Questions From Readers
● Who were the “spirits in prison” to whom Jesus preached as stated at 1 Peter 3:19, when did he preach to them and did this preaching open up an opportunity for them to repent?—U.S.A.
At 1 Peter 3:20 the “spirits in prison” are described as having “once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days.” In his second inspired letter to Christians, Peter refers to them as “angels that sinned.” (2 Pet. 2:4, 5) And the disciple Jude adds: “The angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place he has reserved with eternal bonds under dense darkness for the judgment of the great day.”—Jude 6.
That angels did indeed forsake their proper dwelling place prior to the flood of Noah’s day is revealed at Genesis 6:2, where we read: “The sons of the true God began to notice the daughters of men, that they were good-looking; and they went taking wives for themselves, namely, all whom they chose.” Yes, these spirit sons of God or angels had the power to materialize in human form, as is evident from the fact that faithful angels did so at divine direction to communicate messages to men on earth. (Gen. 18:1, 2, 8, 20-22; 19:1-11; Josh. 5:13-15) However, when numerous angels of their own volition left their proper place and assigned service in the heavens to have fleshly relations, they were doing something contrary to God’s law. They became guilty of perversion, as indicated by Jude’s comparing the sin of these angels to the sexual perversion of which the inhabitants of Sodom, Gomorrah and surrounding cities were guilty.—Jude 7.
As to the time of Jesus’ preaching to the “spirits in prison,” Peter, after pointing out that Christ had been “made alive in the spirit,” continues: “In this state [that is, Jesus’ state as a spirit person] also he went his way and preached to the spirits in prison.” (1 Pet. 3:18, 19) This would place Jesus’ preaching to them after his resurrection to spirit life. And Peter’s use of the past tense (“preached”) suggests that such preaching was done prior to the writing of his first letter (about 62-64 C.E.).
The New English Bible renders 1 Peter 3:18, 19 as follows: “In the body he was put to death; in the spirit he was brought to life. And in the spirit he went and made his proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” In this connection we must remember that on Passover night, before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus said to his apostles: “The ruler of the world is coming. And he has no hold on me.” “And when that one [God’s spirit] arrives he will give the world convincing evidence concerning sin and concerning righteousness and concerning judgment: . . . concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” (John 14:30; 16:8-11) On this basis, the resurrected Jesus Christ could make a proclamation to the angels concerning the now fully justified judgment against the imprisoned spirits. That was all he could do to those imprisoned spirits, namely, make a proclamation to them concerning judgment, with stronger reason than when he had in his prehuman spirit state said to the Devil: “May Jehovah rebuke you.” (Jude 9) It was not then the time for the resurrected Jesus Christ to abyss the imprisoned spirits. When he entered into the Most Holy of the heavenly temple to present the merit of his ransom sacrifice to Jehovah and then sat down at Jehovah’s right hand, it would hardly be the appropriate thing to bother with the imprisoned spirits and preach to them. So there is no reason to imagine that the resurrected Jesus would have invited all of the wicked spirit creatures to assemble so that he might preach to them.
It should be remembered that the Greek word for preaching (ke·rysʹso) refers to a proclamation that could be something good or something bad, as when Jonah proclaimed Nineveh’s coming destruction. As Jude pointed out, the disobedient angels have been reserved for “the judgment of the great day.” Therefore, the preaching by the resurrected Jesus to such unrighteous angels would only have been a preaching of a condemnatory judgment.
That Jesus’ preaching could not have opened up an opportunity for the “spirits in prison” to repent is made clear in the Scriptures. Hebrews 2:16 states: “He [Jesus] is really not assisting angels at all.” Also, the spirit creatures that rebelled had not been created with an inclination to fall short of God’s perfect law. Their practice of sin was a result of deliberate choice. Their situation would therefore be somewhat comparable to that of spirit-anointed Christians who apostatize. Concerning such persons, Hebrews 6:4-6 tells us: “It is impossible as regards those who have once for all been enlightened, and who have tasted the heavenly free gift, and who have become partakers of holy spirit, and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but who have fallen away, to revive them again to repentance.” Now, if it is impossible to aid such apostate ones to repentance even though they are imperfect in the flesh, certainly it is also an impossibility for willfully sinning spirit angels to repent.