I recently saw a letter from a well-known evangelical preacher and was amazed at what he wrote after someone challenged him about a message he had broadcast on the radio.
He reasoned that some may beredeemedfrom hell as follows,
“My biblical basis for making the claim I did about the possibility of people receiving the gospel and being delivered from hell after death comes from 1 Peter 3:19 and 1 Peter 4:6. Also, look to Ephesians 4:7-12.”If as evangelical Christians we preach this, surely we are agreeing with groups such as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the Latter-day Saints who both teach the possibility of salvation after death? Are these groups, then, right when they make these claims?
Before we look at the specific verses mentioned above, it would be helpful to take an overview of the Biblical message of the death of man and what happens at that point.
1 Corinthians 15:26 informs us that death is an enemy, indeed the last enemy that will be abolished. Death, therefore, has power over us without the work of Christ. This is seen in verse 56 of the same chapter which tells us that the sting of death is sin – in other words it is not death that we should be concentrating on but sin.
Romans 5:12 informs us, further, that death entered the world as a result of sin. And, because everybody sinned, all came under the power of death. In Genesis 3 we see that Satan said, in the Garden of Eden, you will not die! But this was only a half truth because, through sin, death did enter in but there are two levels to that death. Yes there is physical death but, beyond that, there is spiritual death.
In other words, we will die physically but it is the spiritual death that we should be concerned about.
When we go into the state of death and enter its realms, unless the power of death has been broken, unless the power of sin has been broken there is no way that we can rise out of death – we will be captured.
The reason that Jesus’ death and work on the Cross is available for us today is not simply because He died, but because death could not hold Him. Death looked for sin (the sting in the tail) but because no sin was found He rose triumphant from the grave.
What are we saying? The Bible seems to give a clear message that unless sin is dealt with BEFORE we go into death there is no escape!
Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible put it like this,
“The sting of death – The sting which death bears; that with which he effects his purpose; that which is made use of to inflict death; or that which is the cause of death. There would be no death without sin. The apostle here personifies death, as if it were a living being, and as making use of sin to inflict death, or as being the sting, or envenomed instrument, with which he inflicts the mortal agony. The idea is that sin is the cause of death. It introduced it; it makes it certain; it is the cause of the pain, distress, agony, and horror which attends it. If there had been no sin, people would not have died. If there were no sin, death would not be attended with horror or alarm. For why should innocence be afraid to die? What has innocence to fear anywhere in the universe of a just God? The fact, therefore, that people die, is proof that they are sinners; the fact that they feel horror and alarm, is proof that they feel themselves to be guilty, and that they are afraid to go into the presence of a holy God. If this be taken away, if sin be removed, of course the horror, and remorse, and alarm which it is suited to produce will be removed also… Paul here shows that it is the law which gives its chief vigor to sin, and that it does not tend to subdue or destroy it; and that power is seen most strikingly in the pangs and horrors of a guilty conscience on the bed of death. There was need, therefore, of the gospel, which alone could remove the cause of these horrors, by taking away sin, and thus leaving the pardoned man to die in peace”
Matthew Henry says,
“The foundation for this triumph is here intimated, (1.) In the account given whence death had its power to hurt: The sting of death is sin. This gives venom to his dart: this alone puts it into the power of death to hurt and kill. Sin unpardoned, and nothing else, can keep any under his power. And the strength of sin is the law; it is the divine threatening against the transgressors of the law, the curse there denounced, that gives power to sin. Note, Sin is the parent of death, and gives it all its hurtful power. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, Rom 5:12. It is its cursed progeny and offspring.”
This being the case, already it would appear that there is no second chance! However, what about the verses that were quoted at the beginning – 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:6 and Ephesians 4:7-12?
1 Peter 3:18-21
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”
That these verses are hard to understand is not in question, however, what you will notice is very clear is that NO ONE is seen being released from the ‘prison’ and having eternal life. Indeed, even though we may not all be able to agree on what these verses exactly mean, I believe there is enough clear evidence to show that it cannot mean someone having hope to leave hell and enter into God’s presence.
First, there is no mention of hell, (Gk. gehena) in these verses. The word used is prison, (Gk. phulake).
Second, it refers to one specific group, the disobedient angels in Noah’s day (see also Jude 6). So even if it could be construed that they were to be released, there is no way you can extend this promise to anyone and everyone.
Third, everyone else in Noah’s day was destroyed and so I believe this shows clearly that these verses cannot be used to preach a second chance.
1 Peter 4:6
“For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.”
Again, we have to look at what is definitely in this verse and not what we would want to read into it.
First, as before, there is no mention of hell only the dead (Gk. nekros). This word appears to derive from the word for corpse and is used in Scripture for the dead both literally and figuratively.
There is, therefore, nothing to say that these people are literally dead and in hell, but it is more likely, when we look at the rest of the verse, that it is talking about those who are ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’
Second, note the order of the verse – first they are judged as men, and only then is there the possibility of being alive in the spirit. Judgment takes place in the flesh, therefore on this earth before they enter into a spiritual realm.
Third, even if we were to allow for the fact that it might be physically dead, they are still accorded the judgement of their life before they died. There are no works in hell and so the judgement would be according to the state that they were in when they left this earth. In other words, their situation could not have changed and so there is no possibility that they were in hell by mistake and have now had their case reviewed and won their appeal.
Once again I believe that this verse and the context of this verse gives no hope of a second chance.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”
There are two distinct ways that people look at these verses and we mention them below but either way, for the third time, we have to say that hell is not mentioned. This time a phrase, ‘the lower parts of the earth.’
Second, these verses begin with talking about those in the church in Ephesus, and other churches coming after them. It is not talking about anyone finding themselves in hell but it is talking about those who are saved and in the church of Christ.
Third, it was at the point of the ascension of Christ that this event took place. Then in His ascension He literally, ‘led captivity captive,’ and this is where there is a difference of opinion. Some say, and I have to admit I believe this, that those that were in bondage to sin and captive to the ways of this world were released and the bondage broken. He then poured out the Holy Spirit and gifted men. These were then led in His victory parade with all those He has set free (See 2 Corinthians 2:14). He went down into death but He arose to the highest place.
Others would see that those that are being led are the defeated ‘soldiers’ of Satan’s armies (See Colossians 2:15).
Either way of course, it lends no evidence to the assertion that we can be set free from hell.
I believe that we must conclude that neither this, nor any other verse, teaches the doctrine of the second chance and we, as God’s people, whether great or small, should not be teaching it either.