1 Peter – Chapter Four XIV

by Ed Urzi

“For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6 ESV).

Our text from 1 Peter 4:6 likely associates this reference to “the dead” with the deceased members of Peter’s original audience for this epistle. Those individuals heard the gospel message and embraced Christ in faith. Thus, they moved from a state of spiritual death to eternal life in Christ before they passed away. While the world may have spoken evil of them in their judgments, they were now enjoying everlasting life in the presence of God. The same is true for the readers of this epistle as well.

One source offers a concise explanation of this view…

“Peter had in mind believers who had heard and accepted the gospel of Christ when they were still alive, but who had died by the time Peter wrote this letter. Some of them, perhaps, had been martyred for their faith. Though these were dead physically, they were triumphantly alive in their spirits (cf. Heb 12:23). All their judgment had been fully accomplished while they were alive in this world (‘in the flesh’), so they will live forever in God’s presence.” (1)

Another commentator adds…

“‘The dead’ here are exactly the same as the dead in the previous verse, i.e., all who had lived on earth and had died previously from the time of Peter’s words, there being, it seems, a particular reference to Christians who had recently died and who were the object of certain anxieties on the part of their Christian relatives.

Paul, it will be remembered, addressed the Thessalonians on the same subject. Barnes spoke of this thus: It was natural in such a connection to speak of those who had died in the faith, and to show for their encouragement that, though they had been put to death, yet they still lived to God. [a] Significantly, the dead mentioned here ‘were dead at the time of Peter’s writing, but were not dead when the gospel was preached to them.'” [b] (2)

Thus, it has been said that our departed loved ones are like friends who have embarked on a long journey. While we look forward to reuniting with them in the future, there may be sorrow at the realization that our reunion might be delayed. Nevertheless, we should not “…grieve over them and be like people who don’t have any hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 CEV). This message undoubtedly brought comfort to the members of Peter’s original audience and continues to do so today.

(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 1 Pe 4:6.

(2) [a] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p. 191. [b] Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Peter and Jude (Austin, Texas: R.B. Sweet Company, 1972), p. 86. Quoted in Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Peter 4”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-peter-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.