Who are the spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3:19?
Let’s read the verses 18 to 22 to better understand the context of this passage.
1Peter 3:18 "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:"
1Peter 3:19 "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;"
1Peter 3:20 "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."
1Peter 3:21 "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:"
1Peter 3:22 "Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.""
Verse 18 stated that Christ was “quickened” by the Spirit. The word “quickened” in Strong’s G2227 means to make alive. So, in other words, Jesus who was put to death for our sins was “made alive” through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 19 stated that by the same Holy Spirit that Christ spoke to the spirits in prison. The question is when did He preach to these “spirits in prison”? and who are these “spirits in prison”?
Before we answer that, please note that the word “spirits” in Strong’s G4151 also means “figuratively a spirit, that is, (human) the rational soul”. The word “prison” G5438 means “figuratively the place, the condition… cage, hold”.
Now Verse 20 gave us the answer. Peter made mention of the comparison that “in the days of Noah”, the “spirits” or humans, that is, the men and women were “disobedient”. Genesis 6 verse 5 said “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his hearts was only evil continually.” The words “wickedness” and “evil” mean morally bad. So, if we will understand these biblically, the condition (prison) of men (spirits) in the days of Noah were wicked and evil. In other words, they were captive to evil or sin. Christ, through the same Holy Spirit which made Him alive from His literal death also “preached” or proclaimed the mercy of God to these people who were wicked and evil, or spiritually dead in the days of Noah so that they can be spiritually alive again. 1Peter 1:10-12 told us that the Spirit of Christ through the prophets has preached the gospel of salvation to men who are held in spiritual prisons.
1Peter 1:10-12 “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into."
Isaiah 61:1 says, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."
Jesus Himself stated that this Scriptures in Isaiah has been fulfilled in Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” Jesus through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit opened the prison of sin so the captives will have liberty and go free.
To help us more understand, verse 21 makes it even clearer by making illustration or the “like figure” of baptism the experience of the flood. Just when Jesus was resurrected from death to life by the Holy Spirit, so the same Holy Spirit today also works in making the spiritual life alive by convicting men of sin.
John 16:7-8 says, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”
The Holy spirit is providing us the power to live a holy life. Romans 15:16 says, "That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost."
And the Holy Spirit is also the source of regeneration and renewal for salvation. Titus 3:5 says, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;" In the days of Noah, the Holy Spirit worked to led men from death to life. In our time, the Holy Spirit brings men out from spiritual prisons of sin leading them from death to life all because of the mighty power of Jesus Christ who is now in heaven and on the right hand of God.
By the way, some believe that the “spirits in prison” are those condemned souls now suffering in Hell but according to Scripture and especially prophecy, Hell is a place in the future that only lasts until the fuel (flesh) that burns becomes ash (see Malachi 4:1-3). Jesus is not a time traveler and even if He was, why wouldn’t He go to the future to pull everyone out of hellfire?
Rome’s “purgatorial fire” is why people believe Hell is a place now. The Popes made up Purgatory to not only entrap people into false theology, it was also used to scare them into giving John Tetzel money to get their loved ones out of Purgatory and into Heaven. He of course used that money to help the Pope build the Vatican.
“Thy word is truth!” – John 17:17