When Jesus Is Lord (Part 2) - Bible Study

by Tom Bulick and Stephanie Thomas on

Bible Studies 1 document
1 Peter 3:18b–22

  • When Jesus Is Lord (Part 2) | The Scrolls | April 28, 2024

    Copyright Central Bible Church

The Scrolls is a weekly Bible study written by pastors and other leaders at Central Bible Church, based on that week’s sermon topic. Use The Scrolls as a personal Bible study tool, for family devotions, and for small group discussions. You can read part of it below. The downloadable PDF also includes discussion questions, more in-depth commentary, end notes, and a kids’ page designed for families to study the topic together. This lesson goes with the sermon "When Jesus Is Lord (Part 2)."

Jesus died on Friday, April 3, a.d. 33 (Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, 114; see full discussion 65-114) around 3:00 in the afternoon (Mt 27:45-50; cf. Jn 19:30), and was resurrected, that is, his mortal body was raised immortal, early Sunday morning (Jn 20:1; cf. Mk 16:2; Lk 24:10), which raises the following question: if Jesus’ physical body lay in the tomb from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, where was Jesus’ “spirit” (Mt 27:5) or soul, namely, the immaterial part of his humanity, once it left his body? Some interpreters believe that 1 Peter 3:19-20 addresses that question: “. . . he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

This sentence is extremely difficult to interpret because it raises a number of questions, each of which has a number of possible answers. Here are the questions it raises: 1) Who are the spirits in prison—unbelievers who have died, Old Testament believers who have died, or fallen angels? 2) What did Christ preach—a second chance for repentance, the completion of his redemptive work, or final condemnation? and 3) When did he preach—in the days of Noah, between his death and resurrection, or after his resurrection? As you can see, three questions, each with three possible answers, lead to a variety of views.

One commentator does an excellent job of summarizing these views (see Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, TNTC, 204). He writes:

“The following five views have been the most commonly held (the italicized words indicate the identity of ‘the spirits in prison’ in each view):

View 1: When Noah was building the ark, Christ ‘in spirit’ was in Noah preaching repentance and righteousness through him to unbelievers who were on the earth then but are now ‘spirits in prison’ (people in hell).

View 2: After Christ died, he went and preached to people in hell, offering them a second change of salvation.

View 3: After Christ died, he went and preached to people in hell, proclaiming to them that he had triumphed over them, and their condemnation was final.

View 4: After Christ died, he proclaimed release to people who had repented just before they died in the flood, and let them out of their imprisonment (in Purgatory) into heaven. (A common Catholic interpretation.)

View 5: After Christ died (or: after he rose but before he ascended into heaven), he travelled to hell and proclaimed triumph over fallen angels who had sinned by marrying human women before the flood. (Cf. Ge 6:2, 4.)”

After summarizing the views, he goes on to give a detailed defense of View 1 (see 205-39).

Another commentator provides a succinct description of View 1, which is the view taken in this study of 1 Peter 3:18b-22. He writes:

“The ‘spirits’ (pneumasin, a term usually applied to supernatural beings but also used at least once to refer to human ‘spirits’: cf. Heb. 12:23) are described in 1 Peter 3:20 as those who were disobedient when God waited patiently for Noah to finish building the ark. They had rebelled against the message of God during the 120 years the ark was being built . . . Those ‘spirits’ are now ‘in prison’ awaiting the final judgment of God at the end of the age.

“The problem remains as to when Christ preached to these ‘spirits’ . . . The preincarnate Christ was actually in Noah, ministering through him, by means of the Holy Spirit. Peter (1:11) referred to the ‘Spirit of Christ’ in the Old Testament prophets. Later he described Noah as ‘a preacher of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:5). The Spirit of Christ preached through Noah to the ungodly humans who, at the time of Peter’s writing, were ‘spirits in prison’ awaiting final judgment.”

(The answer to when did Jesus preach implies the answer to what did Jesus preach, namely, repentance.) 

“This interpretation seems to fit the general theme of this section ( 1Peter 3:13-22)—keeping a good conscience in unjust persecution. Noah is present as an example of one who committed himself to a course of action for the sake of a clear conscience before God, though it meant enduring harsh ridicule” (Roger M. Raymer, “1 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, 851).

So contrary to the opinion of some, Peter does not answer the intriguing question regarding the whereabouts of Jesus’ “spirit” (Mt 27:5) or soul, namely, the immaterial part of his humanity, once it left his body. For an answer to that question, one must see other New Testament passages (see “He Descended into Hell,” desiringgod.org/articles/he-descended-into-hell).

Central Message of the Text: 

Don’t let suffering prevent you from giving a reason for your hope, for Jesus will minister through you like he did Noah and ultimately God will vindicate you like he did Jesus.

Family Talk:

This week we’re studying a confusing passage. It kind of makes you feel like you’re a first grader studying trigonometry. If you think this is confusing for you, how do you think your kids feel? Parents, we have a great opportunity to help them understand several important aspects of how we relate to God’s Word. First, we’re not going to understand everything we read in the Bible. That’s good. That makes us hunger for God in a way we might not if reading His Word was easy. Secondly, the way we handle our confusion shows spiritual maturity. Are you closing the Bible and walking away or are you making the effort to try to understand? As we get into God’s Word, we begin to apply certain rules of thumb and ask ourselves fact-finding questions: Is this prescriptive or descriptive? What do I know to be biblically true about this subject? Where can I look for explanation? (Try a different version or look through the noted cross-references or concordance.) All of these questions will help you begin to clear the confusion. Third, God is supernatural and when you ask Him to bring clarity to your confusion, He’ll do it. Once I had a difficult time understanding a passage and I prayed for days that He would reveal clarity. Standing in the kitchen, the lightbulb came on and I suddenly understood! Lastly, the Bible is worth it. It’s worth the deep dive of discovery. It’s incredibly rewarding when you hit an a-ha! moment of understanding. Let’s help our kids know it’s ok to be confused because it helps us lean on God. We’re praying for you!