by that alone that God can be reconciled to men; and the fact that the Son of God loved men, and gave himself a sacrifice for them, enduring such bitter sorrows, is the most powerful appeal which can be made to mankind to induce them to return to God. There is no appeal that can be made to us more powerful than one drawn from the fact that another suffers on our account. We could resist the argument that a father, a mother, or a sister would use to reclaim us from a course of sin; but if we perceive that our conduct involves them in suffering, that fact has a power over us which no mere argument could have.
Being put to death in the flesh. As a man; in his human nature. Comp. Notes, Rom. 1:3, 4. There is evidently a contrast here between ‘the flesh’ in which it is said he was ‘put to death,’ and ‘the Spirit’ by which it is said he was ‘quickened.’ The words ‘in the flesh’ are clearly designed to denote something that was peculiar in his death; for it is a departure from the usual method of speaking of death. How singular would it be to say of Isaiah, Paul, or Peter, that they were put to death in the flesh! How obvious would it be to ask, In what other way are men usually put to death? What was there peculiar in their case, which would distinguish their death from the death of others? The use of this phrase would suggest the thought at once, that though, in regard to that which was properly expressed by the phrase, ‘the flesh,’ they died, yet that there was something else in respect to which they did not die. Thus, if it were said of a man that he was deprived of his rights as a father, it would be implied that in other respects, he was not deprived of his rights; and this would be especially true if it were added that he continued to enjoy his rights as a neighbor, or as holding an office under the government. The only proper inquiry, then, in this place is, what is fairly implied in the phrase, the flesh? Does it mean simply his body, as distinguished from his human soul? or does it refer to him as a man, as distinguished from some higher nature, over which death had no power? Now, that the latter is the meaning seems to me to be apparent, for these reasons: (1.) It is the usual way of denoting the human nature of the Lord Jesus, or of saying that he became incarnate, or was a man, to speak of his being in the flesh. See Rom. 1:2: ‘Made of the seed of David according to the flesh.’ John 1:14: ‘And the Word was made flesh.’ 1 Tim. 3:16: ‘God was manifest in the flesh.’ 1 John 4:2: ‘Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.’ 2 John 7: ‘Who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.’ (2.) So far as appears, the effect of death on the human soul of the Redeemer was the same as in the case of the soul of any other person; in other words, the effect of death in his case was not confined to the mere body or the flesh. Death, with him, was what death is in any other case—the separation of the soul and body, with all the attendant pain of such dissolution. It is not true that his ‘flesh,’ as such, died without the ordinary accompaniments of death on the soul, so that it could be said that the one died, and the other was kept alive. The purposes of the atonement required that he should meet death in the usual form; that the great laws which operate everywhere else in regard to dissolution, should exist in his case; nor is there in the Scriptures any intimation that there was, in this respect, anything peculiar in his case. If his soul had been exempt from whatever there is involved in death in relation to the spirit, it is unaccountable that there is no hint on this point in the sacred narrative. But if this be so, then the expression ‘in the flesh’ refers to him as a man, and means, that so far as his human nature was concerned, he died. In another important respect, he did not die. On the meaning of the word flesh in the New Testament, see Rom. 1:3.
But made alive. Made alive—ζωοποιηθεὶς. This does not mean kept alive but made alive; recalled to life; reanimated. The word is never used in the sense of maintained alive or preserved alive. Compare the following places, which are the only ones in which it occurs in the New Testament: John 5:21, twice; 6:63; Rom. 4:17; 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:36, 45; 1 Tim. 6:13; 1 Pet. 3:18; in all which it is rendered quickened, quicken, quickeneth; 1 Cor. 15:22, be made alive; 2 Cor. 3:6, gives life; and Gal. 3:21, have given life. ‘Once the word refers to God, as he who gives life to all creatures, 1 Tim. 6:13; three times it refers to the life-giving power of the Holy Ghost, or of the doctrines of the gospel, John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6; Gal. 3:21; seven times it is used with direct reference to the raising of the dead, John 5:21; Rom. 4:17; 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:22, 36, 45; 1 Pet. 3:18.’ See Biblical Repos., April 1845, p. 269. See also Passow, and Robinson, Lex. The sense, then, cannot be that, in reference to his soul or spirit, he was preserved alive when his body died but that there was some agency or power restoring him to life or reanimating him after he was dead.
In the spirit. According to the common reading in the Greek, this is τῷ Πνεύματι—with the article the—‘the Spirit.’ Hahn, Tittman, and Griesbach omit the article, and then the reading is ‘quickened in spirit;’ and thus the reading corresponds with the former expression, ‘in flesh’ (σαρκὶ,) where the article also is wanting. The word spirit, so far as the mere use of the word is concerned, might refer to his own soul, to his Divine nature, or to the Holy Spirit. It is evident (1.) that it does not refer to his own soul, for, (a) as we have seen, the reference in the former clause is to his human nature, including all that pertained to him as a man, body and soul; (b) there was no power in his own spirit, regarded as that appertaining to his human nature, to raise him up from the dead, any more than there is such a power in any other human soul. That power does not belong to a human soul in any of its relations or conditions. (2.) It seems equally clear that this does not refer to the Holy Spirit, or the Third Person of the Trinity, for it may be doubted whether the work of raising the dead is anywhere ascribed to that Spirit. His peculiar province is to enlighten, awaken, convict, convert, and sanctify the soul, to apply the work of redemption to the hearts of men, and to lead them to God. This influence is moral, not physical; an influence accompanying the truth, not the exertion of mere physical power. (3.) It remains, then, that the reference is to his own Divine nature—a nature by which he was restored to life after he was crucified; to the Son of God, regarded as the Second Person of the Trinity. This appears not only from the facts above stated but also (a) from the connection. It is stated that it was in or by this spirit that he went and preached in the days of Noah. But it was not his spirit as a man that did this, for his human soul had then no existence. Yet it seems that he did this personally or directly and not by the influences of the Holy Spirit, for it is said that ‘he went and preached.’ The reference, therefore, cannot be to the Holy Ghost, and the fair conclusion is that it refers to his Divine nature. (b) This accords with what the apostle Paul says, (Rom. 1:3, 4,) ‘which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh,’—that is, in respect to his human nature,—‘and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness,’—that is, in respect to his Divine nature,—‘by the resurrection from the dead.’ See Notes on that passage. (c) It accords with what the Savior himself says, John 10:17, 18: ‘I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.’ This must refer to his Divine nature, for it is impossible to conceive that a human soul should have the power of restoring its former tenement, the body, to life. See Notes on the passage. The conclusion, then, to which we have come is that the passage means that as a man, a human being, he was put to death; in respect to a higher nature, or by a higher nature, here denominated Spirit, (Πνεῦμα,) he was restored to life. As a man, he died; as the incarnate Son of God, the Messiah, he was made alive again by the power of his own Divine Spirit and exalted to heaven. Comp. Robinson’s Lex. on the word Πνεῦμα, C.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews