Since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and brought the curse of sin into this world, the Lord has reached out to offer the human race redemption by His grace. Before the Flood, the spirit of Jesus Christ was working through Noah, calling people to escape from the wicked world into the salvation of the ark. As Genesis 6:5 tells us, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” There was never a more evil generation than the people destroyed by the Flood, and yet verses 19-20 of today’s 1 Peter 3 passage tell us that God still gave that generation the chance to be saved. He reached out to them with the gospel as He still does now, and sadly they all rejected it accept for Noah and his family (“eight souls” in all). He offered to them a clean conscience just as He still offers us today. The message from God has always been the same: Repent, believe in the gospel, and receive from God a new heart of faith and love. They had only the spirit of Jesus to clean their consciences, but it was enough to save people in the time of the Old Testament. Now we have the full revelation of Jesus Christ given by the New Testament. How much more, then, should we be willing to let the “Conscience Cleanser” do His work in our hearts?
The Text (1 Peter 3:19-22)
19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 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. 21 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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
Background and Observations
• The “spirits in prison” discussed in verse 19 is probably talking about the wicked people of Noah’s day who refused God’s salvation and died in the Flood. Their souls or “spirits” are now in the “prison” of hell and can never be set free. The spirit of Jesus preached to them through Noah while these sinful people were still alive, but they spurned His mercy and love and chose to die in their sins. No other verse anywhere in the New Testament gives any indication that Jesus ever preached the gospel to people already in hell. Instead, the consistent witness of Scripture is that once a person dies, it is too late for him or her to repent, believe, and be saved (for a clear example of this teaching, check out the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31).
• When Noah’s family passed through the waters of the Flood in the safety of the ark, it provided a picture of the New Testament ordinance of baptism. As Peter says in verse 21, being baptized as a Christian does not save us, but it does provide an important symbol and witness about the cleansing of our hearts by the Holy Spirit that takes place when we accept Christ and are born again as new creations.
• Verse 22 reminds us that Jesus is now with the Father in heaven, commanding the angels and waiting to one day return to earth to rule forever in majesty and power.
Questions to Think About
1. Why do you think it is so important to talk to people about repentance or turning from sin when you are explaining what it means to be a Christian? What is the danger of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with someone without talking about repentance?
2. Have you been baptized as a Christian? Why do you think that the Bible teaches that baptism is an important part of the Christian life?