There are several things that need to be interpreted in 1 Peter 3:18-20. Peter writes, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”
What spirits was He talking to and when did He speak to them? Here is the when: “When once…in the days of Noah.” Noah had preached for 120 years, and there was a great company of people there that heard the message Noah had to give. It was the message of salvation: Judgment is coming, and the way you can avoid it is to get in the ark!That is exactly our message today — it’s the gospel. That was the message that Christ gave through Noah. In Christ’s day, the spirits of those men to whom Noah had preached were in prison, for they had rejected the message of Noah. What is the prison? The Apostles’ Creed calls it “hell,” but that word translated in the King James is not what we think of hell. It’s really the Greek word “hades” (the same as sheol in the Old Testament), and it’s the place where the lost dead go when they die. But it’s not hell. Hell, as we think of it, is a place of eternal abode. It hasn’t been opened up to do business yet. It will not be opened up until the false prophet is put there. He, apparently, will be the first one put in that place.