Was the Gospel Preached to the Dead?

13 Jan

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Several of Peter’s lusts of men (1Peter 4:2) which he enumerates in 1Peter 4:3 have to do with excessive indulgence in wine. Although there is room for a literal interpretation in this context, I wonder if Peter’s main thought was an over indulgence in certain behavior (Isaiah 29:9-15). The words of the prophet concern a people who have secretly conspired (Isaiah 29:15) to do evil. Thinking no one knew their motives, the Lord tripped them up, so that the wise and prudent among them were unable to insure success of their plans (Isaiah 29:14), because the people honored God with their lips, but not with their hearts (Isaiah 29:13).

Therefore, they were drunk, not with wine, but with a passion to do evil (Isaiah 29:9). They staggered, not due to alcohol, but because the Lord hid himself from them, in that they misused his word (Isaiah 29:9-12). The words of the prophet are not so unlike what occurred in Asia Minor in the first century AD. Men had overly indulged themselves in persecuting the Messianic Jews. They may have been commanded to trouble their brethren there by the high priest in Jerusalem (1Peter 4:4; cf. 1:1, 6-7; 4:12), but they went beyond what was commanded and persecuted their brethren with cruelty.

The Messianic Jews were persecuted, because unbelieving Jews thought it strange that their brethren no longer ran with them in their riotous behavior that took them away from God (1Peter 4:4). Nevertheless, God will judge both according to his will. He will vindicate the one (those trusting in Christ), while destroying the other (national Jews – i.e. Jerusalem and the Temple). To turn back to Judaism now would mean Peter’s readers would be judged with unbelievers, participating in their fate (1Peter 4:5).

“For this purpose…” (1Peter 4:6) implies that the Gospel was preached to the dead for the purpose of judgment (verse-5). Here, Peter spoke of preaching the Gospel to the unrepentant (the spiritually dead) so “they” (the quick or the living; i.e. believers) might be judged according to men. In other words, those who trusted in Christ were allowed to be treated according to the will of the unrepentant (the dead). Nevertheless, the righteous live or are judged to live, according to God. Peter phrases his words this way in order to show his readers that their persecution, even if it doesn’t culminate in their own deaths, has a purpose, and God will be the ultimate judge of the matter.

Nevertheless, who might Peter be referring to when he mentions the quick (1Peter 4:6), that is, those brethren who were given into the hands of their persecutors? James, the brother of John, who was slain by King Agrippa of Acts 12, may have been one whom Peter had in mind. Stephen, of course, was the first martyr to shed his blood for the name of Christ. He was taken from the presence of the high priest at Jerusalem and stoned to death (Acts 7). If Peter’s epistle was written late in 62 AD or later still in 63 AD, then James, the brother of the Lord, was most recently slain with other leaders of the faith at Jerusalem at the command of the high priest Ananias, the son of Annas—to whom Jesus was first brought and interrogated. Need I even mention Paul, who at the time of Peter’s epistle was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28). These would be foremost in the minds of the disciples in Asia Minor.

When suffering occurs, and that at the hand of others, worldviews are no longer in debate. Debate is what people do to hash out disagreements, ideally, to come to the truth or at least agreement of some kind. However, inflicting harm (physical, emotional or mental) on the one who opposes the persecutor changes the whole perspective. One is no longer looking to hash out a disagreement. On the contrary, it has been decided (at least by the persecutor) who is correct and who is wrong. The time for judgment has arrived and that by those who witness the affair. Do those who suffer deserve the treatment they endure? Are those who inflict harm justified in what they do? The debate is over. When violence (physical, emotional or mental) occurs, judgment is thrust into the foreground, and witnesses are forced to decide right from wrong. Thus, Peter gave meaning to the suffering in Asia Minor that warranted his encouragement.

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Posted by on January 13, 2017 in Epistles of Peter


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