Who Were The Spirits in Prison In 1 Peter 3? Why Was Jesus Preaching To Them?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What does it mean that Jesus went and proclaimed or preached to the spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3?  Did Jesus preach the gospel to those spirits in prison?  Were these spirits men or demons?

First Peter 3

There are many Scriptures that are hard to understand and even Peter had difficulty understanding what Paul wrote at times (2 Peter 3:16) and acknowledged that “Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture.”  Many Bible students and even theologians have the same problem with 1 Peter 3:18-20. To understand what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:18-20 we should read it first: “For Christ also suffered [some manuscripts say “died”] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed [some manuscripts say “preached”] to the spirits in prison,  because [a few manuscripts say “when”] they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”

Theologians View of 1 Peter 3:18-20

Many theologians believe that between Christ’s death and resurrection, he went to the demon spirits bound in hell or the abyss and that despite the Devil’s plan to kill Christ, this was actually part of the gospel and told these fallen angels that He had triumphed over Satan and death.  There are some who believe that some demons were more wicked than most and were sent to imprisonment because of their heinous evilness and these are so evil that these specific ones are to be sent into greater suffering in the lake of fire along with Satan (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10). These demons who were demonstrably worse than most and may have overstepped their boundaries established by God and having been incarcerated since the days of Noah, were kept from the human race because of their total depravity which was revealed in their work during Noah’s days.  Perhaps God did not want them corrupting mankind anymore like they did during the days of Noah.  The times prior to the flood were so totally wicked that God had little choice but to extinguish all life except Noah and his family.

 Did Jesus preach the gospel to those spirits in prison?

Did Jesus preach the gospel to those spirits in prison?

Conservative Theologians View of 1 Peter 3:18-20

There are basically four views of these verses and so this shows that there is no consensus in which all agree on what these verses mean exactly. Here is a summary of these four views:

  • View 1: Perhaps what is meant by “preaching to the spirits in prison” could be Christ or God preaching through Noah (2 Pet 2:5 or 1 Pet 3:20) to that wicked generation and even though Noah preached repentance, nobody listened and today these humans are imprisoned awaiting the final judgment (Rev 20:11-15).
  • View 2: Others believe that during the short interval between Jesus’ death and resurrection, He descended into hell to preach to these lost souls and proclaimed His victory to those who died in the flood and all those souls who died up to the period of the flood.
  • View 3: Yet others feel that Christ preached to these spirits or souls between His death and resurrection and it was directed to the fallen angels because angels, either holy or fallen, can be referred to as the “sons of God” (Gen 6:2, 4; Job 1:6, 2:1) and these fallen spirits are presently imprisoned (of which is close to the view mentioned in the previous paragraph).
  • View 4: A final view is that Christ personally proclaimed His victory over Satan, and subsequently Satan’s associates (fallen angels or demons) but He did so after His resurrection but before His ascension into heaven.

Conclusion

Regardless of what is really the proper interpretation, today we are told to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the lost who are facing another judgment and this one will be far worse than the flood of Noah’s time.  Jesus Himself warns all that have not trusted in Him yet in Matthew 24:36-39, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”  Today few non-believers are expecting Christ to return with judgment (Rev 20:11-15) but coming He is and perhaps shortly, although no one knows for certain when that time will be. But just as Christ prophesied the way that the world will be living before He returns He says “they will still be drinking (partying?), eating (gluttony?), and marrying (even same sex?), and giving in marriage (and divorce), the flood of God’s judgment will come when no one expects.  The flood of the water is symbolic of God’s judgment.  It is coming…and sadly, many will be ”swept away” and it will be too late, even if Christ preaches again to those imprisoned and destined to stay there for time without end.

More reading: 8 Important Facts About the Resurrection

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda April 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Very interesting article P. Jack, thank you,
I was sent a new song today and thought I would share it with you and others who also may enjoy it. It will give you chills, the words are hard to listen to especially the way she sings this song about Jesus. She will be recording it so we may be able to get it sometime soon. She is one of our Canadian singers from down East. Here is the link:

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=0E02FMNU

Enjoy!! Linda

Reply

Jack Wellman April 19, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Linda, that is so very, very inspiring and wow…that is certainly a glory to God. Thank you so much for this.

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Tony Reese April 19, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Very interesting article. To be honest, I’ve never given much thought to who was being referred to in that scripture. Of course, you hit the nail on the head, that in the end it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is accepting Jesus as our personal Savior and walking and fulfilling the life and mission set before us by Jesus. We’ll all know the truth about everything when we finally get to Heaven.

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Jack Wellman April 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Thank you so much Mr. Reese. I am overjoyed that you see that the conclusion of the matter is that repentance and trust in Christ for nothing else matters and as you so wisely said sir, we will find out those things in the Kingdom. I appreciate your kind works Mr. Reese.

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DocReits April 20, 2014 at 12:31 am

An excellent article Pastor Jack. May I offer words from a wise man I admire. He said, “20/20 vision is the best way to examine Scripture…the 20 verses before and after”…;-)

In the first seven verses of first Peter chapter three, Peter tackles the difficult assignment of instructing wives and husbands on how to live with each other. You can almost hear the audible groans by his intended audience(he used the word “submit” a lot while addressing the wives…;-)).

Then in verse 7 it was the husbands turn, telling them to be understanding and to honor their wives, and if not, their prayers would be hindered. In other words, he was telling them both to have “patient endurance” with each other, even though it would be difficult.

Next in verses 8-18 he goes on to tell the saints how to suffer for righteousness’ sake. Again the emphasis is on how God will help us and how Christ Himself suffered for us, the theme again being upon suffering with “patient endurance”. That is key so far in this chapter.

Let’s remember that “key” as we go directly into our text in the next verses(19-20):

“…in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when(just as) God’s patience waited in the days of Noah…”(parenthetical remark mine)

I do not think I am too off base by saying that Peter was saying look fellow believers, I am simply telling you that you need to have patience, both with your spouses, and when you suffer persecution for righteousness’s sake “JUST AS” God had patience for 100+ years while Noah built the Ark, allowing those hearing Noah’s preaching an opportunity for repentance.

If you allow for this interpretation then the other Scriptures envelop this one when Paul says in Eph 4:8-10,

“Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)”

Zech 9:9,11

“9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass….

11 As for thee also, because of the blood of thy covenant I HAVE SET FREE THY PRISONERS FROM THE PIT WHEREIN IS NO WATER” (emphasis mine)

I believe Christ descended to both lead those looking forward to the Cross before their deaths(in Abraham’s bosom) home to Paradise and to proclaim to those evil souls(in Gehenna) that He was victorious.

Blessings,

DocReits

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Jack Wellman April 20, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Doc, you certainly make a very good point and most assuredly, you are not far off if not spot on the mark brother. As always, love your insight at you always contribute positively my friend. I do think that the cross does look back, at the present, and forward in that way friend and the cross is like God Himself as far as redemption is concerned…He was, and is and will be!

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Dee April 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Here are some words that might be helpful to some, referring to 1 peter 3:18-20.
28 And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.
29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to fall the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
31 And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
32 Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. (Doctrine and Covenants 138: 28-32)

This next part explains those who were faithful in mortality but who had died and were waiting in spirit prison (world) for the moment when Christ would preach to them.

12 And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality;
13 And who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name.
14 All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
15 I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.
16 They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.
17 Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.
18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
19 And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance. (Doctrine and Covenants 138: 12-19.)

I hope this helps explain it a little better. Thanks.

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Jack Wellman April 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Dee, thank you for your input. You are appreciated and please come back.

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Robert May 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Jack,
I love the way you handled this topic. It is one that has been debated for centuries, and will probably be debated until Jesus returns. Thank you for this well-balanced, and informative, article.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

Reply

Jack Wellman May 5, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Thank you Robert for your very kind words, as always my friend. I apologize if I haven’t responded to many of your wonderful works lately but your Who were the Nephlins was amazingly good and I so agree with what you wrote. I read it and you are spot on as always my brother.

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