Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Spirits now in prison

in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison 1 Peter 3:19

There is a popular view often heard on the passage above. Often it is seen as sort of a second chance for those who lived and died after a life of disobedience to God. However, this popular message represents a mistaken notion concerning those who lived a life of disobedience to the will God. According to this view the “spirits now in prison” received such a second chance when he (Christ, verse 18) went to make proclamation to them.

two presuppositions
There are two presuppositions which are made concerning this passage both of which are indisputable.
The first presupposition is that Christ, that is, Jesus “. . . made alive in the spirit; in which also he went and made proclamation.” The passage states the what and how of this message. Christ made this proclamation (what) in the spirit. (how) The second presupposition is that Christ made (when) this proclamation in the past. The passage states the when of this message. These two presuppositions are correct.

The first presupposition seems fairly clear. There was a proclamation (what) as well as in the spirit. (how) The problem for the saints who struggle with this verse centers on the second presupposition. What is uncertain for them is the time (when) this proclamation occurred with the only clue being that it was made (when, past tense) to the spirits now in prison. What is often assumed is that Christ went to make this proclamation to those now in prison during his three days in the grave. It is otherwise the dubious and hollow assertion that Jesus went to hell.

an interpretive commentary
I believe the scripture itself, as it often does, provides the interpretive commentary for our understanding of this passage. In this particular instance, this same letter written by the apostle Peter is the source of that commentary. We, the saints in Christ and the prophets and perhaps all or most of those “spirits now in prison,” have neither seen nor heard Jesus, the Christ, actually. The prophets, Peter states (I Peter 1:10-12) made careful search and inquiry concerning the message about the Christ which the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating through them as they themselves prophesied. In other words, the prophets were curious to understand what they themselves prophesied, but did not understand.

The point about all of this is that the spirit of Christ was active through the prophets who prophesied in the past. There were those people who disobeyed the prophesying of the prophets. These disobedient ones are the spirits now in prison to whom Peter makes reference in I Peter 3. Peter mentions Noah, a preacher of righteousness, as a specific example of one of those prophets with the spirit of Christ in him and who prophesied to disobedient hearers. A mere eight persons were saved in response to the proclamation of Christ in the spirit which was within Noah.

the work of prophets
What the prophets did was to proclaim the message of righteousness. How they did that was through the spirit of Christ in them. Their own understanding of their message was not essential to their fulfillment of the task of prophesying. Their message of righteousness may have been as concerned the sufferings of the Christ or the preaching of righteousness by noah. God has never ceased to proclaim his righteousness for all to hear and obey it. When the spirit of Christ came upon the prophets they proclaimed of the righteousness of God. Paul states that even the prophet Abraham had the gospel preached to him. Long before Abel who was righteous and long before Noah who was an heir of righteousness , Enoch, who was not because God took him, seems assuredly to have been a preacher of righteousness. It is what the righteous do.

This preaching seems just as plausible with respect to the men of Sodom and Gomorrah. Although the text does not state that Lot preached the message of righteousness to the men of Sodom and Gomorrah Peter’s reference to Lot is right alongside that of Noah who preached in the days before the flood. The result of the preaching, as noted by Peter, was that eight persons were saved from the flood through the preaching of Noah. Three, Lot and his daughters, were saved from the destruction of fire and brimstone which rained on Sodom and Gomorrah through the preaching of Lot. Certainly, the reaction of the men of the city to Lot as an alien who had just come into their midst and was now acting as a judge seems to suggest that they took offense at Lot’s moral standards. All the jabs and quips about Lot’s moral standards in the aftermath of his flight with his daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah can not stand against the declaration of the scriptures of Lot as a righteous man. Subsequently, Lot was seduced in his drunk stupor by his daughters who conceived his grandsons, Moab and Ammon.

So, it was not a bodily form or spirit form of Jesus during his three days in the grave which went to preach to the spirits now in prison. Those spirits now in prison at the writing of Peter’s letter,  did indeed hear the preaching of the message of the Christ. It was a message proclaimed by the prophets for centuries and millennium earlier. Those spirits were as disobedient then as they are now in prison.

Any message about redemption and salvation after the death of one who lived a life of disobedience on the basis of this message of the apostle Peter is deception. This message would not make any difference for those who are now in prison. However, to the extent that such a message is proclaimed and believed by those who are living in disobedience it is the condemnation of those false prophets as well as those who hear their false message.

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