Monday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6

The Spirits in Prison

The passage before us today is somewhat obscure and scholars do not agree as to its meaning.  I will not pretend to unlock any mysteries with this devotion but hope to approach it with humility.  But let us begin with the good news of verse eighteen: “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.”  This short passage lays out for us in a most obvious way the doctrine of our Lord’s substitutionary death—that is, his death on our behalf: the Righteous One for the unrighteous one, the Sinless One for the sinful one, the One through whom the world was created for the creature.  Our Lord’s substitutionary death is just as important as his Incarnation, indeed, the very event to which the latter led.  Why does he assume our nature if not to take our place?  It is not enough that he show us how to live.  We do not need another prophet; we need the God-man to redeem, reconcile, and restore us to life.  His death, resurrection, and ascension are the fulfillment of his Incarnation—the very purpose for his coming in the flesh.  And only by his taking our sins upon himself can we even begin this journey of faith whereby we slowly but steadily make our way to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We must be saved, and this can only be through his taking our place—which is what the Incarnation was all about.

Though contemporary scholarship disagrees with me, I stand by the historic interpretation of verses nineteen and twenty as referring, ever so cryptically, to our Lord’s descent into hell during those three days (e.g., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, XI: 106-108).  His body lay in the tomb, but he was yet “alive in the spirit in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.”  I understand that Peter speaks only of those who died during Noah’s day, but I take them as representative of all who died before our Lord’s death: those righteous spirits who awaited his coming so to convey them to Paradise (Ephesians 4:8-10), and those wicked to whom he manifest his victory.  Granted, Jesus commended his spirit to the Father upon his death (Luke 23:46), but we believe that even when alive in the body, our Lord’s spirit was ever free and not bound to any one place, just as he is now.  The Apostles’ Creed says, “He descended into hell.”  And though this may have been a later addition to the Creed, it expresses an ancient interpretation thereof.  And I rather like it.  Why shouldn’t Christ descend to hell?  For through him all things were made—even hell.  Christ is both the devil’s Master and hell’s Lord.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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