1 Peter 3.13-22 (https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA)
This is a fascinating passage for several reasons.
First, the writer doesn’t talk about Jesus’ resurrection in bodily terms. Verse 18 says, ‘He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.’ This reminds us that Paul, also, never mentions the empty tomb. So there were two different strands of teaching about Easter in the Early Church, one emphasising Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the other focusing more on spiritual resurrection.
Second, the writer refers to an idea that quickly became of importance to the Early Christians and remains so today. If being reconciled to God through Jesus’ death on the Cross is the pivotal moment in human history, what happens to all those people who never got to know about it? In verse 19 the writer says that Jesus ‘went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.’ Taken very literally, this could mean that - during the three days before Jesus’ resurrection was revealed to his disciples - he was proclaiming the Gospel in the ‘place of the dead’, which was conceived as a shadowy, insubstantial place not unlike a prison. It certainly means that, beyond this life, Jesus still reaches out to those ‘who in former times did not obey,’ (verse 20).
The writer takes this principle all the way back to The Flood, when again - if Genesis is taken very literally - ‘only a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.’ Everyone who perished, because they didn’t listen to Noah, will get a second chance in Jesus.
This leads on to the third reason why this passage is interesting. The writer connects The Flood with baptism. Verse 21 says, ‘Baptism, which this prefigured, 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.’ In other words, it offers a chance for us all to wipe the slate clean and make a new beginning. Paul compared baptism to dying with Jesus in order to rise to a new life. 1 Peter compares it to being rescued by Jesus from our old way of being.
Finally, all of this is connected to what we might now call Jesus’ ‘Ascension’. Verse 22 says, ‘Jesus... has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.’ This sort of description paves the way for Jesus the humble carpenter to be reimagined as Jesus the mighty emperor, although it was several centuries before that idea became really useful in appealing to an emperor who was profoundly interested in Christianity.