Series: Maintaining this hope
Message – He preached to the spirits in prison
He preached to the spirits in prison
We ended last week having covered what the Lord instructed the church through Peter regarding husbands and wives and that there are times God calls upon His servants to lay down their kingdom rights and their lives for those who are our “would be” enemies.
Most of the Apostles including Peter were so martyred for their testimony of Christ Jesus as their Lord. They knew, and so they, through their letters, have encouraged the body of Christ throughout time to realized that our testimony, even if it solicits persecution and death, is in reality more about the glory God than it is about us.
God receives glory not from our pain or death, but from the fact that His children respond to His love for them with such devotion that they’d rather suffer ridicule, persecution and death than even hint that there is any wavering in their heart regarding their devotion and commitment to Him.
As our final verses last week read…
“(17) For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil. (18) Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit.”
If you follow Jesus in these sufferings of dying to self, you will rise with Him the same way He rose.
He was put to death in the realm of the earthly world but was made alive in and by the Spirit. This is not to say that His Spirit ever died and was therefore in need of being made alive again, but whereas He had lived after the manner of mortal men in the flesh, He then began to live not only a physical but also a spiritual “resurrection”.
Now as I reluctantly promised last week we need to give the attention due to this next portion of scripture. It is difficult and the interpretation is NOT clear…not to myself or anyone else I have read and studied the writings of.
Let’s back up one verse and then read on to verse 20 so we can begin working through it together…
“(18) Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit.”
“(19) In it He went and preached to the spirits in prison, (20) after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed.”
There is a TON of goofy teaching out there regarding this passage MOSTLY because people attempt to connect it with the erroneous interpretation of Genesis 6 regarding the sons of God and then unnaturally tying that into passages in 2 Peter and Jude in an attempt to finalize their case.
We have spent more time than that delusion warrants in here and I have no intention of reteaching it today so if you need a refresher course I will provide a link to those messages in the website.
Suffice it to say that these people believe that the spirits here spoken of are the spirits of fallen angels. To be clear – they are NOT speaking of the ONLY angels the Bible officially recognizes as having fallen – meaning those who fell WITH Lucifer in the ONLY recorded rebellion Heaven ever sustained, but some second or even third wave of rebelling angels who though being an entirely different species of spiritual beings somehow risked the fate of Lucifer due to lust for females of another species either at Genesis 6 or after the flood but before the time of the Exodus from Egypt. It’s almost difficult for me to say that with a straight face, but there you have it.
I have to say that it is just SO disappointing to see how much spinning there is on this topic that is based on little more than speculation and wild fancies. People’s love of the sensational is all I can attribute it to since explaining all that is addressed in Genesis 6 in other more obvious and simple terms is not even challenging whereas their flights of theological fancy causes all kinds of scriptural difficulties and outright contradictions.
One clear proof that this verse is not referring to some secondary group of fallen angels who fell is found in the words, “after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited IN THE DAYS OF NOAH AS AN ARK WAS BEING CONSTRUCTED.”
Whoever these “spirits” are, they are clearly portrayed as being disobedient DURING the construction of the Ark – NOT prior!
Who can tell me why that is important in clarifying who this group of spirits is NOT!?
Even those who believe some secondary group of particularly stupid angels, came down and somehow assumed the creative power of God and created for themselves bodies which were also somehow magically genetically compatible with humans and yet still angelic in some way – even those people believe that the shortening of the human life and the time of 120 years until the destruction of the earth by flood was a RESULT of the sin of man during the time of the Nephilim (who existed BEFORE and AFTER the sons of God marrying the daughters of men).
Also, that judgement in Genesis was clearly stated by God Himself to be a result of HUMAN sin, NOT angelic sin by saying, “My spirit will not always strive with mankind”.
So at THIS point God called Noah and commissioned him to build an ark and it was during the 100 years of the ark being built and Noah preaching righteousness to the pre-flood world that whoever is being mentioned here in 1Peter 3 was being disobedient. It was to those spirits Jesus preached.
Who were they? I don’t know, but it was almost 100% certainly humans NOT angels.
So let’s move on to something at least possible if not less goofy.
Truth is, current understanding of the Greek grammar in this sentence does not allow any interpretation to be dogmatic – so I feel caution is in order as well as common sense and CONTEXT!
We have just been reading about how Jesus conducted Himself in the presence of persecution due to His good works and then how we should follow suit in our testimony before the world in response to the same. BOTH elicit questions from the world and we are to be ready with an answer. THAT is what Peter JUST got done saying before mentioning this group of spirits.
Peter then spoke of Jesus’ death bringing us back to God having Himself being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
So who could these “spirits in prison” be and what did He preach?
Well, there are several possibilities.
Let’s deal with the potential of WHAT He preached, then we will attempt to narrow the possibilities of WHO He preached to.
One possibility is that His preaching was not literal, but that ‘In His dying’ it preached a message. That would be consistent with one grammatical construction of the verse.
The word preach here is kerusso. The word was used in secular Greek of an official announcement or proclamation made by a representative of a government.
The word in itself, does not indicate the content of the message. A qualifying phrase must be used for that purpose and this passage is curiously void of defining words, like “Preach the gospel” or “preach the good news”.
However, the word itself “could” be naturally understood as meaning to preach the Kingdom of God – which is just one of many ways of saying “preach the Gospel”. In fact, it is arguably the best way since it means to preach the Lordship of Christ.
So who was Jesus preaching to? Well if it was the gospel it certainly wasn’t to angels.
Another phrase helps narrow the list to I believe only one possibility.
The words given are literally, “those who were formerly disobedient during the building of the Ark”.
That phrase is VERY suggestive!
They were “formerly” disobedient. The word “formerly” indicates a point at which they turned from their disobedience.
Now, we know that Noah was a preacher of righteousness – according to the testimony regarding him given in Hebrews 12. We do NOT know however, the contents of his message.
Did it point to a coming Messiah or was his message simply about repenting of current sins so that God might spare the earth or at least those who repented? We do not know.
So it is possible that… as the rains fell and the flood waters came that at that point some did in fact repent, making them “formerly disobedient” not disobedient to the bitter end.
It seems impossible that such did not happen, perhaps in mass. Of course, such repentance was too little too late in order to be physically saved through the ark. What their repentance MAY have done however, is to set them apart to hear the Good News and respond after death since their repentance had been procured before physical death.
I fully own that this is all conjecture but it is at least on some level viable and does not require ridiculous flights of fancy or manipulation of common sense and scripture in order to be true. Also, as we will read in a little bit when we reach chapter 4, it all but affirms this view as well as extends this to all who died prior to the giving of the law.
In the end I don’t believe we have any real “good options”, but this one, to me at least, seemed the most plausible.
Especially given the fact that ALL of the context up to this point has been testimony under persecution and that is also where this passage is heading, and it was the condition of Noah during the construction of the Ark…so it kinda makes sense. These people who were in rebellion DURING THE CONSTRUCTION of the ark, were persecuting Noah and his family which just adds their testimony to those previously offered earlier in the chapter of Jesus and the church.
Peter then draws the conclusion that in the same way that Jesus was “made alive in the Spirit” most likely meaning experienced Resurrection life and in the same way that Noah and his family were saved by the Ark THROUGH the water – so we are saved when the testimony of our conscience answers the Gospel message with faith and baptism. We are saved in the ark of Jesus THROUGH the waters of Baptism.
Let’s read the rest of this passage…
“In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. (21) And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you – not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (22) Who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to Him.”
Regardless of your view of how or in what way the meditations of men’s hearts were only wicked continually before the flood – we know it was due to this continuation in evil thinking that led to God’s decision to destroy the earth by the flood – yet save the human race by means of one righteous man and his family.
The wickedness of man is what Noah was saved from through the flood. If here it meant Noah was saved from the flood, it would have used the Ark as the vehicle of deliverance instead of the flood waters. Future mankind was delivered from the unbridled, long-lived wickedness of ancient man through the waters of the flood destroying them. This is put forth as a type or symbol of baptism.
In both cases it was God Who did the saving and it was by faith that men partook of that salvation.
The flood waters, like those of baptism, are a vehicle for the removal of the wickedness. Not a washing away of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge to God arising out of a cleansed conscience given in answer to the work of God in that heart.
Remember in the comparison offered, it was due to the continual wickedness in mankind’s heart that God destroyed the earth. So those saved through Jesus answer in a pledge of allegiance to God out of a conscience that has been cleansed!
Which is the basis for Peters argument to embrace persecution with the same mind and heart attitude which Jesus embraced…Let’s go on to chapter 4
1Peter 4:1-2, “(1) So, since Christ suffered in the flesh, you also arm yourselves with the same attitude, because the one who has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin, (2) in that he spends the rest of his time on earth concerned about the will of God and not human desires.”
Obviously, what the Spirit is leading Peter to teach us is going to take some grit…some stick-to-it-ness – some tenacity! He says “arm yourselves with the SAME mind”.
What mind was that? What mindset did Jesus have?
Well what immediately sprang to my mind was the passage in Luke 9:51 which tells us that when the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up (a reference back to when Elijah was taken up) He “set His face” to go to Jerusalem.
Now you no doubt remember that Jesus had left Jerusalem because the religious elite there were seeking to kill Him. Now, He is “setting His face to return”. He knew this was His time to offer Himself up. The phrase “set His face” is semitic idiom, that means He adopted a firm, unshakable resolve to return to Jerusalem where He knew He would suffer at the hands of ungodly men and be crucified.
I believe this is what Peter means by “arm yourselves with the same attitude”. Set your face – adopt a firm, unshakable resolve to pursue the will of God, embracing all the suffering which comes from denying yourself the pleasures of sin and being lights in a world that hates the light.
This also brings Hebrew’s account of Moses’ heart attitude to mind. It says that when Moses looked down on the suffering of his people in Egypt, he “…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, (25) choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. (26) He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. (27) By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger, for he persevered as though he could see the One Who is invisible.” – Heb. 11:24-27
Oh…I LIKE that!!!
Peter goes on to say,
“(3) For the time that has passed was sufficient for you to do what the non-Christians desire. You lived then in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, carousing, drinking bouts, and wanton idolatries. (4) So they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness, and they vilify you. (5) They will face a reckoning before Jesus Christ who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.”
This can refer back to the crown you used to run with before you came to Christ (if you were even in such a crowd) OR it could simply be the disdain every and all Christians endure from the world who looks at their lack of indulgence as prudish, self-righteousness.
So you can see that God is taking notes, and everyone who suffers not only physical mistreatment, abuse and death will be avenged, but even those of us who only suffered rejection and verbal abuse from the lost. He WILL reward them! It falls to us to cry out to the Father to forgive them for in truth they really do not know what they do!
“(6) Now it was for this very purpose that the gospel was preached to those who are now dead, so that though they were judged in the flesh by human standards they may live spiritually by God’s standards.”
For what very purpose? The fact that Jesus stands ready to judge the living and the dead. So it seems only fair that they be given all the information before their choice be considered as final.