According to scripture souls die. The idea that at death the soul departs to heaven or hell or any other place is Christian mythology borrowed from pagan philosophy.
Ezekiel 18:20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die.
I think the scripture you have in mind is 1 Peter 3:18 – 20.
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.
1. He went and preached
Jesus could not have gone anywhere while he was in the grave because he was DEAD. His soul was in the grave, his spirit had returned to God; his thoughts had perished.
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 (breathed his last).
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Psalms 146:4 His breath (or spirit) goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
Christ’s spirit which returned to God was his life-force, not his conscious personality. Christ himself lay unconscious in the grave and had he been left there would have corrupted into dust.
Acts 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Hell is ‘sheol’ in Hebrew and ‘hades’ in Greek and means the grave. Peter says that his soul was not left in the grave to corrupt but was resurrected from the dead.
Acts 2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
2. Quickened by the Spirit - made alive by the Spirit (NIV)
The spirit that restored Jesus to life was God’s spirit. It was God that restored him to life.
Acts 2:32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
3. By which also he went and preached
If Jesus was unconscious in the tomb, his preaching by the spirit to those in prison cannot be taken literally and so must be understood in some other way.
In what sense could Christ have been preached by the spirit in Noah’s day? The gospel was preached to the people of old time by the spirit 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 Ghost (spirit).
Hebrews 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them (Israel in the wilderness): but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
1 Peter 4:6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Peter is speaking of the gospel being preached to those (now dead) whilst they were still alive in Noah’s day. Noah was preaching for many years whilst preparing the ark.
Although the prophets were moved by the ‘spirit of God’, the gospel preached was primarily about the Messiah and so was in this sense the ‘spirit of Christ’. Peter says this ‘spirit of Christ’ was in the prophets because they prophesied concerning him.
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.
4. The spirits in prison
When a person dies his spirit (life force) does not go into a prison; it returns to God (as shown above in Ecclesiastes 12:7).
The dead have no conscious existence.
This is why Solomon says: -
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.
The Psalmist says:
Psalms 146:4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
The scriptures speak of death as sleep.
1 Kings 2:10 So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.
Job 7:21 And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.
Daniel 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Jesus equates death with sleep.
John 11:11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
Paul speaks of death as sleep:
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.
Man's ‘spirit’ whilst he is alive is synonymous with his reasoning capacity.
Mark 2:8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
2 Corinthians 7:1Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, (ie body and mind) perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Whilst he is alive without the gospel man is effectively imprisoned awaiting death. Belief in and obedience to the Gospel is his only means of escape. It is the light which shows him the way out of his prison.
This figure is employed in scripture.
Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
Isa 42:6 I the LORD have called thee (ie Jesus) 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.
Isaiah 49:9 That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves.
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;
Jesus says that his preaching to the living was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy:
Luke 4: 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. 17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 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, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
As far as the purpose of God in Christ is concerned there is only one spirit.
1Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Ephesians 2:18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Ephesians 4:4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
It is this spirit by which we will be raised at the return of Christ.
Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
In conclusion Jesus is not God – he is the son of God, raised from the dead and given the divine nature. He did not preach to departed souls or conscious spirits of the dead because the dead are unconscious.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
The hope preached in the gospel is not that of ‘immortal’ souls or spirits but that of resurrection from the dead at the return of Christ. Eternal life is not something we possess already in the form of an ‘immortal soul’ or spirit that continues in a conscious existence after death. Eternal life is the reward for those who have served God faithfully. Those who serve him not, and do not accept the gospel, die without hope and perish forever.
Psalms 49:20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
I hope you have found this helpful.
God bless you,