Last time we were together we began addressing what is perhaps one of the most difficult texts in the entire Bible, . Today we will continue our examination of the text and do our very best to understand it recognizing that we like so many faithful theologians before us will fall short of complete and clear understanding while at the same time resting in the knowledge that our salvation does not depend on our perfect understanding, but rather our trust, our faith in Jesus Christ. And so Father we ask again for help on this difficult text. We lack the wisdom to understand but we believe that the Holy Spirit can lead us into all truth and we pray that He will do so today as we examine your word through our brother Peter. We thank you for this difficult text and offer our study of it to you as worship now. These things we pray in Jesus name - Amen.
For Christ also suffered 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 to the spirits in prison, because 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. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Last time we were together we examined the possibilities of where Jesus went after He died. Peter describes the place as a prison, Jesus described where He was going as paradise. We examined these difficult ideas last time and I said the most likely possibility in my opinion is that this text shows us that Jesus went to Hades, the place that the Jews called Sheol and that we can more generally term the abode of the dead. It is not Heaven, but it is not Hell and it most certainly is not purgatory, the Roman Catholic imagination of a place where even the faithful must burn off their sins before entering Heaven. No we said Sheol, Hades, the abode of the dead is simply the place where the souls of the dead went and it seems to be a place possessing two sides separated by a vast chasm. One side of punishment and the other side one of rest. But even though we examined this possibility last time we still did not address what does Jesus do when He goes to this place? Today we will address that question.
So a few issues that we’ll look at:
Who is it that He makes this proclamation to?
What is the proclamation Jesus makes?
What’s the deal with Noah and Baptism here?
So let’s go through these issues
First who did Jesus make proclamation to? Peter says the spirits in prison and identifies them as people who did not obey. That doesn’t very clearly help us identify exactly who we’re talking here and it’s made even more confusing by the mention of Noah. Theologians propose several possibilities of who these spirits could be.
Jesus proclaimed to Fallen Angels or Demons in Hell - This view has difficulties for several reasons. First, this possibility supposes that Jesus descended into Hell. The text does not seem to indicate Hell not only by the wording chosen by Peter but also because of what little we know about Hell from the rest of scripture we know that it is more than a place of imprisonment or holding, it is a place of punishment and torment. To conflate the place of holding and the place of punishment would be incorrect in the historical context in which Peter writes. Prison was a place where one awaited judgment and punishment, but the holding itself was not really considered the punishment in the ancient world. That has changed massively in our society where we have huge prisons and different kinds of prisons, but this was not the case in Peter’s day. In fact incarceration as punishment is a fairly new practice historically speaking. Also there is the issue of how the spirits are described. These spirits formerly did not obey when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah. That’s a very bizarre description if Peter intends to be describing demons or fallen angels. So while this is a possibility it doesn’t seem likely to me given the difficulties.
Jesus proclaimed in sheol to the spirits of those who died previously in disobedience - This view sees the spirits in prison as all the souls of those who are disobedient, those who are on the far side of sheol, the place of imprisonment. This view is often used to make the argument that Jesus preached salvation to the dead giving them the opportunity for repentance and belief in Him. Leaving aside the assumption about what the proclamation Jesus makes functions to do this view has a major difficulty in that it does not address the specific identification made of who these spirits are - those who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah.
Jesus proclaimed victory, in the past, through Noah to the people of that day, people who are now dead and their spirits imprisoned - This view addresses the identity of the spirits and what Jesus did in a completely unique way. Rather than saying during His death that Jesus went and made proclamation, this view tends to see this statement as a description of the preincarnate Jesus work in the world. This view sees this as Jesus empowering and inspiring Noah to preach to the people of his own day and in his own time proclaiming that judgment was upon the people. This view too has issues since this seems a very long, complex, and somewhat convoluted explanation of the spirit of Jesus.
There are a few other possibilities but many scholars tend to fall into these general categories. We do not know with clarity which one of these, if any of these three is being indicated by Peter. So what then does Jesus proclamation function to do? There are again several possibilities.
It is a proclamation of victory - One possibility is that this proclamation to the spirits in prison is one simply of victory. It is not an offer of salvation or a preaching of good news in the sense that any will be saved or repent because of it.
It is a proclamation of good news and or salvation - One possibility that has two different distinctions is that this proclamation is of good news or salvation. Some see this as a proclamation of good news to those who are dead in sheol or Hades and that they are emancipated into paradise. The text does not seem to indicate an emancipation of any type however so this view has difficulties. Another vein of thought within this same general possibility is that this is Jesus evangelizing to those who have died who never had a chance to hear about Jesus because they lived before His coming. People who believe this way think that Jesus is thus seen as offering salvation to the dead, but this too does not seem to be indicated in the text. Several cults that have developed out of Christianity have taken and twisted this text and others to try to make it appear as though the dead can be evangelized and baptized. Our Mormon friends in particular believe in baptism for the dead and that they can essentially save dead people by being baptized on their behalf. That is not at all a Christian practice. says, “27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” There is zero indication that there is any chance for a person who dies in unbelief to be saved after death. So this options seems extremely unlikely.
27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. It is a proclamation of final condemnation -
It is a proclamation of final condemnation -
It is a proclamation of final condemnation - One possibility is that Jesus is making a proclamation of final condemnation against those who died in disobedience.
To be sure this is a difficult text that you probably don’t have any more clarity on now than when we started last week. I wish I had a more clear, cut and dry answer for you but even the greatest minds in history have not been able to undoubtedly define what’s taking place when Jesus goes to this prison making proclamation. What is clear however is what follows. Peter relates the flood and Noah and his family being brought safely through the water to how we as Christians are saved by Christ Jesus. We are deserving of judgment yet God chooses us and calls us out to repentance, to faith, to obedience and by His work we are brought safely through judgment. Now Peter makes a statement that we need to understand clearly in regard to baptism here because our forbears in the Christian church I believe misunderstood what he says.
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
1 Peter 3:
Unfortunately a great many in our particular church movement believe in what theologians call “baptismal regeneration” that we must be dunked or immersed in water to be saved and that if you aren’t dunked or immersed you are not saved. This text does not support that idea at all. In fact it specifically says the opposite. The first part seems to say Baptism now saves you, but the second part says, not as a removal of dirt from the body. Peter is saying going into those waters does not save you as though you could simply go in and wash your sins off like you’re washing dirt off your hands. No there’s much more to salvation than that just as there is much more to baptism than going into a baptistry and being dunked in water. Baptism is a ordinance commanded by the Lord in scripture, but this ordinance is no more responsible for your salvation than the Ark was for saving Noah in the flood. A boat didn’t save Noah and his family - God did. The boat was just a vessel, just a tool that God chose to work through. He could have chosen any way He wanted to in saving Noah. He could have given Noah gills, He could have made Noah fly, He could have made it so Noah was extraordinarily buoyant. But no God chose for an act of obedience to accompany salvation. Baptism is similar. It is an act of obedience for those who believe to portray physically what God has done spiritually. It is a sign of belonging to God’s elect, it is emblematic of our death to sin, the burial of the old, and the resurrection into new life that a believer has now and guaranteed in the future. Baptism is eternally important - I cannot express it enough and I have great reason to wonder about people who claim to be Christian and don’t want to be baptized. Why in the world would you not want to do that which signifies your unity with Christ and how he saves you? But I also don’t make an idol out of water or the tradition of passing through it. Christ saves me, not water. Jesus saves me, not submerging into H2O. It is Christ’s work, His sacrifice, His blood, His death, His resurrection that is efficacious for my salvation and I refuse to put my faith in anything save Christ alone. It is by His good grace that I am saved, I trust His works, not my own to save me. Why?
Because Jesus is God. Jesus Christ the God-man, God who came in flesh, died on my behalf to save me. Today I implore you to trust in Jesus as Peter did. To believe and trust that Jesus is God, that He is at the right hand of the Father, that to Him belongs salvation and authority to give it and that all things are under His rule and reign. Whether you trust Him or not, whether you believe it or not Jesus is God and He is Lord over all and your knee will bow to Him. The question is will you bow before Him humbly and in thanksgiving or will you kneel before Him humiliated as a rebellious foe who hated Him and denied Him and suppressed the truth about Him? My friends I urge you to be the former - to throw yourself on Hid good mercy and grace today. If you need to do that we’re going to have a time of invitation now where we invite you to come forward and make that declaration of belief in Jesus good work - won’t you do that now as we stand and sing together.