It is because the sufferings of Christ extend out of time into eternity that some students of the Bible have come to believe that Christ actually physically descended into hell. For example, one of the statements of faith, a version of the Apostles' Creed which one usually recites (for instance) in a Sunday Episcopalian worship service, has a reference to Jesus Christ descending into hell. At first we might suppose that this refers to a visit by Jesus to the "underworld" which took place sometime after His death on Good Friday, but prior to His resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.
The Apostles' Creed reads:
"I believe in God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen."
This particular creed, known since the Third Century in the Western Church, draws reliably from the New Testament in general. However the phrase "He descended into hell" was evidently derived from an unusually-worded portion of Peter's First Epistle which says:
"He (Jesus) was put to death in the flesh, but he was raised to life in the Spirit, in which also he went and preached to the disobedient spirits who were in prison in the days of Noah when God waited patiently while the ark was being built...For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead so that, although they have already been judged in the flesh like men, they might have life in the Spirit like God." (1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6)
The first thing to note in this passage is that the Greek word "Hades"---translated "hell" in the Apostles' Creed---is the underworld of Greek mythology, not necessarily the place of permanent punishment of those utterly lost forever. Whatever preaching took place (as described in this passage from Peter) was, in my opinion, not in hell. It was in the world of the men, and evidently the world of those men who lived prior to the flood, that is amongst the Antediluvians. As noted in the first paragraph, there are those Bible commentaries who take this passage in Peter to mean that those who died before the flood were present as spirits in some sort of subterranean holding-tank, a division of Sheol known as Hades. It is supposed that Christ went to them after His death to offer them a second chance to know Him.
I do not believe that the Bible suggests in any way that anyone gets a second chance to hear and respond to the gospel after we die. For example, Hebrews 9:27, 28 says, "And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, 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."
The gospel has gone out to the world in our generation, and indeed in every generation since Christ rose from the dead, but what knowledge of God's saving grace was available in to the population of earth who lived before the Flood of Noah?
Other Bible scholars have argued that the "spirits in prison" referred to by Peter were fallen angels (as mentioned by Jude) who were removed from the world scene at the time of the flood and "...have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day." (Jude 6) The difficulty with this argument is that nowhere in the Bible is redemption offered to the angels. For example, the demons begged Jesus to give them more time, not to grant them mercy in the incident at Gadera with the demon possessed man who allowed a multitude of demons to indwell a herd of pigs, (Matthew 8:28-34). Still others argue that Christ preached only to the spirits of the righteous dead who lived before His time, and when He did so, He emptied Hades, leading those who were waiting there out and into Paradise.
Various arguments about Sheol and Hades and temporary intermediate-state compartments in the underworld have never made much sense to me. The Old Testament revelation of life-after-death is vague. Sheol is a general term meaning simply, "the grave." Only in the New Testament do we get the additional revelation that clearly defines the events that follow death for the non-believer and for the believer. In a separate paper, "Time and Eternity" will be found a discussion that I think resolves the issue. When a person dies he or she leaves time and enters eternity. See also "Time Warps." It is, in eternity, only a split second between a person's death and their resurrection. Events that may be separated by hundreds or thousands of year in our earth-time frame, can pass in eternity, "in a moment in the twinkling of an eye." For the Christian the scripture is clear, "to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord."
All of the variant views mentioned above force the Scripture beyond what it really says, in my opinion. The clearest way to loosely rephrase Peter's teaching so that it makes sense to me and takes into account the nature of time and eternity, is this:
"In the days of Noah, while the Ark was being built, the Gospel was preached by Christ, who spoke by means of the Holy Spirit through Noah to the men and women of his generation." For God to endure patiently the wickedness of perhaps several billion people while giving them every chance to be saved demonstrates His longsuffering love for sinners and great desire that none should be lost.
Actually we know from Jude 14 that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, preached to his generation foretelling not only the coming flood, but the final coming of the Lord, which we in our time are still waiting for. Adam's personal and detailed knowledge of God was certainly passed down from father to son, from Adam to Noah, and announced to the world by each of these Antediluvian patriarchs. Good news of God's free salvation was made freely available to mankind then as it is now.
In actual fact, only Noah, his three sons, and their wives, (eight persons in all), took heed to the message. "The spirits in prison" could then refer to those who had not been regenerated---this is the general condition of mankind after the fall. The New Testament announces that all men in their natural state are "dead through (the) trespasses and sins...following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air (Satan), the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience." (Ephesians 2:1, 2)
In Ephesians 4:9, following a description of Christ's triumphant ascension into heaven there is a parenthetical reference as follows, "[In saying, 'he ascended,' what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth.]" My interpretation of this passage is that the descent of Christ to districts of earth is indeed a very great descent in comparison with the grandeur of His position in heaven before his incarnation (in line with Philippians 2:6-11). Some Bible commentators have taken this passage to be a second New Testament reference to Christ's descent into hell. If this is so, hell is assumed (in the Greek world view) to be a subterranean region or cavern beneath the earth. The Old Testament, however, was vague about what happened after death; Sheol meant "death" or "the grave" but little else is specified or revealed. To make the case that hell is literally in the center of the physical earth may be reading too much into scripture.
Only as the New Testament unfolds, do we receive an understanding of "the Lake of Fire" as the place "prepared for the devil and his angels" where the wicked (and the devil) are ultimately cast, (Revelation 19-20). Likewise the "heavenly places" are the realm of the Spirit into which all believers have already been placed, though our bodies are not yet redeemed.
The New Testament is not talking about waiting rooms for the spirits of either the righteous or the unrighteous dead, nor of an intermediate state between death and resurrection, nor of the spirits of the dead being without a body for more than an instant of time! Although the righteous who have died are said to have "fallen asleep in Christ," this is an accommodation to our earthly reference frame to remind us that the terrors and fears of death are gone for us who are in Christ Jesus. And while the notion of purgatory is foreign to Scripture, yet believers should not take lightly the possibility of great and painful losses at the judgment seat of Christ, (1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). None of us should presume that any of us shall enter heaven without a thorough evaluation and full disclosure of the actual quality and content of our lives since we first believed.
When Christ "dismissed his spirit," commending Himself into the hands of the Father, the work of the cross having been finished, the spirit and soul of Jesus as well as that of His companion, the forgiven thief, went immediately into heaven. In so doing, they left our zone of linear space-time and stepped into eternity. Furthermore, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 that resurrection bodies are already waiting and prepared for all believers in heaven and that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Our problem is one of not understanding that we are constrained by our present fallen, mortal bodies to linear time (which always flows from past to present to future) whereas spirits live in the eternal dimension already. Thus, to die physically today and appear at the resurrection of the dead (which may occur 100 years from now in calendar time) means that the intervening 100 years, to the person who is dying, is but "a moment, the twinkling of an eye."
Peter tells us in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, quoting from Psalm 16, that the body of Jesus did not begin to decay in the tomb between the time of His death and His resurrection, although the April weather in Jerusalem at Passover would have been warm and no embalming of the corpse had been done:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know---this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, 'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will dwell in hope. For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt make me full of gladness with thy presence.'" (Acts 2:22-28)
In the letter to the Hebrews, after reciting a great list of the works of faith by many righteous men and women in the Old Testament, the writer concludes, "And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised (New Jerusalem), since God had foreseen something better for us (that is, believers in the present day under the New Covenant), that apart from us they (these Old Testament saints) should not be made perfect." (Hebrews 11: 39)
If we think of death as the leaving of time and entering into eternity, this passage speaks of the gathering of all believers together at some future event. In the experience of any individual who dies, whether today or 4000 years ago, the time interval between death and resurrection is but a moment in eternity. Understood in this light, all believers reach heaven at the same moment, and the Second Coming of Christ coincides with the moment of one's death. That great event in eternity will one day intersect a point in earth-time described for us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
"But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming (parousia) of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, (to raise the dead), with the archangel's call (to call Israel back to Himself), and with the sound of the trumpet of God (to transform those believers who are alive at the time). And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
There is, therefore, in my opinion, no reason to believe that Christ "descended into hell" or Hades after He died on Good Friday, and no reason to believe there are "waiting rooms" for disembodied spirits who are waiting for the resurrection. I do not believe there is an intermediate state after death; and in fact I believe no one is in heaven as yet (except our Lord Jesus). Prayers to Mary or to other saints who have "gone on before" are therefore without meaning. Mary, Jude and others will arrive in heaven the same time we do!
As Hebrews 12 says, all believers, whether Old Testament or
New, are already in New Jerusalem, in spirit, as a great assembled
company. We are merely awaiting the revelation, the unveiling
of our Lord, and the redemption of our bodies so that we will
have eyes to see the invisible world of heaven around us and new
bodies that can experience the multiple dimensions of time and
space in that realm where God dwells. There Christ sits at the
right hand of the Majesty on High. The "heavenly places"
are all around us, and not far beyond the reaches of space, death
is merely the lifting of a veil that separates the physical from
the spiritual. All those who are "in Christ" are seated
with Him, now, in the throne room of God, in His very presence
and do not need a spaceship to reach their heavenly home!
The real life and death issue now, today, is knowing the risen Jesus personally. He is available.
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." (Revelation 3:20,21)
Addendum: He Descended into Hell, by Peter Toon (Heaven and Hell: A Biblical and Theological Overview, Thos. Nelson, 1986)
In the textus receptus of the Apostles' Creed is the clause descendit ad inferna, which has been traditionally translated into English as "he descended into hell?' A variant reading has inferos, which is used to translate "Hades" in the Vulgate of Matthew 16:18. Inferna originally meant the underworld, the realm of the dead and came to refer specifically to hell, as the place of punishment within Hades, in the period of the Middle Ages. However, the English word "hell" likewise had a wider meaning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than it has now. In the AV (= KJV) of 1611 the Greek word, "hades" is translated by the word "hell" on ten out of the eleven occasions it is used. And as hell is also used to translate "Gehenna" the word hell has a wide meaning. In fact it originally signified "that which is covered over or concealed" and is etymologically related to Hohle, a cave.
Taking inferna to mean the place of punishment in the afterlife (cf. Dante's Inferno), medieval theologians portrayed Jesus, as a human spirit, descending into hell in order to triumph over Satan and his demons, and to announce to them the deliverance of the believers of the old covenant from their limbum patrum. We are all aware of the theme of the harrowing of hell in the art and drama of the Middle Ages. Calvin rejected the doctrine of the harrowing of hell and took this clause figuratively to refer to Christ's experience as our Substitute in bearing the curse and wrath of God against guilty sinners, especially revealed in his cry of dereliction on the Cross. In general this has been adopted by Reformed theology, and G. C. Berkouwer makes much use of it in his reflections upon the preaching of hell today. The Lutheran position is stated in the Formula of Concord:
It is enough to know that Christ went to hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and has redeemed them from the power of death, of the devil and of eternal damnation of the hellish jaws. How this took place is something that we should postpone until the other world, where there will be revealed to us not only this point, but many others as well, which our blind reason cannot comprehend in this life but which we simply accept.
In modern translations of the Apostles' Creed we have, "He descended to the dead?" This is an attempt to convey the idea of Hades as the realm of the departed and remove the medieval doctrine of the descent into hell to triumph over Satan. This is a reasonable translation in that the origins of the doctrine of the descent of Jesus (in his death) into Hades are clearly there in the early Greek theologians, and it was from the Greek-speaking part of the early Church that the teaching was taken and made into an article of this western creed, where it was a late addition rather than an original article. Thus the original Latin of the Apostles' Creed translated Hades rather than Gehenna; only within the developing western theology did the idea of a descent into Gehenna become prominent, though it never totally removed the descent into Hades, the place of departed spirits.
Obviously by inserting this article, those who used the Apostles' Creed intended that it should add something to "he died and was buried?" At least it pointed to his death being a real death with the separation of body and soul and the entrance of the soul into Hades. Thus while Calvin's explanation is thoroughly biblical, it can hardly be a right interpretation of this article. The meaning must be sought in the fact that in death, while his body remained in the sepulcher, Jesus in his naked human spirit passed through into that transcendent, supernatural realm of departed spirits. Whether he did visit as it were the gates of hell or whether he enjoyed the beatific vision without interruption we cannot wholly say. To be our Savior from death and its consequences he had to endure all that death means and do this really and truly. He died, was buried, and descended into Hades both as our Substitute and our Representative. In Resurrection his naked spirit/soul reunited with his body to be raised from Hades to the right hand of the Father in heaven.
One fruitful line of meditation upon the descent of Christ is to think of Holy Saturday as the day when Christ rested from his work of new creation. On the Cross he achieved victory of Satan and offered a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world: His redeeming work was completed when he cried out, "It is finished!" He died, was buried, and in his naked human spirit descended into Hades. There on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week, he rested, just as God had rested when he had completed the old creation. Having brought the new covenant and new creation into being, Christ, resting in the peace of Hades, saw what he had made: And behold it was very good. He looked upon the travail of his soul and he was satisfied (Isaiah 53). (added 5/25/05)
1. Commentary on I Peter 3:18-22, 4:5-6, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, editors, Chariot Victor, Colorado Springs, 1983.
J.M.E. Ross wrote that verse 18 is ,one of the shortest and simplest, and yet one of the richest summaries given in the New Testament of the meaning of the Cross of Jesus" ("The First Epistle of Peter," in A Devotional Commentary. London: Religious Tract Society, n.d., pp. 151-52). Christ died for sins (cf. 2:21, 24). The phrase "for sins" (perihamartion) is used in the Septuagint in regard to the sin offering for atonement. However, once for all (cf. Rom. 6:10; Heb. 9:26, 28; 10:10) is clearly a contrast with the Old Testament yearly sacrifice on the Day of Atonement and declares the complete sufficiency of Christ's death. The substitutionary nature of Christ's death is indicated by the phrase the righteous for the unrighteous (dikaios hyper adikion). Christ, the "righteous One" (dikaios), uniquely qualified to die as the substitute for (hyper, "for. " "in place of," or instead of") the "unrighteous ones" (adikon). The divine purpose for Christ's sacrificial death was man's reconciliation, bring people to God.
C. Peter concluded his summary of Christ's redemptive work by referring to His resurrection. Though Christ was put to death in the body (sarki, "flesh"), He was made alive by the Spirit. "By the Spirit" translates one word, pneumati, which could refer to the third Person of the Trinity as the agent of Christ's resurrection. Or it may refer to Christ's human spirit in contrast with His human (cf. 1 Peter 4:6).
3:19-20. Through whom ... He ... Preached to the spirits in prison has been subject to many interpretations. Some believe Peter here referred to the descent Christ's Spirit into Hades between His death and resurrection to offer people who lived before the Flood a second chance for salvation. However, this interpretation has no scriptural support.
Others have said this passage refers to Christ's descent into hell after His crucifixion to proclaim His victory to the imprisoned fallen angels referred to in 2 Peter 2:4-5, equating them with "the sons of God" Moses wrote about (Gen. 6:1-2). Though much commends this view as a possible interpretation, the context seems more likely to be referring to humans rather than angels.
The "spirits" (pneumasin, a term usually applied to supernatural beings but also used at least once to refer to human "spirits," cf. Heb. 12:23) are described in 1 Peter 3:20 as those who were disobedient when God waited patiently for Noah to finish building the ark. They had rebelled against the message of God during the 120 years the ark was being built. God declared He would not tolerate people's wickedness forever, but would extend His patience for only 120 more years (Gen. 6:3). Since the entire human race except Noah (Gen. 6:5-9) was evil, God determined to "wipe mankind...from the face of the earth." The "spirits" referred to in I Peter 3:20 are probably the souls of the evil human race that existed in the days of Noah. Those "spirits" are now "in prison" awaiting the final judgment of God at the end of the Age.
The problem remains as to when Christ preached to these "spirits." Peter's explanation of the resurrection of Christ (3:18) "by the Spirit" brought to mind that the preincarnate Christ was actually in Noah, ministering through him, by means of the Holy Spirit. Peter (1:11) referred to the "Spirit of Christ" in the Old Testament prophets. Later he described Noah as "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5). The Spirit of Christ preached through Noah to the ungodly humans who, at the time of Peter's writing, were "spirits in prison" awaiting final judgment.
This interpretation seems to fit the general theme of this section (I Peter 3:13-22)--keeping a good conscience in unjust persecution. Noah is presented as an example of one who committed himself to a course of action for the sake of a clear conscience before God, though it meant enduring harsh ridicule. Noah did not fear men but obeyed God and proclaimed His message. Noah's reward for keeping a clear conscience in unjust suffering was the salvation of himself and his family, who were saved through water, being brought safely through the Flood.
3:21. And this (ho, relative pronoun--"water" is the understood antecedent) water symbolizes baptism (baptisma). Baptism represents a complete break with one's past life. As the Flood wiped away the old sinful world, so baptism pictures one's break from his old sinful life and his entrance into new life in Christ. Peter now applied to his readers the principle he set forth in verses 13-17 and illustrated in verses 18-20. He exhorted them to have the courage to commit themselves to a course of action by taking a public stand for Christ through baptism. The act of public baptism would "save" them from the temptation to sacrifice their good consciences in order to avoid persecution. For a first century Christian, baptism meant he was following through on his commitment to Christ, regardless of the consequences.
Baptism does not save from sin, but from a bad conscience. Peter clearly taught that baptism was not merely a ceremonial act of physical purification, but (alla, making a strong contrast) the pledge (eperotema, also trans. "appeal," cf. NASB) of a good conscience (syneidesoes; cf. v. 16) toward God. Baptism is the symbol of what has already occurred in the heart and life of one who has trusted Christ as Savior (cf. Romans 6:3 5; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12). To make the source of salvation perfectly clear Peter added, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. I Peter 1:3).
3:22. Mentioning Christ's resurrection returned Peter's thoughts to his original example, so he concluded his digression and completed his first illustration with a reference to Christ's reward and blessing. Having witnessed Christ's physical Ascension (cf. Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:6-11), Peter wrote that Christ has gone into heaven. The reward for. Christ's faithfulness is seen in His exaltation over all things. He is enthroned at God's right hand (cf. Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), the seat of supreme honor, to rule and reign over all creation (cf. Colossians 1:15
4:5. Those who have spent their lives in indulgence and idolatry will someday give account (apodosousin logon, lit., "give back a word or an account"; cf. Matt. 12:36; Luke 16:2; Acts 19:40; Heb. 13-17). Peter warned that these people must one day face the One who is ready (i.e., willing) to judge. No one will escape this final judgment of the words and works of his earthly life, when Christ will judge both the living (zao) and the dead (nekrous) (cf. Acts 10:42; Romans 14:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:1).
4:6. For this . . . reason, because everybody must give an account to God, the gospel was preached even to those ... now dead. This has been interpreted as referring to (a) those who are spiritually "dead in sin," (b) those who heard and believed the gospel but have since died, (c) those who died without hearing or believing the gospel. Barclay preferred the third interpretation, assuming that 3:19 refers to Christ's preaching to the dead. Consequently he believed that here "Was a breathtaking glimpse of a gospel of a second chance." This interpretation has no scriptural support and is contrary to Orthodox Christian doctrine (cf. v. 5).
In verse 6 Peter, in contrast with verse 5, encouraged his readers with the fact that rather than facing judgment for their sins, those who had heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ faced all altogether different future. The Penalty for their sin has been paid by Christ on the cross. The last earthly effect of sin is physical death. Believers still die Physically, they are judged ... in regard to the body (cf. suffering in this life "in his body," v. 1). But for Christians Physical death does not lead to judgment but to eternal life. They live ... in regard to the Spirit. Those armed with a Christlike attitude will live forever in God's presence. ---Roger M. Raymer.
From Through the Bible with J. Vernon McGee (1983)
CHRIST'S SUFFERING PREACHED BY THE SPIRIT IN NOAH'S DAY
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit [I Peter 3:18].
It is important for us to see that Jesus Christ became a human being, and it was in His humanity that He died on the cross. He died on the cross, and it was the Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead.
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:19].
This has been a most misunderstood passage of Scripture. The key word to this entire passage is in verse 20; it is the little word when
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water [I Peter 3:20].
When did Christ preach to the spirits in prison? "When once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah." In Christ's day, the spirits of those men to whom Noah had preached were in prison, for they had rejected the message of Noah. They had gone into Sheol. They were waiting for judgment; they were lost. But Christ did not go down and preach to them after He died on the cross. He preached through Noah "when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah." For 120 years Noah had preached the Word of God. He saved his family but no one else. It was the Spirit of Christ who spoke through Noah in Noah's day. In Christ's day, those who rejected Noah's message were in prison. The thought is that Christ's death meant nothing to them just as it means nothing to a great many people today who, as a result, will also come into judgment.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ [1 Peter 3:21].
"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us." To what baptism does this refer? It is not water baptism but the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is real baptism, and water baptism is ritual baptism. Now I believe in water baptism, and I believe immersion is the proper mode. However, the important thing here is to see that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit which puts you into the body of believers.
"Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh"--it is not just by water, for that will not put away the filth of the flesh. "But the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ"--that is, a faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ which brought the work of the Holy Spirit into your life and regenerated you.
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him [1 Peter 3:22].
This verse is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. You and I are little sinners down here, but we can come to Him, receive Him, and thus join the great company of the redeemed. We are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ because He is raised from the dead and is today at God's right hand.
Between 9:00 AM and Noon
"Truly, I say to you today you shall be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)
"Woman, behold your son..." (John 19:26–27)
Between Noon and 3 PM
"I thirst." (John 19:28)
"It is finished." (John 19:30)
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46)
1. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34). Chuck Missler noted that the world would have been held guilty of murder in the First Degree had not our Lord prayed that the charges against us would be lowered to Manslaughter.
2. "Truly, I say to you today you shall be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43). Two thieves were also crucified with Jesus, one on either side.
3. "Woman, behold your son..." (John 19:26–27). Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home." (John 19:25-27)
4. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (John 19:28)
5. "I thirst." (John 19:28) "After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit." (John 19:28-30)
6. "It is finished." (John 19:30)
7. "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46)
"Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” (John 19:31-37)
1 Peter 3:18-20 (NKJV) 18 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, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 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.
Verses 18-22 contain some very difficult exegetical problems. Who are the "spirits" who received a "proclamation" (v. 19)? When did Jesus make this proclamation? What was its content? Why did Peter mention "Noah"? In what sense does "baptism" save us?
One group of interpreters believes Jesus went to the realm of the dead and preached to Noah's contemporaries between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Some of these say He extended an offer of salvation to them. Others feel He announced condemnation to the unbelievers. Still others hold that He announced good news to the saved among them.
A second group believes Jesus preached to Noah's sinful generation while Noah was living on the earth. They see Him doing so through Noah.
A third group holds that Jesus proclaimed His victory on the cross to fallen angels. Some advocates of this view say this took place in hell between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Others believe it happened during His ascension to heaven.
I shall discuss these views in the exposition to follow.
In 2:21-25, Peter mentioned Jesus' behavior during His passion (2:21-23), His death on the cross (2:24a), and His present ministry as the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (2:24b-25). In 3:18-22, he cited Jesus' resurrection and ascension into glory, the "missing links" of the previous record of Jesus' experiences. Peter proceeded to explain the significance of Jesus' resurrection and exaltation, not only for believers, but also for the whole universe. Whereas the previous example of Jesus stressed the way He suffered while doing good, this one emphasizes the theme of Jesus' vindication, which is major in 1 Peter following the quotation of Psalm 34 in 3:10-12.
3:18 "For" connects verses 18-22 with 13-17, but "Christ also" recalls and resumes the example of Jesus Christ that Peter cited in 2:21-25. Peter used the same phrase there to introduce Jesus Christ as an example of suffering. Suffering for doing good versus evil is the point of comparison in both passages.
"Once for all" emphasizes the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ's sacrifice. It does not need repeating (as in the Roman Catholic mass) or adding to (by human effort [works], cf. Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:10). The emphasis is on the finality of His sacrifice ("once for all," Gr. hapax), rather than on the extent of the atonement ("for all").
His was also a vicarious sacrifice: the Just One died for the "unjust ones" as their Substitute (1:19; 2:21-24; 4:1; cf. Isaiah 53:11; Matthew 27:19; Luke 23:47; Romans 5:6-10; 1 John 2:1, 29; 3:7). The purpose of Jesus Christ's death was to "bring us [into fellowship with] (to) God."
"… no other NT writer has this active picture of Jesus leading the Christian to God. But it fits with Peter's usual conception of the Christian life as an active close following of Jesus (2:21; 4:13)."
The phrase "having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" has received several different interpretations.
Some interpreters believe that "flesh" refers to the material part of Jesus Christ's person, and "spirit" to the immaterial part. Supporters of this view argue that we should regard "flesh" and "spirit" as two parts of the Lord's human nature (cf. Matthew 26:41; Romans 1:3-4; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 5:5). The contrast then would be that Jesus' body ("flesh") died, but His immaterial part ("spirit") experienced resurrection
The problem with this view is that no article precedes either "flesh" or "spirit" in the Greek text. The absence of the article usually stresses the quality of the noun. This would not be normal if Peter meant to contrast Jesus' body and His spirit. He would have included an article before each noun. The absence of the articles suggests a special meaning of "flesh" and "spirit." Furthermore, Jesus' resurrection involved both the material and immaterial parts of His person, not just His spirit.
Another view is that we should take the Greek nouns (sarki and pneumati, translated "in the flesh" and "in the spirit") as instrumental ("by the flesh" and "by the spirit") rather than as dative. The contrast, according to this interpretation, is between wicked men, who put Jesus to death by fleshly means, and the Holy Spirit, who raised Him. However, the Greek dative case ("in the flesh") is probably what Peter intended here rather than the instrumental case ("by the flesh"). This is probably a dative of respect. It is not who was responsible for Jesus' death and resurrection, that is the issue, but how Jesus suffered death and experienced resurrection. Moreover, if "spirit" means the Holy Spirit, then its meaning as used in context is not parallel with "flesh."
A third view is that "flesh" refers to Jesus' death, and "spirit" refers to His resurrection. The weakness of this view is that it is redundant. Peter said, according to this view, that Jesus was put to death in death and that He was made alive in resurrection.
A fourth view sees "flesh" as describing Jesus' pre-resurrection condition (following the Incarnation), and "spirit" as referring to His post-resurrection condition. Peter used the same terminology in 4:6, where he referred to Christians who had died but were now alive. I prefer this view.
"As in Rom. i.3f.; 1 Tim. iii.16, flesh and spirit do not here designate complimentary parts of Christ, but the whole of Christ regarded from different standpoints. By flesh is meant Christ in His human sphere of existence, considered as a man among men. By spirit is meant Christ in His heavenly spiritual sphere of existence, considered as divine spirit (see on 1. 11); and this does not exclude His bodily nature, since as risen from the dead it is glorified."
"'Flesh' and 'spirit' do not refer to two 'parts' of Christ, i.e., his body and his soul; nor does the 'spirit' refer to the Holy Spirit or Christ's human spirit. Rather, 'flesh' refers to Christ in his human sphere of life and 'spirit' refers to Christ in his resurrected sphere of life (cf. [William J.] Dalton, [Christ's Proclamation to the Spirits,] pp. 124-24; TDNT, 6:417, 447; 7:143)."
"If 'flesh' is the sphere of human limitations, of suffering, and of death (cf. 4:1), 'Spirit' is the sphere of power, vindication, and a new life (cf. [F. W.] Beare, [The First Epistle of Peter: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, p.] 169). Both spheres affect Christ's (or anyone else's) whole person; one cannot be assigned to the body and the other to the soul …
"The statement that Christ was 'made alive in the Spirit,' therefore, means simply that he was raised from the dead, not as a spirit, but bodily (as resurrection always is in the NT), and in a sphere in which the Spirit and power of God are displayed without hindrance or human limitation (cf. 1:21)."
Jesus Christ became the Victor rather than a victim. All who trust Him share in that victory (cf. vv. 13-17). This verse is an encouragement to Peter's readers, that, even though Jesus died because He remained committed to God's will, He experienced resurrection. Therefore, we also should remain faithful, with the confident hope that God will also vindicate us.
This verse is "one of the shortest and simplest [?!], and yet one of the richest summaries given in the New Testament of the meaning of the Cross of Jesus."
3:19-20 Peter here introduced more information about Jesus' activity in His spirit (i.e., His post-resurrection sphere of life), in addition to what he said about His resurrection from the dead (v. 18), to encourage his readers.
"In which" refers back to the spiritual sphere of life in which Jesus Christ now lives (v. 18). The identity of the "spirits in prison" is problematic. The plural "spirits" describes human beings in only one other place in the New Testament (Heb. 12:23), but it describes evil spirit beings frequently (Matthew 10:1; Mark 1:27; 3:11; 5:13; 6:7: Luke 4:36; 6:18; Acts 5:16; Revelation 16:13; et al.). Thus we would expect that evil angels are in view, but does what Peter said about them confirm this identification? He said they are ("now") in prison (cf. 2 Peter 2:4), and that they "were disobedient … in the days of Noah" (v. 20).
One view is that between His death and resurrection, or after His resurrection, Jesus went to Sheol and preached good news to "the disembodied spirits, which were kept shut up (Jude 6: 2 Peter 2:4) in the place of the departed awaiting the final judgment …"Another view is that Jesus went to Sheol and preached bad news to the fallen angels there, namely that, though His death and resurrection, He had broken the power of the evil spirit world. A third view is that Jesus visited a prison in the heavens after His resurrection.
Some interpreters believe that the incident involving the sons of God and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4) is what Peter had in view here. But there are some problems with this theory. First, that incident evidently did not take place during the construction of the ark, but before construction began. Second, it is improbable that the "sons of God" were angels. Compare also Jesus' implication in Matthew 22:30 that angels do not procreate. Nevertheless these "spirits" could still be angels. If they are fallen angels, Peter may have meant that after Jesus Christ arose, He announced to them that their doom was now sure. He may have done this either by His resurrection itself, or by some special announcement to them.
A more probable explanation is that these "spirits" were the unbelievers who disobeyed God in Noah's day by rejecting his preaching. They are now "spirits," since they died long ago and their bodies have not yet experienced resurrection. He said the "spirits" of these unbelievers are "in prison" now (i.e., Sheol), awaiting resurrection and judgment by God (cf. Revelation 20:11-15). One could say that Jesus proclaimed a message to Noah's unbelieving contemporaries in His spirit (i.e., His spiritual state of life before the Incarnation) through Noah.
Noah was preaching a message that God had given him, and in this sense Jesus Christ spoke through him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). In the same sense, Jesus Christ was speaking through Peter's readers to their unbelieving persecutors, as they bore witness for Him in a hostile world. Noah faced the same type of opposition, in his day, that Peter's original readers did in theirs, and we do in ours.
Another view is that the people to whom Jesus preached were those alive after Pentecost, who were likewise prisoners, in bondage to Satan and sin. Jesus preached to them through the apostles. The obvious problem with this view is that Peter linked these people with Noah.
God would bring Peter's readers safely through their trials, just as He had brought Noah safely through his trials into a whole new world. God had done this for Noah, even though he and his family were a small minority in their day. Furthermore, as God judged the mockers in Noah's day, so will He judge those who persecuted Peter's readers.
"The phrase 'in the days of Noah' may well be based on the Gospel tradition and on Jesus' analogy between Noah's time and the time immediately preceding the end of the age (cf. Matthew 24:37-39, Luke 17:26-27)."
God is so patient that he waited for 120 years before sending the Flood in Noah's day (Genesis 6:3). Today He also waits, so patiently that some people conclude that He will never judge (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-4). Relatively few will escape God's coming judgment, just as only eight escaped His former judgment. The rest will die.}
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
1. When Jesus had died a centurion speared His side and out gushed blood and water. Usually this is interpreted as the birth of the Second Eve.
2. The women took the body to the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea before Sunday. Nothing more happened in Jerusalem until Sunday morning.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
Jesus spoke about hell, giving us this account of an actual happening (not a parable!):
"There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.'
But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead'." (Luke 16:19-31)
A similar motif is recorded in the closing verses of Isaiah:
"For as the new heavens and the new earth
which I will make
shall remain before me, says the LORD;
so shall your descendants and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship me,
says the LORD.
"And they shall go forth and look upon
the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me;
for their worm shall not die,
their fire shall not be quenched,
and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
On Everlasting Destruction
In the Cross
John Calvin on "the Descent into Hell"
History of the Apostle's Creed
Arthur Custance's Discussion (from Journey out of Time)
The Descent into Hades, by Ted G. Davy
Christ's Descent into Hell and His Resurrection, by Fr. William G. Most
The Descent into Hell (Catholic)
The Descensus ad Inferos (Traditions, Myths, Bibliography)
The Complexities of Time
Jesus' Six Hours of Eternity on the Cross
New Bodies for Old--On the Resurrection Body
Lambert Dolphin's Place
Recent and Recovered Articles
Newsletters Old and New
March 4, 2022