“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,” (1 Peter 3:18–19, ESV)
Many years ago, on a couple occasions, I went into a state prison and preached to the inmates that resided there. I preached the gospel to them. What I did not preach was that they somehow could escape from their earthly prison sentence. I did preach that they could escape eternal judgment by faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Preaching in prison was something new for me and I admit I was very nervous. However, the Holy Spirit moved mightily and over 60 inmates received Christ in one service.
Peter in showing Jesus as an example of suffering and God’s blessings through it, went on to present a thought that many have debated over the years. He indicated that Christ having died in the flesh but made alive in the spirit went and preached to the spirits in prison. There are many questions that arise from this thought. What or who are these spirits in prison? Where was this prison? What did he proclaim?
There are many views of this. One view is that Christ descended into hades between His death and resurrection to offer pre-Flood people a second chance at salvation. Some see the spirits as the souls of those who lived during the 120 years the Ark was built and rebelled against the message of God subsequently causing them to perish in the flood. Still others believe that the spirits refer to the portion of the fallen angels who are currently imprisoned in the abyss and awaiting final judgment. Grammatically, the use of the word, “spirits,” pneumasin, without a genitive seems to refer to angelic spirits rather than the departed souls. Of these three views, I cannot see any support for the first one, but do see some contextual and biblical support for the latter two.
It seems the main point of which we should focus is what it was that Jesus actually preached? Did He preach the gospel or did He declare something else? The word, “proclaimed,” is kerusso. This verb is used of being a herald, to proclaim a message as a herald (Strong G2784). The world used in the New Testament to proclaim the gospel is euaggelizo, (Strong G2097). Whether it was to the portion of fallen angels in the abyss awaiting judgment or the souls who rejected the message of God prior to the flood, Jesus did not go and preach good news to them. He was not giving them a second chance.
So, what did Jesus preach? He proclaimed a statement of fact and judgment. In His death and resurrection, He defeated sin, death, and the forces of evil that have arrayed themselves against Him. In other words, their fate was sealed because of Christ’s victory. There was no second chance. Just as I could not preach a message to the inmates in the state prison that they could have a second chance and not finish their earthly sentence, Jesus proclaimed that those who were in prison awaiting the final judgment would not be released. There was no second chance.
This is a vital message for people to understand today. There is no second chance. Those who die without Christ will face eternal judgment. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, AV). Those who delay surrendering to the gospel may find that they perish without hope for they will not get a second chance.