Did Jesus Preach To Departed Spirits When He Died?
It is important to study 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6 where this question originated. Some people believe that Jesus took an opportunity to teach God's word as a second chance to those who did not render obedience to God in their earthly life. Did Jesus preach to the spirits of the dead and give them and give them a second chance to repent after their death? A closer examination of these Scriptures will reveal that the answer is "no."
[NOTE: Please consult the question on the Q & A website: "Will God Judge Those Who Never Heard The Gospel?" for further information.] The Bible repeatedly warns that there is no second chance after one dies. If people do not obey the will of the Lord in this earthly life, then there will be no opportunity for them to repent in the next life (Luke 16:16-31; Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
If a person's destiny is sealed at physical death, what does Peter when he states that Jesus "preached to spirits in prison"?
1 Peter 3:18 states that Jesus was "made alive" by the Holy Spirit. 1 Peter 3:19 says "by whom" (since it is in reference to the Holy Spirit) Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison. That is, by the agency of the Holy Spirit Jesus had preached to spirits through Noah's preaching while the human spirits were alive, but who are now "in prison" (dead) at the writing of Peter.
Note in 1 Peter 3:20 the people to whom Jesus preached (past tense) were disobedient during the days of Noah, that is, the ones who are (present tense) "in prison." In other words, the spirits of these disobedient people were in a spiritual prison at the time Peter wrote his epistle, but it does not say they were in prison at the time they heard the preaching of Noah (via the Holy Spirit - 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20,21).
1 Peter 3:18-20 is showing us then that Noah was an inspired preacher - a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). The Second Person of the Godhead known as Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit upon Noah in equipping him to preach what God wanted. Noah, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preached for 120 years while he was building the ark. He must have been warning those men and women to repent and come into the ark with him - but they were disobedient (2 Peter 3:9). At the time when Peter was writing his epistle, the spirits of those disobedient men were in spiritual prison, also known to us as "torments" (Luke 16:19-31), awaiting the day of judgment.
1 Peter 4:6 is teaching the same lesson. The gospel was "preached" (past tense) to men whom "are dead" (present tense). In other words, at the time Peter was writing his epistle they were dead, but at the time the preaching was done they were alive. By the time of this letter (sometime in the late 60s A.D.), the gospel had been preached for over thirty years.
Instead of teaching a second chance for men to obey the Lord, these passages teach us the destiny of men who have heard the preaching of the truth but refused to obey or remain faithful -- they end up in the prison of torments with no one to blame but themselves.
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