He Went and Proclaimed to the Spirits in Prison?

This blog post was written by Lexington teaching team resident Garrison Weiner

On October 16th, as part of our series ‘Exiles’ we discussed 1 Peter 3:19-22 and what it teaches about Christian faith and Baptism. This passage is one of those passages in Scripture that isn’t expressly clear on first read. Although Peter’s confusing language doesn’t conflict with the heart of the gospel or who God is... it still brings up the question, “What exactly are you talking about Peter?” 

The specific questions start at the end of v. 18 when Peter describes Jesus as “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah,”

Peter, who are these spirits in prison Jesus went to? When did he go to them? What did he preach?

In the sermon we talked about four historical options that have been often interpreted and debated from these verses in terms of answering the When, Who and What questions of this passage.


  1. When: During the days of Noah. 
    Who: Noah’s contemporaries. Who were live humans at the time, but have died since and are now spirits in prison because they didn’t listen to the message of grace that was preached to them. 
    What: Either Jesus’ spirit preached through Noah or Jesus’ Spirit preached on His own the message that God is a God of grace and justice. That though they deserved spiritual punishment for their sinful rejection of God, He was making a way of grace for them. All they had to do was humbly repent, trust in God and get in the boat Noah was making.
  2. When: During the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Who: Noah’s contemporaries who are literally dead spirits in prison at the time that Jesus is preaching to them.
    What: In this case, the message was some manner of triumph and victory; “See I told you. I’ve conquered suffering and made a way for people to be set free from death, but you can have no part of it because you rejected Me.” It can’t be that Jesus offered Noah’s contemporaries a second chance at grace after death because of Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
  3. When: During the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Who: Demonic spiritual beings who were at work in the days of Noah.
    What: In this case, the message is similar to the above case; triumph and victory accomplished through the cross despite these beings work to subvert God’s plan.
  4. When: During the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    Who: Those who died in faith and are in the Jewish place of the dead - sheol.
    What: In this case, Peter is referring to Jesus leading a jailbreak of sorts for God’s people in the Old Testament who died in faith but haven’t been brought into paradise yet. 

As we mentioned in the sermon, option 1 seems to be the best explanation for Peter’s line of thought. While Noah was building the boat, God was making His appeal through Jesus’ Spirit working in the midst of Noah’s faithful and costly obedience. Noah lived the exile life that Peter argues for throughout this entire letter. God patiently offered His mercy through Noah’s humble obedience. And in the same way when we get baptized (v. 21-22), it corresponds to our walking in Noah’s footsteps; receiving God’s gracious favor, trusting our lives in humble obedience to the vessel of God’s grace, and praying for God to patiently proclaim His mercy through our exile lives.

My main problem with options 2 and 3 are motive. What would be Jesus’ motivation for proclaiming triumph to a certain subset of people or demons in hell? Why preach that message at all at this timeframe? And why not preach that message to all of them? And how exactly does this explain any of the context that Peter brings up? 

Comparatively option 4 is a very Biblical and reasonable idea, but I don’t think it’s what Peter is talking about here. If you’re interested in studying some more of the Scriptural position behind this option and what the significance of Jesus descending to Hell might be, you can check out this helpful blog.

The Bible does have confusing passages and when we come upon them it’s worthwhile to consider historical interpretations; cross references with the rest of Biblical truth; and categorically understand that the importance of nailing down a particular interpretation of a particular passage often relates to the importance of the questions being answered. In this case, little if anything that is central to the Christian faith is at risk. The only question is to figure out, “Peter what exactly are you talking about?

The Freedom of Fear

This blog post was written by one of our teaching team residents, Cole Simpson.

We all Fear Something


Everyone, at least at some level, is afraid. 

And rather than ignore, deny, or tell us to just stop fearing, Peter redirects it. Two times specifically, he tells us to fear God. First, in chapter 1 Peter is talking to fellow believers about what they should and should not do and gives them an interesting command, “Conduct yourselves with fear in your time of exile(1 Peter 1:17). And in chapter 2 where he says simply, “Fear God” (1 Peter 2:17).
These examples in 1 Peter aren’t unique instances throughout Scripture. The Bible actually calls us to fear God over 300 times. But in light of God’s love, mercy, grace and overall character, this command can seem confusing or even contradictory to the good news of what God has done for us. 

So what does it mean to fear God?

Unhealthy Fear

I had a friend growing up who I’ll call Mike. Mike was a tough kid -- the toughest kid I’ve ever met. He wasn’t afraid of anything. Multiple times I saw him get into arguments with people twice his size and every time the larger kid cowered. No matter how much bigger or stronger, nobody fought or messed with Mike.
This always baffled me until one day I was with him and his dad walked up to talk to us.  His dad was small; nothing particularly impressive or intimidating about his stature. But suddenly everything about Mike changed.  The toughest kid I knew got very quiet. He wouldn’t look his father in the eyes. His only words were a quick “yes sir” or “no sir”. And Mike didn’t go back to normal until his father walked away. 
As time went on I noticed this more and more. Until finally, a light bulb went off. Mike was comfortable fighting absolutely anyone because he had been fighting his entire life. My concerns were confirmed when the truth came out that his dad had been beating him most of his life. He wasn’t afraid of anything because he experienced hell everyday at home. What else was there to fear?
This is the kind of picture that came to mind when I read the words “Fear the Lord” in the Scriptures. Like many of us, this command was distressing for me because I didn’t want to follow God if I had to view Him like Mike’s dad.

Healthy Fear

I had another friend growing up who I’ll call Clara. Clara was the type of girl that everybody gravitated towards. She just had the ability to make anyone and everyone feel welcomed. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from; Clara wanted to listen to your story. 
When Clara got into high school there was a guy that was interested in her. When he asked her out however, she told him he needed to ask her dad. While this would scare off many, he was seriously into her so he asked her dad. Clara’s dad said yes they could on one condition. 

Their first date would be dinner with their family. 

When most of my friends were fooling around, hooking up, and dating whomever they wanted with next to no parental involvement, this sounded sort of ludicrous to me. But what came next was downright craziness. For the entire first year of their relationship, they only went on dates at Clara’s house!

I remember asking Clara why she put up with it? Why she wasn’t angry? Why she didn’t think her parents were being ridiculous? She smiled and said:

Nobody loves me more than my parents, so if they think this is what I need to do, then I trust them”.

It was one of the most beautiful statements I’ve ever heard. 

Clara’s view of her parents encapsulates a huge part of how the Bible describes our fear of God. In realizing how much God loves us, how could we trust anything above him?  Clara had a humility about herself and a rigorous trust in her parents. A healthy trust. A healthy respect. And a fear. 

A healthy fear.
Fearing the Lord means we rigorously trust Him. We humbly submit ourselves to Him with a healthy respect and fear. It means, God gets the biggest voice in our life. 

The Freedom of Fearing the Lord

The reality is that fearing the Lord gives us a freedom that we can never attain apart from it.  

Fear of the Lord kills insecurity. The God of the universe, who created the stars in the heavens also formed me individually (Psalms 139:13-18). We can rest in the fact that God, our Father, loves us more than anyone else ever could (Romans 8:37-39)

We no longer have to fear man because we know that God is the only voice that matters and in Christ His thoughts towards us are, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) No one else’s judgment compares to the judgment of our loving, and fearful Father.

We are freed to love those around us fully. No longer are we enslaved to using the people around us to fill our needs of approval, power, control, or comfort.  Instead of continuing to run to unsatisfying idols (Jeremiah 2:13) we can run to God,  the true fountain of life (John 4:13-14), and be satisfied. 

Fear of God means politics and politicians aren’t ultimate. So if my candidate loses or the worst candidate ever wins, I can remain confident that God will hold the universe together (Romans 13:1)

The almighty, holy, God of the universe came to the earth and died on a cross while we were still dead, so that me and you, unrighteous sinners who deserve hell, could know him (Romans 5:8, Luke 12:5).  How could we not fear him?

Our Exile Heritage

This blog post was written by Pastor Jon Ludovina and Cole Simpson.

1 Peter 1:1-2

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
     To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
     May grace and peace be multiplied to you."

The Dispersion:

Dispersion comes from the Greek word ‘Diaspora’ which means “to distribute in foreign lands” or “to scatter abroad.” Historically, it refers to those Israelites who had been exiled into the surrounding lands of Egypt, Babylon and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) throughout the Old Testament and hadn’t returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, Ezra or Nehemiah. 
There is some debate as to why exactly Peter uses the term as he greets these Christians in churches scattered throughout Asia Minor. Some scholars argue that these believers were literal exiles from Rome who Peter had ministered to before they were scattered under Caesar Claudius’ non-violent Expulsion in 49 AD. As the Roman Emperor, Claudius found the Jews and the young Christian movement annoying and disruptive. So he had 50,000 Jews and Christians sent into new Roman colonies. 
Others argue that Peter’s use of the term is simply describing Asia Minor as one of the areas that the Israelites in Old Testament exile had been scattered to. 
Regardless of these differing views, what’s agreed upon fundamentally is that Peter understands and wants these Christians to understand that upon receiving new birth in Jesus, God gives us an identity as exiles. We are God’s scattered family of vagabonds. Resident aliens living in a foreign land as an envoy of emissaries (Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 2:11-12). And this concept -- a major theme of Peter’s letter -- has a rich and powerful history amongst God’s peoples.

The First Exiles:

Since the Garden of Eden God’s people have been exiled. Adam and Eve were removed from their garden home after choosing sin over God (Genesis 3:23-24). Following in their footsteps, all of humanity has tasted the curse of sin; the reality of living in a world that is only a temporary home. 

"We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile."
-Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

The Father of an Exile Nation:

In Genesis 12, God calls Abram and promises to make him the father of a great nation. But this incredible promise comes with the condition that Abram must leave his homeland and travel to a foreign land. Unlike Adam and Eve who were forced into exile by their sinful lack of faith, Abram chooses to embrace God’s call to live as an exile because he is filled with faith. 

Exiles in Egypt:

Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph becomes an exile in Egypt not because of his sin but because of the sins of his jealous brothers (Genesis 37). And God uses Joseph’s exile to eventually save millions of people from a coming famine. Joseph rises to power and social prominence in the Egyptian empire. His family moves to Egypt and multiplies greatly. 
Then Joseph dies and is forgotten about. 
And the Israelites lose their place of social prominence in Egyptian culture. This movement from the center of society to the fringes quickly turns into violent persecution. Moses is hidden by his parents because the Egyptians were brutally murdering Israelites boys under 2 years of age (Exodus 1-2). He grows up in wealth and power as Pharaoh’s adopted son. Until God leads him to leave this place of centrality and lead God’s people out of slavery. 

Exiles in Babylon:

After God uses Moses to deliver His people out of slavery, they take a long windy road to the Promised Land. Then in 607 BC the reign of  King Nebuchadnezzar II spread throughout the Middle East. Stage by stage the Babylonians conquer and exile the elite Israelites out of Jerusalem and into Babylon. Eventually the Babylonians decimate Jerusalem, destroy the temple, burn the houses, and over 10,000 Israelites are forcibly exiled to Babylon (Daniel 1, Jeremiah 25). 

In Summary: 

God’s people have always been exiles. 

Well, pretty much always. Throughout history, God’s people spend significantly more time in exile than out of it. And they get there in a manner of different ways: because of their own sins (Genesis 3), because of the sins of others (Genesis 37), because of their national idolatry (Jeremiah 25), because of tyrannical empires overtaking them (Daniel 1, 9), and even because of faithful decisions to trust and follow God to a new homeland (Genesis 12). But no matter the reason, God is always in the midst of it, working to save His people and the people around them. He leads His people to embrace their identity as missionary exiles; heaven’s outpost embassy. 

Christians as Exiles:

Peter, raised as a pious Israelite, brings all of this history to account when he calls the Christians in his letter exiles. He’s reminding them that God has continually worked for salvation no matter how painful the circumstances of His people are. He’s reminding them that God is with them, whether they are treated well by their culture or not. No matter the situation that got them into exile in the first place, God has never and will never abandon His people. 

Exiles in the Roman Empire:

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the gospel of grace spread throughout Rome very quickly. Despite the rapid spread, Christians were not well liked in general by Rome. This was largely due to the fact that they held their allegiance to Jesus higher than their allegiance to the Roman Empire. The common cultural perception was that they were at best weird and at worst dangerous. 

Tension also rose between Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the new Messianic sect of Jews who did believe he was the son of God (a.k.a. many of the early Christians). This tension resulted in Jews aggressively persecuting Christians all the way to the extreme of death because the Jews believed the Christians were twisting and perverting Judaism. This persecution is seen in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), Paul’s persecution (Acts 8) and also leads to the martyrdom of James, Jesus’ brother. This conflict also caused riots in the synagogues which ultimately led to Claudius expelling the more than 50,000 Jews and Christians, like we mentioned before.  

However this persecution was not limited to the Jewish Christians. As the church invited in new Jewish and Gentile believers, Gentile Christians were also marginalized and mistreated by their non believing friends because they had turned away from their old ways to the ways of Christ (1 Peter 4:1-6). 

In other words, no matter who you were as a Christian at the time, you were likely to experience some type of exile treatment; from smaller forms of marginalization to more violent forms of persecution. 

Modern Exiles:

Like the Christians Peter wrote to in Asia Minor, we are now called to pick up the mantle of living as exiles for the benefit of the world around us by seeing and knowing and glorifying Jesus. The purpose of God’s people has always been to be a lamppost in the darkness; a city on a hill that proclaims and shows off God’s beauty to the world (Matthew 5:14).  

In America and much of the West, we are culturally approaching the end of a period known as Christendom. As a strong contrast to most of the history of God’s people, Christendom saw Christian values and the church take a central role at the core of society. Many of the effects of this are still seen in the South; people claiming to be Christians with little to no active love or desire to follow Him; networking by putting Christian symbols on business materials, etc. So for many people, moving from Christendom to a more post-Christian will be a rocky transition. 

But as God’s people, our purpose has never been to demand a central role in our society here and now. As God’s people, our purpose is to glorify him in whatever cultural circumstance we find ourselves. We look forward to a coming land where Jesus will be central to all of culture. And we allow that future hope to empower us to live as exile missionaries no matter where we are. Because we know this isn't our home. So we don’t need it to maximize our comfort. Exiles are freed up to love on their neighbors with little demands on what kind of treatment we receive in return. 

Exactly like Jesus came to a foreign land as an exile. 

Exactly like He was mistreated by His neighbors.

And kept on loving them anyway.

So that now we can go from being His enemies to being His friends. From being strangers to being His family. And from being citizens of earth to being citizens of heaven, sent on an exile mission with Jesus, the Exile of all exiles.