THE SPIRITS IN PRISON
June 1, 1987 Issue
Don L. King
The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:18-20: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison: which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water."
WHAT SOME BELIEVE
As long as I can remember, I have believed Christ preached, by his spirit and through the medium of righteous Noah, to the contemporaries of Noah. I had always been taught that (I still believe it too) and really thought very little about it. The subject has only rarely come up in conversation among our brethren, until lately. Recently I have been asked by a number of brethren in various places about this passage. To my amazement some believe when Christ died, he went, during the three days he was physically dead, to hades and preached to the departed spirits of people there.
Before we go into what I understand the passage to teach, lets notice a few things about this belief. First: if the Lord indeed preached to them in hades, what did he preach? The gospel Why, I ask? What benefit would the gospel be to one who is already dead? He couldn't possibly change his status. The writer of the Hebrew letter declared, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27) I have always understood this to mean that the condition in which I die will be precisely the condition in which I will stand before the Lord for judgment. Frankly, I just cant see any reason whatever to preach to those who can never make a change for the better.
Second: Others aver Christ went into Hades and told Satan that those saved spirits in paradise were His people and to leave them alone. However, Jesus taught the existence of a great gulf in hades in Luke 16:26. (the word "hell" in the King James Version in Luke 16:23 is properly translated "hades") He said, "And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." (Luke 16:26) This shows the separation of righteous from wicked even before the judgment. Jesus said the gulf couldn't be crossed from either direction. We may be certain that all who are safe within the bosom of Abraham (paradise) are also safe from Satan's advances. This being true, there is no case furnished for the Lord warning away Satan.
WHAT CAMPBELL BELIEVED
It alarms me that brethren have been taken in by the sectarian doctrines regarding 1 Peter 3:19,20. Alexander Campbell wrote in the March 1851 issue of the Millennial Harbinger, "How straightforward the sense of Peter in this passage, from the 18th verse to the end of the 2Oth-He (Jesus Christ) was made alive by the spirit (hoo pneumall.) By which, also, he went and preached to the spirits (pneumatios) in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when the patience of God waited once (for all) in the days of Noah, while an ark was preparing, in which few, that is, eight souls (psuchai, not spirits, but persons) were saved through water.
'To interpret this of Christ's personal preaching, is the first error; to make the spirits in prison the spirits of those who lived while Noah was building an ark, is the second error; and to preach to disembodied spirits in purgatory, or anywhere else, after death, in order to repentance, is the third and consummating error. Let us listen to the sacred style. Those to whom Christ was to preach according to Isaiah XLii.7, (Isaiah 42:7 D.L.K.) are represented as prisoners- 'To open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves... Why not, then, in this style, contemplate the wicked antediluvians, as persons still more in prison than these, for their bounds were limited to a definite space. Those to whom Christ was to speak, are described by the Jewish prophets as being 'in prison, and not in prison only, but in the region and shadow of death and darkness.
Again, it was not in person only that he was to preach, but by his Spirit also. He did not, in person, ever preach to the Gentiles; but it was said that he should 'be a light of the Gentiles, to open their eyes Certainly this was by the same Spirit, in the Apostles, by which in Noah he preached to the antediluvians, (those who lived before the flood D.L.K.) while in prison, during the 120 years, but not in prison when Peter wrote. It was by his Spirit, and not in person, he preached to the antediluvians, as it is by his Spirit he has for centuries been preaching to the Gentiles. In both cases, as in many others, he is figuratively spoken of as doing in person what he did only literally by angels, or prophets, or apostles.
Figuratively, the antediluvians were in prison-bounds one hundred and twenty years; after which, unless they repented, they were to be destroyed. During this time Noah, by the Spirit of inspiration and prophecy- the same Spirit that was in Jesus Christ- preached, 'unless you repent, you shall be drowned. Peters allusion to this, for the sake of introducing baptism in a very strong light, and for pressing the claims of the gospel on the attention of his contemporaries, although in the style of all the Jewish preachers, has been, in this case, subjected to a most licentious, ungenerous, and unchristian interpretation, to which, were he here, he would doubtless administer a severe reproof." (pages 139,140)
It appears we should not look for the "prison" in "hell" (hades, the unseen abode of the dead) because Peter plainly tells us the preaching was done "in the days of Noah." This forces us to locate it in the days of Noah as Campbell did in his writing in 1851. Whatever it was and included, it did not mean they were dead because they heard Noah, the preacher of righteousness. Peter says Noah was that indeed in 2 Peter 2:5: "And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eight person, a preacher of righteousness,..." Those people heard Noah preach, by the Spirit of Christ, while they were yet alive
A very beautiful point needs to be brought to light just here: Peter, by attributing the preaching of the ancient prophets, Noah, etc. to Christ, has shown that from years back the redemption of men has been under the direction of Christ. Peter plainly taught that the Spirit who was in the ancient prophets was the Spirit of Christ. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." (1 Peter 1:10, 11)
No, Jesus didn't personally preach to the wicked of Noah's day. He did it by his spirit through the medium of Noah. Neither did he personally preach to the gentiles. Yet, Paul said, (speaking of Christ) "And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh."
(Ephesians 2:17) It is certain that Christ, after his resurrection, did not go personally to the Gentiles to preach peace to them. He did so by the medium of His apostles only. Yet, who can deny what Paul said he did? The point is, when he does anything by His Spirit it can truthfully be said that He (Christ) did it. If Christ is said by Paul to go and do what He did by His apostles, He may with equal propriety be said by Peter to go and preach to the spirits in prison by his preacher of righteousness, Noah.
This must be correct. Otherwise, why the constant pleas for faith and repentance, faithfulness, etc., by men today if men are to perhaps have another chance after death to change. The Scriptures teach us that we will be judged according to the things done in the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:10). That certainly leaves no place for what some say Jesus did in Hades. Paul tells us we are going to be judged for what we have done in the flesh, or our bodies in this life. The Bible plainly teaches us to believe that now is the time of salvation. Not later, after death. Like those of Noah's day, our time of redemption can also pass.
Other Related OPA Article Links:
"Spirits in Prison"
Preaching of Christ
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