It is written:
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. (1 Peter 3:18-20)
Having determined that this passage references Christ going in Spirit to the realm of Hades between His death and resurrection, we now need to examine the ones to whom He appeared. From earlier studies (Ephesians 4:8-10), when learned that Jesus descended into the depths of Hades, to the realm that kept the most wicked.
We will see from this passage that Peter teaches the same thing.
First, the text specifically identifies the people who were in Hades from the time of Noah. These were some of the most wicked in the entire Bible:
Genesis 6:1-7-Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. 3 And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Genesis records this time before the Flood when the people were so wicked that their actions required the Lord to intervene by destroying the world with the Flood. The fallen angels and humans were joining together and bringing forth the Nephilim (half-angelic and half-human beings) which were terrorizing the world through cannibalism, sorcery, sexual immorality, and vampirism (all of which is documented especially by the book of Enoch).
Second, the Greek of this passage makes it clear that while Jesus went and preached to the generation of the Flood who were in Hades, His preaching was not limited to them. Instead, they served as an example of the most wicked that Jesus preached to.
“Who once were disobedient — The participle with which this verse opens has no article, and Lenski urged that it thus does not say that only those disobedient in Noah’s time were heralded to.98 It rather says those spirits in time were heralded to.98 It rather says those spirits in prison were such as the ones who had been disobedient. Christ’s proclamation in Hades (prison) dealtwith others than just the antediluvians who perished in the flood.9”. (Gareth Reese, New Testament Epistles: A Critical And Exegetical Commentary On 1 & 2 Peter & Jude, 177, Footnote # 95 (Nook Version); Moberly, Missouri; Scripture Exposition Books)
“Perhaps the reason for singling out this generation that was swept away with the flood is because it allows Peter to in the point he wishes to about baptism. We remember that Peter’s point is that there is activity after death. Death didn’t end Messiah’s opportunities for service. And death (should his readers be martyred) wont’ end the Christian’s opportunities for service. All this was prefigured in their baptism into Christ-that death, burial and resurrection was followed by activity, the activity of the new life in Christ.” (Gareth Reese, New Testament Epistles: A Critical And Exegetical Commentary On 1 & 2 Peter & Jude, 92-93, Footnote # 95 (Nook Version); Moberly, Missouri; Scripture Exposition Books)
This is important to realize because of the overall theme that Peter is stressing throughout this Epistle. He is wanting us to understand that Christ’s suffering (and our suffering) may be used by God to bring even the most wicked repentance (cf. 1 Peter 2:12; 3:18). Indeed, God wants even the most wicked to be brought to repentance and saved (2 Peter 3:9)!
Who, then, could serve as a better example of the most wicked then the generation of humans that was so corrupt that they brought about the judgment of God in the Great Deluge?
Christ was willing to go even to them and preach the Good News of redemption.
Third, it is also very possible that Peter is also teaching that Jesus went and preached to the fallen angels in Hades. These would be the fallen angels who are referenced in Genesis 6:1-4 and in the book of Enoch, who had sexual relations with human woman and brought forth the nephilim. According to the Bible (and the book of Enoch), these fallen angels were trapped in Tartarus, a realm at the lowest regions of hades.
2 Peter 2:4-For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;
“To the Greeks, Hades was the realm of the dead, similar to the Jewish concept of Sheol. Tartarus was a level below Hades reserved for supernatural threats to the Olympian gods, “as far beneath Hades as heaven is above earth.”[ 5] It’s where the king of the Greek gods, Zeus, banished his father, Kronos, and most of the Titans after the Olympians successful rebellion. It’s described as a dismal place, even more depressing than damp, moldy Hades: [The hundred-handed Hekatonkheires] overshadowed the Titans with their missiles, and hurled them beneath the wide-pathed earth, and bound them in bitter chains when they had conquered them by their strength for all their great spirit, as far beneath the earth as heaven is above earth; for so far is it from earth to Tartarus. For a brazen anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth upon the tenth: and again, a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth. Round it runs a fence of bronze, and night spreads in triple line all about it like a neck-circlet, while above grow the roots of the earth and unfruitful sea.[ 6] (Emphasis added) Note the parallels between the words of the Greek poet Hesiod and the epistles of Peter and Jude: A group of gods rebelled and suffered the consequences—imprisonment in a very dark place far below the earth. Here’s the point: Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter specifically linked the angels who sinned with the former gods of the Greeks, the Titans. We know Peter’s angels are the Watchers, the sons of God from Genesis chapter 6, because they’re clearly the same ones mentioned by Jude, who gave us an important clue to their identity: And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 6–7, ESV; emphasis added) The sin of the angels was like that of Sodom and Gomorrah—“ sexual immorality” and “unnatural desire.” The only place in the Bible where that happened was Genesis 6: 1–4. So, the Watchers of Genesis are the Titans of Greek myth. And those fallen angels still have a role to play in Of future.” (Derek P. Gilbert, Last Clash of the Titans: The Second Coming of Hercules, Leviathan, and the Prophesied War Between Jesus Christ And The Gods Of Antiquity, 190-208 (Kindle Edition); Crane, MO; Defender Publishing)
It is certainly possible that the message that Christ preached encompassed the fallen angels. Peter implies these fallen angels by his reference to their being the ones present during the time of Noah’s Flood (1 Peter 3:18-19), and especially since 1 Peter 3:22 mentions angels and “authorities” and “powers” being made subject to Him. The terms “authorities” and “powers” were often used by the Scriptures and by Jewish extra biblical documents to reference fallen angelic beings (cf. Ephesians 6:12).
Here we must raise some interesting questions that demand our attention.
What was the message that Jesus preached to these beings in Sheol?
Did Christ preach a message of condemnation and damnation?
Or, did Christ preach a message of redemption?
The subject of Christ’s preaching in Hades will be the focus of our next study.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.