Preaching to the spirits in prison
Look again at 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,
19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,
20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
Who were the spirits in prison? Some believe it was fallen angels. I suppose it is possible that Jesus would proclaim His victory to the principalities that tried to hinder God’s plan, but I don’t believe this is what is being communicated here. This passage says that Jesus preached to those who were formerly disobedient while God patiently waited. Fallen angels (or demons) were not formerly disobedient – they are presently the way they have been since their fall. They will not change and cannot be redeemed according to scripture. 1 Peter 4 gives more information:
5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
The Bible first identifies those God waited for in the days of Noah and now others are included. Jesus preached the gospel to those who are dead. They also will live according to God in the spirit just as we will. I believe that this is the Old Testament saints. Look at
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;
53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
I want to compare this to Jesus’ explanation of the uncompassionate rich man and the beggar. Daily the rich man passed by the needy beggar and never even offered a crumb. Jesus continues the illustration in Luke 16:
22 “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.
23 “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
25 “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.
26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
In these passages, Jesus revealed that Hades had two sections. On one side there was torment and on the other side the saints were at rest. Now if we take this information back to the passage of Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison, we can get a better understanding. Keep in mind that the Old Testament Saints were waiting for their redemption as well. By faith they kept the law and trusted in God’s redemption that was yet to be revealed. The Bible pointedly states that the sacrifices of bulls and rams cannot take away sin. Until Jesus died on the cross, God’s people were still in bondage to sin. They were not tormented because they were credited with righteousness because of their faith, but they could not be justified until the debt owed to sin was paid. An animal sacrifice cannot pay that debt. Jesus alone paid that debt. Once He died, their redemption was preached and they were released from prison. When He rose, the Bible says that they were no longer in Hades. A sinful man or woman cannot come into God’s presence. Therefore, I believe that the Old Testament saints could not enter their final rest until they were justified by Christ on the cross. Until that time, they were in prison waiting for Messiah to come. They were not in torment and were not being punished, but they were still under the debt of sin. Jesus stated that He came to set the captives free. Bondage is from sin, but freedom comes only through the completed work of Christ on the cross.
It is argued that Jesus had to suffer in Hell so man would not have to. The argument is that if Jesus suffered in all ways like us; this must also include our suffering in hell. As we have seen, teachers of this doctrine believe that Jesus served our sentence. However, the Bible does not condemn sinners to a temporary Hell. Because of sin, we deserve an eternal hell. Our sentence is not 3 days. Once this life is over, our destination is final.
Another oversight is that Hell is not man’s intended destiny. Look at Matthew 25:
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
Hell was designed for Satan and the angels who fell with him. Only by choice will any man go to Hell. There is no need for Jesus to suffer the sentence of hell because hell can only found after salvation through Christ has been rejected. The Bible tells us that it is appointed for man once to die, after this is the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The Bible tells us that man is appointed to die, but no where are we appointed to hell. No one is judged for their sins. We are judged with our sins if we choose to cling to our sin and to stand in account for ourselves. We will only pay if our sins remain at our judgment. Because Jesus died for past, present and future sins, we can only stand to be judged if we reject the cross of Jesus Christ and refuse to make Him our Lord. The debt to sin was either paid on the cross, or is due at judgment. Jesus paid for those who put their faith in Him; man pays only when Jesus has been rejected.
Did God Forsake Jesus
It is commonly taught that Jesus became sin for us on the cross, therefore God had to turn away from Jesus. Some teachers take this misassumption to a new level. Several teachers claim that Jesus said, “My God why have you forsaken me” because God was no longer His father. Some go on to teach that Jesus was estranged from God because He took on the very nature of Satan. In this section, I hope to clarify this issue by examining scripture.
Most Christians I have talked to believe that Jesus was separated from the Father because of His statement on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me”. I also once believed this. Scripture itself convinced me that this is not so. For our sakes, I am thankful this is not true. When Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me”, it was not because He was separated from God. It was not because God wasn’t His father anymore. It was not because God turned His back on Jesus. It was a proclamation that scripture was fulfilled. I do believe that Jesus really felt forsaken. Even though He was fully God, He was also fully man. Jesus had human emotions. Even when I feel distant from God, in reality God is right where He always has been.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, certain events were exacted solely so that scripture could be fulfilled. Jesus said that of the 12 disciples that He handpicked, none would be lost except the one who was the devil. This was Judas. He was picked to betray Jesus so that scripture might be fulfilled. In John 19, the Bible says that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ tunic ‘so that scripture might be fulfilled’. Jesus said, ‘I thirst’ so that scripture might be fulfilled. For the same purpose, Jesus cried out ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me’ so that we could identify the prophecy that He was fulfilling. As I stated earlier, this does not mean that Jesus did not suffer. I believe that Jesus truly experienced the agony of feeling separated. However, human emotions do not override reality. Now let’s go to the prophecy that Jesus was quoting.
Psalm 22 begins with Jesus’ declaration that we just quoted from the gospels. Because of this, we know to go to this prophecy to see what God was doing. Not only do we see that this quote was a fulfillment of this prophecy, but we also see the deep thirst foretold by the phrase, ‘My tongue clings to my jaw’ and fulfilled in the gospels. We see His bones out of joint, His hands, feet and side were pierced. In exact detail, the crucifixion of Jesus was foretold thousands of years before this horrible punishment was invented. Even the mockery was perfectly described. Compare these two passages:
7 All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”
42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.
43 “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ “
Because Jesus has pointed us to this passage, it only makes sense to take this passage into account when we proclaim the gospel of salvation. In the four gospels we are only getting an external view, but in the prophecy of Psalm 22 we are given a small glimpse from Jesus’ perspective. Jesus makes it absolutely clear that He was never estranged by God. Look at Psalm 22 again:
24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.
God has not despised. God has not abhorred. God did not hide His face. The Father was watching, listening and enduring the suffering so our redemption could be made. Isaiah 53 says that ‘we’ hid ‘our’ faces from Him, ‘we’ esteemed Him stricken – we rejected Him. This has been misunderstood to become God’s rejection of Christ instead of man’s rejection of Christ. Scripture does not say that the Father rejected Jesus on the cross. It is just the opposite. The Bible says that God was pleased with Jesus on the cross. If Jesus is God as the Bible claims, how could He become estranged from God? Can a God who cannot change be torn apart? Can an infinite God that the universe cannot contain divide? To think so is irrational, contradictory and unscriptural. Jesus was never forsaken by God on the cross. However, the Bible clearly says that He suffered like us so that He could understand our sorrows. Look at Hebrews 2
17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
This does not even remotely imply that He suffered spiritual death. As we discussed earlier, spiritual death can only come after rejecting God’s mercy. Man is not appointed to hell. Man was created for God. According to scripture, Hell was created for Satan and his angels. Man can choose hell, but it comes only after we have sealed our fate. For this life, hell is irrelevant; therefore there is no need for Jesus to suffer in hell in order to identify with our suffering. Emotional pain is another story. Emotionally, the weight of the sins of the world were unbearable. Jesus did not shield Himself from the feelings of anguish, separation and rejection.
God does not reject man. Man rejects God. People feel lost, rejected and abhorred by God, but are they? The Bible says, no. The weight of sin makes me feel rejected, but the Bible says that I am free to come before God to lay down my sin. If we look to the beginning, Adam and Eve felt ashamed and hid from God. God did not reject them or hide from them, they hid from God. God came to them, sacrificed an animal and used it to cover their shame.
People have this terrible misconception that God cannot look upon sin. The Bible never says this. The Bible says that God’s holiness will consume sin and God will judge sin. God cannot be touched by sin and He cannot be tempted. Sin is anything that goes against God’s character. It is an assault on God. You can assault God all you want, but it will not affect Him. Sin does not harm God. However, God does have a dramatic affect on sin. It is sin that is destroyed by God’s presence, not the other way around. Sin did not attack Jesus on the cross. Jesus attacked and defeated sin on the cross.
What this means to us:
Understanding this truth applies directly with how we relate to God. If we can’t understand that God loved the Son on the cross, then we can’t understand that God loves a sinner like me. If Jesus took upon Himself all the sin of humanity – past, present, and future – and God did not turn away and did love Him, then I can be certain that God loves me just as I am. A murderer can confidently kneel at the cross and lay his or her sin down and receive the love that God has always longed to give. An adulterer, homosexual, prostituted, thief, or any common sinner will only be willing to come before God if they realize that God not only can look upon them, but He can lift the burden of their sin, cleanse them and make them righteous. Romans 5:8 says,
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
There is no way to misinterpret this passage. God loved us while we were sinners. That love was demonstrated by Jesus’ death on the cross. God even loves those who hate Him. However, a sinner cannot receive God’s offering of love without the cross of Jesus Christ. He may love us unconditionally, but He cannot accept us unconditionally. Sin cannot abide in God’s presence and every sin must be judged and avenged by God. God could not even receive the Old Testament saints until their sin was paid. God did not bypass His law; instead He fulfilled the law in our place. The good news of the gospel is that every sin has been paid for on the cross. Either we can be judged with our sin, or we can exchange our sins for the righteousness of God through the cross. Only on the cross has sin been avenged. Only the cross can pay our debt. We cannot. We can only choose to accept Christ or reject the cross and stand in judgment for our own sin in place of the cross. Hell is eternal because the debt cannot be paid by our efforts or penance.
Those who do not understand this principle of scripture will be like Adam and Eve. They will flee from God out of fear and shame. God calls sinners to come. He paid the debt and offers His righteousness to all. If God could not look upon sin, then He could not look upon sinners and we would be hopelessly lost.
Did Jesus Lose His Divinity?
We have already covered this in part as we looked at the Bible’s proclamation that God cannot change. The Bible clearly states that Jesus never changes – He is the same yesterday, today and forever. However, to make certain that this is clearly understood, let’s take a closer look at the erroneous doctrine that teaches that Jesus lost His divinity and compare this to scripture.
The doctrine that Jesus became sin for us by becoming one in nature with Satan is orthodox Christianity mingled with false religion. The idea that Jesus became one with Satan on the cross comes partly from the Gnostic religions. The Gnostics teach that the serpent is the redeemer on the cross. Many of these teachers point to Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert. This passage is found in Numbers 21. When the people revolted against Moses, God sent serpents as a judgment against them. God also provided healing by commanding Moses to put a bronze serpent on a pole. If anyone was bitten, they could look upon the serpent and live. Jesus pointed back to this event as a symbolic prophecy concerning Him and His manner of death – being lifted up on the cross. Just as the bite of the serpent meant sure death, so the infection of our sin means death. God commanded the people to look at the serpent lifted up as a symbolism that pointed ahead to the time when we who are infected by sin could look at the cross of Jesus Christ to find healing by being saved from our sins. Just as the people revolted against God and fell under the curse of serpents, sin is rebellion against God and puts us under the curse of sin.
The serpent in the desert did not represent Jesus himself, but the sin that would be nailed to the cross. In Jesus’ body, sin was nailed to the cross. He became our sin does not mean that Jesus became sinful in nature, but instead it means that He took on our sin. Look at 1 Peter 2
24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.
As always, we must compare scripture to scripture to get the complete picture of God’s revelation. Jesus became our sin in the same way that the Old Testament sacrifices became the representation of sin that was sacrificed in the place of the person who actually committed sin. The animal did not literal become sin, but became the stead for sin. The animal symbolically bore the sin as a temporary sacrifice which would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ. Look at John 3
14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
The serpent in the desert was lifted up to show how our Messiah would die – not to show what our Messiah would become. It was our sin on the cross, not a satanic Jesus on the cross. It was a symbol of the kind of death Jesus would die. Some even teach that Jesus did not take our sin, He had to become sin. However, the Bible clearly states that in fact, Jesus did take our sin. The above passage in 1 Peter says that He bore our sins. Colossians 2:13-14 says that He took our sins and nailed it to the cross. So in light of these passages, we can clearly interpret 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says that He was made to be sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God in Him. This does not mean that He literally became sin nor does it mean that He took the nature of Satan. It means that He was made to be sin in our place so that we could be credited with the righteousness of God.
Jesus did not need to be ‘born again’ because He is eternally the same. He may have veiled His glory, but He did not cease from being God. It is unnecessary and impossible for Jesus to be transformed into a satanic nature or to be born into a new divine nature. In Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). It is contradictory to say that Jesus had to be reborn when the Bible says that He was God in the flesh and this would also contradict the Bible’s claim that Jesus has never and will never change. When the Bible tells us that man is born again, it does not mean that man becomes divine in nature. It simply means that we have become a child of God and are spiritually alive in His kingdom. We no longer live for the world and our selfish desires, but as we are told in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, we now live for the spirit looking forward to the day when we will be changed into an incorruptible child of God.