Many Christians get confused with the verse in 1 Peter 3:19, which at first glance suggests that the Lord Jesus Christ went to hades to preach to those there. In fact, this has become some kind of doctrine among many, that when the Lord died and was buried, He went to preach to the people who were already in hades. This is one example of taking a verse completely out of context and interpreting by our own minds, which is not a good thing to do with the Word of God.
You may now ask, then what is this verse referring to? Well, we need to look at the actual context to get the meaning. Verse 18 starts with Christ, the Just one, suffering for the unjust people, that He might bring us to God. We were unjust and undeserving, but Christ the Just one suffered for us. Yes, He did die as stated in the verse, but He arose victorious from the grave. So, what is the big deal about Him preaching to the spirits in prison in verse 19, and why is this verse perplexing to a lot of Christians? Let us look at the next verse and examine the contents. These spirits were on earth a long time ago in the days of Noah. What happened in the days of Noah? The flood happened. Why did it happen? Because the human race was very wicked and continued in open rebellion against God.
However, Noah found grace in the eyes of God (Genesis 6:8) and because Noah was righteous (not in himself, but God was working in his heart), God told him to build the ark that saved him and his family. How did Noah know that judgement was coming? He had faith in what God told him, as we read in Hebrews 11:7. So Noah built the ark and was testifying of what God was about to do. It was the Spirit of Christ who was using Noah to preach to the souls in those days. Did anyone listen to him? It seems not, but his wife, three children and their wives listened and went into the ark. Back in 1 Peter 3:20, eight souls were saved, which is why I mentioned Noah and his family. Noah spent many years building the ark, and at the same time warning the people on earth about God’s judgement. The people were laughing and mocking, because heavy rain had not fallen on the earth previously in the days of Noah, so it seemed stupid for him to build an ark in the middle of a desert, but Noah had faith in God and that God’s word will come to pass. It was at least 100 years that Noah spent building the ark. If we go back to Genesis 5:32, he was 500 years old when he had his three sons, then in chapter 7:6 he was 600 when the flood happened. He preached for at least 100 years, and it was all by faith in God! We see that God was long-suffering for 100 years back in the days of Noah, but in our time now He is long-suffering for much, much more than in the days of Noah. The flood happened and wiped out all life on the earth, and the people who were disobedient and mocking all died in the flood. This was the days of Noah, where the same Holy Spirit who is mentioned in 1 Peter 3:18 quickened the Lord from the dead, was upon Noah (NOT dwelling in him) and he was preaching to these souls. Therefore, the spirits in prison are those who were in the days of Noah mocking him while building the ark, and did not listen to the warning of God’s judgement. May we all take heed of the coming judgement and live our lives like Noah did, by faith. Noah had limited understanding, but we have the light of the Word of God in its fullness, and we have no excuse for not being obedient.