The Godhead – Jesus Christ



Jesus Christ at His death did not go to preach to the spirits who were in prison



Here is how some of the most famous Protestant Bible commentators have commented on the following words of the apostle Peter concerning the preaching of Jesus to the spirits in prison: “By whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:19-20 – NKJV).

John Wesley: ‘By which Spirit he preached - Through the ministry of Noah. To the spirits in prison - The unholy men before the flood, who were then reserved by the justice of God, as in a prison, till he executed the sentence upon them all; and are now also reserved to the judgment of the great day’ (John Wesley's Notes on the Bible).

Matthew Henry: ‘1. For the explication of this we may notice, (1.) The preacher—Christ Jesus, who has interested himself in the affairs of the church and of the world ever since he was first promised to Adam, Gen. 3:15. He went, not by a local motion, but by special operation, as God is frequently said to move, Gen. 11:5; Hos. 5:15; Mic. 1:3. He went and preached, by his Spirit striving with them, and inspiring and enabling Enoch and Noah to plead with them, and preach righteousness to them, as 2 Pt. 2:5. (2.) The hearers. Because they were dead and disembodied when the apostle speaks of them, therefore he properly calls them spirits now in prison; not that they were in prison when Christ preached to them, as the vulgar Latin translation and the popish expositors pretend. (3.) The sin of these people: They were disobedient, that is, rebellious, unpersuadable, and unbelieving, as the word signifies; this their sin is aggravated from the patience and long-suffering of God (which once waited upon them for 120 years together), while Noah was preparing the ark, and by that, as well as by his preaching, giving them fair warning of what was coming upon them. (4.) The event of all: Their bodies were drowned, and their spirits cast into hell, which is called a prison (Matthew 5:25; 2 Pt. 2:4, 5); but Noah and his family, who believed and were obedient, were saved in the ark’ (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)

John Darby: ‘The passage that follows has occasioned difficulties to the readers of scripture; but it appears to me simple, if we perceive the object of the Spirit of God. The Jews expected a Messiah corporeally present, who should deliver the nation, and exalt the Jews to the summit of earthly glory. But He was not present, we know, in that manner, and the believing Jews had to endure the scorn and the hatred of the unbelieving, on account of their trust in a Messiah who was not present, and who had wrought no deliverance for the people. Believers possessed the salvation of their soul, and they knew Jesus in heaven; but unbelieving men did not care for that. The apostle therefore cites the case of Noah's testimony. The believing Jews were few in number, and Christ was theirs only according to the Spirit. By the power of that Spirit He had been raised up from the dead. It was by the power of the same Spirit that He had gone-without being corporeally present-to preach in Noah. The world was disobedient (like the Jews in the apostle's days), and eight souls only were saved; even as the believers were now but a little flock. But the spirits of the disobedient were now in prison, because they did not obey Christ present among them by His Spirit in Noah. The long-suffering of God waited then, as now, with the Jewish nation; the result would be the same. It has been so. This interpretation is confirmed (in preference to that which supposes that the Spirit of Christ preached in hades to souls which had been confined there ever since the flood) by the consideration that in Genesis it is said, " My Spirit shall not always strive. with men but their days shall be a hundred and twenty years." That is to say, His Spirit should strive, in the testimony of Noah, during a hundred and twenty years and no longer. Now it would be an extraordinary thing that with those persons only (for he speaks only of them) the Lord should strive in testimony after their death. Moreover, we may observe that, in considering this expression to mean the Spirit of Christ in Noah, we only use a well-known phrase of Peter's; for he it is, as we have seen, who said, " The Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets." These spirits then are in prison, because they did not hearken to the Spirit of Christ in Noah’ (John Darby's Synopsis of the Bible)

John Gill: ‘The plain and easy sense of the words is, that Christ, by his Spirit, by which he was quickened, went in the ministry of Noah, the preacher of righteousness, and preached both by words and deeds, by the personal ministry of Noah, and by the building of the ark, to that generation who was then in being; and who being disobedient, and continuing so, a flood was brought upon them which destroyed them all; and whose spirits, or separate souls, were then in the prison of hell, so the Syriac version renders it, lwyvb, "in hell," see Revelation 20:7 when the Apostle Peter wrote this epistle; so that Christ neither went into this prison, nor preached in it, nor to spirits that were then in it when he preached, but to persons alive in the days of Noah, and who being disobedient, when they died, their separate souls were put into prison, and there they were when the apostle wrote: from whence we learn, that Christ was, that he existed in his divine nature before he was incarnate, he was before Abraham, he was in the days of Noah; and that Christ also, under the Old Testament, acted the part of a Mediator, in his divine nature, and by his Spirit discharged that branch of it, his prophetic office, before he appeared in human nature; and that the Gospel was preached in those early times, as unto Abraham, so before him’ (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)

As you can see, all of these Bible Commentators somehow or other comment on the words of Peter saying that Jesus preached through the ministry of Noah to people who lived in the days of Noah, who were disobedient.




The above mentioned words written by John Wesley, Matthew Henry, John Darby and John Gill, cannot be accepted for the following reasons.

First, because the preaching of Christ to the spirits in prison is closely linked with the death of Christ, that is, the two events are closely linked together, for before saying: “By whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison”, the apostle Peter says: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 – NKJV). Therefore the preaching of Christ to the spirits in prison occurred after His death.

Second, because ‘the spirits in prison’ to whom Christ preached were dead people who had lived in the days of Noah, for the apostle Peter says a little further: “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6 – NKJV). The fact that the Scripture says that the Gospel was preached also to those who are dead means that the Gospel was first preached to the living (the persons who were alive in the days of Jesus) and then to the dead (those who were formerly disobedient in the days of Noah).

Third, because what Christ preached to the spirits in prison was the Gospel, as it is written: “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead” (1 Peter 4:6 - NKJV), and we know that the Gospel began to be preached by Christ when He came into this world. Noah did not know the Gospel of Christ, and consequently he could not preach the Gospel to his generation. Noah was a preacher of righteousness, not a preacher of the Gospel of Christ.

I conclude by saying that even though I believe and teach that Christ at His death went to preach the Gospel to those who were formerly disobedient in the days of Noah, I do not believe nor teach that He preached the Gospel to them that they might be saved, for those people remained lost after they heard the Gospel. After death men have no chance to be saved, for the Scripture says: “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27 – NKJV). You may ask me now then: ‘Why then did Christ preach the Gospel to those people who were dead?’ Well, the reason is that “they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6 – NKJV). In other words, that the living might know that those persons who lived in the days of Noah were dead according to men in the flesh, yet in the sight of God they continued to live spiritually, in that to Him the dead people continue to live. I have come to this conclusion because just before the Scripture says: “Who [those who speak evil of us] shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5) and also: “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead” (1 Peter 4:6). In other words, the Scripture says ‘God is ready to judge also the dead (and not only the living), who, therefore, even though they are not on the earth any longer, will not escape the judgement of God because to God they all live, which is confirmed by the fact that Jesus Christ preached also to the dead’. The purpose of that preaching of Jesus Christ, therefore, was not to convert those dead people.