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; 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 (I Peter 3:18-20).
In the last two issues we called attention to a few interpretations of this verse, and we began to try to see what the verse actually does mean. We noticed that the text teaches that Christ in the Spirit made an announcement to some in hell concerning His victory over Satan in His death and resurrection. Second, we saw that He did not preach the gospel, but made an announcement or proclamation. Third, we noted that this proclamation was made only to a limited number in hell, namely, to those who were disobedient when Noah was building the ark.
Finally, we ought to notice that the text does not say that Christ made His proclamation to the spirits of those who lived and died prior to the flood while His body was in the grave. This is an unwarranted assumption. The text clearly states that proclamation took place after Christ arose: "… that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which (Spirit) also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison."
But what was the content of the proclamation which Christ made? It seems to me that Christ announced His victory over Satan in His suffering and death on the cross. Although the text states that Christ suffered for well-doing at the hands of wicked men and is thus an example to us, verse 18 also speaks of His suffering for sins that He might bring us to God. The rest of Scripture declares that Christ’s suffering on the cross was a mighty victory over Satan and the forces of darkness and all the power they represent. This is also the force of verse 22.
Christ arose from the dead triumphant over the grave, ascended into heaven and is exalted at God’s right hand. According to Revelation 12, this victory of Christ was announced in heaven by the casting out of Satan and his hosts at the time of Christ’s exaltation. This victory was also announced on earth through the preaching of the apostles, and it continues to be announced wherever the gospel is preached. It is not surprising, therefore, that this victory is publicly proclaimed in hell. Thus every part of God’s creation is made aware of the triumph of God’s Son.
A second and more difficult question is: Why was it announced only to some of those in hell and not to all—only to those who had lived and died prior to the flood? Once again, the text does not directly answer this question and so we must deduce our answer from the context and from the rest of Scripture.
If we consult the rest of Scripture, it becomes evident, in the first place, that the flood was a picture of the end of the world. It was a picture of the end of the world because the entire creation as it existed prior to the flood was destroyed, and a new creation was formed—just as at the end of the world this old world will be burned and a new heaven and new earth will be formed (cf. II Peter 3:10-13). It was a picture of the end of the world because the church was delivered through the judgments which God sent upon the earth, just as Zion is always redeemed through judgment (Isaiah 1:27). The salvation of the church through the waters of the flood was a type of baptism as the text itself makes clear (21b-22), a baptism which signifies the washing away of sin through the blood of Christ.
In the second place, the times before the flood were typical of the times just before the coming of Christ. This is true in several ways. Just as at the end of time apostasy will abound in the world, so before the flood apostasy was very great. The sons of God came in unto the daughters of men and brought forth giants (Gen. 6:4), and wickedness was great (Gen. 6:5). Just as at the end the righteous will be persecuted, so it was before the flood, so much so that Enoch, the preacher of righteousness was taken to heaven without dying, and the church itself was, through apostasy and persecution, reduced to just eight people who were saved in the ark.
It must not be forgotten that the greatest sin the wicked world can commit is the persecution of the church. The church is the bride of Christ. Christ will not take lightly the abuse, mutilation and murder of His bride. By this dreadful sin the wicked fill the cup of iniquity and become ripe for judgment. It is precisely this suffering for Christ’s sake that the apostle is discussing in the context (14-16).
Finally, the wicked who lived and died before the flood never knew on earth that God’s cause was vindicated. They hated that cause, despised it, mocked Noah and his sons, spoke sneeringly of Noah’s prophecy of the flood, and in so doing rejected the promise of Christ of which Noah spoke (Heb. 11:7). These wicked men lived and died thinking that the cause Noah represented went down to defeat. Now, when through the victory of Christ in His exaltation in heaven, the cause of the wicked is utterly destroyed, this victory is announced in hell to those who were disobedient that they may know that righteous Noah triumphed through faith, but that they perish because of their unbelief. Thus God’s cause—and the cause of His people—is vindicated publicly, their enemies receive their just reward, and the righteous inherit the kingdom. This is great comfort to God’s suffering people.
This seems to me to be the answer to this question and the interpretation of a difficult passage.
- Volume: 9
- Issue: 9
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
Address725 Baldwin Dr. B-25
State or ProvinceMI