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“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed 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, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” ~ 1 Pet 3:18-21

The word “preached” in the passage is translated as “proclamation” in the New American Standard Bible (NASB); both words are consistent with the original Greek text which can be translated either as “proclaim” or “preach”. In view of this, even if the Lord should enter Hades, it does not necessarily mean that He was there to preach the gospel to the unsaved spirits. It is clear from the bible that a person can only believe and receive the Lord’s salvation when he is still alive. Once the person dies, there would be no second chance given. Hence, the Lord’s proclamation could be related to His accomplishment of salvation, victory over death and His resurrection from the dead three days later. (Note: If this had happened, it must have had occurred during the three days after the Lord’s death on the cross.) Although this explanation might resolve the doctrinal conflicts found in the passage, it raises another issue. Why did the Lord choose only to make proclamation to the spirits that were lost during the time of Noah and not to the other Old Testament unbelieving spirits? What is the difference between those who died during the flood and those who died during the Old Testament period? And what spiritual lesson does the Lord want us to learn from the passage? This passage causes great confusion here.

What we have perceived as a difficult passage was in fact Peter’s excellent masterpiece. He had skilfully made use of the example of the flood to illustrate a profound truth to its fullest meaning.

“…while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.” Peter used the analogy of the flood to make a comparison between an Old Testament event with one happening in the world today. The flood water of old represents the New Testament’s water baptism. When Noah’s family of eight survived the flood waters, it is being compared to our water baptism by which we are being saved and granted eternal life.

Just as the flood waters represent baptism, the ark represents the Lord Jesus Christ. When the family of Noah escaped God’s judgement of water by entering the ark, believers today likewise shall escape God’s judgement of fire in the last days by being baptised into our Lord Jesus Christ. During the flood, the ark built by Noah as instructed by God saved the family; today, God has prepared the Lord Jesus Christ to become the salvation for sinners. In Noah’s time, only eight persons out of the whole world were saved. Similarly today, only a small number of the world’s population would be saved from the final judgement of God. As God had been patient with the people of Noah’s time, having waited many years for them to repent; likewise, He is patient towards us by using the church to share the gospel for the past two thousand years waiting for men to repent.

Peter’s use of the flood waters to explain the coming judgement by fire is consistent throughout the first and second book of Peter: “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men.” (2 Pt 3:5-7)