Witnesses for Yeshua through suffering for righteousness, 1 Peter 3:13-22

Sunrise over the fields in Southern Israel, near the city of Beer Sheva. (Photo: Edi Israel/Flash90)

Yeshua says that His disciples are His witnesses in the world, and that as He was in the world, so are we to be. (1 John 2:6Phil. 1:27-30) A disciple is not above His teacher. The Father loved His only-begotten Son, and Jesus suffered and died in obedience to His love for and trust in God His Father.

The Apostle Peter did not want to accept that the Messiah would suffer and be rejected to the extent that He was. And Peter did not want to suffer for being a disciple of Yeshua… until he learned that this is the way of YHVH in this world to fulfill all righteousness, in order to save those persons who repent and believe, and to condemn those who will not. 

The Apostle Paul exhorts all believers everywhere to pray for those in leadership and authority in the world (and in the churches), so that we might have a quiet and peaceable life. (1 Tim. 2:1-6) The Lord Jesus teaches, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you!” (Matt. 5:10-12)

Those who suffer with Messiah will reign with Yeshua in His Kingdom.
(Rev. 20:4-62 Tim. 2:12) We are called to bless those who persecute us, not to return evil for evil. (1 Peter 3:9Matt. 5:44-45Luke 23:34Acts 7:59-60) We will be vindicated by God, just as Jesus was, and is! (Isa. 53:10-12Phil. 2:8-11) This theme of suffering before entering into glory runs throughout the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

We are not yet in the future fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, when all will be good and, ultimately, perfect. In this present evil world, the righteous believers in God through faith in Yeshua the Messiah/Jesus Christ can expect unjust suffering, just as Yeshua did…and as Paul did (after he himself, as Saul, caused unjust suffering to the believers!).  This is the will of God as the Righteous Judge and Savior. We are witnesses to the truth of Messiah being Jesus, and of the Kingdom of God, in which Yeshua/Jesus is the King. And so Peter writes to us in the portion of his epistle that we will look at now. (1 Peter 3:13-22)

v 9-12 Peter wrote that we are to live righteously in this world at every level of our lives, in order to be a blessing, and to inherit a blessing
v 13 And, he writes: who will harm us if we are zealous for what is good?
–Normally, no one. We usually need not fear if we are doing what is good and right.
–Laws and cultural norms protect people who are “good”, and punish those who are “bad”. (e.g., not driving on Yom Kippur is a cultural norm in Israel, not a written law; speed limits are laws). Keeping laws and customs generally protect you and have approval; breaking them does not, at least by those who are followers of what is good.

–Paul writes that we are all to submit to the governing authorities, because they are of God. Not to submit to them, to recognize them, is to act against God. If we choose, in a certain circumstance to refuse to abide by the law, or the custom, we must do so humbly acknowledging their authority to penalize or to punish us. (Rom. 13:1-5)

v 14-17 But… even if we suffer for righteousness’ sake, we are blessed, and should not be troubled or afraid.
–Keep on doing good, and be prepared to tell the opposers why we have such a hope that we would rather suffer now for being believers and living holy lives, rather than joining ourselves to those who do not fear or know or love the true God and Savior. If your employer or commander or husband or wife asks you to sin, e.g., to lie or cheat or steal, do not do so; but maybe there is a way to comply without sinning. We are to have a humble spirit and the fear of God. Let the Holy Spirit work to make our false accusers be ashamed of our good behavior. Our conscience is clear: we know who we believe in, and to whom we have committed our souls for salvation in the day of judgment.

This is a principle in our lives as disciples of Yeshua: in the world we will have tribulation, and we overcome the world by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, and by loving Jesus more than fearing pain and death for the sake of believing and following Him.

Our supreme example for this is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself – God who took on flesh and blood – who is our Redeemer and Savior from sin and our separation from God. The triune YHVH God decide from before time began that He would come to become the slaughtered and bloodied sacrifice for the sin of the world, and for the sins of every human being. He knew that the innumerable animal sacrifices which He commanded Israel to offer for their sins would not suffice, would not truly affect their conscience or produce righteousness. Yeshua was born for that purpose, and was hated without a cause and treated shamefully. This is the love and the wisdom and the righteousness of God!

v 18 “For Messiah also suffered once for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh (i.e., He died physically), but made alive by the Spirit (i.e., He rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit).”
–It is Jesus who brings us to God – to God the Father. There are not “many ways to God” – at least not to the one, true, living God. Jesus says that no one comes to the Father but by Him. We do not come into the presence of God on our own merits, but only through our faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross for our sins, and in His resurrection, when He opened up the way for all who accept His sacrifice on their behalf to come to God, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth.

–Our Lord and Savior suffered as if He were a sinner and a transgressor of God’s Torah; but, no! He alone was the perfectly obedient Son of God and Son of Man. It is written that even though He was a son, He suffered to learn obedience. He learned as a flesh-and-blood human being to put His complete trust and hope in God His Father.
This is our lesson, as well: we are to learn to obey the commandments even through suffering unrighteously, in order to show that Jesus Christ is our Lord, that we are HIS disciples; and in being so, that we are sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven. Our hope and trust in God is based on His promise of eternal life to those who love Him; and Jesus says that if we love Him, then we will obey Him. A proof is in the illogical suffering for “being good” in the face of evil! May we believe God for His sufficient grace in such trials, even as Paul and Peter could testify.

Yeshua is our High Priest, who because of sharing in our sufferings, is able to help us when we share in the fellowship of His sufferings. (Phil. 3:10Heb. 4:14-16)

v 19-20 “by whom (the Holy Spirit) also He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water.” (Eph. 4:7-10Jude 6)
–Notice here that Peter believed that the Flood and Noah were real historic facts in human history, and the Holy Spirit has inspired him to use them as examples for our instruction.
–Peter is also encouraging us that believing and obeying God brings salvation, even if a large majority do not agree and ridicule the minority who do.

–Yeshua fulfilled the Word of God in all that He was and did, and I believe that in the ‘strange’ passage here, we can also see the fulfillment of what the Law (Torah) could hint at, but not accomplish.  On the Day of Atonements, the sacrifice of atonement allowing God to forgive  and be reconciled with His people was accomplished by two goats: one sacrificed wholly unto YHVH God; the other sent away alive to Azazel, to an uninhabitable place outside the camp, carrying away all the sins of all the people and of all that made up their civil and religious life. (Lev. 16) We know that Yeshua fulfilled this substitutionary atoning sacrifice by Himself:  in the Garden of Gethsemane to the Father, when He submitted wholly to His Father’s will, sweating drops of blood, and on the cross where He became sin for us, and suffered the wrath of God in our place. (Luke 22:39-44Matt. 27:45-462 Cor. 5:20-21) In Yeshua’s burial, it is the putting away of all our sins – with their guilt and defilement — to an uninhabitable place, and out of God’s sight, as it were. The sins of the people have been atoned for, and God can dwell with all who accept that sacrifice and shed blood for their own sins, understanding that Jesus did not sin.

While in Sheol/Hades/the underworld (not the ultimate Hell), by the Spirit (Yeshua’s body was in the grave), Yeshua proclaimed (not ‘preached’, since there is not “evangelism” to those who have already died, or to the angelic beings at any time) to the spirits in prison His victory by His death on the cross over sin and the devil, and that by that He has accomplished salvation for sinners, and God is reconciled to man – both to His chosen people and to all others. (Whenever dead people in Sheol are spoken of, they are referred to as souls, not spirits; e.g., Rev. 6:9-11) All of those spirit beings who were disobedient and had participated in Satan’s rebellion, and those who had mixed with the daughters of men in the generations of Noah, now knew that the Son of God was supreme, and was also their Judge. They had made a huge mistake to believe Lucifer’s (who became the Devil) complaints and accusations against His and their very own Creator!

Just as Noah had been vindicated by God through his faith and obedience, and was saved through the waters of the flood by being in the ark which God had commanded him to construct, so Jesus was vindicated by God through His obedience to being crucified to death on the cross for the sins of everyone else – the Just for the unjust. (Phil. 2:5-11)

And God will vindicate us, too, if we are willing to suffer – if it be God’s will — for believing in and obeying Jesus in a world opposed to Him, and by those – even if within our own family, or circle of friends, or our church – who cause us to suffer for His sake. You remember in Yeshua’s first parable about the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, the one about the sower and the seed, the second type of person received the Word of God and believed it immediately with joy; but when trouble came because of his faith, he did not endure, because of having no root, and stumbled immediately. (Matt. 13:5-620-21) We need to grow deep in the truth of who our God and Savior is, that we can do His will and stand in the day of evil! And we need to help and support each other in brotherly love.

v 21-22 “There is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer/pledge of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into Heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” (Matt. 28:18Eph. 1:19-23)
–Peter is not telling us here that baptism saves us; in fact he is saying that the waters of baptism themselves are something of the flesh and not spiritual. (John 1:26-34) But what he is emphasizing is that being baptized is a declaration in the spirit of our loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ, and this in a world under the strong influence of the arch-enemy, the devil, and his lies. That is what Noah and his family did:  they obeyed God with faith, and He saved them through the waters of the flood which destroyed the world then. This is what Israel did on the Passover in Egypt: they were saved from God’s wrath against the first-born by believing and obeying Him to slaughter a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts; but then they needed to also believe and obey when God told Moses and them to cross over the Reed Sea on dry ground, which separated them from the Egyptian pursuers – drowned by those same waters — and from the life they had lived in Egypt.

Noah came out to a changed world from what he knew before entering the ark; the Israelis crossed over to freedom, leaving Egypt and hard bondage behind them. Believers in Jesus are told to be baptized/immersed in water, as an answer of a good conscience that we have chosen of our own free will to become identified with Jesus, who is despised and rejected by His own people and by the world that He created and made. We proclaim that we belong to Jesus! It is an act of spiritual warfare, and we declare through the waters of our baptism that we are willing to suffer rejection in our own society and culture by being baptized in water in His name. Our sins were buried with Messiah. Jesus died and rose from the dead. He has all authority over all those who are living and dead, over all those who believe or do not believe. All are subject to Him. He is Lord of all, and the Judge of all. He was vindicated by His resurrection, and we, through baptism in water, identify with Him by faith in His death, burial, and resurrection. After becoming a believer, I spoke with a rabbi at my mother’s request. I asked him if he still thought that I was a Jew, since my mother didn’t.  He said, “Yes, unless you have been baptized”. It is not the rabbis who determine and define our identity, but God; and my conscience is clear. I believed, and I obeyed my Lord and my God.

Again, baptism as a believer is the believer taking responsibility for his own faith in humble subjection and obedience to the Lord. It is not passively accepting what our parents might have done for any of you as infants, or expected of you as “Christian” teenagers, but actively obeying the Lord of our own free will. Nor can we say, as believers, that we already have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, so we don’t need to baptized in water. This is not the testimony of Scripture, and all of the baptisms that we read about in Acts and onward were after Yeshua was already seated at the right hand of the Father, and the Holy Spirit had already been given to believers. We have changed our allegiance to the true God and King; we are not giving ourselves an excuse by saying that my parents baptized me as a baby, so I never got baptized because of my own faith.

Circumcision in Israel is a sign of YHVH’s covenant with the Jewish people, and parents are expected to exercise their faith and identification with the Chosen People by circumcising their infant sons.  Circumcision does not save any Jewish person, yet under the Law refusal to circumcise a son cut them off from the covenant people; it, too, is a covenant act which consecrated the people to YHVH; but each Israeli and Jewish person must come to his own personal faith in the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob through believing in the promised Messiah and Savior, Yeshua, the Son of God… and be baptized in His name.

It is an act that publicly proclaims our faith, which saves us, and the grace of God will help us overcome suffering, to honor His Son for those fulfilling this righteous act of obedience to the faith. Those who refuse to be baptized as believers will need to give an answer to God. (Circumcision today can also be a proclamation in the spirit for Jews belonging to the God of Israel, as more countries seek to ban circumcision of anyone under the age of 18, thus making void God’s commandment to His chosen people.)

So to close, Peter learned what it is to suffer as a disciple of Yeshua, and He was willing to suffer even more in His love for Him (being crucified upside down, according to tradition). Have you/we believed that Jesus took my/your/our sins and put them away forever, so that we can live in the presence of the Holy God? Have you subjected to Him and obeyed Him by being baptized as a believer, regardless of the danger it might put you in among your own people and family and culture? (In Israel and the wider Middle East, also Muslims who come to faith in Yeshua face such danger.) Are we prepared to confess our faith in Yeshua’s/Jesus’ name, even if it makes us a target for some measure of persecution? I know that growing up as a Jew among mostly Gentile American Christians, it was not always comfortable to be known as a Jew – and we did not understand why we suffered from them — but that is who/what I am. In Israel, it is not always comfortable for people to know that I am a believer in Yeshua/Jesus, but that is who/what I am. And Peter is telling us why we will suffer as a Christian. “So let us go forth to [Yeshua/Jesus], outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come”. (Heb. 13:13-14)

This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, June 16, 2018, and reposted with permission.