18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. 1 Peter 3:18-22
There are a few interpretations of these verses, in which we get the impression that Jesus “went down to” hades to give fallen spirits one last chance, or to proclaim victory, between his death and resurrection. However these explanations are a real stretch given the context. One plausible interpretation is that through Noah the spirit of Jesus was in fact entreating the lost during the construction of the ark, hoping to save more than the eight members of Noah’s family. Imagine the ridicule Noah endured, and given the present explanation, Jesus himself! Just as the ark emerged from the water unscathed, we are saved through baptism–not the act, but what it symbolizes; dead to sin, alive through faith to a risen Christ. The common symbolism is the water. In Peter’s times, public baptism could lead to a fissure of family ties and ostracization. Indeed this act could commence “suffering” right out of the blocks. But a “good conscience” was gained on appeal. While previous passages teach us much about “submission” (2:13, 18, 3:1) , it is thrilling to know that the resurrected Jesus has put all those with potential power over us in subjection to himself (3:22), and we are “in Him!” This is reassuring in the midst of persecution.