“For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”
This verse is one of the most challenging verses in the Bible to interpret. The rules of interpretation that we should keep in mind is that we interpret unclear verses with the clear verses and the minority of texts with the majority of texts. Neither is this verse clear, nor the majority of texts dealing with this subject.
For this reason
“For” is a term of explanation. Peter is explaining that unbelievers must give account to God (v.5).
“This reason” means unto this end. For what purpose was the gospel preached? There is a twofold purpose found in this verse:
1. that non-Christians will evaluate Christians as people in the flesh, and
2. that those who accept the gospel will live forever according to God’s norms
the gospel was preached also
The tense in the verb “was preached” is most important (aorist tense [one point], indicative mood [actually happened]). Peter deals here with the historical past. He is not saying that the gospel is in the process of being preached to the dead. The preaching took place when these “dead ones” were still amid the living. This is the only time when preaching is effective — when we are alive physically on earth.
to those who are dead,
There is no verb “are” in this verse. Literally, this phrase would read “to dead ones.” They are dead from the viewpoint of the remaining Christians on earth. The dead Christians of verse six had the gospel preached to them while alive on earth (aorist tense; indicative mood). They became Christians while on earth and are now dead. They heard the gospel while alive and have now passed into eternity before the writing of this epistle. This statement encourages Christians that they have something for which to live beyond this present life.
What is the difference between the “dead” of verse five and verse six? The dead of verse five “will give account” (future tense). Therefore, these persons are spiritually dead, dead in sin. They are eternally out of fellowship with God (Romans 5:12; 6:23; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). The “dead” of this verse are Christians who have come to Christ and have their sins eternally paid for by the sufferings of Jesus on the cross.
Christians face an altogether different future than the lost.
Is there a gospel of the second chance? According to this verse–no! There is no second chance. The only time we can come to Christ is when we are alive on earth.
The Bible says that those without Christ are dead while still physically living. They are dead spiritually.
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Are you dead, spiritually? Would you like to come alive, spiritually? All it takes is trust in Christ’s death for your sins to give you eternal life.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
Note that the above passage says that you immediately pass from death (spiritual) into life (eternal) at the moment of belief. Will you now trust what Christ has done for you?