1 Peter 3:20

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

…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 3:20

The words here need to be kept together with the thought of the previous two verses to be fully understood –

“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.”

As was seen, there is a tremendous variety of translations of verse 19. Each is based on a guess as to what is being relayed and who is being referred to. The only way to properly evaluate the content of those words is to check whatever conclusion is made with the rest of Scripture.

Peter had said in verse 3:19 that the spirits in prison had been preached to. As interpreted by some, their idea is that Christ, after the death of the people being referred to, went and preached to their departed spirits to call them to repentance. This is assumed because they never had a chance to hear the gospel and Christ took care of this after the fact. The claim is that it was after His crucifixion and prior to His resurrection He went to those spirits and gave them the gospel that they had not previously heard.

This would be comparable to someone in a jungle today receiving a special grant from God because no one comes and physically preaches to him. This is entirely incorrect, and it is not at all what is being discussed here. First, the Bible is clear in Hebrews –

“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Therefore, this is not speaking of people being given a second chance for salvation after death. Further, the very point of leaving man here after salvation is to carry the message of Christ to the world. Whether before the cross, or after the cross, it has been man’s duty to warn his fellow man concerning righteousness.

The burden rests upon the saved soul to continue that process of continuing on with proclaiming the gospel. And that is done by conveying the word of the Lord which came through the prophets and apostles. As Paul says in Romans 10 –

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!’
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:14-17

This is the way that man is brought the gospel message. One man preaches of righteousness and repentance, and those who hear either accept the preaching and turn, or they are condemned. It is irresponsible for people to claim that there is a second means of receiving the gospel apart from that which is ordained in Scripture. It punts man’s responsibility off to some other supposed means that people can be saved – visions of Jesus, second chances after death, and etc. But the Bible is clear. There is one gospel, and it is man’s duty and responsibility to get that word out to the world.

All men are already in Adam and are already heading to hell. Jesus confirms this in John 3:18 when He says we are “condemned already.” We have this life to get it right with God. When our eyes close for the last time, our eternal destiny is sealed.

As man is appointed to die and then face judgment, it cannot be speaking of Jesus going to those who have died and giving them the gospel in order for them to repent and be saved. Such an idea is not found in Scripture. Understanding this, Peter now continues with, “who formerly were disobedient.”

The Greek here reads, “having disobeyed in time past.” It is referring to a point in time when the people were alive and in a state of disobedience. This is then further explained by the words, “when once the Divine longsuffering waited.”

It is an idea which is found all through Scripture. Man disobeys God, but God is patient with them, even in their state of disobedience. It is seen, for example, in the Lord’s words to Abraham –

“But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Genesis 15:16

The Lord gave the Amorites 400 years to live, repent, and even allow their wickedness to continue before He finally destroyed them. He did this with Israel again and again as well. But He also did it with those before the Flood of Noah. In Genesis 6, it says “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” What this means is that the whole earth had become wicked, implying that the Lord was longsuffering. Otherwise, He would have snuffed out all life much earlier.

This is then confirmed with Peter’s next words. He says, “in the days of Noah.” By the time Noah reached the 600th year of his life (Genesis 7:6), the Lord had finally had enough, and He brought the floodwaters upon the earth. Prior to that, He had allowed man to continue in his wickedness.

However, before the destruction of the world, Peter explains what Noah was doing. In 2 Peter 2:4, 5, he says, “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; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly.”

Noah was a preacher of righteousness. He told the people that God is holy and that they needed to return to the Lord in righteousness and holiness because they were accountable to Him. And he obviously continued to do so right up until the last moment, because Peter next says, “while the ark was being prepared.”

There would be no need to include this statement unless verse 19 was speaking of it being Noah, not Jesus, who did the preaching, and that it was before, not after, the deaths of the people being referred to.

In other words, what Peter was saying in verse 19 is that the saving message of Christ which was originally promised to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15 – the Protoevangelium, or “First Gospel”), and which was later understood by righteous men such as Enoch and Noah, was preached by those men even back then. The “spirit of Christ” enabled these men to plead with the people; to preach to the people.

It is because the people being referred to were dead, at the time of Peter writing his epistle, that he speaks of them now as “spirits in prison.” They weren’t in prison when they were preached to. Rather, they are in prison as Peter writes about them. This is obviously why the NASB added the word “now” into their translation (see commentary on verse 19). They rightly understood that this was not speaking of Christ preaching to spirits who had died, giving them a second chance. Rather, they had been preached to by the “spirit of Christ” (meaning either the hope of Christ in those godly men, or – possibly – the Holy Spirit) which resided in the men of God while they were still alive.

However, the message from Noah fell on deaf ears. He next says of this world of wickedness, “in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.” Of all of the people on the planet at Noah’s time, only eight were saved – Noah and his wife, and his three sons and their wives. The rest of the world failed to heed, they were exterminated, and their souls went to prison where they remain to this day, awaiting the final judgment which all men will someday face.

This is the correct and proper interpretation of these verses which have been well-abused by sensationalists and those who determine to deny that a literal judgment and a literal hell await those who refuse to come to Christ.

Life application: God doesn’t leave the people of the earth without a testimony of who He is. Even if they don’t hear the gospel which can lead to salvation, they still have creation itself to testify to who He is –

“Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” Acts 14:17

It took 100 years for Noah to complete the ark, during which time he preached repentance to the people. The question of the day is, “Do you really believe in the account of Noah and the flood?” Too many churches and theologians dismiss it as myth, as does the evolutionary community. But the Bible doesn’t leave us with that option. If you are not sure, ask yourself this question, “Is Jesus a liar?” If you are a Christian, you can only answer “No!” Claiming that Jesus is truthful then necessitates a belief in Noah and the flood. Noah is mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, and he is spoken of by the apostles and by Jesus as well –

“And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:26, 27

Noah was real, the flood was real, and the judgment of the flood really happened. Eight people among the population of the world were spared. Such is the judgment of sin. Thank God for His gospel and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord God Almighty – in Your powerful hands are the saved of the ages. Also, in Your powerful hands are the souls of the condemned. You are righteous in Your judgment and merciful towards the objects of Your favor. Thank You for Jesus, thank You for the cross, thank You, O God, for Your Gospel of Peace. Amen.




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