Good afternoon Dr Cooper,
Once Jesus Died on the cross did he go to hell for 3 days to preach the gospel? I have been hearing many people say that Jesus went to hell for 3 days and then rose back up to heaven.
This is a common teaching based on a false interpretation of 1 Peter 3:
Note what the verses actually state: "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;" (1 Peter 3:18-19)
The context of 1 Peter 3:18-20 is Peter is referring to the suffering of believers which begins in verse 16. He explains, if it is God’s will that believers suffer, their suffering should be for doing right, in other words stem from the exercise of their faith and not because of something they did wrong. Peter continues saying:
“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.” (1 Peter 3:18-20)
He then points us to Christ’s sufferings, the “Just” for the “Unjust.” In other words Christ was just, and His suffering was not for Himself for He had no sin. The implication is that if we suffer, it should be for being “just” and not having any fault of our own. In other words, suffering for things we caused. This sets the context for understanding the rest of the passage.
First note the statement of verse 18. Question? When did Christ suffer for sin...was put to death, but made alive (quickened) by the Spirit? Clearly, that happened 2000 years ago when Christ Jesus made His atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross.
Now note the first word in Verse 19. It is the preposition “by” ( Greek - ‘su’ ) . The use of this preposition means “a primary preposition denoting (fixed) position (in place, time or state), and (by implication) instrumentality (medially or constructively).” Therefore, “by” is used to make specific reference to a specific time. It tells us when the event being mentioned occurred, which is Christ's suffering and death on the cross.
Part of the confusion many have as to understanding the verse is not taking this into consideration.
So the verse is saying that atonement, which was preached to the people “in prison,” was, in time, accomplished when Christ suffered and died on the cross. Verse 20 says these people in prison were “sometimes” disobedient. Again this is a reference to time. The Greek word is “pote”, an indefinite adverb which means “some time.” The rest of the sentence modifies the adverb and tells us the “sometimes” was the former period before the flood. It says they were “disobedient” at that time and the time was time was when Noah was building the ark.
So the verses are saying that it was Noah who preached unto them Jesus Christ for the 120 years he was building the ark. Of course Noah did not know Jesus’s name, but he certainly knew of the Messiah and of God ’s promised redemption and he faithfully preached that for a hundred and twenty years. Noah preached righteousness but his message was rejected.
2 Peter 2:5 states that Noah was a preacher of righteousness and Genesis 6:3 says he did so for 120 years. So, Noah being warned of the coming flood, preached salvation to the antediluvians to believe God and thereby save themselves.
It was Noah who preached Christ to those that perished in the Flood, not Jesus Christ. And the “spirits in prison” are those that rejected God’s message preached by Noah. At their deaths they went to Hades and are there now awaiting the final Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:15-18.
To correctly interpret God’s word we must observe the context and the analogy of the faith. That means that God does not contradict Himself stating in one place one thing and in another, something that contradicts His other statement. Hebrews 9:25-27 specifically states...”And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). That is an emphatic statement of God and it has a direct bearing on understanding 1 Peter 3:19.
God is saying no one gets a second chance at salvation. When a person dies their lives end with a relationship with the Lord in salvation or in rebellion and its resulting damnation. Their eternal destiny is determined then and there is no further recourse. Thus, if we conclude that Jesus went to Hades and preached salvation to the unsaved there, that means the word of God is contraditing itself. Death finalized one's eternal destiny and there is not second chance.
Let me reiterate. If we accept the understanding that Jesus literally went to Hades and preached to the antediluvians why did He do so? They were already condemned having rejected God’s offer of salvation by Noah. Did, as some mistakenly conclude, Jesus literally go to Hades to offer them salvation? The answer is a resounding ....no, that is not possible because God says there is no second chance after death. Hebrews 9:27 precludes such an interpretation. Also, why would Jesus go to them...and not others throughout history who died in their sins? Ignoring other passages which have a bearing on the meaning of the passage brings about confusion. But, there is no confusion if we interpret the statement in its context and within the analogy of the faith.
When the Gospel is preached today....Jesus Christ is there through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is He that brings conviction and allows men to respond to God’s offer. That is the way it has always been as no one comes to the Father, but by Jesus Christ and only when the Father draws him (John 6:44). That includes the antediluvians and everyone from all time are saved the same way. That way is believing God promises, repenting of one's sins, and accepting Christ alone as their Savior. The pre-flood people did not know Jesus' name, but the word of God promises to send them the Messiah. It was in this promise that they believed an were saved.
But we must not stop at this verse 20, because the discourse is not finished and it explains another grossly misinterpreted statement of verse 21. "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 on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." (1 Peter 3:21-22)
Some try to use 1 Peter 3:20-22 to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. They focus on the first phrase "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us" and ignore the rest of the verse which says " which says "(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." The word translated "baptism" is the Greek word is "baptisma" and means to immerse. The context tells you if the immerision is Christian baptism or not. The context here shows this is not Christian baptism but rather simply being immerised. The second is a parenthetical statement made immediately to clarify any idea that baptism saves anyone. The statement clearly is speaking of simply washing with water and the act of being immersed in water. Water washes off filth and to make sure that no one makes the false implication that baptism saves, Peter plainly states he is not talking about baptism a being part of cleansing.
He says, he is NOT talking about the act of immersion as saving us. It is absolutely dishonest to use this verse in teaching the act of baptism (getting immersed or washed in water) to support baptismal regeneration. Baptism here is shown as an anti-type of Noah being delivered by the water. It was Noah's faith in God that saved him and his family (Hebrews 10:7). Noah was saved out of the water because of his faith which was of his "good conscience." Being in the flood waters did not save Noah. It was the ark that was above the water...that physically saved him and his family....not the act of being in the waters of the flood. Noah was not in the water of the Flood, but on the ark which God provided. It was God that closed the door to the ark once everyone was in, which kept the flood waters out. That is so clear how could anyone misunderstand that plain statement.
The statement ends saying one is saved, . ". . . By the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." (1 Peter 3:22b)
Remember what the word “by” means as earlier explained. It does not say that baptism saves or is necessary for salvation. Salvation is wholly the work of Jesus Christ, God incarnate in man who suffered, died and was resurrect for our salvation. Thus twice in the one sentence Peter refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation. Where in the Bible does God say that man's participation is necessary for salvation? A man is told to believe and accept God's truth and promise. He is to accept Jesus Christ's sacrifice and payment for sin alone. Man is a sinner under the condemnation of sin. The condemned man cannot save himself. If he a man is saved from his criminal act it will be by the act of the sentencing judge who sets aside the penalty. The guilty man cannot do some act and redeem himself. In human law a man may be spared the penalty of his crime, but he is always branded as a sinner. Romans 8:1 declares "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (Romans 8:1) God proclaims the once sinner, no longer a sinner, but under no stigma or condemnation. He is no longer a sinner, but a regenerated child of God.
So the confusion disappears when we properly let the Bible interpret itself. The problem is that many preachers and Bible teachers to not know how to properly interpret God's word and therefore false teaching comes from their lack of understanding. To try and help I have written an article that is posted at http://bible-truth.org/Principles.pdf
titled "Biblical Principles for Interpreting God's word." I encourage everyone who is interested in understanding and interpreting the Bible to carefully read and study the article.