Did Jesus Preach to Angels in Hell?

Preaching to Spirits in Heaven

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 long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water (I Peter 3:18-20).

There are two possible views concerning this passage:

  • (1) By which also he went and preached connotes the agency of the Holy Spirit … by the spirit (vs. 18). In this view, maintaining the continuity between verse 18 and verse 19, the same Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead had enabled him to preach to the men of Noah’s day through Noah himself. While this interpretation fits the context and is legitimate by twentieth-century standards, it does require some juggling of one’s natural understanding of the original text.
  • (2) The alternative interpretation is to understand that before the resurrection someone “made alive” the human spirit of Jesus so that in this form He preached to the spirits in Hades. This interpretation has problems too; for example, the content of the preaching is supposed to be an announcement of victory rather than the preaching of the Gospel message, but the wrong word is used (Greek kerysso). Also, according to I Peter 4:6, the gospel is preached to the dead, and the word there definitely means “preach the gospel” or “evangelize” (Greek euangelizomai) [p. 7461].

Who were “the Spirits in prison?”

In Dr. H. L. Willmington’s book, THE DOCTRINE OF ANGELS, pp. 26-27, the following is presented as an explanation for the identity of the “spirits in prison”:

Sons of God

It is thought by some that these spirits here were those sons of God in Genesis 6. The reason for their iniquity was a satanic attempt to corrupt human flesh and thus prevent the promised Incarnation (Gen. 3:15) from taking place. But here Peter describes Christ as telling them their foul plan didn’t work! For another suggested passage along this line, see Jude 1:5-7.

Because of the fact that there are two kinds of fallen angels, the unchained and those already chained. The unchained now have access to high places and to the bodies of unsaved men (Ephesians 6:12; Luke 8:27; Mark 1:23). The chained are at present already incarcerated (II Peter 2:4; Jude 1:507). The thought is that these are chained because of their involvement in Genesis 6.

In conclusion it should be noted that a third view has been advocated of recent times which says the sons of God were indeed fallen angels who totally controlled and possessed all the evil men living before the Flood. These demons may have even attempted to change (by genetic engineering, as we see today) the DNA code of future babies like some deadly virus.

An exact identification of the “spirits in prison” is not possible. Because a reference is made to Noah, however, very likely they are either supernatural spirit creatures connected with the terrible conditions that led to the deluge [flood] or the people to whom Noah preached while preparing the ark. (GOOD NEWS FOR BAD TIMES, R. DeHaan, pp. 103-104).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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