What does it mean in 1 Peter 3 when it says Jesus preached to the spirits in prison?

Caller: In 1 Peter 3:16 it says ‘By which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison’. I know it’s not talking about him going to heaven or hell and preaching, but I’m just wondering what it’s actually talking about because I haven’t heard a lot about it.

Pastor Doug: When you read the whole context of that verse, 1 Peter 3:18: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, the subject of this reference is the Spirit by whom in other words, through the Spirit He went and preached to the spirits in prison who formerly were disobedient, once in the days of long-suffering they waited in the time of Noah while the ark was being prepared.

Some have thought this means that when Jesus died on the cross, He didn’t really die, He altered His state into the spirit, He went down into hell, He preached to the people who lived before the flood that they might have a second chance. This is a bizarre teaching that came out of the Jesuit theology years ago. Now let me tell you what it does mean. He says He, Christ, through the Holy Spirit, preached to spirits who were in prison. You and I are spirits, and if we’re not saved we’re imprisoned by the devil, just like Peter was imprisoned and the angel came to set him free.

You can also see in Isaiah 61, part of the ministry of Christ, it says: He came to set the captives free and opening the prison to them that are bound. Isaiah 61:1. So it’s simply saying that part of the work of Christ was to try to save people, even during the time of Noah, through the same Spirit He tried to save those people whose spirits were imprisoned by the devil. He’s not talking about how their ghosts were in hell, chained up, or anything.

Caller: That was actually where I got that. I knew there is a resurrection in the Bible and that wouldn’t make any sense.

Pastor Doug: Not only that—that doctrine is devastating in that it also teaches there’s a second chance. The Bible says ‘It’s appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.’ You can’t die, and then while you’re in hell hope you can get Jesus to come preach to you. That’s a very dangerous doctrine and I’m glad we got that clear.

Caller: I just want to know how to explain that when I come across it again.

Pastor Doug: It’s a good question. A lot of people want to know about that so I’m glad you asked it.