Summary: A couple possible interpretations of one of the Bible’s most perplexing passages and some valuable lessons we learn from it.
Peter’s Perplexing Passage I P. 3:18-20
INTRO.: There are many difficult passages in the Bible. In fact, Peter says Paul wrote some things hard to understand II P. 3:15, 16.
This could also be said of some of Peter’s writings. Especially this passage, regarded by some as the most difficult to understand in all the Bible.
There are many questions that arise. Who were the spirits in prison? Were they angels or dead people? Where is the prison? When did Jesus do this preaching? What was preached?
Like most difficult passages, this one has many possible interpretations. I want us to look at two possible explanations that seem plausible and draw some conclusions that apply no matter how we interpret this passage.
I. Explanation #1:
A. That Christ went to Hades between His death and His resurrection:
1. There is a place where the dead live, awaiting the judgement. Luke 16:23.
2. “Hades” in Greek means the abode of the dead. The grave. It is the word used in Luke 16.
3. “Hell” is the English translation of the word “Tartarus,” a place of everlasting destruction.
4. Jesus used the word “Gehenna” to describe eternal Hell. He used it 11 times in the Gospels, i.e.. Matt. 10:28.
5. the prison is Hades.
B. The “spirits” to whom Christ preached are dead people.
1. In the light of Heb. 9:27, we must wonder what was preached and why.
2. Why would those in the days of Noah be given a second chance?
3. the answer: He preached to all those who have been imprisoned in Hades since the flood.
4. However, we must ask again, what was the message and why preach to those whose destiny is already decided?
C. It must be noted there are those who believe Christ preached to fallen angels rather than to people.
1. There are indeed angels in “Hell.” (Tartarus) II Pet. 2:4
2. Their destiny is fixed. They are bound with “everlasting chains.” Jude 6
II. Explanation #2:
A. the spirits who are mentioned are the people who lived in Noah’s day.
1. They lived lives of complete depravity.
2. Only eight souls were saved in that terrible disaster.
3. Yet, Noah spent 120 years building the ark and preaching the message of repentance.
4. II Pet. 2:5. Noah was a preacher of righteousness.
B. The preaching was done in the days of Noah:
1. We know the Spirit of Christ was at work in the Old Testament prophets. I Pet. 1:10,11.
2. This means the Spirit of Christ was speaking through Noah.
3. there are those who think Enoch lived about the same time as Noah and was also preaching. He would not be on the ark because God took him away.
C. the spirits were in prison when Peter wrote:
1. Because they rejected the message of God preached in their day through Noah and Enoch.
2. Thus, Peter emphasizes the eternal nature of Christ.
3. All scholars agree Christ existed and was active from before eternity. Long before Bethlehem.
III. Some important lessons to be learned:
A. Christ is eternal and one with God the Father:
1. Christians know this from passages like John 1:3 and I Cor. 10:3.
2. We do not serve some “flash in the pan” savior, but the eternal living God
3. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and His message is always relevant to the needs of men.
B. His triumph over sin is for everyone:
1. Even those who died in Noah’s day.
2. Even for those who crucified Him.
3. Even for those who reject His offer of salvation. He loves them and has conquered sin in their behalf.
4. If they are not saved, they have no one to blame but themselves.
C. There has never been a time or place God has not loved men and longed, in His grace, to save them.
1. This was true in Noah’s day and in the day of Moses. I Cor. 10:1-3:
2. If anyone is saved anywhere in the world today it is by the grace of God and the blood of Christ.
3. “God so loved the world” includes the world before and after the flood, the world today, and the world tomorrow.
CONC.: This passage may be a little confusing, but the operative idea is very clear. The most important truth in this passage is not at all confusing or hard to understand. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, Peter 3:18 NIV