1 Peter – Chapter Three XXXIII

by Ed Urzi

“And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water” (1 Peter 3:19-20 CEB).

As we’ve already seen, there are several opinions regarding this reference to these spirits who were disobedient. In considering those views, it seems likely that this text depicts Jesus’ declaration of victory over sin and death to a group of demonic spirits who were active during Noah’s era. That proclamation was not evangelistic in nature. Instead, it appears that Jesus delivered a victorious message to some exceptionally wicked entities who had been sentenced to prison.

The Biblical book of Colossians may offer some insight into this view when it tells us, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). That triumphant declaration may represent the message Jesus proclaimed to these imprisoned spirits.

A related topic concerns Jesus’ location during the period between His physical death on the cross and His resurrection. The Apostle Peter himself provides us with insight into this question in a quotation from David, the great Old Testament king…

“David saw what God was going to do in the future, and so he spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah when he said, ‘He was not abandoned in the world of the dead; his body did not rot in the grave'” (Acts 2:31 GNT).

In speaking of Jesus, the book of Ephesians adds the following…

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)” (Ephesians 4:7-10 ESV).

While interpretations vary on this subject, the idea is that Jesus undertook two missions in the period between His crucifixion and resurrection:

  • He effectuated the transfer of the Old Testament righteous dead from Sheol to heaven. We can infer this from a piece of information contained within Matthew 27:52. That portion of Scripture tells us, “…the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (NIV) upon Jesus’ death on the cross.
  • He proclaimed His triumphant victory as detailed above.

Thus, in the words of one commentator, “The point… is that just as Jesus was vindicated, so will Christians be vindicated.” (1)

(1) R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2247.