Did Jesus Preach to the Departed Spirits? - The Warrior's Journey®

Did Jesus Preach to the Departed Spirits?

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

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“After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient 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.” (1 Peter 3:19-20)  “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6) 

When it comes to biblical interpretation, a field of study known as hermeneutics, it is unwise to build doctrines on one or two obscure passages of the Bible. The verses above are best interpreted in the light of other Scripture. However, few Bible passages deal with the subject of what happens to those in the Old Testament who never heard the Gospel. Yet there are some hints as to how God has addressed this matter. 

First, remember that God knows how each person will respond to the Gospel if given the opportunity to hear it. Consider, Jesus’ words about the men of Sodom, a depraved city. He said, “If the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you (Capernaum), it would have remained to this day. Therefore, … it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 12:23-24). Jesus makes a similar admission concerning the cities of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 12:21-22). Jesus knew how the inhabitants of these cities would have responded if given the opportunity. He knew the outcome of a situation that was only hypothetical. All three of these cities suffered God’s judgments because of their sins. But Jesus said that things would have been different had they heard the Gospel and seen the miracles.   

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Peter is saying that, after His resurrection, Jesus went to the place of torment (hades) and proclaimed the Gospel to those who are lost, offering salvation to those who believe? Of course, in Matthew 12:21-24 Jesus only said that judgment will be more tolerable for the people of Sodom, not that they’ll get a chance to hear the Gospel. Yet, the only way the atonement of Christ could be applied to those people, was if the Gospel was preached to them and they believed (Romans 10:13-15). Those who died without ever hearing the Gospel cannot rightly be condemned for rejecting it. 

Whatever God does in the judgment, it will be the right thing. God is the righteous Judge (2 Timothy 4:8) and “the Judge of all the earth shall do that which is right” (Genesis 18:25). We must trust God to make the wisest and most perfect decision. 


  • Though we may wonder what is to become of those who’ve never heard the Gospel, what is the more important question regarding us who have heard it? 
  • Have we heard the Gospel for ourselves?  Then what excuse can we make for not believing it?  Will it be more tolerable for the people of Sodom than for us? 

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