#5: Jesus Preaching to Dead People
Back to Lesson 9
Some have wondered that while Jesus was dead if He could have taken the opportunity to
preach to other people who were also dead. The question comes from 1 Peter 3:18-20, a passage
which now deserves our close attention.
It is always important to remember that the Bible does not contradict itself. Whatever this
verse says must be in harmony with what the rest of the Bible teaches on this subject. Otherwise it
could not be the inspired word of God.
Isaiah 38:18 states, “The grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go
down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.” There would be no point in Jesus preaching to those
who cannot have hope.
The Bible also states that “the dead know not any thing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). So preaching to
the dead does not fit in with the Biblical description of death.
Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:18-20 to see what it says and does not say. Verse 18 tells us that Jesus
was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit. The word quickened means brought to life.
It is when they are raised to life again that the dead are quickened (John 5:21).
Our passage in 1 Peter 3 does not tell us when Jesus was quickened. We are simply told two
things: (1) that Jesus was put to death, and (2) that He was brought back to life. To find out when
He was brought to life we must go to the actual account in the gospels. It tells us that He was
crucified on the day of the preparation (Matthew 27:62), and brought back to life on the first day of
the week (Matthew 28:1). Thus the Scriptural account is clear.
Our passage says that Jesus was quickened by the Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit. Jesus
Himself declared that it is the spirit that quickeneth (John 6:63).
So by comparing Scripture with Scripture we have a very good explanation of verse 18. Jesus
was put to death in the flesh on Friday afternoon, and raised to life again by the Spirit on Sunday
The next three words in our passage are “by which also”. The word “also” indicates the
introduction of a different event, the common factor being the involvement of the Holy Spirit. Christ
was resurrected by the Spirit, He also by the Spirit preached.
Christ, by the Spirit, preached unto the spirits in prison. The word “spirits” in this verse
simply means people. Often in the Bible a figure of speech is used by which a characteristic part of
a thing stands for the whole. Since the spirit or breath of a person is a characteristic part of the
person, the word “spirit” is sometimes used to represent the person. For example, in 1 Corinthians
16:18 “my spirit” simply means me. In Galatians 6:18 and 2 Timothy 4:22 your (thy) spirit simply
The prison concept is elsewhere used in the Bible in reference to the condition of those who
are entrapped in sin. “The wicked...shall be holden with the cords of his sins” (Proverbs 5:22). “For
of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Peter 2:19). The work of the
gospel is to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound
(Isaiah 61:1. See also Isaiah 42:7, 22).
With that thought, 1 Peter 3:19 simply says that it was through His Holy Spirit also that
Christ preached to people bound in sin. Notice that verse 19 does not tell us when this preaching
took place. To find that out we must go to verse 20 which says: “Which sometime were disobedient,
when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.”
There it is. Verses 19 and 20 are talking about what happened in the days of Noah!
Noah was called a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). Through his preaching the Holy
Spirit worked upon the hearts of the people. But because of the wickedness of that generation and
their refusal to obey God, the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also
is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years (Genesis 6:3). For 120 years Noah
preached. Those people had more opportunity to hear and accept the gospel than any other
generation. Yet, few, that is, eight souls were saved. When those 120 years were up, their opportunity
for salvation was forever gone. They would hear no more preaching.
Peter does not say that Jesus did anything while He was dead. He, by the Spirit, preached to
the people in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.
And that’s all the text says. It says nothing about a purgatory. It makes no mention of
disembodied spirits, and it says nothing about preaching to dead people.
1 Peter 4:6 tells us that the gospel was (past tense) preached to people who are (present tense)
dead. They are dead now, but nowhere does it say that they were dead at the time the gospel was
preached to them. Such a claim would contradict everything the Bible teaches about death, salvation,
and the justice of God. “The living, the living, he shall praise thee,...the father to the children shall
make known thy truth” (Isaiah 38:19).
#6: Stephen’s Spirit
What happened to Stephen’s spirit when he died? The same thing that happens to everyone’s
spirit when they die. The verse is Acts 7:59-60. As Stephen was being stoned, he was calling upon
God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Your spirit is simply the spark of life which belongs to God. You lose it when you die. When
the Bible says that the breath of life returns to God, it does not say that it carries with it any portion
of your mental capacity. Human consciousness is a physiological process which is dependent upon
nerve and tissue. In reference to man, the Bible never speaks of any consciousness of disembodied
#7: Baptism for the Dead
Does Paul teach in 1 Corinthians 15:29 that we should be baptized for the dead? No, he
This chapter is discussing the resurrection. Whatever conclusion we reach as to the meaning
of this verse, we must recognize it as an argument in favor of the resurrection. The line of reasoning
goes as follows: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?
Why are they then baptized for the dead?” He is promoting, not consciousness during death, but
resurrection after death.
Paul here may have been referring to a pagan custom of being baptized for the dead. Notice
that he uses the word “they” rather than “we”. He does not say, we should be baptized for the dead.
He simply says that they are. Without actually endorsing their practice, he was saying, Even the
pagans who are baptized for the dead believe there will be a resurrection. Else why would they be
baptized for them? The argument is similar to verses 16-18 where Paul says, “For if the dead rise
not,.. then they also which are fallen asleep...are perished.” The only hope for the dead is in the
The Bible clearly teaches that a man must personally repent, believe in Christ, confess his
sins, and be baptized in order to be saved (Acts 2:38; John 3:16; 1 John 1:9). You can only “work
out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). “They shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall
but deliver their own souls by their righteousness” (Ezekiel 14:20). “None of them can by any means
redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7). “The soul that sinneth, it shall
die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the
son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall
be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Those who die in sin have no more opportunity to repent. “Behold, now is the accepted time;
behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it
with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither
thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Now, while we are still alive, while the blood still flows in our veins,
while we are still capable of responding to Christ’s invitation now is the time for us to give ourselves
fully to Jesus.
So we have discovered, by closely examining the various texts which many use to try and
promote the idea that there is consciousness after death, that not one text proves such an idea. But
on the contrary: the Bible texts on this subject clearly reveals that once a person dies, they “know
not anything”, and “also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished” (Ecclesiastes
9:5-6). Thus they remain in their graves without knowing “any thing that is done under the sun”
until they are resurrected.