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Redeeming the Dead in 1 Peter 3:17-20 and 4:6

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 46:
“Rejoice with Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory”




1 Peter discusses Christ’s ministry to the spirits in prison in chapters 3:17-20 and 4:6. This first comes up in a larger discussion within 1 Peter of suffering for doing right versus suffering for doing wrong. In Peter’s view it is clearly better that the Saints should suffer for doing what’s right, and this is a view that is far more applicable than any of us would prefer in the present world. For Peter, this is because in sufferings for well doing we emulate Christ. Beginning with verse 17,

17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
18 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:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

So, for Christ, unjust suffering, and even an unjust death were not merely exercises in patience and longsuffering but rather vehicles to further opportunities to minister; and to whom did he minister? Spirits. Where were they? They are described as being in prison. Which spirits were in this prison? Peter tells us that they include at least the dead from a particular incident of biblical destruction, but given that the flood victims were not particularly unique, united together by little more than skepticism about Noah’s boat-building project, we can reasonably suppose that this ministry served an important purpose for all those who died without fully embracing the gospel, not to mention those who had not received even the rudiments of the word. And why did the Savior undertake this ministry? 1 Peter 4:6 tells us:

6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

It is requisite with the justice of God that his children should receive the word, whether in this life or in the next so that they may be judged fairly by their choices in response to it, whether they choose to live according to God while in the flesh or whether their circumstances are such that their obedience to God begins with receiving the word in the afterlife enabling them to “live according to God in the spirit.”

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