When and how was the Gospel presented to the dead?

This is an article that I translated from the site Christian Moldova. It was done a while ago. I found the article very enlightening and thought I would share it with you here. Many thanks to Pastor Vasile for the info.

“For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (I Peter 4:6)

Now let us do a little studying together so that we can understand this text even better and then be able to interpret what is written, accurately. One of the rules for interpreting any Scripture is the fact that it must be studied in context, “the rule of context, context rules!!!

What is evident in the immediate context of this verse? Let us make a list of all that we can learn from this verse.

  • The Gospel has been preached to those who are dead.
  • This was done in view of the fact that God judges the living and the dead as we see in the previous verse. (I Peter 4:5)
  • The Gospel was preached to the dead because they will be judged in the flesh as men, so they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. All people deserve hell because of their evil deeds but God, the One who wants the best for all people, preached the Gospel to the dead so that they can live in spirit according to the will of God. The text does not give us much insight into what it means to live according to the will of God but it is evident that living according to the will of God is something better than hell.
  • The apostle Peter mentions all of this after he has written about the Gentiles, in other words pagans who live in sin, described as “having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries”. These pagans (nonbelievers) were amazed at the fact that the Christians stopped living in sin like they were and they began to persecute the Christians because of it. These pagans do not realize it but they will have to stand before the One who judges the living and the dead. We see that that those who are alive and living in sin will be judged and those who die having lived in sin will also be judged. There is no escape.

Next we have to look at the chapter context (I Peter 3:18-20)

This same subject, preaching the Gospel to the dead, was previously written about in this Epistle so let us see what was written,

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;  in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,  who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. (I Peter 3:18-20)

Let us make another list of the clearly taught things from the passage:

  • After Jesus Christ’s death He was resurrected in spirit (not yet in body) and while in spirit He went to preach to the spirits in prison.
  • The prison that Peter refers to here in the Place of the Dead, the place where the spirits of the dead await the Great Day of Judgment.
  • The spirits in the Place of the Dead are the people who were disobedient to God in life, for example, in the days of Noah those who forsook the patience of God.
  • Putting this passage together with the other verses, we see that these same ones who rejected God during the days of Noah, received a second chance from the Lord, in order to live in spirit according to the will of God.
  • We know that the Lord Jesus Christ was put to death and then on the third day He rose again with a bodily resurrection. The resurrection in spirit had to precede the bodily resurrection. It seems that during the three days that Jesus was in the grave He experienced the resurrection of His spirit and went and preached the Gospel to those in the Place of the Dead.

The next rule is to look in the Biblical context, the Bible as a whole, to see if the subject is taught on. (John 5:25-29)

Before His death on the cross, during His time of service on this earth, Jesus Christ told the Jews the following verses so let us pay attention to what He taught as it is written in the Gospel of John.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;  and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.  “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice,  and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29)

Here are a few teachings from this passage:

  • Jesus Christ says that days are coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Lord. We do not know when because He does not give us a time frame but we know that it will happen.
  • The dead who hear His voice, if they listen to Him (obey Him), will come out of their tombs. We know that according to the Scriptures, all Christians who are asleep (have died) will be resurrected as I Thessalonians says “they will be caught up . . . in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air… .” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
  • Also, those who were not obedient and did not listen to the Lord will be resurrected but their resurrection would be to that of judgment.

What about our dear loved ones who did not accept the Gospel and died?

This question is something that we struggle with especially if we have loved ones who died without accepting Christ. Do they also have a second chance? Will Christ also go to them and preach the Gospel? NO!!! The Bible does not teach us that they have a second chance. Those who live and die after the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ have their chance to receive the Gospel during their lifetime and if they choose to reject then they have made their final decision and will face eternal condemnation. They will be judged according to their deeds and their judgment is based on the fact that they did not accept Jesus Christ.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19)

Believe in Jesus Christ today and you can be saved. Go to your loved ones and share the Gospel with them, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do it while they are still living because once they die then their chance is over and their fate is sealed.

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