Thursday, 5 December 2019
For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. 1 Peter 4:6
Like verse 3:19, there are various translations which are given for the words of Peter here. Two notable differences are –
For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, (NKJV)
For this reason the gospel was also preached to those who are now dead, (CSB)
The difference between “who are dead” and “who are now dead” was resolved in the evaluation of verses 3:18 & 3:19. The preaching was to those who were alive, but who are now dead. It was referring to those people who were alive before the flood to whom Noah preached. Such is true with other dead throughout the ages as well.
The reason for Peter’s words is based on what he just said concerning the coming judgment of “the living and the dead.” The question may arise, and indeed it is asked often, as to how someone who has never heard the gospel can be judged. But they have heard it. As Paul says elsewhere –
“But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed:
‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the world.’” Romans 10:18
There is the hope of Messiah in all ages as was first promised to Adam and his wife at the very beginning. It is a hope that calls for righteousness in man in hopes of restoration with God. This is the message of Noah and others. Just because Noah didn’t know who the Messiah would be, it does not mean that he didn’t preach concerning Messiah. His words came through his understanding that God had a plan and it would be carried out in due time. His job was to preach concerning God’s righteousness until that time.
It is “For this reason the gospel was preached.” Peter wants his audience to know that the gospel, although limited in its understanding of God’s plan, was preached. As he next says, “also to those who are dead.”
This does not refer to those who were dead and were preached to while they were dead. Such is not found in Scripture, nor can it be inferred. Rather, “it is appointed for men to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Instead, the people Peter refers to in this verse are now dead, but they were alive when they heard the gospel. This is why translators use the term “now dead” or as the ISV translates it, “those who have died.” What occurred was in the past while they were living, but now – at this time – they are dead.
The word of righteousness went forth to proclaim righteous living to all. This is exactly what Peter has been referring to in the previous verses, especially verses 4:3-5. It is a world full of dissipation and debauchery, but some (whom Peter is addressing) have turned from that because of the gospel. It was no different at Noah’s time. He preached righteousness so “that they might be judged according to men in the flesh.”
This is what Peter said of the believers who had come to Christ in verse 4:4, where he said to his reader that those who failed to heed are “speaking evil of you.” In other words, the people of the world judged the believers “according to men in the flesh.” Such an instance may be, “Oh come on! You’re acting like a prude. Come and join us as we party our lives away.”
This is certainly the sentiment of Genesis 6, for example. It is also the sentiment of Lot while in Sodom, and etc. There is abounding wickedness. This is so much the case that those who retain a righteous spirit are judged by the wicked according to the flesh. However, those same people “live according to God in the spirit.”
This is what Peter said to his reader in verse 4:2 –
“…that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”
This is what happened with Noah. It is also the state of Lot, as Peter will later say of him –
“…and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked 8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)—” 2 Peter 2:7, 8
The good news of righteousness in anticipation of Messiah is instilled in man. It takes an active rejection of that good news to condemn the righteous and live one’s life in wickedness. This is what the world has done, and it is what the world continues to do.
Peter is not speaking of people getting a second chance after death. That is a contradictory thought which is not supported by either the context of Peter’s words, or the context of the state of man as is presented in Scripture.
Life application: As a review of what has just been presented, we ask again, “Who is being talked about here?” Did someone go preach to dead people? The answer is, “No.” The people who are being referred to were alive when they heard the gospel message just as we today hear the gospel.
The context of the passage is that Peter was speaking about Jesus suffering for us “in the flesh” and so we should be of the same mind, not living for sin and lust but for the will of God. He then went on to explain that we all were also like the disobedient people of the world, having done the same wicked things. Unlike them though, we are now free from condemnation, whereas those who are still disobedient will “have to give an account to Him who is ready to judge the ‘living and the dead.’”
He then said, “For this reason,” and explained that this is the same pattern that was applied to those who are now dead, but previously heard the gospel. Here is a breakdown then of the idea we can draw from what Peter is saying –
1) Living a holy life, one which is honoring to God, is what should be expected when the gospel is preached to us.
2) God is going to bring judgment on all people who have heard the gospel, but failed to receive it; they’ve had no change in their heart or life.
3) It makes no difference how others judge us, particularly those who live “in the flesh,” as long as we live the way that God would have us live – in His Spirit and for the message of Christ.
Remember fellow Christian, we are accountable to God, not to men, for our actions. When someone pokes fun at you for being a faithful believer, pay it no heed. God’s commendation is infinitely more valuable than their accusations.
Praise be to God who has called us out of death and bondage, and who has brought us into the Light of His glorious Son. Lord, we could sing of your love and faithfulness forever. And, indeed, we shall! Let us not be discouraged nor ashamed when men mock us for following You. Instead, may we count it as double honor. Amen.