He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. (NIV)
Now that I’ve stated my belief that Jesus is God and some more on the Trinity, I’ll move on to the next topic and that is all this stuff about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison. The first thing to note is that it was Jesus who preached to them but He did it through the Spirit that made Him alive. All I can say about that is that it is further proof that the God is a Trinity. If I can say that Jesus is God and that the Spirit is God, then I can also say that Jesus is the Spirit. Eph 3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; (RSV) 1 Cor 3:16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (RSV) In one verse I can see that Jesus lives in me by faith. In the next verses I can see that the Holy Spirit lives in me. Since Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God are all one, then it means that I have all the fullness of God living in me (Eph 3:19). I have Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father.
Some want to split hairs and say that you must receive Jesus, then you must receive the Holy Spirit. Other even say that you then must receive the Father. If you have only Jesus, then you aren’t a full-fledged Christian. Hogwash! If you have one, you have all three. Of course if the Jesus I received isn’t God, then I have received an imitation and imitations have their limits. The biggest limitation is that no imitation Jesus is able to save me.
How do I figure out who these spirits in prison are? One clue would be what Peter writes in the next chapter. 1 Peter 4:6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God. (RSV) Jesus preached to those who are dead. If they are dead that implies that they are people and not just spirits like angels or fallen angels. I assume that spirits can’t die. Peter again mentions the judgment during Noah’s time. 2 Peter 2:5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; (RSV) I had read this in the NIV before and it says that God brought the flood on the world’s ungodly people. The Greek doesn’t say people, it says world. So back to the O.T. to see what it says about the flood.
Gen 6:5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Gen 6:8 Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Gen 6:12 And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (NASB) According to the original account there was only one person whom God saw as blameless and that was Noah. From this I can determine that everyone who died in the flood was a sinner and deserved the fate of death for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23.) All this to just find out that the people that Jesus is preaching to are not godly and are not demons who have fallen.
1 Peter 4:6 is tough to get my head around. First because I normally think of ungodly dead people in a sort of never-never land where they aren’t aware of anything until the final judgment comes. This verse implies that they are aware and that when Jesus went to them they could understand what He told them. Luke 16:19-31 also supports the idea that they know what is going on and are conscious. 2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, (RSV) implies the same thing. Not only are they aware but they are being punished even while they await judgment.
The second thing about 1 Peter 4:6 is that it implies there might be some sort of second chance for them, if not for all who die without Christ. Just what does that phrase mean, “they might live in the spirit like God.” Does it mean a second chance for salvation or does it mean something else? Is there a possibility of a second chance? The Greek word for “like” is “kata” and the definition doesn’t help. It is “down from, through out, according to, toward, along.” In the KJV it is translated “according” in this verse and differently in some 40 other place it is used. Most translations use according in this verse so that it says they will live according to God in the spirit. I think this simply means that even a person who dies without Christ has eternal life. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that they are with God but according to other scriptures, too numerous to mention here, they will live in eternal torment and there is no way out.
The preaching that Jesus provided may very well have gone like this, “You thought that because so many rebelled that I would forgive you. You thought that since no one could live a holy life and please my Father that I would have to let you off the hook. Well, I’ve come to tell you that I emptied myself of my God nature and became a man. I lived a holy life proving that it can be done. I paid the penalty of death for all who would believe in me and turn to me for salvation. However, you turned away from my Father and did not repent when you were confronted by Noah. By turning away from my Father, you rejected me. Therefore, your condemnation stands. There is no second chance after death.”
This is not a very uplifting study. However, it does serve as a warning. The same applies today. If I have Jesus, I have eternal life apart from that eternal punishment. If I don’t, and die, there is no second chance. Today is the day to decide to follow Jesus.