Summary: Where in the Bible does talk about Jesus descending to hell to preach to the people and what exactly does it mean?
One question that I have been asked by many people, many times is, “Where in the Bible does talk about Jesus descending to hell to preach to the people and what exactly does it mean?” The first problem many have is that they have heard about the verses but no one seems to know where to find it. The incident is lightly mentioned in Ephesians 4:8-10. But the meat of the issue is found in 1 Peter 3:18-22. Let’s first look at Ephesians 4:8-10.
Now let’s turn to 1 Peter 3 and look at verses 18-22.
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
Okay, now we’ve found the passage and upon reading it, it appears to be as others have told us, Jesus went to hell and preached to the spirits there. Did He really go there, why did He go there (if He indeed did go), and what does it all mean?
The passage gives us a glimpse into what Jesus Christ was doing while he was dead, that is, between His crucifixion and resurrection. Two things are spoken about here:
1. The death of Christ (v. 18)
2. The triumph of Christ (vv. 18-22)
First, there is the death of Christ. Verse 18 clearly tells us why Christ died and what the death of Christ does for man. It leaves us without excuse if we fail to understand why Christ died.
1. Christ died for sins. It was for the sins of man that He died.
2. Christ died vicariously. He was the just One dying for the unjust. This means that whatever Jesus Christ did could stand for and cover all men. It means that His righteousness could stand as the ideal and perfect righteousness. It means that His death could stand as the ideal and perfect death. And it means that Jesus Christ could become the ideal and perfect sin offering for man.
Christ died to bring us to God.
AND NOW THE QUESTION THAT IS ON EVERYONE’S MIND. Did Jesus go down to hell and preach to the spirits? This passage is found in verses 19-20.
It clearly states in verse 19 that Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison. When we read the entire passage (verses 18-22) we see the triumph of Jesus Christ. We see it in four facts that are given.
1. Jesus Christ was made alive. He was raised from the dead. Right after Jesus died in the flesh, His spirit passed into a new life, a life that could not be tempted to sin nor undergo trials and suffering. Jesus Christ was transferred into heaven, into the spiritual and perfect world or dimension where He lives, in the glory and majesty of God forever. This is where our hope of the resurrection comes from.
2. Jesus Christ victoriously proclaimed His triumph. In verses 19-20 He proclaimed the victory of His death and resurrection to the spirits in prison and to the disobedient of Noah’s day. What does this mean exactly? It means that right after Christ died, between the cross and His resurrection He went before the spirits in prison and proclaimed that God’s promise of salvation was fulfilled in Him, the Savior of the world. But who are the spirits to whom He preached?
Scripture says that they were the disobedient who were living upon the earth while Noah was preparing the ark. They were the disobedient toward whom God was long-suffering. They were the disobedient who were not saved during the flood.
The passage definitely says that Christ preached to the spirits of the unbelievers who had lived in Noah’s day and were in prison, that is, the prison of hell. Does this mean that Christ gave them a second chance to be saved? (And really, that’s the real reason everyone is so interested in this passage, isn’t it? We want to know that if we wait too long while we are here on earth, will Christ come to hell and give us a second chance.)