Bible Study Theology

Psalm 5 Does God really hate evildoers?

This is a psalm that challenges our paradigm of how we often view the world.  Are we ready to reckon with the fact that according to Psalm 5:5, God “hates all evildoers”?

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:4-6)

What in the world does this mean?  How are we to understand this?  What are the implications of this for our relationship with others?

The first thing we should say is that according to many, many other scriptures, this includes all of us.  Just consider Romans 3:10-20.  We are all evildoers.  We are all God’s enemies.  Therefore, the only way that we can “enter God’s house” is through the “abundance of his steadfast love”.  The psalm goes on to say:

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me (Psalm 5:7-8).

As the psalm continues, in vs. 9-10, we see David’s expression of the paradigm given in vs. 4-6.  David does not desire that those whom God abhors be absolved of their guilt.  He actually requests that God would “make them bear their guilt.”  He asks God to “cast them out” because of their rebellion.

For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you (Psalm 5:9-10)

What are we to make of these verses?  How should we pray this same psalm?  It is the Word of God!  Shall we overlook it and just conclude that to pray in such a manner is incomprehensible to us?  Actually, I think that might be a good way to respond.  Let me explain:

If we have trouble praying according to a certain scripture because it seems in our minds to contradict other biblical truths, then we should be careful not to discard those other truths in favor of the scripture we are seeking to follow.  If we cannot pray from a pure heart with no doubts asking God to “cast out” evildoers, then we should refrain and simply ask God to give us insight into what he is revealing of himself here.

That said, here is my best understanding of how we  can reconcile these strong verses with those verses that talk about God’s love for sinners and his lack of pleasure in killing the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11).  What we are asking God to do is to not forgive sin where there is no repentance from that sin (see also Psalm 7:12).    This is why he says, “let all who take refuge in you rejoice…”

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield (Psalm 5:11-12).

David asks for salvation, joy, protection, love, blessing, and favor for ALL who take refuge in the Lord.  Our prayers for evildoers, then, should be that God would graciously bring them to repentance.  We should pray that God would give them a heart that flees to him for refuge.  May God give my non-believing friends a heart that loves his name and exults in Christ Jesus.

Only when we let verses 4-6 sink in to our hearts can we begin to understand the depths of God’s love and grace.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons

The Test for Adultery – Numbers 5:11-31

I should warn you in advance that this is a very long post. I thought about breaking it up into smaller posts, but thought that might destroy the flow of thought. It would also be helpful if you would begin by reading the text: Numbers 5:11-31

Whenever you read anything in the Bible about sexual sin, don’t make the mistake of thinking that God is only talking about sex. Sexuality is a major theme in Scripture and it is about so much more than just the physical differences between the sexes and the physical relationships that men and women enter into.

Our sexuality was created by God for the purpose of displaying deep spiritual truths about our relationship as created beings with him as our Creator. So anytime we come across any part of scripture that references our sexuality we should look for those deep truths: what does this passage reveal about me? What does it reveal about God? And what does it reveal about my relationship with God?

Because sexuality is such a major theme and because we live in a fallen world in which we as creatures have rebelled against the Creator, it follows that adultery is also quite frequently referred to in the Bible. So when we encounter adultery in Scripture, in addition to considering the plain, surface meaning of the text, we should also look for truths about a problem much deeper than our sexual dysfunction, which is our unfaithfulness and rebellion against our Creator. Yes, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” does mean, “Don’t go to bed with someone who is not your wife.” But that sexual sin of adultery is a gaping wound through which we can look into our insides and see the real problem, which is our sin against God.

So this seemingly obscure passage in Numbers in which a wife suspected of adultery goes through an elaborate test to determine her guilt or innocence does have relevance to us. When we see here the unfaithful wife, we are seeing ourselves. The humiliation that this woman experiences when she fails the test and is publicly exposed as an unfaithful wife is our humiliation. It is what would be exposed to all of your friends and family if they could see your heart, apart from the cleansing blood of Jesus and the renewal that only he can work in your life.

The passage begins with a statement of when this ceremony/test was to be utilized. But before we look at that in verse 12, remember that we are reading here from the Mosaic Law, which was given (according to the apostle Paul) to lead us to Christ. So neither Christians, nor Jews, nor Muslims, or anyone at all for that matter, are still under the ceremonial obligations of this law. It was temporary, a shadow of something fuller that was coming. It was never meant to be the way to God, but rather to point to the One who said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” The Law points to Jesus and since Jesus has come, there is no longer any need for jealous husbands to bring their wives before the priest, but more about that later…

Verse 12 gives the condition in which this test was utilized: “If a man’s wife goes astray and breaks faith with him.” So adultery is a “straying” from the path. We could say, SIN is a straying from the path. It is going beyond the limits that God has laid down in order to bless us and our relationships. It is stepping out-of-bounds.

Adultery is also a “breaking of faith”. This phrase speaks of a covenant relationship between two people that is based on mutual trust and commitment. And then the specific manner of this straying and this breaking of faith is spelled out: the man’s wife has had a sexual relationship with someone other than her husband. No one has witnessed this and there is no concrete proof that it has occurred. There is only a suspicion… a “spirit of jealousy” that comes over the husband.

Let’s think about this jealousy for a bit. On the face of it, this whole passage sounds (to our modern ears) very demeaning of women and at the same time it seems to condone what to us appears to be a very suspicious and condemning and untrusting attitude on the part of the husband.

The nature of the sin: Unfaithfulness and rejection of authority.

So is this jealousy a good thing or a bad thing? If we look only at the hebrew word that is translated “jealousy” we don’t get a whole lot of help. The range of meaning of this word is very broad and it is used many times throughout the Old Testament. It can refer very negatively to the sin of envy or jealousy. For example, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of the favor he had with their father and so they sold him into slavery in Egypt.

But it also used many times to refer to God. For example, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel he said, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” And even right here in the book of Numbers, on an occasion when the Israelites had begun to worship the local Canaanite gods and commit adultery with the canaanite people, one of the priests, Phinehas, in obedience to God’s command, killed one of the Israelite leaders who was involved in the adultery.   And God says of him in Numbers 25:11

“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy.”

In an imperfect way, the husband’s jealousy in Numbers 5:14 is a picture of the righteous jealousy that God ascribes to himself later on in the book in chapter 25, and then repeatedly all through the Old Testament.

But still this doesn’t sit right to our modern ears! Why is it the husband that has the right to accuse the wife, but there is no mention made of a wife suspecting her husband and bringing him to the priest and making him drink the water of bitterness?

First of all, we must be clear that this passage is not in any way teaching that the woman adulteress is guilty of a greater sin than the male adulterer. According to Leviticus 20:10, in cases where there was proof of adultery, both the guilty woman and the guilty man would be stoned to death. But there is something deeper here than just the sexual sin that also gives us insight into the nature of our sin against God.

Three times in the passage, it is mentioned that the woman is under her husband’s authority. In verses 19, 20, and 29. Now as soon as we start talking about authority, we run a very high risk of misunderstanding the text because our notions of what authority is and how it is exercised are so skewed by our sinfulness and by wrong conceptions of authority that we immediately start assuming all kinds of things that are not true. A man’s authority over his wife does not imply at all that he is inherently superior to her, any more than the Father is superior to the Son within the Trinity. Just as they are One God, and yet the Son submits to the Father, the man and his wife are one flesh, and the wife submits to the authority of her husband.

The point is that the relationship that God intended between the man and his wife in order to bless the wife has been thrown aside… cast off as something worthless. What was meant to be a source of joy and pleasure and satisfaction and fulfillment has been exchanged for something that can never satisfy, but will only lead to defilement, disgrace, and death.

The reason that only the woman is mentioned is because what we have here is a picture of each one of us in our relationship to God. God designed the husband/wife relationship to portray our relationship with him. In our sinful rebellion we have “broken faith” with the One in authority over us–the One who is the only source of joy and pleasure and satisfaction and fulfillment–and have gone astray after other lovers.

God’s jealousy, that Phinehas was commended for valuing, is a jealousy for his own glory. Yes, God was jealous for his relationship with his people, and the man here is jealous for his relationship with his wife, but it is deeper than that. God knows that it is only when he sits enthroned over a creation that is submitted to him that the creation will find fulfillment and satisfaction and eternal joy.

God is not judging the woman more harshly than the man by instituting this test. It is that the husband/wife relationship was designed by God to show us something about His relationship to us. Just as the wife is under the authority of the husband and thus receives all the blessings that God intended from that relationship, so we as God’s people are under his authority and it is only when we submit to him that we can experience all the joy and happiness and pleasure and fulfillment and satisfaction that he desires for us.

And one more thought to show that God is not picking on the woman here, but showing us something deeper about ourselves. We have to understand this passage in the broader scope of the book of Numbers. One of the themes of this book is that the Israelites… all of them, are sinful rebels who can never enter the promised land. All of them, men and women alike, are like this unfaithful wife.

This adulterous wife is a picture of Israel just as much as she is a picture of each of us. In the test that follows, you see the wife speaking an oath declaring that if she is indeed guilty, then the water of bitterness will bring a curse. Israel had spoken that oath! They had declared to God in Exodus 24:7-8 that they would keep his law. They would be faithful to him and not stray from him, but they were unable to do it. In Numbers 14, the people are on the verge of entering Canaan, but because of their fear and unbelief, they are not able to enter. And not only them, but even Moses himself is shown in Numbers to be unworthy of entering the promised Land. In chapter 20, he disobeys God and strikes the rock and as a consequence, God says that he will not enter. In chapter 12, Aaron and Miriam oppose Moses’ leadership and Miriam is struck with leprosy. They too die before entering the promised land. No one can get in! They are all too sinful, too rebellious, too adulterous!

There is only one major character in Numbers who at the end of the book is poised with the second generation of Israelites to enter the promised land. His name is Joshua in Hebrew, and in Greek… Jesus!   Only Jesus can enter the promised land!

Moving on in the passage, the woman is taken through the established procedure that God will use to establish either her guilt or her innocence. We won’t look in detail at each aspect of the test but here’s a quick summary of what we read in verses 15-28.

2. The Consequence of the sin: the woman becomes a curse.

  1. First there is a “grain offering of remembrance (not the typical grain offering because this one has no oil, no incense). Its purpose is to “bring iniquity to remembrance.”
  2. She is “set before the Lord” (v. 16)
  3. The water of bitterness that brings the curse is prepared (holy water with dust from tabernacle floor)
  4. Her hair is unbound, and the grain offering of jealousy is placed in her hands.
  5. She takes an oath, stating that if she is not guilty of the adultery, the curse will not come upon her, but if she has gone astray, she will be made a curse and an oath, and physical affliction will come upon her
  6. Woman says, “amen, amen” to the curse.
  7. The spoken curses are written on a book and then washed into the holy water.
  8. A handful of the grain offering is burned on the altar.
  9. Finally, the woman drinks the water, and if she is guilty the consequences come upon her, if she is not guilty, then they don’t.

Try to put yourself in the place of this adulterous woman after she has gone through this ritual and been exposed publicly by Jehovah God himself as the adulteress that she is.

Imagine the humiliation. There’s a lot here that we don’t fully understand because of the language and things we don’t know about the culture, but there is enough that we do understand to see that this guilty woman is forever disgraced. She is living in pain. There’s some debate over the nature of the physical affliction, but most scholars think that the terms here refer to childlessness, but not just a closed womb, but some painful condition that keeps her from ever bearing children again… something that is obvious to everyone. She not only has been cursed, she is a curse and an oath among her people (v. 27) Imagine being a curse. Imagine hearing people say, “May you be like ________. (insert your name!)”

Imagine being a curse!

3. Jesus drank for us this cup and became a curse for us.

But now imagine that the offended husband would go to his guilty wife, before this whole ritual takes place and say, “I’m going to become you. I am going to become a woman and sit before God in your place, and have my hair taken down in front of everyone. I’m going to bear the disgrace that you deserve. I’m going to be mocked and scorned as unfaithful and adulterous. I am going to drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and become that curse instead of you.

That is what Jesus did for us.

That’s why he said to Peter in John 18:11, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

We are all adulterers. If this test in Numbers 5 were to be applied to the heart of the wife in question, there would not have been a woman in Israel nor a man who could have escaped that curse. As Jesus himself said, and the apostle James repeated, we are a sinful and adulterous people.

Do you realize and feel the weight that what is described here is a description of your own guilt before God? Have you understood, and do you daily recognize, that you could never pass the test? You could never be vindicated before God as having been faithful to him, never having strayed?

The only way to escape eternal death and condemnation in hell is to receive the salvation that God offers to us through his Son, Jesus. Have you given your life to Jesus and received that salvation?

If you have already received that salvation, do you thank the Lord Jesus every day that he became a curse for you? That he bore your humiliation and disgrace and shame, so that you might be vindicated as one who passes the test?

4. The blessings of passing the test

Look at what is spoken upon the wife who is not adulterous, but who is vindicated by Jehovah God as having been faithful to her husband. Verse 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.”

IN Christ, we receive that condition of being undefiled and clean, and so the blessing that is spoken on this woman comes upon us. Jesus took our place and became a curse, so that we might take his place and be free and conceive children. Let’s look at those two ideas more closely.

First of all, we are free. Free of what?

Free of condemnation and accusation. After passing this test, no one could point their finger at this woman and say, “You were unfaithful. You broke the covenant with your husband.” Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Free of guilt. After passing this test, this woman could know the lightness and freedom of being justified, (which is the opposite of condemnation. Condemnation is being declared “guilty”. Justification is being declared “not guilty.”)  Romans 3:24 says that those who trust in Jesus, are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

Free of the humiliation and shame that we should feel. Had this woman failed the test her very name would have become an oath and a curse among her people. Her vindication meant that there was no basis for any humiliation or shame. Her honor was upheld. Romans 9:33 Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

And we are not only free FROM, but we are free TO…

Free to enjoy a restored relationship with our Husband, the Lord Jesus. Colossians 1:21-23 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Free to extend grace and love to those around us who are guilty of the same things that we were guilty of before Christ saved us. Acts 1:8 But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

Free to fulfill the purpose for which God created us. And this is what I think is the significance of the second phrase in verse 28:  she shall be free and shall conceive children, I think it is pointing to God’s first command to Adam and Eve. God said, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Bearing children here is a picture of being restored to a position where we are able to bear fruit to God by fulfilling our destiny as his creatures.

1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

God made you for a purpose, which is to bring him glory, and because of what Jesus did for you, you are free to fulfill that purpose: to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

What are you doing with the freedom that Jesus bought for you by drinking your cup? Are you fulfilling the purpose for which God created you? All of us who have received the salvation that God gives us in Jesus should be asking him this question:

“Lord, I deserve to be in hell right now, under your eternal curse, but by your grace, I am here. Why, Lord? In light of all that you have done for me, show me Lord how I can declare your praises. There is no one like you, Lord, who would become a curse for me; who would take my guilt, who would take my shame, who would drink my cup. Thank you, precious Lord Jesus–my life, my hope, my joy, my all!

Bible Study Theology

1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:5-6 Is Hell really eternal unending punishment?

I don’t plan on answering that question definitively in this post, but I chose it as the post title because it is something that many sincere Christians ask, and I hope that those who are asking it will read this post and be helped along in their search of answers.

I clearly remember a time in my life when eternal conscious torment in hell was a doctrine that I was finding harder and harder to accept.  I believe that many people today are in that place and I hope that by sharing just a little bit here of what God taught me, they may be spared from the grievous error into which I very nearly fell.

First of all, I want to challenge anyone who is questioning the historic orthodox doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell to ask himself…

“Why am I questioning the reality of eternal punishment?”

If you are honest, I think you would have to admit, as I had to, that the starting point of my thinking was not what God has revealed to us in his inspired Word about his justice, hell and eternal punishment, but rather it was my own philosophical stumbling blocks.  In other words, it is very hard for us to come to grips with eternal punishment, so we go to the Scriptures trying to find a reason why this can’t be true.  Perhaps we were taught about hell in our childhood without ever understanding the biblical basis for the doctrine.  So as adults we begin to question what we were taught because it just doesn’t seem fair that some sinners would be saved and others would be lost.  It doesn’t seem to accord with our concept of love that God would allow a person to suffer an infinite, eternal punishment.

Are you willing to make what God has revealed your starting point, rather than starting with your questions?  Are you willing to study what God has revealed with an open mind?  When we start with our questions, we are putting God on trial and trying to fit his character and being into our human understanding rather than starting with what is greater and infinite and letting it shape our limited, finite understanding.

Try to come with grips with the large portions of Scripture where God’s pure and holy hatred of sin is undiluted.  This is the value of reading the Old Testament prophets.  They break us and show us our wickedness so that we are then in a position to read a chapter like Isaiah 53 and begin to grasp the magnitude of what Jesus did for us when we understand that the wrath in the cup that Jeremiah was told to take to the nations (Jer. 25:15) was drunk for us by God the Son himself (Luke 22:42).  To say that Jesus did not suffer God’s wrath for us is a convenient route to take philosophically, but it is not what God reveals to us in his Word (see my review of The Shack for some of the biblical teaching on God’s just and holy judgment of sin).

God also showed me my pride in questioning his revelation concerning eternal punishment in hell.  Not only was I stubbornly refusing to come to grips with what he was saying to me in his word, I was also claiming that it was unjust for him to condemn me to hell for my sins.

Of course, my concern wasn’t for myself, so I thought.  I was concerned for others who hadn’t yet come to Christ.  What about them?  How could God send them to hell and not me?  Doesn’t that sound noble?  Doesn’t it sound merciful and loving to question how God could condemn poor, lost sinners to eternal punishment.

But what I was missing was the important scriptural doctrine of the unity of the human race.  The problem is not my sin over against your sin.  The problem is our sin.  In Adam, we are all sinners together.  We bear our guilt together as well as individually (Romans 5:12-21).

So when I say, “God, how can you justly punish that poor sinner with eternal punishment”, I am really saying, “God, how can you justly punish me with eternal punishment.” If I am not willing to accept that I deserve eternal punishment then how can I accept what Jesus did for me at the cross?  Do I think that he is saving me because there is something in me that is worth saving?  If so, then I am clinging to my own filthy rags of self-righteousness rather than casting my self wholly on him.  And if I deserve eternal punishment, then so does every other sinner.  That is why I should pray for those who have not believed with humility, recognizing that it is our sin of unbelief and rebellion that needs to be covered with Jesus’ blood.

This is already a huge post, but I want to treat at least one Bible passage that is sometimes appealed to as an argument that hell is not eternal punishment.  Actually, there are many other more important passages to deal with, but this one happened to be the one that motivated me to write this post in the first place, so I’ll just deal with it.

1 Peter 3:18-19

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, 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, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

Many people believe that these verses teach that those who have died without accepting Jesus will eventually be released from hell as they are “brought to their senses” and come to trust in Christ.  Hell, in this way of thinking, is like the “hell” that the prodigal son went through and that brought him to his senses and caused him to come back to Christ (this is only one of several possible interpretations that have been offered). But is Peter really saying here that Jesus, after his resurrection, went and proclaimed the gospel to people from Noah’s day who had died and were in a spiritual prison awaiting judgment day?

1 Peter 4:5-6 seems to refer to the same thing…

5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

Is this verse also teaching that the good news of salvation in Jesus is preached to people after they have died?

I don’t believe it is, and here is why…

In the context of these verses, Peter is talking about suffering as believers when we take a stand for Jesus and proclaim his gospel (3:13-17).  Immediately before the verses in question, he says, (v. 17) “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” Verse 17 is crucial to understand.  If it is better to suffer for doing good, than for doing evil, then there is a suffering for evil that is possible to fall into.  Is Peter here only referring to suffering in this world?  We shall see…

To continue his argument, in v. 18, Peter reminds his readers that Jesus suffered for their sin on the cross so that they would not have to suffer God’s judgment “for doing evil” (end of v. 17).  Jumping ahead to v. 21, Peter reminds them that through their water baptism, which was an outward demonstration of their faith in what Jesus did for them in his death and resurrection, they were saved from having to suffer “for doing evil” (remember v. 17 again).

Now let’s look at the verses in between v. 18 and v. 21.  Here Peter uses the example of the sinners who were judged in Noah’s day to draw a contrast between those who do not have to suffer for doing evil (because they were united with Christ through faith demonstrated in water baptism), and those who do have to suffer for doing evil (because they did not believe).  Those who survived the flood of water represent those who are saved through the water of baptism.  But the water that saved some was also judgment for others who did not believe.

The sinners of Noah’s day had opportunity to repent of their sins and find salvation in Noah’s ark.  But how did they have this opportunity?  Most people assume that the Genesis account says that Noah, during the entire time he was building the ark, was also warning people of the coming flood, but if you look again in Genesis, it never says that Noah preached.  The only references to Noah preaching are in the New Testament.  One is in 2 Peter 2:5, where Noah is called a “herald of righteousness.” The other is right here in 1 Peter 3.  Notice that it says that God was “patiently waiting” in the days of Noah.  Waiting for what?  Peter himself answers that question in his second book (2 Peter 3:5-9).  He says that just as God patiently waited for people to repent in Noah’s day, he is also patiently waiting for them to repent now, before he again comes to bring judgement on the earth.

So what does all of this have to do with Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison?  The answer is that Peter is referring to the fact that Jesus, in the Spirit, was patiently preaching through Noah, in Noah’s day, to the people that were in danger of coming under the judgment of the flood.

Let’s say that my brother gives me a Macbook Pro for my 30th birthday because I am moving to Indonesia to live.  Ten years later, it can be said of my brother, “yeah, he gave a Macbook Pro to his brother in Indonesia.”  It doesn’t mean that I was in Indonesia when he gave it to me, but that in contrast to the brother that lives in Ecuador, it was the brother who now lives in Indonesia that got the new laptop.

So we should understand Peter’s words in v. 19 this way: “…in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits who are (now) in prison.” The spirits of those people who were warned by Jesus, who in the Spirit used Noah as an instrument to warn them, are now in prison.  They are facing eternal judgment because they did not respond in faith to what the Spirit of Jesus was revealing to them by offering them an ark of salvation to get into before the judgment of the flood fell.

Summarizing, these verses in 1 Peter 3 do not teach that people can have the good news preached to them after they die and before the judgment, rather they teach that Jesus suffered for evil, and that if we will put our faith in him, we will not have to suffer for our evil deeds, even though we may have to suffer for doing good.

As Peter continues on talking about Christian suffering, we come to the second reference that seems to imply that the gospel will be preached to people after they die…

1 Peter 4:5-6

5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

Chapter 4 begins with this reasoning:  If Jesus suffered the death penalty for the evil deeds that we were guilty of, then we no longer have to live enslaved to evil human passions.  He doesn’t state it explicitly, but I think his implicit reason for this is that we are united with Christ in his death so that we, with Christ, died to our sins.

He goes on to say that those who are not in Christ do live enslaved to evil human passions, and that they will have to, “give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (v. 5).  In other words, even though those who are not believers think it is pointless, even ridiculous that we do not join them in doing “what feels right,” they will eventually discover that they are going to have to account for their actions.

Then Peter says, This is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead…” Here again, just as he did in chapter 3, Peter is not talking about preaching that occurs after the person has died, but rather preaching that brought people to repentance before they died (see my previous illustration of the Macbook Pro).  These people who “are (now) dead,” had the gospel preached to them SO THAT (this is why…) they would be able to stand in the coming judgment.

Even though these believers seemed to come under the judgment of physical death (this is the meaning of, “… though judged in the flesh the way people are” )  they will live spiritually eternally because Jesus suffered their penalty in their place (“…they might live in the spirit the way God does.”)

So again, the teaching here is not that there will be opportunity for people to be saved after death, but rather that there is a judgment that is coming and for those who have sought refuge in Christ, there is hope that the suffering we experience now is not the portent of eternal judgment.

But for those who have not sought refuge in Christ, the suffering of believers is a sign to them that if they do not repent, they will be judged.  This is why Peter closes chapter 4 with these words:

“15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And…

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,

what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

To conclude my post, I want to lovingly and humbly plead with anyone who may be contemplating the possibility that God will not judge sinners eternally with an infinite punishment.  Seek God in his word.  Spend more time there than alone with your human doubts.  Don’t be content to latch on to a few scriptures that may seem to teach what you want to hear, but ask God to show himself to you, in all of his infinite justice and love that was displayed at the cross of Jesus.  It is my prayerful confidence that he will.