Death in the Flesh but Life in the Spirit

death flesh life spirit (4)

b) 1 Pet 3:18: Peter began this passage in 1 Pet 3:18–22 by writing, “For Christ, too, once on behalf of sins suffered, the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous, in order that you might be brought to God. He was put to death in [the] flesh but brought to life in [the] Spirit.”

Prior to Christ’s crucifixion, Peter adamantly rejected the idea that the messiah should die (Matt 16:21–23).[1]

Since Christ suffered, we cannot definitively interpret persecution as a sign of the Lord’s displeasure.[2] Due to our identification with Christ,[3] suffering precedes glory (Rom 8:16–23).[4]

God calls us to endure affliction even as he did.[5]

Ultimately, Jesus’s persecutors failed to achieve victory over him. We who suffer unjustly shall likewise experience vindication in the age to come (1 Pet 2:11–12; Rev 6:9–11).[6]

As a result of this truth, Christ’s experience encourages us to stand firm.[7]

However, we cannot limit Christ’s affliction to a pattern for us to emulate.[8] Not only did he suffer innocently, he died on behalf of other people’s sins (Eph 1:7–8; Rom 8:1–5; Heb 10:8–10, 17–18).[9]

The phrase “for sins” (peri hamartia) occurs repeatedly in reference to the sacrificial system throughout the Greek translation of the Pentateuch.[10] In fact, it occurs fifty-six times in Leviticus alone.[11]

Jesus’s suffering completely fulfilled its purpose (John 19:30).[12] Therefore, his sacrifice took place once for all time (Rom 6:10; Heb 7:26–28; Heb 9:24–27).[13]

In fact, Christ became the perfect sin offering who died in our place to make us right with God (Lev 16:15–19; Isa 53:10–12; Heb 13:10–13).[14]

By calling Jesus “righteous” (dikaios) Peter alluded to his sinless state (John 8:46; Heb 4:15).[15]

Had Christ not lived in perfectly obedience, he could not have atoned for our sins by his death.[16] God’s plan to save us would have failed.[17]

Peter placed the recipients of his letter among the unjust people for whom Christ died.[18]

The usage of the term “just” or “righteous” here agrees with a definition reputedly given by Socrates (469–399 BC), “He who acts lawfully is just, and he who acts unlawfully is unjust.”[19]

Prior to their conversion, Peter’s readers had been as alienated from God as their unbelieving neighbors (1 Pet 1:14; 1 Pet 2:10, 25; 1 Pet 4:3). However, Jesus calls sinners to himself, not those who cling to their own righteousness (Matt 9:9–13; 1 Tim 1:12–16).[20]

Once unrighteous people accept Christ’s sacrificial death to cover their sins, he commands us to live uprightly, even if that results in suffering (Matt 5:10–16; Matt 10:26–39).[21]

Jesus died that, “you might be brought to God.”

Even the Lord’s former enemies can now enjoy spiritual access to him and an eternity of dwelling in his presence (Rom 5:1–2, 6–11; Eph 2:1–7, 17–22; Heb 10:19–22).[22] Conversion moves us from darkness into light (John 1:4–13; 1 Pet 2:9, 24).[23]

In effect, Christ reached across the chasm between God and humanity and led us across it to dwell in harmony with the Trinity.[24]

Peter continued, “Although he was put to death in [the] flesh, he was made alive in [the] Spirit.”

That Jesus was “put to death in the flesh” refers to the crucifixion.[25] Due to its grammatical structure, that phrase contrasts with “made alive in [the] Spirit,”[26] which alludes to his resurrection (John 5:21; Rom 8:9–11). These phrases explicitly depict Christ’s vindication.[27]

The flesh/spirit (sarx/pneuma) word pair occurs several times in the New Testament.[28] However, Luke 24:39; Rom 8:4–9; 2 Cor 7:1; and Col 2:5 use the terms with slightly different nuances. In this passage, the passive verbs indicate that Jesus was put to death by people and raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit (Mark 14:55; 1 Pet 4:6).[29]

Christ’s death and resurrection comprise one redemptive historical act for the salvation of God’s people (1 Pet 1:3–5, 17–21).[30]

Most modern scholars concur that this word pair forms a contrast between Jesus’s earthly existence and his risen state (Rom 1:3–5; 1 Tim 3:16).[31]

It does not reflect a Greco-Roman dualism between his body and soul.[32] All of Jesus died, not only his body.[33]

“Flesh” describes the earthly arena of human limits, suffering, and mortality in distinction to the heavenly sphere.[34]

The Spirit represents God’s power, vindication, and eternal life. Each of these domains affects whole people: body and soul.[35]

Peter’s emphasis lies upon Christ’s bodily resurrection and the future redemption of the bodies of God’s people (Cf. 1 Cor 15:50–55).[36] God has overthrown and reversed death (Rom 5:12–21).[37]

Just as the Spirit raised Jesus,[38] death cannot ultimately destroy believers (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:20–22).[39] We can face suffering knowing that we shall share in Christ’s resurrection.[40]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 1 Pet 3:18. Why did Jesus die for sins? What qualified him to do so? How does this encourage you? Why is it important to note that Jesus was made alive in the Spirit before he preached to the spirits (1 Pet 3:19)?





Go to Interpretive Issues in 1 Pet 3:19–20


[Related posts include Overview of 1 Peter 3:18–22; Interpretive Issues in 1 Pet 3:19–20; Early Church Fathers’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Augustine’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; The Apostles’ Creed and 1 Pet 3:19–20; John Calvin’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Ancient Jewish View Applied to 1 Pet 3:19–20; Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Summary of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Salvation through Water (1 Pet 3:20); An Appeal to God (1 Pet 3:21); and Seated at God’s Right Hand (1 Pet 3:22)]

[Blood Given for You (Matt 26:26‒28); The Light Shines in Darkness (John 1:3–5); The Death of God (John 19:28–30); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); Set Free from Sin’s Dominion (Rom 8:1–14); Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); Dead in Adam but Alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–23); Perishable Flesh and Blood (1 Cor 15:50); We Shall Be Changed (1 Cor 15:51–52); Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:53–55); Redemption through Christ’s Blood (Eph 1:7–8); Pleading for Justice (Rev 6:9‒10); The Full Number of Martyrs (Rev 6:11); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 8: Safely Through (Gen 8:1–19)]


[1]Jobes, 1 Peter, 238.

[2]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 179–80.

[3]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 134.

[4]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 180.

[5]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 128.

[6]D. A. Carson, “1 Peter,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids; Nottingham: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 1039.

[7]Michaels, 1 Peter, 201.

[8]I. Howard Marshall, 1 Peter (ed. Grant R. Osborne, D. Stuart Briscoe, and Haddon Robinson; IVPNTC; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 1 Pet 3:18.

[9]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 135.

[10]Jobes, 1 Peter, 238.

[11]Result of Logos 7 word study on “ἁμαρτία” (hamartia).

[12]Michaels, 1 Peter, 202.

[13]Gustav Stählin, “απαξ” (hapax), TDNT 1:381–4, 381–2.

[14]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 181–2.

[15]Michaels, 1 Peter, 202.

[16]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 182.

[17]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:18.

[18]Michaels, 1 Peter, 202.

[19]Xenophon, “Memorabilia,” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 4 (trans. E. C. Marchant; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923), 4.4.13,

[20]Michaels, 1 Peter, 202–3.

[21]Jobes, 1 Peter, 238.

[22]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:18.

[23]Michaels, 1 Peter, 203.

[24]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 136.

[25]Michaels, 1 Peter, 203.

[26]Jobes, 1 Peter, 240.

[27]Michaels, 1 Peter, 203.

[28]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 183. Since ancient Greek manuscripts were written entirely in capital letters, we must use the context of each passage to determine whether a New Testament author meant “spirit” or “the Holy Spirit.”

[29]Michaels, 1 Peter, 204.

[30]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:18.

[31]Jobes, 1 Peter, 239.

[32]Michaels, 1 Peter, 204.

[33]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 137.

[34]Eduard Schweizer, “σαρξ” (sarx), TDNT 7:98–151, 143.

[35]Michaels, 1 Peter, 205.

[36]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 137.

[37]Michaels, 1 Peter, 205.

[38]Keener, IVPBBCNT, 1 Pet 3:18–9.

[39]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 136.

[40]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 184.