Can you explain 1 Peter 3:18-21?

CAN YOU EXPLAIN 1 PETER 3:18-21?

by Shawn Brasseaux

Even in some dispensational groups, there are some very strange—and sometimes ridiculous—beliefs about 1 Peter 3:18-21. For some time, this passage puzzled me as well. The confusion is largely the result of people repeating others who misread the passage. Some of these individuals simply do not know any better and are sincere in trying to explain these verses. Others, unfortunately, are intentionally wresting it to promote some pet denominational belief. We will use this time to provide insight. Beloved, let us look for other verses for illumination!

We read the closing verses of 1 Peter chapter 3: “[18] For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: [19] By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; [20] Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. [21] The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: [22] Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”

Most of verse 18 is self-explanatory, so we will not comment on it here for brevity’s sake: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit….” The last two words of verse 18 are needed to complete the thought of verse 19: “By which [the Spirit] also he [Jesus Christ] went and preached unto the spirits in prison….” Who are these “spirits in prison?” Verse 20 tells us: “[The spirits in prison] Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

These “spirits” of verse 19 operated on Earth during the days of Noah (verse 20). What were these spirits? They were evil angelic beings, Satan’s angels. See Genesis 6:1-4 for Moses’ comments: “[1] And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, [2] That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. [3] And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. [4] There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

At the time of Peter writing his first epistle, God had already removed these evil spirits from Earth (via the Great Flood) and confined them to chains of darkness in hell. Second Peter 2:4-5: “[4] For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; [5] And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly….” Jude 6 supplements: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” The “everlasting chains of darkness” of 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 are the “prison” of 1 Peter 3:19.

So, to summarize 1 Peter 3:19-20 in just a few statements… By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus preached in the days of Noah, and Jesus preached through Noah, to the evil spirits (angels) that were wreaking havoc on Earth prior to the Great Flood. Those spirits have since been cast down to hell and are there today in chains of darkness (“prison”). God used the floodwaters to cleanse the world of the wickedness, leaving only the eight souls through whom He would restart the human race and restore the planet unto Himself. Got it thus far?

Now, we move into verse 21 for additional insight. We need the end of verse 20 to complete the thought of verse 21: “[20] Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. [21] The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”

Just as the waters of the Great Flood were the means whereby God cleansed the world of evil, Israel’s water baptism will save her believing remnant from the wrath to come (the seven-year Tribulation and subsequent Second Coming of Christ). Remember, John the Baptist warned people in Israel to accept his water baptism or face the wrath of God. The Apostle Peter repeated this in early Acts on the day of Pentecost.

The Bible says in Matthew 3:7-12: “[7] But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he [John the Baptist] said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? [8] Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: [9] And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. [10] And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. [11] I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: [12] Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

As in Matthew 3:7-13, the water baptism of repentance in Acts 2:38-40 was meant to save believing Jews from the wrath of God that would consume the unbelieving Israelites: “[38] Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. [39] For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. [40] And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” The Apostle Peter’s message was nearly identical to John the Baptist’s message preached to Israel years earlier.

Water baptism does not cleanse sins, for not even the blood of bulls and goats could forgive sins. Hebrews 10:4: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” But, as the waters of the Great Flood forced the evil world to give way to a new world (righteous Noah and his family), so Israel’s water baptism plays a role in preserving God’s people to endure His wrath as He purges the evil world again to form a new world (Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ). Their water baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” They have a right standing with God internally, their water baptism demonstrates it externally (Luke 7:29-30), and by the resurrection of Jesus Christ they will be saved.

Let us read 1 Peter 3:19-21 to conclude: “[18] For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: [19] By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; [20] Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. [21] The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: [22] Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”

SUPPLEMENTAL: WHAT 1 PETER 3:18-21 DOES NOT MEAN

Some say that, between Jesus’ death and resurrection, He went down into Hell and preached the Gospel of the cross to lost people so they could have a chance to leave the flames of hell and go to heaven with him. They often use Ephesians 4:8-10 as a companion of 1 Peter 3:19. Others say Jesus went and preach the Gospel of the cross to believers so they could leave the heart of the earth and go to hell. They too appeal to Ephesians 4:8-10. However, Peter and Paul are describing two entirely different events. Ephesians 4:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:18-21 are not parallel passages. Furthermore, Jesus never preached to anyone in hellfire. People in hell do not have a second chance to be saved unto eternal life! “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). No one knew about the benefits of the cross of Christ until they were revealed to Paul (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). There is no way Jesus revealed the merits of Calvary to anyone in hell prior to Paul’s ministry.

Also see:
» What does Ephesians 4:8-10 mean? (COMING SOON!)
» Can you explain Genesis 6:1-4?
» Where was Jesus during the three days between His death and resurrection?

4 responses to “Can you explain 1 Peter 3:18-21?

  1. Pingback: Thrilling Bible Study! | 333 Words of Grace

  2. Pingback: Can you explain Jude 9? | For What Saith the Scriptures?

  3. Pingback: Should we use the word “demons?” | For What Saith the Scriptures?

  4. Pingback: How did the Great Flood’s water save the eight souls in 1 Peter 3:20? | For What Saith the Scriptures?

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