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God’s Word for You

1 Peter 3:20 He descended into hell (Part 3)

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, May 4, 2022

20 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,  (NIV)

The spirits in the prison of hell are not limited to the group mentioned here, but Peter uses that generation that was killed by the Great Flood as an example, a sampling, of those who were certainly there when Jesus descended into hell.

God’s patience was more than any of us would expect. In those days, men and women lived longer. Adam had lived 930 years (Genesis 5:5), and Noah himself lived 950 years (Genesis 9:29). But a new generation still comes along every 20-25 years or so. So the 120 years God waited from the first announcement of the coming flood (Genesis 6:3-7) to the forty days of rain (Genesis 7:11-12) was four or five generations. During that time, Noah preached to anyone who would listen, for he is called a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). The massive ship he worked on was a testimony as well. All the while Noah worked on his ark, hundreds of feet long, with (as far as we know) nothing but a river nearby (if he was next to one of the rivers mentioned that flowed out of the headwater in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:10). What did his slipway lead into? A field? A pasture? Did the sheep and cows lay down in its shade? Surely the birds perched on the rails and on the gables of the upper deck and built their nests in the scuppers. What would keep Noah’s friends and in-laws and his neighbors to walk past and laugh and mock him? But he was patient while the Lord was patient, tapping pegs into the planking and bulkheads while his sons were growing up. Their whole world was the ark; they had known nothing else but the ark and the command of God, for the ark itself was under construction for twenty years before any of Noah’s sons were born (compare Genesis 11:10).

The ark had room for between two and seven of every animal alive, from wild animals to farm animals to crawling things and including birds. There would have been room for many, many people aboard, had anyone turned to the gospel message that Noah preached along with his warnings. Salvation was aboard this ark; life would be found in this ship, and in this ship alone was life! To reject Noah’s message was to reject the word of God, and the word of God alone brings life and salvation.

Were there no other ships or boats in Noah’s time? What happened to the boats running up and down the Pishon and the Gihon Rivers in Noah’s day, carrying the good gold of Havilah back to the foot of the mountains of Eden, loaded with chests of aromatic resin and onyx? What about the ferryboats and caravels winding all through the ancient land of Cush? What about the water taxis of the Tigris and the rafts of the Euphrates? Not one of them endured the rains of God’s storm—only Noah and his ark. The only rescue was according to the word of God.

I’ve spent time on this point because there is no difference today. Salvation is according to the word of God and the promises God makes. We can’t make up a new promise and call it God’s will; that’s blasphemy as well as adding and subtracting from the word (Deuteronomy 17:32).

Peter’s point is that the spirits in hell are the souls of those who disobeyed. They all knew the story of their grandfather Adam and grandmother Eve, who lived long ago, but not so long ago for them that the names had been forgotten. They all had the law written in their hearts in the form of the conscience (Romans 2:15). They had heard about the thunderous preaching of Enoch, the father of Noah’s grandfather. Enoch had said: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly” (Jude 1:14-15).

These thousands upon thousands were God’s angels, and yet in a physical form we can also see that thousands upon thousands, and millions upon millions of raindrops also came in judgment, inundating all of the ungodly and the wicked, and wiping them out, sending them to the bottom of the sea as it rose; some of them drowning in pools of shallow water just inches high, and others sinking down into depths hundreds of fathoms deep as both mountains and valleys were covered by the seas. For both the springs of the great deep burst forth and the floodgates of the heavens were opened all at the same time, and God judged the world through water (Genesis 7:11).

Yet the very salvation that Noah and his hammer had preached for more than a hundred years was there. The door of the ark was shut by God’s own hands, and eight people were saved: Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives, were saved, as Peter says, “through water.” How can water be both judge and salvation? Water killed the ungodly and provided the buoyancy for the godly, who survived because they put their faith in the gospel of God’s promise to Noah. Peter will have more to say about this water in the next passage.

Let’s remember God’s compassion on us, because it is every bit as real and every bit as powerful as his anger. “‘In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD your Redeemer. ‘To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again’” (Isaiah 54:8-9). Just as Noah condemned the world with his preaching and built the ark in holy fear to save his family (Hebrews 11:7), so also we condemn the sin in our own hearts, and with holy fear we trust in Jesus our only Savior. Life is found only in him, and in him alone is life! He is both judge and salvation. He will condemn the ungodly, the unrighteous and the sinners, and he will buoy up the believers, the righteous, and the godly with his own righteousness and godliness. The ship of Christ’s life and sacrifice will rescue us and bear us to our everlasting home, the golden shores under the eaves of the beautiful orchards and groves of the tree of life. Our Savior’s own hand will pluck that fruit and give it to each of us to eat, to be refreshed, and to live with him there forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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