Christ In Hades
December 9th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
CHRIST IN HADES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 3:17-22
12-9-73 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you who are listening on the radio and watching on television, sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message from 1 Peter, chapter 3, the last verses.
Next Sunday morning, I shall be delivering a message on the incarnation of Christ, the Word of God, a Christmas sermon. But these days in the morning hours, we are preaching through the Book of Simon Peter, and we have come to the last verses of chapter 3, in 1 Peter. It is one of the most mysterious, recondite, difficult of all of the passages in the Bible. Beginning at verse 17:
For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing…
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:
By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
(spirits) 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.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Who is gone into heaven, and is at the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.
[1 Peter 3:17-22]
We shall not by any means waste our time probing into the contradictory interpretations of this passage of Scripture. It is exceedingly difficult and no less mysterious.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, “being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, those spirits who were disobedient…in the days of Noah” [1 Peter 3:18-19], when the longsuffering of God waited for their repentance, and not repenting, they found a watery grave in judgment [1 Peter 3:20].
What does that mean? In these days and years past, I have said that the passage referred to the Spirit of Christ in Noah, when Noah preached for one hundred and twenty years to the antediluvians. It was the Spirit of Christ in the preacher who was pleading for them to repent [Genesis 6:3].
Well, I wonder if the reason that I said that was because I was afraid to admit that I didn’t know the real meaning of the passage and could not understand it, and still do not. And even though some of the great scholars of the years and generations past, and some of the magnificent commentaries, for example, the American Commentary on the New Testament, written by our Baptist people in the last century—even though some of those great commentaries present an interpretation like that, that what the passage refers to is that it was the Spirit of Christ in Noah who was pleading with the antediluvians to be saved. And it was that Spirit of Christ in Noah who preached to those spirits that are now in prison.
Yet, when I look at the text minutely and study it exegetically, I cannot escape the persuasion that that interpretation is not right, it is not correct, the text does not say that. Now, you look at it closely, and if you have a King James Version of the Bible, follow it with me for the moment.
“Christ, being put to death in the flesh, was quickened by the Spirit” [1 Peter 3:18]—you have capital “S.” That is, the translators of this text in 1611, the King James Version, believed that the text says that Christ, being put to death in the spirit, in the flesh, was quickened by the Holy Spirit.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, certainly. In Romans 1:4, the inspired apostle Paul declares that Christ was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit of God. Nothing wrong with that. But where the problem arises, studying it exegetically, is in the next words, “being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Holy Spirit”—the King James Version reads—“by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison” [1 Peter 3:18-19].
Now, that is not what the apostle wrote. “Being quickened by the Spirit: by which also” [1 Peter 3:18-19]—they are the same, they are congruent. They correspond. Now you look at it exegetically: Christ was “put to death in the flesh, but quickened—to pneumate—in the spirit” [1 Peter 3:18]. His spirit was quickened in which—in whole—in which, in which spirit He went and preached to the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:19]. He did not go to preach to the spirits in prison when He was raised from the dead, as the King James Version would have you believe, the way it is translated. It is not that at all. He was quickened in the spirit, in which spirit—not in His resurrected body—in which spirit He went to hell, went to Hades to preach to the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:18-19]; that’s what the text says. Now, I’ll go over that again. It was not when Christ was raised from the dead that in His new resurrection body He went down to hell and preached to the spirits in prison. The text says that being put to death, He was quickened in the spirit, in which spirit He went down into hell to preach to the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:18-19].
Our Lord Jesus Christ was glorious in His spiritual essence before He became a sacrifice for our sins, for which sacrifice He had to have a body, and for which body He was prepared to enter into in the virgin womb of a Jewish girl, Mary [Matthew 1:20-25]. He had to have a body in order to make sacrifice, atonement for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14]. But before Christ was incarnate, He was pure spirit, and He was glorious in spiritual essence [John 1:1, 17:5].
When Christ was separated from His body, when He was put to death [Matthew 27:32-50], His spirit was quickened [1 Peter 3:18]. There was something that happened to His spirit. As gloriously as the Lord was in spirit in His pre-incarnate existence, His pre-existence, as glorious as He was in spirit, in His pre-incarnate existence, when He was separated from the body in death, there was something further and other that was added to His spirit. He was quickened in His spirit, in which quickened spirit He went down into hell and preached to the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:19].
It is an amazing thing that the apostle is writing here. Now, when I look at the text in its context, why Peter writes such a thing, it is very evident, and also in its evidency corroborates what the text exegetically actually says. What Peter is doing is this: he is writing to the persecuted Jewish Christians of Asia Minor, and he is saying to them, quote, “Take heart. Don’t be discouraged.” It is a part of the divine family of God to suffer [1 Peter 3:17, 5:10].
Abel suffered, the child of God. His blood cried to the Lord from the ground [Genesis 4:8-10]. Job suffered [Job 1-2]. Jeremiah suffered [Jeremiah 38:6]. The people of God suffer, and even our Lord suffered. He was put to death [Matthew 27:26-50]. He was crucified, but His crucifixion and His death, Simon Peter is saying, did not lessen His power or the glory of His influence [1 Peter 3:17-22].
Rather, it was augmented, and when the Lord suffered and died, and His spirit was separated from His body [Matthew 27:50], in a new and in an enlarged capacity, He went down where He in the days of His flesh could not have gone down. He went down in His quickened spirit and there preached to those who were damned and in hell [1 Peter 3:19].
As long as the Lord was in the flesh, He was separated from that ability, to be conversant with the spirit world. But when He died, His sphere of influence was enlarged. And being enlarged, quickened in the spirit, He preached to those who are in hell [1 Peter 3:18-19]. So Simon Peter would say to the suffering Christians. “Don’t be discouraged, for your suffering, yea, if it led even to martyrdom, it but enlarges your witness and your testimony for Christ” [1 Peter 3:14-22].
Now, we shall look at that more earnestly, for this, I repeat, is an astonishing thing. Our Lord, put to death in the flesh, separated from His body, was quickened in the spirit [1 Peter 3:18]. There was something added alive, a power, to His spirit. “Quickened in the spirit, in which spirit—in whole—in which spirit He went and preached unto the spirits in prison” [1 Peter 3:18-19].
In a beautiful and eloquent passage, F. B. Meyer, the noble Baptist preacher of London, England, in the last century—F. B. Meyer describes in an eloquent passage the descent of the king of Babylon into the nether world, into hell. And he does it as he is speaking, expounding, the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah and the sixteenth verse. And F. B. Meyer, the great, and far-famed, and gifted preacher, describes, using Isaiah 14:16 as a background and as a text, he describes the coming of the king of Babylon down into the nether world.
And he describes the king as being a pale ghost. And as he comes down into the nether world, having finally met the fate of death from the hands of Almighty God, the king of Babylon is greeted there by the thin voices of the ghosts and the shadows of the kings that he has slain and the chiefs of the people that he has decimated. And in tones of withering sarcasm, these shades of the mighty that the king of Babylon has destroyed, says to the Babylonian king as he descends into their midst, they say in tones of contempt and hatred, “What? What? Art thou weak like unto us? And art thou come down to us? Thou who didst make the earth to tremble and made the kingdoms of the world to shake? You, coming down to us, we who are pale, thin ghosts?” [Isaiah 14:15-21].
Listen: if Isaiah presents the stirring in the nether world of the coming down of the great, mighty, golden king of Babylon, can you imagine the stirrings in the nether world when the Son of God came down? It is beyond what a man can think. What must have happened when the Lord put to death in the flesh, quickened in the spirit, by which spirit He went down and preached to those who were damned and in hell? [1 Peter 3:18-19].
Can you imagine the stirrings in that nether world when the Lord appeared, proclaiming, heralding? When I turn to the Book of Ephesians, chapter 4, Paul speaks of that, when the Lord, beginning at verse 8, when the Lord was crucified:
He ascended up on high, leading captivity captive…
Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
Now, a casual, peripheral interpretation of that would be that the Lord who was up there in heaven, came down to the earth, and then ascended back up into heaven. But there is more to that passage than that. When you study it closely and follow it meticulously, you’ll come to the conclusion that I have come to. Paul says our Lord, in His death, descended down into the lower parts of the earth, and to a Jewish people—and Paul was learned in all of the literature and the knowledge and wisdom of the Talmud and of Jewish tradition [Acts 22:3]—and using the language in which he was taught, when one descended into the lower parts of the earth, that meant the nether world; that meant to the Hadean shadows of Sheol. That meant to the departed spirits who were down there in the uttermost parts, the lower parts of the earth [Ephesians 4:9].
This suggestion in Paul [Ephesians 4:8-9], and this writing of Simon Peter [1 Peter 3:18-19], has been the proclamation of the churches of Christ from the beginning. Do you remember the Apostles’ Creed? Nobody knows where the Apostles’ Creed came from. It goes back, and back, and back, clear to the time when we cannot find its beginning antiquity. And I would presume, back to the days of the apostles.
This is the oldest creed of Christendom. This is the most universal expression of the Christian faith that has ever been framed. This is the Apostles’ Creed. Do you remember it?
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered unto Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Now did you follow its historical order? In very plain and consecutive sentences: I believe in Jesus Christ, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered unto Pontius Pilate—taking His life historically—was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell, then the third day, He rose again from the dead.
That faith of the Christian church expressed in that creed is exactly the order in which the apostle Peter writes it here. He was put to death in the flesh, He was quickened [in] the spirit, in which spirit He went and preached unto the spirits in prison—before—on the third day He was raised from the dead. Not after He was raised from the dead in His body, but in His quickened spirit, He went to preach to the spirits in hell, damned and in prison [1 Peter 3:18-19].
Why does the apostle speak just about those who were disobedient in the days of Noah? [1 Peter 3:19-20]. What about all of the other spirits who were no less disobedient and no less judged and damned, who were disobedient in other eras and periods of the church? Well, our human minds play tricks upon us. We suppose that these others are excluded because they’re not named. Not so, not so. That’s a deduction on our part, a speculation, a summarization on our part. The text does not say that.
Apparently, what the Lord did, He went down into the nether world, and He preached to all of the spirits in prison. But the apostle Peter names these. For some reason, the apostle Peter was impressed, deeply so, by the flood of Noah. For example, in 2 Peter, in the second chapter, verse 5, he speaks of the Noahic flood [2 Peter 2:5], and then in the third chapter, verses 5 and 6, he speaks of it again [2 Peter 3:5-6]. And then he speaks of it here [1 Peter 3:20]. The Flood, as he read of it, made a great impression upon the mind and by inspiration upon the pen of the apostle Peter. So he picks out those sinners as being especially blasphemous and disobedient [1 Peter 3:20]. The story says that Noah began to preach in the four hundred eightieth year of his life [Genesis 6:3, 7:11], and the Flood came when Noah was six hundred years old [Genesis 7:11].
So from the four hundred eightieth year of his life until Noah was six hundred years old, he preached to those antediluvians, pleading repentance toward God [2 Peter 2:5]. Every ring of the hammer and every sound of the saw was a message from Noah to get right, to repent. And as you know, there was not one that turned, not one. One hundred twenty years that patriarch preached without a convert, without one to respond. Simon Peter points them out as being vividly disobedient [1 Peter 3:19-20].
Another reason that he uses Noah is, he finds in that salvation by water—that bore up the ark—a type and a figure whereby we present what has happened to us in our baptism in water [1 Peter 3:21], and I shall speak of that later. Now when I look at this, and when I say this, immediately, immediately the thought pounds on our hearts and strikes like a ringing, clanging bell in our minds; does this passage mean that a man has a second chance? If a man dies in rejection, and unbelief, and unrepentance, and he’s down in torment, in prison, in hell, in the nether world, does this mean that down there, the gospel can be preached to him, and that he can be saved? Does it mean that? Does it?
Ah, what a question! A devastating one. There is no way to answer that but to be truthful and honest. There are two honest answers. Number one: there is no hint of a suggestion in the Bible, anywhere in it, that a man has a second chance when he dies. Rather, the opposite is confirmed, such as the word in Ecclesiastes, “As a tree falls, so shall it lie” [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. When a man dies, he dies in that character in which he’s lived forever. His afterlife is but an extension of this one. If he dies in unbelief, he is in unbelief forever. If he dies lost, he dies lost forever. There is no hint, no suggestion in the Word of God that a man has a second chance, not at all, not in the Word. Not in the Book.
All right, number two about that: does a man have a second chance when he dies and is damned in hell? Does he have a second chance? All right, let’s look at this Word. Christ was put to death in the flesh. He was quickened in the spirit, in whom, in which spirit He went and preached unto the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:18-19]. Evidently, Simon Peter carefully chose, by the inspiration of God, that word, translated “preached” here, by which Christ preached to the souls damned in hell. Preached [1 Peter 3:19].
Kerussō, kerussō, which is an altogether different word from euaggelizō; euaggelizō—we’ve taken the Greek word euaggelizō, and when you spell it out in English, when you Anglicize it, it comes out the identical word, “evangelize,” euaggelizō, evangelize. Take the Greek word, spell it out, Anglicize it, and it comes out “evangelize.” To evangelize, euaggelizō, means to preach the gospel of hope, of good tidings, that a man can repent of his sins. He can accept the Lord as his Savior. God will write his name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27], save him now, in death, and forever. That’s what euaggelizō means.
But kerussō is an altogether different word. Kerussō means one thing; it means to publicize. It means to herald, and that’s all. For example, in the days before the days of the newspapers, in a city or a town like England, there’d be a town crier, and he’d walk down the streets, ringing a big bell and crying, “Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!”
Then he would publicize, he would herald the news. That’s exactly what that word means, kerussō. In which Spirit He went and kerussō to the souls that were in prison [1 Peter 3:19]. It’s a crier. It’s a herald. It’s an announcer. It’s a publisher. And that’s all. What did He publish? And what did He cry? And what did He say? No man knows. God does not reveal it. We don’t know. It is hid in the archives of God.
I was asked, when I preached through the Bible seventeen years and eight months, why didn’t you preach on that text? My answer was, I don’t like to preach about something I don’t know. And I don’t know. I cannot find out. It is hid in the mind of God. I do not know. I cannot find out. No man knows. It is in God. What was Jesus doing, down there in hell? What did He say to those spirits in prison? [1 Peter 3:19]. I do not know. Calvin and a Calvinist would say He went down there to confirm their damnation, to make sure they understood why they were lost. Ooh, that seems harsh to me! I don’t know. It is not said, just that He did it.
In the spirit, before His resurrection, He went down there and kerusso, heralded, cried, published to the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:18]. Maybe, when we’re in heaven, we can sit down with Simon Peter, and maybe the Lord by his side, and say, “You know that mysterious passage in the Bible? Would you tell us what it meant?”
As the Book of Deuteronomy says, “The secret things belong to God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” [Deuteronomy 29:29]. And what we can know, that can we preach. “I believe, therefore have I preached.” What I do not know and cannot understand,” we’ll just wait and let God make it plain to us by and by.
Now this leads to a remarkable comparison. Speaking of those who were lost in the days of the disobedience of the antediluvians, and then speaking of the salvation of Noah and his family [1 Peter 3:20], he says, that is a “like figure whereunto baptism doth now save us.” (That is, not the putting away of the flesh, but the answer of a regenerate heart toward God) [1 Peter 3:21].
Now may I say in my words what the apostle is avowing? He is saying that the water destroyed the old world. It was full of violence and sin, rejection and disobedience. And the water destroyed it, buried it [Genesis 6:5-8, 7:17-23], and out of the old world, in the rebirth of the Flood, there came a new world, purged of sin, purged of disobedience. And when Noah came out of the ark [Genesis 8:15-16], he came into a new life and a new world. The waters of the flood must have made it verdant, foliated. There was no crime and no sin. The earth was new. And Noah entered into that new earth, and that new life, and that new world [Genesis 8:15-21]. And the apostle Peter says that is a figure wherein baptism doth bring us through the same experience [1 Peter 3:20-21].
The water buoyed up the ark, dia hudatos, dia hudatos, wherein those souls were saved “by water, through water” [1 Peter 3:20]. The water held up the ark and saved Noah and his family. It is a figure, he says, of our baptism in the water [1 Peter 3:21]. We are buried, and the old world is gone, it’s dead. We are dead to it. The old delights, the old taste, the old visions, and dreams, and longings, they’re all dead, buried under the flood.
And we have been born into a new life in Christ [2 Corinthians 5:17]. It’s a new world into which we are introduced, and the sign and the seal of that beautiful transition, the old being dead and buried and the new being quickened and alive, is when we’re buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Christ out of the watery grave [Colossians 2:12]. Then less somebody think that baptism does it, he writes in parenthesis, “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” [1 Peter 3:21]. Not the water actually does it, but the regenerating power of God does it! [Titus 3:5].
You see, he was writing to Jewish people who knew all about baptizings. That’s just a common word, baptizings. They’d baptize, we’d say “washed” or “immersed.” They’d baptized their pots and their pans, their feet, their hands, their heads, sometime baptized themselves all over. They ceremonially washed themselves, and the apostle says a ceremonial cleansing, a ceremonial washing does nothing but just rid the flesh of some dirt.
That’s not it! He says the ceremonial washing, the baptizing is a symbol and a figure of a great spiritual reality! When a man has died to the old world and buried beneath the flood, he is raised to a new life in Christ [Romans 6:3-6]. This is the figure. It is the symbol; it is the type wherein God saves us. “Any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation: old things are passed away”—they died and were buried in the flood—“and all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. We experience a new life, a new hope, a new vision in Christ. Buried and raised, lost and now saved; this is the gospel of the grace of the Son of God [Romans 6:4-5].
Our time is far spent. In a moment, we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, giving your heart to Jesus, trusting Him as your Savior, lifting up your face to our Lord, would you come and answer that appeal with your life? Would you do it now? Would you make the decision now in your soul? And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway if you’re in the balcony, walking down this aisle if you’re on this lower floor: “Pastor, today I make that decision. God has spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life, taking the Lord as Savior.” Or coming into the fellowship of this glorious church, while we sing this song, come. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.