In 1st Peter 3:18-22 Peter links baptism to the flood waters of Noah and the ark in Genesis chapters 6-7. By chapter 6 of Genesis, God had decided to pass judgement and destroy all life that he had created on the earth because the thoughts and actions of all mankind were entirely evil. During the approximately 100 years while Noah constructed the ark, the people around him mocked him and did not believe his testimony. But God desires obedient faith. He passes judgment on disobedience and lack of faith. The people who mocked Noah suffered the consequences for their unbelief. If you don’t listen to the truth, or you reject the truth, and continue to live a sinful life, God will judge you. No one can ignore or reject the word of the Lord and get away with it. That’s just not possible. That’s just not the way it works. You can’t carve out for yourself a path that excludes Jesus.However, Noah followed the Lord in obedient faith. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8)This is where you and I need to be found – with favor in the eyes of the Lord. Noah found grace. Grace was extended to him. We need that same grace! We all need God’s grace and forgiveness. But if we insist on going our own way, then there will be a price to pay.
In v21 Peter directly connects baptism to Noah and the flood. He says the flood waters symbolize baptism.Noah and his family were baptized in the flood waters. The word “symbolizes” is an interesting Greek word. It means “antitype” (not antichrist). Think of an offset printing press or a copy machine. The original document is reproduced by printing or making a copy onto another piece of paper. Or think of pressing a coin where an impression is made from the original onto a piece of metal. The impression that’s made is the antitype or copy of the original. The flood waters were the original “baptism”, and the antitype or copy is our water baptism in Christ.Baptism symbolizes cleaning off the pollution of sin that clings to our old self… and entering into new life in Christ. It is a spiritual cleansing. Peter makes it clear in the rest of v21 that baptism is not about the removal of dirt from the body. When you’re baptized, your body is not being washed. You’re not taking a bath! What is happening symbolically, however, is that you recognize and believe that your sins have been forgiven and sloughed off or removed from your soul.
When the Israelites left their old life of slavery from Egypt during the Exodus, they were water-baptized through the Red Sea into their new life of freedom. In the same way, centuries earlier, Noah and his family passed through the great flood waters and were saved from what became death waters for the generation that did not believe Noah’s preaching. Both of those OT events were forerunners of the spiritual reality of baptism. Today those who follow Jesus in baptism leave their old life and pass into the waters that symbolize spiritual death and come out of the waters to symbolize into resurrection life!