19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 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.
This passage seems a bit deep theologically. In the previous verse, Peter discussed Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice as the just for the unjust. Here he is talking about the second part of Jesus’ mission to die. Verse 19 offers an interesting insight; that Jesus spoke to the dead. The word proclamation here is to indicate that Jesus spoke something extremely important to them. The original Greek is used to explain an announcement as if from a preacher, indicating the important news of His Gospel.
The reference to Noah causes us to look back at exactly who Peter is talking about here. We have the indication that it was those who were not on the ark the day that God flooded the world, but let’s recall why He flooded the world in the first place:
5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”
11 Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.12 God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 13 Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.
It is to these whom Jesus spoke the Gospel, the message of His saving grace because they had not had the attention of God beforehand and therefore were not able to listen to what He had to say. Therefore, all persons (past, present, and future) have heard or will hear the true message of God: that despite our iniquities, He loves and still wants a relationship with us. However, let us not miss the indication that those Jesus spoke to are now in prison. My pastor told me once, “God is not subject to technicalities.” Everyone has a choice to make when they hear the Gospel for what it really is. It is this choice that they have to live or die with.
This passage is clearly thicker than some other parts we find in the bible. I’d like to invite anyone to share their thoughts about what this means. Does it indicate the existence of purgatory? Does it mean that those who die without hearing God’s Good News will hear it anyway one day? Does it only apply to those who were wiped out by the flood? How can scripture better explain this passage?