1 Peter 3:19 is a difficult verse and has aroused several questions from people who read my “descended into hell” devotion from last Friday. Some have argued that this verse is the basis for Jesus descent into hell because it says “…He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” The context makes it clear that the “spirits in prison” are the evil angels of Genesis 6:1–4 (or their offspring). This is also clear in that their disobedience is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. The context makes it clear that it took place after his resurrection, not before. Also verse 18 concludes with “He was made alive in the spirit, in which he went…” The phrase “in the spirit” is often used to refer to third person of the trinity, whose major mission is to declare and to convict of the glorious success of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Further, “in prison” may not be the same as the Hell of eternal damnation for unrighteous humans.

The ESV uses the word “proclaim” instead of “preach.” It’s much better because it captures the original idea. It means to make an official announcement. The issue is not the gospel as some argue. If so, it implies that those who die will have a second chance to be saved. The scriptures make it clear that “it is appointed for man to once die, and then the judgment.” There’s not a 2nd chance after death to come to faith. Rather, the issue is the victorious proclamation to fallen angels of His unequivocal victory over temptation and sin. Verse 20 clearly indicates to whom the proclamation is being made. Jesus is asserting his triumph over the sin issue. Jesus came to undo the original fall. He brings redemption to fallen man and he proclaimed his victory over the fallen angels who were tested and failed. Jesus was tested and succeeded.

The story of the fallen angels of Genesis 6 tells of an angelic infiltration into the human race. These angels could not repent but they were brought to subjection. Verse 22 says that Jesus “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” Norm Geisler puts it this way, “1 Peter 3:19 is about Christ announcing the victory of His death and resurrection to the fallen spirit world that was defeated by His actions. There is no reference to leading saved spirits out of a compartment in Hades and taking them to heaven.”

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