In what some consider to be one of the most puzzling passages in the Bible, the Apostle Peter talks about how between His death and resurrection, Jesus preached to the spirits that were imprisoned in the days of Noah.
18 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; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 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. (1 Peter 3:18-20 NASV)
It is a difficult passage to understand. Some believe it refers to Christ preaching to the souls of those who died during the Noahic flood. Certainly this is a plausible explanation.
Others believe it refers to Noah preaching to the people while he was building the ark. Those holding this position cite 1 Peter 1:11, that says the Spirit of Christ (Holy Spirit) was inside the Old Testament prophets when they spoke and by implication Noah had the Spirit of Christ in him.
Though these interpretations are all valid, they equally have unanswered questions. Why would Jesus preach to the people who died in the flood and in the second explanation, why would Noah be described as preaching to “imprisoned spirits?”
So, I want to throw a third explanation into the mix. For several reasons it is easily the most controversial of the alternatives. It is based on the Bible referring to imprisoned spirits in two other passages.
The first is found in the Book of Jude:
6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, (Jude 6 NASV)
This passage describes angels being kept in eternal bonds because they did not keep their proper place. Since Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as “ministering spirits,” these could be the same spirits mentioned by Peter.
However, if this is the case, nowhere does the Bible speak of angels being imprisoned before these two mentions.
So what is Jude talking about? Well this is where the controversy starts, because Jude refers to the Book of Enoch and actually quotes a verse from this ancient book in his brief letter:
14 It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 14, 15 NASV)
Though there are old copies of the Book of Enoch floating around, it is not considered scripture and has not been included in the Bible.
However, quoting or citing non-biblical books in the Bible takes place nearly three dozen times. This includes the Book of Jasher mentioned in Joshua 10:13, The Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14) and the Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul quoted from a poem written by Epimenides (Titus 1:12-13).
And this is where it gets interesting because the Book of Enoch has a story about imprisoned angels. It occurs when the book elaborates on the account found in the Genesis 6 when the sons of God married the daughters of men:
6 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were [a]beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.… when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-2, 4 NASV)
The Book of Enoch says that the sons of God were actually angels who married women and since Jude quoted a passage from the book, he was obviously familiar with the story. The book then says because of what they had done, God imprisoned these fallen angels.
Now certainly, this interpretation opens up a can of worms.
Immediately there is the passage where Jesus says the angels of God are not given in marriage (Matthew 22:30). However, just because they aren’t given in marriage, does this mean they can’t marry?
Peter says that those spirits in Noah’s day were disobedient and Jude says the angels left their proper place meaning they also disobeyed God.
Though the Book of Enoch is not considered scripture is it possible this story passed down through the centuries is still largely true?
And is this what Peter and Jude are referring to? Possibly.
So this leads us to the third passage that speaks of imprisoned angels found in the Book of Revelation:
Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. 2 He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. 3 Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. (Revelation 9:1-3 NASV)
At some point, something with a key unlocks the bottomless pit releasing a horde of locusts. The “key” implies some type of imprisonment. And later in this chapter, the Apostle John describes the locusts as satanic fallen angels.
11 They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon. (Revelation 9:11 NASV)
So is the Apostle John referring to these angels imprisoned in the days of Noah being released at the end of the age?
Let me finish with this last thought. In Genesis, the offspring of the marriage between the sons of God and daughters of men were referred to as “mighty men” and “men of renown.” Presuming this was angelic/human offspring, it seems they were uniquely gifted in some way.
Four chapters after John mentions these satanic locusts being released from their abyss imprisonment, the Antichrist appears (Revelation 13). He will have a special ability to unite the world under his oppressive thumb.
I am certainly not going to be dogmatic on this interpretation, because it drags an extra-biblical text into the discussion, but it provides a third explanation of who the imprisoned spirits might be.