In last week’s column we began an examination of 1 Peter 3:19 and the statement, “…by whom [the Holy Spirit] also He (Christ) went and preached to the spirits in prison …”
In part one I pointed out that this statement cannot mean Jesus went and preached to the departed souls of those in hell. Jesus did not go to hell! His spirit was in Paradise while His body lay in the grave for three days (Luke 23:43; Acts 2:27, 31). Having pointed out what “preaching to the spirits in prison” cannot be, let us go on and see what Peter was actually teaching.
In the paragraph where the statement is found (1 Pet. 3:18-22), Peter makes reference to Christ’s willingness to suffer for the will of God (1 Pet. 3:18), that He was willing to suffer and die, even though He Himself was guilty of nothing, so that we could have the hope of salvation. His death was to “bring us to God” by His resurrection from the dead (1 Pet. 3:18, 22). He was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then the comparison is made between the salvation we have in Christ and the salvation that was made available in Noah’s day through obedience to God (1 Pet. 3:19-21). The “spirits in prison” is referring to those who lived in the days of Noah (1 Pet. 3:20), who were disobedient to God and, through their violent rebellion against the will of God, brought about the destruction of the flood (Gen. 6:13).
The “Divine longsuffering … while the ark was being prepared” refers to the one hundred and twenty years that God waited before sending the flood (Gen. 6:3). Salvation was being preached “in the days of Noah,” i.e. during the 120 years the ark was “being prepared.”
This is what Peter is referring to when he says that Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison. This preaching was done “in the days of Noah” (1 Pet. 3:20). Through obedience to God’s word (Heb. 11:7) eight souls were saved through water.
The people of Noah’s day were in bondage to sin, imprisoned to condemnation, through their rebellion against God (cf. Rom. 6:3-6, 17-18). However, Noah was not silent while he prepared the ark for the saving of his household. Peter says he was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5).
What was Noah preaching during this time? Peter calls him a “preacher of righteousness,” and says that, by the Holy Spirit, Christ was preaching salvation at that time (1 Pet. 3:19-20). God’s “Divine longsuffering” provided those people an opportunity to repent and be saved from the destruction to come.
Studies on the size of the ark and the required space for what Noah was supposed to take shows that there would have been room on the ark for many, many more people than just Noah and his family, with all the animals and feed included.
God did not have salvation preached by Noah for 120 years without providing a place for any who would respond to that preaching. Sadly, the only ones that were ready to get on the ark when the time came were eight souls.
Peter goes on to show how Noah’s preaching during that time could be said to be Christ going and preaching to them (1 Pet. 3:21). The flood was a type of salvation pointing forward to the antitype of salvation in Christ through baptism. Just as Noah and his family were provided a place of safety from the destruction caused by sin and rebellion, we have a place of safety and salvation from sin today through Christ.
Noah was called into the ark by God (Gen. 7:1). Today, through the preaching of the gospel, people are called into the church – the place of the saved (Acts 2:37-41, 47). Just as the flood separated Noah and his family from the corruption of sin in his day, baptism separates one from the corruption of sin and brings “newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4; cf. Acts 22:16; Gal. 3:26-27; Col. 2:12; et. al.).
“There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)
Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or BibleQnA@NormFields.com.