Peter makes a link between Noah’s situation and the circumstances of his readers. Both groups lived among those who had no sympathy with their beliefs. Yet as far as most things in life were concerned, an onlooker would have not noticed much difference between Noah and his contemporaries and between Peter’s readers and others in their communities. They engaged in similar work, wore the same kinds of clothes, ate the same foods, lived in similar types of homes, and were alike in many other ways as well. Nevertheless Peter points out one way in each situation in which a distinction was made – something happened that separated Noah’s family from everyone else and, similarly, something has happened to Christians that separates them visibly from everyone else. What separated Noah’s family from the rest was the judgement of the flood and what separated the Christians from all others is baptism because when they were baptised they had God’s name put on them. From then on, they were publicly different.
Peter also indicates that the waters of the flood and the water of baptism both speak of divine judgement on evil societies. We can see that is the case with regard to the flood because it is so obvious – we know that eventually the whole race perished apart from Noah’s family because it had departed from God. It is not easy initially to see baptism as an expression of divine judgement. Yet if think about baptism, we will also see that it is connected to divine judgement. After all, the basic reason why baptism takes place is because Jesus himself bore God’s judgement on behalf of those who trust in him. When an individual gets baptised, he or she is saying that they believe divine judgement is a reality, that they deserve divine judgement, and that Jesus took their place and paid the penalty they should have paid. And they are also saying that the unbaptized, that is the unconverted, are in danger of experiencing God’s judgement because normally the saved in a community will have been baptised as a sign that they believe in Jesus.
Peter’s reference to the flood as a picture of baptism also brings out another emphasis that we may not at first realise. The flood, while being an act of divine judgement, was also the sign that God was cleansing the earth of defilement caused by the sinful practices of the time. Therefore, as far as the human race was concerned, even although it had been reduced to eight people, the flood was also a sign of hope that their sinful world would yet become a holy place suitable for God to dwell among them. It was not a sign in this sense for those who had ignored the preaching of Noah, but it was a sign for those who accepted his message. And does baptism not remind us of this as well? Each time baptism is administered, we should see that God is not only promising personal cleansing to the baptised individual, he is also promising a wider cleansing, that there will yet be a new universe in which all will be pure and on which God will dwell.
Does baptism have more features, according to Peter? It does, and we will think of them tomorrow.