The message preceding this passage has to do with the believer suffering for the sake of righteousness and how we are to deal with undeserved suffering in our lives. Verse 18 speaks of Christ suffering unto death that we might be made righteous, but verse 19 seems to take a left turn from the main theme of the passage and mentions Jesus making a proclamation to spirits in prison. This verse is completely off topic from the rest of the chapter and can be quite confusing. I am taking the time to write about it here to help others understand this verse and the context in which it is written. I will be presenting many views on the identification of the spirits in verse 19 and then showing why or why not these identifications are valid. I am presenting my conclusions based on my understanding of scripture and years of study on this topic. You may not agree with my conclusions, but I ask that you check it out for yourself. As I will be presenting, the identification of these spirits is tied in with Genesis chapter 6 and the identification and origins of the Nephilim. Below is the text I have written for tomorrow's lesson.
vv. 19-20 – I want to look at the next 2 verses together as verse 20 give context to v. 19. This is a very controversial passage of scripture and all depends on how you interpret Gen. 6.
Option 1: Jesus is preaching to the saints in Abraham's Bosom who died prior to His coming and proclaiming their salvation. Those who hold to this view often link it to Ephesians 4:8. Eph 4:8 Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men."
The idea is that when He died, Christ went into paradise and proclaimed the good news to those who looked to His coming and then led them to heaven with Him at the resurrection.
I do not believe V. 19 is referring to OT saints because v. 20 specifically mentions those who did not obey at the time of the flood.
Also, interesting to note, the Greek word for spirit is never used in relation to mankind, except in Hebrews where it speaks of the spirit of man, but not of man as a spirit.
Option 2: Christ is proclaiming His victory to the wicked souls who perished in the flood. This does not hold up to scrutiny because A). the Greek word for spirit never refers to man and B). Those who perished in the flood will stand before Christ in judgment at the Great White Throne.
Option 3: Christ went to the souls who had perished at the flood and offered them an opportunity to repent and receive Him. This directly contradicts the story Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man. The Bible says it is appointed unto man, once to die and then judgment. This option would viloate clear Biblical teaching.
Option 4: This is referring to those who died in the flood and that the Spirit of Christ preached to them through Moses before they perished. This interpretation is flawed on many levels. Once again, spirit never refers to man anywhere else. Contextually, this idea does is not supported by the text. Clearly, Peter is saying that Christ went, in the Spirit, to the spirits that were in prison.
Option 5: Peter is referring to the fathers of the Nephilim found in Genesis 6. These fathers of the Nephilim are angels who mated with human women and were locked away awaiting judgment. This is the only view that holds up under scrutiny and is attested to by numerous other passages and the teachings of Jewish antiquity.
In Genesis g we read: Gen 6:1-4 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them,
the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.
Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years."
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
Every where else in the Old Testament we see the terms “sons of God” it refers to angels.
Deu_32:8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.
Job_1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.
Job_2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.
Job_38:7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Peter, himself, revisits this theme in his second epistle.
II Peter 2:4-5 - For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
We know that Satan and his angels are free right now. If Satan and his angels are loose on the earth right now, who are these angels Peter is talking about?
Jesus' brother Jude also refers to theses angels held in chains. Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.
Jude, Christ's half brother, quotes directly from the book of Enoch which details the mating of angels and humans being the direct cause of the Noah's flood.
Josephus refers to the Nephilim as the offspring of angels and human women.
Vine's expository renders spirit in v. 19 as unclean spirit or demon.
Babylonian Talmud refers to Nephilim as fallen angels.
The above is certainly not an exhaustive study on this topic, but I believe it presents a very good case for the true identity of the spirits in verse 19.
If you are of the camp that believes that the son's of God is a reference to the descendants of Seth and the daughters of men are the descendants of Cain, I have a few questions for you. Why would their offspring be called Nephilim, meaning giant fallen ones? Why would the union of Seth and Cain create giants? Were the daughters of Seth unattractive? Why did the sons of Cain not marry the daughters of Seth? Who are these angels spoken of in 2 Peter and Jude?
Again, you may not agree with my conclusions but I implore you to search the matter out for yourself. I welcome questions and comments. May God bless you on your discovery of scriptural truth!