1Pe 4:5-6 NIV
But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
1Pe 3:18-20 NIV
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits–to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
Peter gives us two very clear glimpses into the work of Christ between the cross and the resurrection. Something happened in the three days in the grave. Peter indicates they were much like the three years of ministry on the earth. Proclamation was taking place in the underworld.
Some would try to wave the implications of this off as mere wishful thinking. Namely that Christ can and will grant further opportunities in the afterlife.
So let me demonstrate the formidable foundation Peter sets forth in this passage.
Here are the facts. Christ suffered how many times for sins? Once. His one death applied the needed atonement for all people of all time. That is a vital framework to keep in mind at all times. So now we know how many times Christ died for sins. For whose sins did he die? The sins of the unrighteous. How many are unrighteous? All who were ever born. Christs death was not just for the unrighteous who were alive in his day, not just for the unrighteous yet to be born. Christ died for the all the unrighteous in the past and in the present and in the future. This corresponds with Christ being the same yesterday, today and forever.
Now if Christ died for those in the past how would the good news go to those who had already lived and died? The good news went to those in his day and the good news would travel to increasingly greater amounts of people in the future as the gospel spread. But if Christ died for the unrighteous dead from the past, how does the gospel do them any good?
“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead”
The Word now is not in the Greek. It is a biased addition. It should simply read
“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are dead’
What was preached to the dead? The gospel. What does “gospel” mean? Gospel (euaggelizō) means “good news” and “glad tidings”. The word gospel carried with it a sense of cheer. When you spread news that brought a smile to peoples faces you were sharing gospel.
Jesus went and preached good news and glad tidings to people who were already dead!
Ah but the technicians will insist that was only for the Old Testament saints to receive knowledge of what they already had by faith.
But that creates a problem. Paul asked “how shall they believe unless they hear and how shall they hear unless someone is sent?’ Jesus was sent to the grave and there he preached and there faith was created by the preaching. Are we to assume that only the faith that arose among the nice people of the past ages was acceptable to God? For that matter it would have only been the Jewish nice people wouldn’t it? Of course there were many wicked Jews from old times. Surely they were not allowed to believe were they? After all they lived wickedly. So they are no better than the pagans and the gentiles who never heard of the God of Abraham. So Jesus only went to the grave to preach glad tidings to nice jewish people.
Not so fast. Everywhere Jesus preached on earth he said that he came not for the well but for the sick. He came not for the righteous but for the sinner. Why should we believe that if Jesus died for all the unjust already in the grave from the past that any of those “all” who believed his preaching would be turned away if they cried out to him in faith? Jesus said “anyone who comes to me I will in no wise turn away.” And “No one can come to me lest he be drawn of the Spirit.”
Why would we think that the whole of mankind was granted the atonement- past, present and future, and yet Jesus would only offer his good news to a fraction of mankind already dead in the grave? If Christ died once for all-past, present and future, then we obstruct the goodness of the good news by standing in the doorway and saying Jesus only preached to the “good” people under the earth.
In the past I have heard terrible renditions of this passage that reflected the readers own vindictive theology. They would say that Jesus proclaimed the good news to the “righteous dead”(a term nowhere in the bible but concocted for this purpose). But to all the other souls who were wicked his preaching was the smell of death. All they could do was mourn as they watch the righteous being given the fulfillment of their hope. Where in the bible is that explicitly taught? The rich man and Lazarus you say? When did that take place? Was Jesus down there in the grave proclaiming anything in that parable? No…they were all waiting. It would appear not even Abraham and Lazarus knew how long they would be there. For that matter did they even know why they were there? That story does not serve to bolster much theology and many have concluded it is best not used to do so, rather it is best applied to the ethics and morals of charity and need.
Please imagine Jesus appearing in the afterlife of Sheol and his voice echoing through its caverns. “I am the first and the last, I am the savior of the whole world. My blood has been shed to atone for whosoever will believe on me and live again! I am the resurrection and the life!” Are we to assume ambivalence from rich man across from Lazarus who longed to send word to his brothers and who desired some small comfort from those on the other side of the gulf? Is it hard to imagine this souls crying out “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and “Son of God! I believe in you! save me, please! Forgive my sin, please apply your blood to me if in fact it was shed for all! Am I not one of the all you died for? Did you die for Lazarus but not for me!?”
Do you see the problems that traditional theology has left us with? They ignore the vastness of hope that is so simply and briefly revealed in Peters Words from the underworld.
But some will insist that I am engaged in too much creative interpretation based on wishful thinking and mercy run amok. Yet in light of all that I have shown you what then should you do with this statement from Jesus himself?
“Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.
“Truly I tell you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
“Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgement.
First I ask you, does this sound anything like what Peter was referring to?
“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.”
Jesus spoke of dead people hearing and living and being judged. There is far more to this than we have been allowed to know by religion and theology.
But lets bring another witness to the case. Paul the Apostle said, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and earth and under the earth and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord.” What is a soul required to confess for salvation once faith is in their heart? They must say Jesus is Lord. And Paul said that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. If people under the earth in Pauls future vision are confessing Jesus as Lord, how are they capable of doing such a thing if no one can do it except by the Holy Spirit?
We can only conclude that the Holy Spirit will in the future enable those under the earth to confess Jesus is Lord because the good news will be given to them as well. They will perhaps be those baptized in fire, but they will be ready to confess.
“That’s compulsion” you say. God will not have it! He wants only sincere love and surrender, not compulsory conversion! Is that so? Was Jonah not baptized into suffering until he called out to the Lord? Did he not use these very words: “From the depths of hell I cried out unto thee.”? Was not the acid of the fishes belly fiery torture for three days?
How about Saul of Tarsus? Was he gently wooed into the arms of the Lord or was he compelled to surrender under duress and distress and pains? Paul was plunged into darkness that he might call out for light. And light was given to him.
My friend’s can we stop and ask some common sense questions without the interference of tradition and religion for just a moment? Do you seriously think that if God wants someone the devil is too strong for God? Do we think that God is at the mercy of what the devil has done to humanity to separate us from the light? Is God big enough to save everyone or is he going to be defeated and deprived by the devil?
Because the theology of eternal conscious torment demands we shrink God down to a befuddled, perplexed deity outsmarted and out maneuvered by his own creation.
Either that or we distort him into a malevolent maniacal sadist who winds up the world and watches to see who lands in the clouds and who falls into the fire.
God has shown us that he loves everyone and will acquire all that he loves for himself until he is as Paul said, “all in all”