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Let’s read that portion.  1 Peter 3:18-20 says, “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: By which also he went and preached unto 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.”

This passage has caused confusion to some.  At first glance, it does seem to say that Christ, after His death, went and preached unto the spirits in prison.  However, as I often say, scripture deserves more than just a first glance.  Verse 18 is perfectly clear.  Christ suffered for our sins.  He is the just one and He suffered for us, the unjust ones so that we might be saved.  He was put to death in the flesh, but was raised again by the Spirit of God as we also read about in Romans 8:11 which says, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”  In this portion in Romans, the resurrection of Christ is attributed to the Holy Spirit.  Continuing the thought of the action of the Holy Spirit, verses 19-20 say, “By which also he went and preached unto 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.”  The Spirit of God raised Christ from the dead, and it was by that same Spirit of God that Christ had long ago preached unto people by Noah, who because of their rejection of Him, are now spirits in prison.

By considering the entire portion, we can see that this preaching occurred during the time that Noah was building the ark.  In Genesis 6:5, we see that the Lord declared man’s heart, “…was only evil continually.”  Still, God was longsuffering toward sinful man during that period, using Noah to preach the Gospel as he built the ark.  2 Peter 2:4-5 says, “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; 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.”  This portion declares that Noah was a preacher of righteousness during the time of building the ark.

1 Peter 3:20 tells us that, “…few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”  Who were these eight people who were saved by water?  Let’s read Genesis 7:11-13, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.  And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark.”  Isn’t it obvious now that the eight souls that were saved by water are in reference to Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives?  Eight souls that went into the ark were saved.

From a careful reading of this portion, I think we can see that it is not speaking of the Lord Jesus going down into Hell to preach, as if these people were being given a second chance for salvation after their deaths.  This is against the clear teaching of scripture, which tells us in Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”  Once a person dies, his eternal destiny has already been determined.  To those who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior, there is eternal life in Glory; to those who reject Christ as their savior, there is eternal suffering in Hell as we read in Matthew 25:46, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”  (75.3)