“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, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 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. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:18-22).
While the truth of verse 21 – that “baptism now saves us” – is rejected by many religious people, verses 18-20 are misunderstood by many. Some believe that Christ preached to the spirits of men who had died and were in the Hadean realm when His spirit went to Hades upon His death and until His resurrection – sometime during those three days. These verses do not so teach, and such would be a contradiction of other clear teaching.
The passage says that Christ preached, by the Spirit, to the spirits in prison. But when did He preach? Verse 20 answers it; Christ preached by the Spirit to the spirits in prison “when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” That’s when – in the days of Noah.
But Christ by the Spirit preached to them. How could Christ preach to someone before Christ came to this earth? Christ by the Spirit could and did preach through the agency of men. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says that Christ “came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those were near” (Ephesians 2:17). Paul is not suggesting Christ returned to preach to the Ephesians personally, but Christ, after His ascension to heaven, did preach to the Ephesians through the agency of men such as Paul. The Spirit of Christ was at work even in the days of old, for Peter says that the Spirit of Christ was speaking through the prophets (1 Peter 1:10-11). Similarly, in 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is said to be a preacher of righteousness. It should be no problem to understand that Christ by the Spirit preached through Noah.
But Christ preached to the spirits in prison. Doesn’t that indicate that the men to whom Christ preached by the Spirit were already dead, for the text says that it was their spirits that were preached to? No. The unrighteous men of Noah’s day were dead when Peter wrote his letter, and thus they were spirits in prison when Peter wrote. They had rejected righteousness in their days of living upon the earth, and now their spirits are in prison awaiting judgment, for the Lord knows how to “reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9).
1 Peter 3:18-20 offers no hope of a second chance to hear the righteousness of God preached.
Additionally, Jesus was sufficiently clear that there are no second chances to obey after death, for in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Lazarus was tormented even in Hades with no possible escape (Luke 16:19-31). And the Hebrew writer makes it abundantly clear that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). No matter who you are, you are no exception to this.
Now let us make this point. When the gospel of righteousness is preached, then “behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Today is the day to respond, for if death comes to you before your obedient response, you too, like the disobedient of Noah’s day, will be reserved under punishment for the day of judgment. There is no preaching nor second chance on the other side of death.