When and Where and Why Christ Went to Preach to Spirits in Prison (Series #4)

By Eusebio Tanicala

This is the fourth and last installment of a series. In the first of the series we quoted related parts of 1 Peter 3:18-20 derived from 31 Bible Versions. I suggest that one reads the 31 quotations recorded in the first series to get a feel of the overall picture of the events condensed by the Apostle Peter.
The ten questions considered in the series should be inter-related to get a good view of what the Apostle Peter teaches. Apostle Peter combines and inter-relates a good number of events so what is done is like putting together a very complicated puzzle.

Q#1: How should too pneumati be rendered –small s OR capital S, and will the preposition be “by” “in”
“through” or “according to”?
Q#2: Who went to preach to the spirits in prison in our passage?
Q#3: What is the meaning of the term “preach” in the passage?
Q#4: What is the content of the act of preaching in this passage?
Q#5: What is the intention of this act of preaching recorded in our passage?
Q#6: Where did the preacher go preach as recorded in our passage?
Q#7: When did the preacher go preach as recorded in our passage?
Q#8: Who were those in the audience during this preaching as recorded in our passage?
Q#9: How is the preaching period related to the period of disobedience as shown in our passage?
Q#10: How should the flow of events contained in the passage be arranged?

Tackled in this last of the series are Questions #7, #8, #9 and #10.

Question #7: When did the preacher go preach?
There is a great variation of thought here about the time frame of preaching. One school says that the time of preaching was during the period when Noah was building the ark – thousands of years before Christ was incarnated. The second school of thought says that the time of preaching happened any time after Christ gave up the last breath at the cross and before He ascended back to heaven in His resurrection body as recorded in Acts 1. I favor the second idea.
Luke 23:43 says that He would be in Paradise with the repentant thief that same day. Acts 2:25-28 says that His soul would go to Hades and Paradise is the upper part of Hades.
In Luke 16:19-31, the wicked Rich Man went to Hades but stayed in the lower section which is a place of torment. 2 Peter 2:4-5 calls the place tartarussas or tartarus in English. From the lower section, the Rich Man looked up and saw Lazarus with Abraham. The upper section of Hades is called Paradise, a place of comfort.

Question #8: Who were those in the audience during this preaching?
One idea points to the spirits of the wicked unbelievers who insulted Noah while the ark was being constructed. The period of construction was about 120 years. Said generation of Noah was very wicked, so wicked that God repented of creating mankind. Our passage says that these spirits are in a prison. Believers of this first idea say that the spirits of the wicked people during the building of the ark were imprisoned inside their wicked fleshly bodies. This belief would say that Christ through the Holy Spirit went to preach to that generation of Noah. But it was Noah who the Holy Spirit inspired and moved to preach sermons about righteous living.
A second idea says that the audience is composed of spirits of wicked people now imprisoned in the place of torment, the lower part of Hades. Apostle Peter (2Peter 2:4-5) tells us that the spirits, the angelic host, that rebelled against God are being kept in prison. Jude 6 says that those evil spirits have been judged and kept in chains or imprisoned. It seems that the evil angels occupy another section of Hades, in a place of torment. So it is logical to theorize that the prison where Christ’s audience was located mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19 is Hades. In His spirit existence, Christ appeared and/or talked to the spirits of wicked or unbelieving people who were in Hades. Christ’s appearance and/or short oral testimony was delivered to them.
It might be objected that the audience is limited to the spirits who lived in the time of Noah. The spirits of people of Noah’s generation are mentioned and emphasized because these spirits ruled the wickedest generation that ever lived on the face of the earth. Mentioning one person or one group is employed as a literary device. This is called the “Universal Man” or “Universal Group.” The hero is the Universal Man for the good people, or the villain is the Universal Man of the bad ones. The hero (bida) represents the aspirations of all the good people, while the villain (contrabida) represents all the evil people. An example of this is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Does it mean that there was only one favored spirit in the company of Abraham because he is the only one mentioned in the story? No. Lazarus represents you and me, the millions of humble and faithful disciples. Does it mean that the Rich Man is the only one in Tartarussas because he is he only one mentioned in the story? No. He only represents or is an example of all the wicked and selfish people on earth. So Noah’s generation of wicked people is mentioned because they represent the ultimate doubter, the ultimate insulter, the ultimate skeptic in matters of righteous living.
I favor the second idea above as regards the audience composition.

Question #9: How is the preaching period related to the period of disobedience?
The last part of v. 19, “the spirits in prison” and the first part of v. 20 which says, “who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared” are crucial to establishing the period of preaching and the period of disobedience.
If the preaching was done by Christ through the Holy Spirit and through Noah, and if Noah preached to his generation, a knowledgeable write, much more an inspired writer, would not say that those spirits in Noah’s time were “formerly disobedient.” The adverb should not be “formerly” but it should be “presently.” I repeat: if the disobedience happened while Noah was preaching, the adverb should be “presently.” It should be written like this: “the spirits in prison who presently were disobedient, when once the Divine long suffering waited in the days of Noah.”
But if you consider Christ who went to Paradise in A.D. 33 and appeared to the Tartarussas spirits, then it is right to say that the spirits of Noah’s generation are “formerly disobedient” spirits because they lived about 5000 years before Christ went to Hades as taught in Acts 2:25-28 and Luke 23:43.

Question #10: How should the flow of events contained in the passage be arranged?
One school of thought has this chronology:
*(1) Noah built the ark and while building the ark, Christ through the Spirit went to inspire/help Noah
preach righteousness, but in a long period of 120 years everybody insulted Noah and everybody
continued on with their wild and wicked ways, except Noah, his three sons and their wives; the spirits
of these unbelieving people were imprisoned in their wicked bodies;
(2) Christ became incarnated in A.D. 1 and suffered and died in A.D. 33;
(3) After Christ breathed his last at the cross He went to Hades;
(4) Then on the first day of the week following His crucifixion He resurrected from the dead and appeared
many times to various people at different places within a period of 40 days according to Acts 1:3;
(5) He ascended to heaven on the 40th day after resurrection according to Acts 1:9-11.

On the other hand, a second school of thought has this chronology:
(1) Noah built the ark some 5000 years before Christ, and while constructing the ark, he preached the
righteousness of God –Please see II Peter 2:5,
(2) Christ became incarnated in Anno Domini 1,
(3) Christ suffered and died for the sins of the world in the A.D. 33,
(4) After Christ breathed His last, he was buried before sundown of Friday, Nisan 33 A.D.
(5) That very day of Friday, Nisan 33 A.D. his human spirit which is inextricably fused with His deity in
one person, he went to Paradise, the upper section of Hades (Luke 23:43; Acts 1:3),
(5) In that spiritual condition, He joined in Paradise Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, etc.,
(6) In that glorious spiritual condition in Paradise, the spirits imprisoned in the dungeon of Tartarusas, the
lower part of Hades, beheld Christ just like the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 beheld Abraham in
(7) Christ’s mere presence in glorious array in Paradise was enough declaration, preaching, that He is
God’s Son, He is the Victorious Savior of humanity, the embodiment of God’s love,
(8) If Christ uttered any message I imagine He could have said, “Children, while you were on earth it
was a period for you to exercise your free will to choose by faith what is righteous, but you opted
worldly pleasure, but now those who disciplined themselves in righteous living and faith in God and
in the Son, they now enjoy comfort in Paradise but you are now tormented,
(9) After that short visit, Christ came out of Hades, was resurrected, appeared several times to different
people in a period of 40 days after which he ascended to heaven.

I favor the chronology of the second school of thought.

General Conclusion: My personal conclusion of the whole picture is this: the Christ-God took the nature of man so He became God-Man; He suffered and died in his human nature but his human spirit fused with His deity lived on; in that human spirit-deity fused person He went to Paradise (upper part of Hades) and appeared in a glorious way in the company of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc. and the spirits in the prison dungeon of Tartarusas (lower part of Hades) beheld that glorious presence of Christ; the spirits of the rebellious generation of Noah are especially mentioned being the epitome of a most despicable era as described in Genesis 6:5-7 but not necessarily excluding other imprisoned spirits as much as Luke 16:19-31 doesn’t make the Rich Man the only one with the ability to see Abraham in Paradise with Lazarus; in this visit to Hades the Lord Jesus Christ successfully proclaimed His mission of vicariously dying for humanity and as a result could bring back to God those who have faith in the Son. The Human-God Christ gloriously appearing to the imprisoned spirits in Tartarusas could given an impression as deep as a picture viewed a thousand years on earth even without a word spoken. But if words were spoken, Christ could have delivered a short message like this: “Children, especially those who lived in the generation of Noah while the ark was being constructed, you doubted the message of righteousness and the invitation to go back to the Most Holy God. Look at Me the embodiment of God’s love that calls mankind back to Paradise in fellowship with God. Those who are with me are comforted, but you who are down below are tormented.”
It was not a message to secure repentance and a second chance just as the message of Abraham in Luke 16:19-31 was not a message to secure repentance and a second chance. Christ’s message was one of victory, a message showing how the scores of OT prophecies are fulfilled, a message that faith in God results to a life of comfort in the Hadean world.
If you have any comment or observation, please post it or email me at tani1940@yahoo.com
Thank you for participating in this study. ##