God @ Work: The place of spiritual encounter

One of the trickiest Passages

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. 1 Peter 4.6

This verse is greatly discussed as is the often linked verses, 1 Peter 3.19-21:

He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, in which he also went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the response of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Some see that this means that Christ went and preached literally to people who were already dead giving them a second chance of salvation. That would be out of line with the broader Biblical principle that nowhere does God give us a second chance. Other understand Christ preaching to the OT saints who were being released from Hades now Christ had won the victory for them on the Cross.

Let’s consider 1 Peter 3:19-21 first. Peter focuses on two great judgments:

1) the judgment of Noah’s day and
2) the judgment of fallen angels.

Peter presents the ark of Noah’s day as the type of Christ’s suffering on the cross. In verse 21 he gives the reality behind the type as salvation by Christ’s baptism at Calvary.

The best interpretation of these verses is that Christ descended after his crucifixion to proclaim to fallen angels that their fall was unnecessary (2 Peter 2:4-5). This interpretation equate the fallen angels with the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-2.

The Holy Spirit transported Jesus to the prison, the residence (Tartarus), of fallen angels and enabled him to preach to fallen angels. Tartarus is not hell but an underworld for demons (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

We better understand the word “proclamation” as, made an official announcement. This is different from the usual word to preach. It means to make an official announcement by a public crier. The issue is not the gospel here but a victorious proclamation to fallen angels that they did not have to fall. Verse 20 clearly indicates to whom he made the announcement.

Jesus here asserts his triumph over sin. Jesus came to undo the original fall and the fall of angels (Genesis 7, 2 Peter 2:4). Angels were tested and failed. Jesus was tested and succeeded.

“Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).

John Calvin put it this way: “So that the meaning is, that though according to the estimation of the world the dead suffer destruction in their flesh, and are deemed condemned as to the outward man, yet they cease not to live with God, and that in their spirit, because Christ quickens them by his Spirit”

All this enables us to understand 1 Peter 4.6 much better. In 4.6 Peter does not speak about “spirits” but the “dead”. These are physically dead people. A literal translation would be:

For this is why he was-preached-as-good-news to those who are dead

Rather than Christ doing the preaching to the dead (during his 3 days in the grave), Christ is the subject of the good news of those who are now dead. 1 Cor 15.12, 2 Cor 1.19, and 1 Tim 3.16 also speak of Christ being preached as the focus of the message.

So Peter is speaking words of encouragement to these first Christians. For them the question of death was a real problem. Paul also had to reassure the Thessalonians that those who had died had not lost out on the promised return of Christ. Maybe they were being mocked by unbelievers that their claim of eternal life had come to nothing once Christians began to die, and especially martyred. No, says Peter, whether Christians have died or are still alive, once Christ is preached to them and people have believed, then a decisive and immutable change has happened. Even if they have died they still live in the spirit.

We cannot earn the right to be in heaven with God. There is no purgatory in which we get a second chance, or can work our way out of purgatory. We cannot earn salvation. We can only receive it as a free gift when we believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins. Once this life is over, our choice is made … for eternity!

Cell Outline
Read: 1 Peter 4: 1-11

How did Christ suffer? What might it entail to suffer in the same way as Christ (v1)?

How does God use difficult times in our present or future Christian lives (v2)

Can you think of an example in your own life where suffering has changed your life?

How might the lack of suffering for Christ affect the spiritual dynamics of church life?

In what ways would you say our world is like the world of the pagans (literally ‘nations’ or ethnos) which Peter describes (4)?

As the laos of God (his special chosen people), what reason do we have not to join the ethnos in their behaviour (5)?

In what way is the end of all things near? How should this affect our lives (7)?

What might it mean to be of a sound judgment? How does a sober spirit help one in his prayer life?

In your work situation (home life, college, or volunteering) describe some situations where you can use the three spiritual ways of serving mentioned in vv9,11.

What special advice does Peter give with each one of them (9,11)?

What is the general principle that we need to keep in mind as we use our spiritual gift (10)?

Going Deeper

What commitment is God speaking you to focus on?
To God (7)?
To God’s people (8)?
To God’s service (9-11)?
What area do you have most difficulty with?


How can you show love to those you work with ( 8)?

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