Question Regarding Spirits in Prison
(169) Some might ask: If, as you say, Jesus was not in a place of fiery torture while he was dead, why do the scriptures say that he preached to the spirits in prison while he was dead? The scripture being inquired about is in 1 Peter 3:19, which reads in the King James Version: “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” If we read the context we will note several things.
(170) First, Peter is not talking about spirits of dead people supposedly being tortured in flaming fires. Verse 20 continues: “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.” According to this next verse, we could reason two different ways: 1- That the spirits in prison that Jesus preached to were the humans that died in the flood of Noah’s day; or 2- That these spirits were the spirit creatures (angels) that disobeyed God before the flood in Noah’s day.
(171) The latter, however, is the only explanation that would fit with the entire testimony of the scriptures. In Jude 1:6 we read that these angels did not keep their first estate. In 2 Peter 2:4, Peter says that these angels were “cast into hell” and restrained in chains of darkness until the day of judgment. The expression, “cast into hell,” is translated from one Greek word, tartaroo. This expression has nothing whatsoever to do with the Jesus’ soul in sheol. These angels who disobeyed are spoken of in Genesis 6:2: “That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” At that time God permitted these angels to take on the form of men and marry and have children.
(172) Since the flood of Noah’s day only the obedient angels have been permitted at times to take on the form of men, as in Judges 13:3-20, where an angel of Yahweh appeared to the mother and father of Samson. They thought they were talking to a man, but it was an angel, because he ascended in the flame of the altar and disappeared. Likewise, we read in Genesis 18:2-19;25, when Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw three men coming to him, and he greeted them, he made them welcome, and prepared a meal, and they ate and talked with Abraham. Paul, mentioning them, said that we should not forget to entertain strangers, because some had entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2) He is referring to exactly what Abraham did when he entertained those angels without knowing they were angels. They appeared as men, and they were men to all intents and purposes until they had performed their work, and then they left the form of man and returned to the spirit realm. So just as the angels of Yahweh appeared to Abraham, ate with him, and talked with him, and had all the functions of men, just so with the angels prior to the flood. All the angels had this power, and not merely the good angels, for they were all originally good. But some of God’s angels disobeyed God, left their original estate as angels, and took on the form of men. They preferred not only to take the human form to appear to man, but preferred to live as human beings. They left their habitation, the spirit realm, and lived as men in the world, and they had wives. They raised families. Their children were spoken of as “men of renown.” They were gigantic in size. God saw that the whole earth was being corrupted by the influence of these disobedient angels. The imagination of the human mind was evil, and only evil, and that continually. Therefore God said: “I will destroy man from the face of the earth.” “The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:7,13) So Yahweh destroyed those giants as well as all mankind, save Noah and his wife, his two sons and their wives.
(173) So Peter and Jude tell us that those angels who sinned at that time were sentenced by God. They were restrained in chains — not literal chains, but chains of darkness, so that they could not take the form of man, so that they could not come out during the day. These demons, or disobedient angels, had been cast out by Yahweh from his realm of light into a realm of spiritual darkness. Today, as in the days of Jesus, these demons are still not permitted to take on the form of man. So they do the next best thing: they take possession of human bodies. They get into a person’s body in order to continue themselves in their desires to live as humans, and in so doing they continue themselves as servants of the original serpent, Satan the Devil. We read that on one a occasion, there was a legion of these demons in one man. They said: “My name is Legion, for we are many.” God has given all of us will whereby we may resist these intrusions. These demons are working more actively today than ever before. They represent themselves as being “ghosts”, “disembodied spirits”, “aliens from other planets”, and they even possess a person when he is a near-death condition, giving them “visions” of “heaven”, “hell”, “Paradise”, “Jesus”, “Mohammed”, “Buddha”, or whatever else a person might have a tendency to believe in. They know all about people who have died, so they can easily impersonate a dead person. Likewise, they can give persons all sorts of visions, or false “memories” about things that never really happened, or of another person’s life hundreds or even thousands of years before you were born. All of this activity is happening in order to keep people from looking into the truth about the only way provided by Yahweh to come to him, that is, through his Son, Jesus.
(174) This brings us to the second thing to be noticed in Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:18-21. Peter does not say that Jesus preached to the spirits in Sheol or in Hades. Nor does he say that he preached to them while he was in Hades. Rather he says that this preaching to these spirits in prison occurred in this manner: “Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison.” (verses 18,19, World English Bible translation) By this we can definitely say that while Jesus was a spirit being after his resurrection, he went and preached to the spirits in prison. However, it could also be that Peter is saying that by means of all these things that he had just spoken of, Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison. That is, while he was suffering in the form of a man, he went and preached to the spirits in prison, and after his resurrection as a spirit being, when he, as a spirit being, took the form of man, he preached to the spirits in prison. Viewed from this standpoint, everything Jesus did while he went upon the earth, even his death and resurrection, was a preaching to the demons. Not only this, he at times directly preached to demons when he expelled them from demon-possessed people. (Luke 4:33-36; 8:27-33; Matthew 4:24) These demons knew that Jesus had left the glory he had before and had humbled himself and become a man. They watched as he died and they saw that, unlike themselves, even until his death, he remained in obedience to his Father, Yahweh. Then they watched as Jesus’ Father raised him from the dead. It spoke a great sermon to these fallen angels. It was a wonderful lesson he was preaching, not necessarily by words, but actions. He preached by his obedience to his Father’s will. After his resurrection these fallen angels saw all power in heaven and earth given to Jesus. (Matthew 28:18) They saw that his Father again permitted him to take the form of man, that is to have a body of flesh and bones, as they, being “fallen” spirits could not do. (Luke 24:37-43) They saw that God had rewarded him for obedience, and they realized that God had punished them for their disobedience. Whether there was any additional personal preaching to the spirits in prison sometime after Jesus was raised from the dead, the Bible does not say.
(175) Why did Jesus preach to the spirits in prison? If God, in his mercy, did so much as to have his only-begotten Son to leave his estate and take on the form of man, not to take on the life of humans, but give up his human life for all the human race, could he not be making a similar provision for the deliverance of any fallen angels that would wish to return to him? That intimation is given by the apostle Paul when he says that not only will the church judge mankind, but also, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3) The saints will not judge the holy angels. They will not need judging. The angels that will need judging will be the fallen angels. Just how the saints will do this is not given in the scriptures, but the apostle Paul’s words are there and must mean something. It is possible that some of the fallen angels would repent and return to God, if given the opportunity to do so. But we have no reason to think that many of them are in this condition of repentance. All through this present evil world these demons have been fighting hard, and the apostle tells us of doctrines of devils, doctrines of demons, that have troubled the whole world. You will find the demonic doctrines to all the popular religions of the world. If you go to any popular religious group whether claiming to be Christian or other you will find that all believe practically the same thing in at least one of the major lies by which Satan is deceiving the whole world. The major lie is that creature worship and disobedience do not result in death — that when you die you are not really dead (as a result of disobedience and creature worship). (Genesis 3:4,5; Revelation 9:20; 12:9; 13:4,8,12; 14:9,11) However, even if the preaching done by Jesus only served as an announcement to these fallen angels that they could have been obedient, even as he was, with no offer of repentance, it would still be within the scope of the scripture cited. In any case, the scripture does not say that Jesus was alive and preaching to human souls eternally lost in Hades (Sheol). Such would be completely out of harmony with the rest of Bible which assures us that those in Sheol/Hades cannot reason, think, or plan, etc. — Ecclesiastes 9:10.
(176) In conclusion, we hope that all our readers will realize the times in which we are living, that now we have opportunity to “wash our robes in the blood’s lamb” that we may present ourselves “spotless” for service in God’s temple before the throne. The culmination of the great tribulation is before us. The hope of being hidden during and coming out of the great tribulation to receive everlasting life in the glorious earthly realm of Yahweh’s kingdom is a distinct possibility. (Revelation 7:9-17; Zephaniah 2:3) If you have not already done so, we urge all our readers to exercise faith in Christ for justification now (Romans 5:1), to let our minds be transformed by the holy spirit “that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). If we do this, carefully avoiding Satan’s snares in this time of the end, you may live right into the time of the “new heavens and new earth” when the holy city will extend its rulership to the earth, permitting you to serve in the temple before the throne of God. Then “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4; 7:17) What a glorious prospect!
The Lake of Fire
The “lake of fire” is several times mentioned in the book of Revelation, which all Christians admit to be a book of symbols. However, they generally think and speak of this particular symbol as a literal statement giving strong support to the eternal torment doctrine, notwithstanding the fact that the symbol is clearly defined as meaning the second death: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death”, etc. (Revelation 20:14) It is sometimes spoken of as “a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20), the element brimstone being mentioned to intensify the symbol of destruction, the second death. Burning brimstone is one of the most deadly elements known. It is destructive to all forms of life.
We are also told that hell (hades/sheol), as well as death (Adamic death — 1 Corinthians 15:21,22), will be cast into the lake of fire. Does this mean that hell (hades/sheol) is to be tormented forever? No, but rather it means that “death will be no more.” (Revelation 21:4) Hades and Adamic death will be destroyed by being cast into the lake of fire.
The symbolism of this lake of fire is further shown by the fact that the symbolic “beast” and the symbolic “false prophet,” and death and hell [hades], as well as the devil and his followers, are destroyed in it. — Revelation 19:20; 20:10,14,15; 21:8.
This destruction or death is called the “second death” in contradistinction to the first or Adamic death. It does not signify that everything that goes into it dies a second time. For instance, death (the first or Adamic death), and hades, the realm of death inherited from Adam, are to be cast into it. In no sense will they ever have been destroyed before. So also “the devil,” “the beast,” and “the false prophet,” will never have been destroyed before.
From the first, or Adamic death, a resurrection has been provided. All that are in their graves will therefore come forth. The Revelator prophetically declares: “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hades gave up the dead that were in them. . . . And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened.” (Revelation 20:13,12) It was in view of God’s plan for redeeming the race from Adamic death that in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures it is called a “sleep.” In Israel’s history of the good and the wicked it is repeatedly stated that they “slept with their fathers.” The apostles used the same symbol, and our Lord also. But no such symbol is used in reference to the second death. On the contrary, the strongest figures of total and utter destruction are used to symbolize it, that is, “fire and brimstone.” That will be a destruction from which there will be no recovery.
Blessed thought! the Adamic death, which claimed the whole race for the sin of their progenitor, will be forever swallowed up, and will cease in this second death into which it is to be cast by the great Redeemer who bought the whole world with the sacrifice of himself. Thus God tells us through the prophet: “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol. I will redeem them from death. . . . O Sheol, I will be your destruction.” (Hosea 13:14) The first or Adamic death will no longer have liberty or power over men, as it has had for the past six thousand years; no longer will any die for Adam’s sin. (Romans 5:12; Jeremiah 31:29,30; Ezekiel 18:2) From that time onward the new covenant, sealed with the precious blood, will be in force, and only willful transgressions will be counted as sin and punished with the wages of sin — death — the second death. Thus will the Adamic death be cast into and swallowed up by the second death.
And hades and sheol — the dark, secret realm of death, which in the present time speaks to us of a hope of future life by God’s resurrection power in Christ — will be no more. The second death will devour no being fit for life — none for whom there remains a shadow of hope, but such only as, by the unerring Judge, have been fully, impartially and individually found worthy of destruction. And Satan, that lying tempter who deceived and ruined the race, and who with persistent energy and cunning has sought to continually thwart the purpose of Yahweh for our salvation through Christ, and with him all who are of his spirit, “his angels,” will be destroyed, and will never awake from death to trouble the world again. Here he is said to be cast into the “lake of fire,” the second death. The apostle Paul in Hebrews 2:14, referring to the same thing, calls it destruction: “that he might destroy death, and him that has the power of death, that is, the devil.” And “the beast and the false prophet” the great false systems that have long oppressed and misled nominal Christendom and the world, will never escape from it. These systems are said to be cast “alive,” that is, while they are still organized and operative, into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. — Revelation 19:20.
The great tribulation will undoubtedly cause great social, financial and religious difficulty and pain to all those identified with these deceived and deceiving systems, before they are utterly destroyed. These systems will be cast in, destroyed, at the beginning of the Millennium, while Satan’s destruction is reserved until its close, when all the “goats” will have been separated from the “sheep,” and the “goats” will perish with Satan in the second death as “his angels,” messengers or servants. None of those abominable individuals among men, who, knowing the truth, yet love unrighteousness — none of the “the fearful and unbelieving” — those who will trust Yahweh after all the manifestations of His grace afforded during the Millennial reign of Christ — nor the abominable, who, at heart are fornicators, murderers, idolaters, sorcerers and liars; none of these will escape the second death, to defile the earth again. All such after a full and abundant opportunity for reformation will be judged unworthy of life, and will be forever cut off in the second death, symbolized by the lake of fire and brimstone.
Several prophetic pen pictures of the Millennial age and its work, in chapters 20 and 21 of Revelation, clearly show the object and result of the age of trial, in harmony with the remainder of the scriptures we have already noted.
Chapter 20, verses 2,4,11 with verses 1,2,10,11 of chapter 21, show the beginning of that age of judgment, and the restraining of blinding errors and misleading systems. The “beast” and the “false prophet” are the chief symbols, and represent the political elements of Satan’s empire. This judgment against the “thrones” of the present time, and against “the beast and the false prophet” systems follows speedily upon the introduction of this Millennial judgment reign. The thrones of the present dominion of earth will be “cast down,” and dominion transferred to the great prophet, priest, King and Judge, “whose right it is.” (Compare Daniel 7:14,22; Ezekiel 21:27) Then the systems of error will be speedily judged worthy of destruction, “the lake of fire,” “the second death.” — Revelation 19:20.
Thus the second destruction or death begins quite early in the new Judgment: it begins with the false systems symbolized by the Beast, False Prophet, etc., but will not reach the world of mankind, as individuals, until they have first had a full trial, with full opportunity to choose life and live forever. Chapters 20:12,13, and 21:3-7 indicate the blessed, favorable trial in which all, both dead and living (except Church, who, with Jesus Christ, are kings, priests, joint-heirs, princes and judges), will be brought to a full knowledge of the truth, relieved from sorrow and pain, and freed from every blinding error and prejudice, and tried “according to their works.”
The grand outcome of that trial will be a clean universe. As the Revelator expresses it: “Every creature which is heaven and on earth . . . I heard saying: `Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him that sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever.” (Revelation 5:13) But this result will be accomplished in harmony with all God’s dealings past and present, which have always recognized man’s freedom of will to choose good or evil, life or death.
We cannot doubt then that in the close of the Millennial age, God will again for a “little season” permit evil to triumph, in order to test his creatures (who will by that time have become thoroughly acquainted with both good and evil, and the consequence of each, and will have had Yahweh’s justice and love fully demonstrated to them), that those who finally prefer and choose evil may be cut off — destroyed. Thus God will for all eternity remove all who do not love righteousness and hate iniquity.
We read, regarding that testing, that Satan will endeavor to lead astray all mankind, whose numbers will then be as the sand of the sea for multitude; but that many of them will follow Satan’s evil example and choose evil and disobedience, with past experience before them, and unhampered by present weaknesses and blinding influences, we need not suppose. However, when God does not tell us either the number or the proportion of those to be found worthy of life, and those to be judged worthy of death (the second death), we may not dogmatize. Of one thing we may be confident, God does not desire the death of the wicked, but would that all should turn to him and live; and no one will be destroyed in that “lake of fire and brimstone” (figurative of utter destruction — Gehenna) who is worthy of life, whose living longer would be a blessing to himself or to others in harmony with righteousness.
Utter and hopeless destruction is intended only for willful evildoers, who, like Satan, in pride of heart and rebellion against God, will love and do evil notwithstanding the manifestations of God’s disapproval, and notwithstanding their experience with its penalties. Seemingly the goodness and love of God in the provision of a ransom, a restoration, and an opportunity of life for those individuals who had none in this life instead of leading all to an abhorrence of sin, will lead some to suppose that they have a right to rule themselves aside from Yahweh. Thus they use the grace of Yahweh as a license for open and willful rebellion. But they will go no further, for their folly will be made manifest. Their utter destruction will prove to the righteous the harmony and perfect balance of Justice, Wisdom, Love and Power in the Divine Ruler.
The true character of the goat class is portrayed. “The fearful and unbelieving [who will not trust God], the abominable, murderers [brother-haters], fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters [such as misappropriate and misuse divine favors, who give to self or any other creature or thing that service and honor which belongs exclusively to Yahweh], and all liars” — “whosoever love and makes a lie” [in a word, all who do not love the truth and seek it, and at any cost defend and uphold it] “will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone [Gehenna, symbol of eternal destruction], which is the second death.” Such company would be repulsive to any honest, upright being. It is hard to tolerate them now, when we can sympathize with them, knowing that such dispositions are now in great measure the result of inherited weakness of the flesh. We are moved to a measure of sympathy by the remembrance that in our own case, often, we would do good, evil is present with us. But in the case of the Millennial judgment, when the Master, the righteous Judge, will have every advantage and opportunity of knowledge and ability, this class will be an abhorrence and detestation to all who are in harmony with the King of Glory. And the righteous will be glad when, the trial being ended, the gift of life of which these will have proved themselves unworthy, will be taken from them, and when the corrupters of the earth, and all their work and influence will be destroyed.
The Devil, the Beast and
The False Prophet Tormented
Revelation 20:9 tells of the destruction of those individuals who join with Satan in the last rebellion; and verse 15 tells of that same destruction in other words, using the symbol “lake of fire.” They are devoured or consumed in fire. This being the case, the torment of verse 10 cannot refer to these humans who are consumed, destroyed. Hence the question narrows down to this: “Will Satan and a false prophet and a beast be tortured forever? Does this verse teach this?”
We answer in God’s own words: “All the wicked will he destroy.” (Psalm 145:20) Concerning Satan, the arch enemy of God and man, God expressly tells us that he will be destroyed, and not preserved in any sense or condition. — Hebrews 2:14.
The beast and false prophet systems, which during the Gospel Age have deceived and led astray, will be cast into a great consuming trouble in the close of this Gospel Age. The “torment” of these systems will be aionian, that is, lasting. The systems, as such, will be destroyed at the end of this age. The system of error that will suddenly manifest itself at the end of the Millennial Age and lead the “goats” to destruction, will also be consumed. (Revelation 20:7-10) Thus here Satan is added to the false prophet and the beast and is said to be “tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10) Recognizing that the beast and the false prophets are symbols for systems, we see that no humans are said to be so “tormented day and night forever and ever.” The lake of fire, we have seen, simply means the second death. Thus what does this “torment” consist of?
Let us examine the Greek word used here, basanizo, Strong’s #928. Its root is Strong’s #931, basanos. Strong gives the meaning of #928 as “torture.” However, he gives its root the following meaning: “a touch-stone, i.e. (by anal.) torture.” Related to this is Strong’s #929, basanismos, which Strong defines as torture. According to Vine #931 means “primarily `a touchstone,’ employed in testing metals”; then he adds to this: “hence, `torment,’ is used (a) of physical diseases, Matt. 4:24: (b) of a condition of retribution in Hades Luke 16:23, 28.” Regarding basanizo (#928), Vine states that it “properly signifies `to test by rubbing on the touchstone’ (basanos, `a touchstone’), then, `to question by applying torture’; hence `to vex, torment’; in the passive voice, `to be harassed, distressed’; it is said of men struggling in a boat against wind and waves, Matt. 14:24, RV, `distressed’ (KJV, `tossed’); Mark 6:48, RV, `distressed’ (KJV, `toiling’)” According to A New Greek and English Lexicon, by George Dunbar, A.M.,F.R.S.E. basanosmeans: “Literally — to put to the touchstone, to put to the proof. To try, prove, examine carefully, investigate carefully, investigate closely. To torture in order to discover the truth.” The New Testament Greek Lexicon based on Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary gives the following meanings: “1. to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal 2. to question by applying torture 3. to torture 4. to vex with grievous pains (of body or mind), to torment 5. to be harassed, distressed a. of those who at sea are struggling with a head wind”
What does all of the above mean? It simply means that basanizo, as used in Revelation 20:10, is the verb form of basanos, literally “touchstoned” or “used as a touchstone.” A touchstone is defined as: “1. A fine-grained dark stone formerly used to test the fines of gold and silver by the color of the streak made on the stone. 2. A criterion or standard by which the qualities of something are tested.” (Funk & Wagnalls) Thus the beast, false prophet and Satan the Devil, as symbols, will be used as a touchstone for all eternity, a striking tool by which to contrast Yahweh’s righteous kingdom as opposed to the kingdoms of this present evil world. All creation will look upon the works of the beast, false prophet and the serpent as a reminder never to return to such an arrangement again.
Revelation 19:3, speaking of a system described as Babylon the Great, “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth,” (Revelation 17:5) says, “Her smoke rose up forever and ever.” That is to say, the remembrance (“smoke”) of the destruction of these systems of deception and error will be lasting, the lesson will never be forgotten–as smoke, which continues to ascend after a destructive fire, is testimony that the fire has done its work. — See also Isaiah 34:8-10.
Of Revelation 14:9-11 we remark, incidentally, that all will at once concede that if a literal worshipping of a beast and image were meant in verse 9, then few, if any, in civilized lands are liable to the penalty of verse 11. In other words, who would be deceived by a literal beast with seven heads and ten horns coming out the sea? (Revelation 13:1); and if the beast, his image, wine and cup are symbols, so also would be the “torments”, and smoke and fire and brimstone.
The casting of death and hades into eternal destruction, the Second death, during the Millennial age, is a part of the utter destruction which will include every improper, injurious and useless thing. (Isaiah 11:9; Psalm 101:5-8) The Second death, the sentence of that individual trial, will be final: it will never be destroyed. And let all the lovers of righteousness say, Amen; for to destroy the Second Death, to remove the sentence of that just and impartial trial, would be to let loose again not only Satan, but all who love and practice wrong and deception, and who dishonor Yahweh with their evil institutions–to oppose, offend and endeavor to overthrow those who love and desire to serve him and enjoy his favor. We rejoice that there is no danger of this, but that divine justice unites with divine wisdom, love and power, to bring in everlasting righteousness on a permanent basis.