Did Christ witness to those who died during the flood, while in the tomb?
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 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.
To understand this properly we have to look at what is written elsewhere.
Those who were disobedient in the days of Noah are dead.
Genesis 7:21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: 22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
Their spirits are not in prison; for at death the spirit returns to God.
Ecclesiastes 3:20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
The spirit of a man is just the mechanism that allows him to think independently of his maker; so that we are not mere pre-programmed robots but have independent choice. The spirit that returns to God is not an extension of our conscious existence; for at death our thoughts perish.
Psalms 146:4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
When we are dead we cannot be preached to; neither can we repent and be saved.
Ecclesiastes 9:4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
Psalms 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
Those who die in their sins, die without hope and perish forever.
Psalms 49:19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. 20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
When Christ died he was placed in the tomb but his spirit (not his conscious self) returned to God.
Luke 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost (Greek - expired).
We see then that according to scripture it is not possible to preach or to be preached to after death; we cannot repent when we are dead; neither are spirits imprisoned.
Men are described in scripture as being in ‘prison’ while they live; because they are held captive by sin and death. The gospel, if believed and obeyed, can free them.
Isaiah 42:6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; 7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
Matthew 4:16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
There is no record of Jesus preaching literally in prisons; he preached to those who were subject to sin and death.
Hebrews 2:15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
The prophets all spoke by inspiration of God.
2 Peter 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
The coming of Christ has always been the cornerstone of the prophecies given through them. Peter calls this ‘the Spirit of Christ’ in the prophets.
1 Peter 1:10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
Right from the fall of Adam the gospel of the Messiah has been preached. It is seen first in the prophecy made in the punishment of the serpent.
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
God gives the promise of an offspring of the woman who would ‘bruise the serpent’s head’. The serpent is long dead, so the promise must be understood figuratively of the overcoming of sin in human nature which came about as a consequence of the serpent’s lie. The ‘bruising of the serpent’s head’ would provide a way of salvation from the ‘prison’ of sin and death.
The Messiah was to be an offspring of the woman (which foretold a virgin birth).
The gospel was preached to Abraham.
Galatians 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
God told Abraham that if he lived by his commandments he would make a covenant with him and through him provide a saviour in whom all nations would be blessed.
Genesis 17:1... the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee...
Genesis 22:18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
The Saviour was to be a particular offspring of Abraham.
Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
The gospel was preached to Israel when God brought them out of Egypt.
Hebrews 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
Abraham understood the gospel with the eye of faith.
John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
We might reasonably conclude that a similar gospel was preached by Noah during the 120 years of the building of the Ark.
2 Peter 2:5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
Noah would speak by inspiration and in the sense that the ‘Spirit of Christ’ was in the prophets, so it would be in the preaching of Noah. The people of Noah’s day were in the ‘prison’ of sin and death. If they had listened to Noah, repented and entered the Ark they could have been saved by the waters which drowned their contemporaries.
Peter says that the flood prefigured the waters of baptism; those who believe the gospel preached by Christ, repent and are baptised will be saved. Those who will not believe will remain captives to sin and death and die.
1 Peter 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
The answer of a good conscience is the recognition that we are sinners and need to repent of our sins and do what God requires.
The men of Noah’s day would not listen to the counsel of God through Noah and perished.
The Pharisees and lawyers would not listen to the counsel of God through John and perished.
Luke 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
If we of our day do not listen to the counsel of God through his son we will perish.
Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (condemned).
For all men from Adam onwards there has only been one promised saviour. It is the ‘spirit’ or character of that saviour than runs through the prophets’ urge to repentance; to cease from our own works and work the works of God.
Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
This has been the everlasting gospel referred to as the ‘spirit of Christ’ in the prophets. It can reasonably be supposed that it was by the same ‘spirit’ that Noah preached righteousness to those of his day in the ‘prison of sin and death’ as he built the Ark as a witness to the promise of God.
I hope you have found this helpful.
May God bless you,