Christ, Made Alive in the Spirit
This question partially unearths what may be some of the greatest treasures in the Bible. Let us consider the following enigmatic passages from Peter’s First Letter, which are believed to convey great significance:
1 Peter 3:18-20
“For Christ […] 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, …” (emphasis added).
Just what is Peter telling us here? Now, we can examine each of the verses more carefully:
- Christ was put to death in the flesh, but He was then made alive in
- What else can this mean but that Christ became the Preincarnate Christ – Christ in glorified form. This makes perfect
sense because …
- Recall that “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). That is not hyperbole.
- Jesus, the Christ, appeared bodily to many of the Old Testament faithful, just as He did to Noah (Gen. 6:9: “Noah walked
- Having thus been made alive, He went and proclaimed salvation through Noah.
- Noah’s audience was the violent, pre-Flood inhabitants of the Earth.
- These people were disobedient to the Words Christ spoke through Noah as he (Noah) was building the ark for 100 years. This
is where “the patience of God kept waiting.”
- Finally, these same pre-Flood inhabitants, all of whom rejected the Message, are now spirits in prison at the time Peter is
writing his Letter in the first century A.D.
We have unpacked quite a bit. Should we be surprised to learn that Christ has sovereignty over Time? In the Gospel of John, Jesus told his Jewish audience that Abraham lived to see Him:
“‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am’” (emphasis added).
Note that Christ may just as easily have said that “Noah rejoiced to see My day.” We know that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (Gen. 6:9, 2 Peter 2:5). He ministered to those alive while he built the ark, but everyone other than his immediate family rejected the Message. Therefore, the violent, pre-Flood inhabitants to whom Noah once preached are described by Peter as “spirits now in prison.” At the time Peter wrote his Letter, all of those wicked people had been long gone, their spirits now languishing in the flames of Hades (Lk. 16:19ff, cf. 2 Peter 2:4, Tartarus).
Recall that in the first chapter of Peter’s Letter (1 Peter 1:11) -- in further response to the question -- we are told that “the Spirit of Christ [dwelled] within [the Old Testament prophets]” as they “prophesied of the grace that would come” to those who were willing to obey. Indeed, God spoke the following words to Satan in the Garden of Eden:
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel” (emphasis added).
From this, it seems clear that Christ not only operated through Noah: He ministered “in the Spirit” through him as well (as he preached). That is simply a direct observation of the text. Why can Christ not also indwell someone just as the Holy Spirit? They are both members of the Godhead.
Let us not miss a significant point here. It might be helpful to remember that “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). That is not mere hyperbole. Rather, it is a fact that Christ physically appeared to many of the Old Testament faithful in what is commonly understood to be His Preincarnate form. The Preincarnate Christ existed in the Spirit and manifested Himself as a physical being visibly and often. Here are some examples:
Adam, Eve (Gen. 3:8), Abraham (Gen. 12:7, 17:1), Abraham (Gen. 18:1-3),
Abraham (Gen. 22:15-17), Hagar (Gen. 16:11, 13), Jacob (Gen. 32:28-30),
Moses, Aaron (Ex. 24:9-10), Moses (Ex. 33:11), Moses (Ex. 33:20),
Moses, Joshua (Deu. 31:14-16), Joshua (Jos. 5:13-15), Gideon (Jgs. 6:11-23),
Manoah and wife (Jg. 13:1), David (1 Chr. 21:15-16), Noah (Gen. 6:9)
The passages above are just a few of the many theophanies, or encounters with God, in the Old Testament. But these are not just theophanies; they are most likely encounters with Christ Himself - often referred to as Christophanies. Remarkably, many do not recognize the truth that Christ visibly appeared to men and women thousands of years before His eventual birth as a child in Bethlehem. Some will argue that such theophanies were visitations of God the Father. If so, perhaps they should reflect on the following statements that tell us otherwise:
Exodus 33:20: “You [Moses] cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’”
John 1:18 “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.…”
John 6:45-46: “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; …’”
1 John 4:12: “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
The previous passages appear to relate to (at least) God the Father. There is perhaps no clearer statement in all of Scripture that: “[No] man see Me and live!” than in the Book of Exodus (33:20). Of these, one of the passages from the Gospel of John (1:18) might be rendered a bit less ambiguously: “No one has seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten [Son of] God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [the Father].”
But this makes perfect sense. That is because it is Christ Who:
- Created the world (Col. 1:16-17, Eph. 3:9, 1 Cor. 8:6);
- Is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15, 2 Cor. 4:4);
- Is the Lord Who “spoke to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11);
- Is the mediator between heaven and Earth (1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 8:6, 9:15).
All of these facts would indicate that it is through Christ that people have a direct connection to the Father. In Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, the apostle sums up much of what has just been said:
1 Timothy 2:5
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, …”
How can we read this passage and not understand Christ’s role as the focal point with which God and Man can communicate with one another? It, therefore, stands to reason that Christ may be the only means by which people have any ability to confront God directly without lethal consequences (cf. Ex. 33:11). (We should not overlook the fact that many people witnessed angels in both the Old and New Testaments.) We as human beings often demonstrate a certain level of blindness to some rather obvious spiritual truths:
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (emphasis added).
The wiles of the Devil are powerful indeed. It may be an understatement to suggest that this world is not quite the place we think it is. The forces of darkness exist all around us; sin is “crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7) and Satan “[prowls] around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
It should be relatively clear to anyone who has studied the subject thoroughly that a personal encounter with the Preincarnate Christ did not necessitate death. And, this is how we may understand that human beings could stand face-to-face with God (Ex. 33:11), and did so many times, without loss of life.
Now, if these things are true, should we be surprised to learn that Christ traveled back even further to the Garden of Eden? And why would He do that? To pronounce judgment on the serpent! But this could not be accomplished until He had offered Himself as the Sacrifice for all humanity. Adam and Eve stood just as guilty as the serpent in the Garden. Christ would now possess full authority, as the Lamb of God, to directly condemn Satan for his actions. It appears to be the case that the passages from 1 Peter 1:11 as well as 1 Peter 3:19-20 reveal a glimpse of much greater truths if we are willing to pursue them.
Consider these facts. Christ proclaimed to his disciples: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (Jn. 12:31). Obviously, “the ruler of this world” would be cast out after Christ’s Sacrifice. Let us contrast this with a statement by Christ from the Gospel of Luke: “And [Christ] said to [the seventy disciples], ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning’” (Lk. 10:18). In both of these cases, it appears that Christ envisions the certainty of the Devil’s judgment as a near-future occurrence to Him, something which we have great difficulty comprehending as finite beings that exist in Time.
What is striking about all of this is how Christ accomplished these works. Often, we may take the curse on the “serpent” in the Book of Genesis rather lightly, as if the words were merely a “slap on the wrist” (compared to that which was presumably to come). However, we should not overlook the severity of the declaration, along with the fact that Christ could now relate the circumstances of His Own Sacrifice directly to the serpent:
“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;’
‘And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.’”
As I have suggested, human encounters with God were likely Christophanies. If so, Christ spoke these words; He is the “Lord God” of verses 14 and 15. Now just what was His pronouncement if not the Devil’s condemnation? Is this not as clear a judgment, as "casting out" of Satan as we ever read in the Bible? Indeed, it may well be the only instance that we ever read, although some will insist that symbolic imagery found in the Book of Revelation (12:7-9) reveals yet another judgment. But, as I've written elsewhere, Rev. 12:7-9 is depicting Christ's (Michael's) spiritual war with Satan on Earth, where he fought against Satan and his angels (demons), casting them out with the help of His angels (Christ's disciples, His angels, were given authority to do so in Lk. 10).
So, at what other point would Satan, in the form of a serpent, receive a divine sentence if not right here, moments after he had so obviously lied and perpetrated spiritual murder against the first couple – with ramifications that would span all of human history?
In these two passages, the Lord God (Christ) has just prophesied the fate of the serpent: “He [the Man, Jesus] shall bruise you on the head.” Indeed, if our extrapolation of 1 Peter 3:18-20 is correct, Jesus had just been “[bruised] on the heel” through crucifixion, where both his feet were nailed to a wooden cross. He would desperately have tried to lift his terribly mutilated body on those bruised, pierced heels to prevent suffocation.
Christ, now in the Spirit, would surely waste no time pronouncing a sentence on this great enemy, and Genesis 3:14-15 appears to describe that penalty. Ultimately, of course, the Devil’s fate would be the Lake of Fire since, as a spiritual being, he has no possible hope of salvation (Matt. 25:41).
We may often overlook the profound significance of 1 Peter 1:11-12, 1 Peter 3:18, Genesis 3:14-15, and passages like them. But we should not miss the fact that the meaning of these verses seems to be that the Devil has likely just been “cast out”; metaphorically he has “fallen from heaven like lightning” (Lk. 10:18) and he has been “hurled down” or “hurled to the earth” (Rev. 12:9). Here, perhaps we are to understand that “[eating] dust all the days of your life” is also emblematic of Satan’s confinement, consisting merely of “roaming about on the Earth and walking around on it” (cf. Job 1:6-7, 2:1-2). What is the Earth if not dirt and dust? As mortal beings, it’s unlikely that we can plumb the depths of the spiritual consequences imposed on Satan at that moment.
We do, however, understand his ultimate fate quite clearly. Of course, if we are to take the curse to mean that all serpents (or snakes) would live their lives on their belly eating dirt, such symbolism would serve as a permanent reminder of Satan’s humiliation. Snakes are reviled in most societies on earth. The curse suggests that the Devil has been so degraded as to symbolically slither on the ground eating dust and dirt, a reproach that the Deceiver would possess “all the days of his life” (Gen. 3:14). Perhaps in the spiritual realm, this is considered the greatest disgrace and abasement that any being could ever endure.
If this assessment is true, then the words “Preincarnate Christ” may not be entirely accurate. It may be more accurate to render the resurrected Christ the “Post-incarnate Christ,” after having been made “alive in the Spirit” (3:18), in which He then spoke through all of the prophets (1:11-12) well before His historical Incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth. So, while 1 Peter 1:11-12 and 3:18-20 inform us of Christ speaking through Noah while he (Noah) was building the ark, it seems most likely that the Lord’s first order of business was to impose divine judgment on the guiltiest transgressor ever known to God and Man.
Our perspective of time vs. eternity (timelessness) is indeed a challenge to our linear, mortal thinking.