Did Jesus Go to Hell?  1 Peter 3:18-22

The two questions that stem out from these verses are (1) where did Jesus go during the time period between His death and resurrection, and (2) how is baptism being likened to the flood in these verses?

1 Peter 3:19 (and Ephesians 4:9) are actually catalyst verses that framed the part of the Apostles Creed, written circa 390 AD, that reads, “…was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell…”

Is this true? Did Jesus go to hell to proclaim a message?

This verse is certainly subject to several interpretations.

I know that verse 19 clearly says that Christ, by the Spirit, “went and preached to the spirits in prison.”  We can be assured by this verse that Christ by the Spirit went somewhere and proclaimed a message that was evidently heard by others.  The verse plainly says this. Additionally, these spirits were, in some form, as the verse clearly states, imprisoned.  Again, this is unmistakably stated in the text.  However, where this actually took place is not clear.

Moreover, who these “spirits” are that heard Jesus’ proclamation is not so evident either. This leads us to a third question with two parts:

(3a) Are they the spirits of evil men who died in the flood, which seems possible according to verse 20?

(3b) Or are they the spirits of fallen angels who cohabitated on earth with women and had a progeny of some sort of evil gargoyle race in the time before the flood as according to verse 20 and 2 Peter 2:4-5, Jude 6, and Genesis 6:1-5?

It seems that the Scripture in Genesis 6, 2 Peter 2, and Jude’s input, as well as certain Jewish Tradition and ancient Jewish Lore does commend the latter (3b) as the closest to the correct interpretation, but we still cannot be so sure.

I offer up the main interpretive views here, but I personally cannot be so dogmatic as to think we can get a definitive on what it means.

We can certainly contend that Jesus, by the Spirit, was definitely doing something that involved proclamation of some kind during the Sabbath as His body was in the tomb before His resurrection.  That for me is obvious in verses 18-20.

Let’s move to verses 20b-21.

First, Noah’s story fits the context of this letter.  The original readers were facing harsh ridicule and persecution.  Peter continues to exhort them to obey and keep their conscience clean in the midst of it.  Thus, Noah serves as a good example because he stayed faithful through his season of persecution. He was committed to keep his conscience by obeying God fully.  Therefore, Noah was saved out of that evil generation through water.  Through water is an important phrase because when the flood waters rose they lifted up the ark proving that Noah had done right by his obedience to build and enter into that ark.  The point here is that Noah could have a good conscience despite the tormentors and gainsayers that surrounded him, especially when the rain began to fall.

So Peter writes, “There is also now an antitype…” Peter uses the word antitypos. An antitypos in the Greek is a thing formed by a pattern, or a thing resembling another.

Believer’s baptism corresponds to the waters of Noah’s time, but particularly to Noah’s faithful obedience.  Noah and his family were saved from judgment when they entered that ark.  We are now saved when we enter into salvation in Jesus Christ.  He is our ark in a sense.

What baptism does for us, and this is what Peter was pointing the original readers to, is that baptism is the pledge of our conscience that affirms that we have identified with Jesus in His life, death, burial and resurrection. This is pictured in our baptism and this baptism follows our repentance and belief in Christ’s atoning work.

Baptism does not save us.  But what Peter does tell us is that baptism saves us from a bad conscience.  Have we obeyed Jesus’ first command to be baptized after professing and receiving Him as Lord, Savior and treasure?  Have we identified with Him in the waters of baptism in the local church after we received new life in Him?

You see, Biblical baptism represents for us a break from our old life now that we are in Christ.

Just as the flood wiped away the evil of the old world, believer’s baptism outwardly pictures in symbol form the wiping away of our sins that occurred inwardly when we initially trusted in Christ for salvation (John 1:12; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:22). By surrendering in obedience to Christ in baptism (Matt. 28:19-20) we are showing outwardly the inward reality of our salvation.

Peter’s point to the persecuted is that if they have been baptized in Christ, as Jesus commanded, then they have made the pledge of an obedient conscience.  We have shown our identification with Him even while the world persecutes us or inflicts scorn upon us.

Therefore, Peter writes that through Christ’s resurrection and authority (21b-22) we can find sustaining power to remain faithful under pressures because Christ has won for us the ultimate victory, and He has proclaimed that victory over every realm, visible and invisible.

Any questions or comments, email me! 

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