Who Are The Imprisoned Spirits That Jesus Preached To After His Death?

Human Spirits or Spirits of the Fallen Angels?

According to Christian tradition, after his death and before his resurrection, Jesus descended into the realm of the dead, often referred to as “Sheol” or “Hades.” It is believed that during this time, Jesus preached to the spirits who were imprisoned there.

The concept of Jesus preaching to imprisoned spirits is based on a passage from the New Testament, specifically 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6. These verses state that Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison” and that the gospel was preached even to those who were dead.

The identity of these imprisoned spirits is a matter of interpretation and speculation within Christian theology. Some interpretations suggest that they were the souls of people who had died before Jesus’ earthly ministry, including Old Testament figures. Others propose that they were fallen angels or some form of disobedient supernatural beings. In this short article we will examine a few key arguments in favor of the fallen angel view (the Nephilim and maybe also the Rephaim).

  1. The reference to sin in Noah’s time.
    1. Can the reference to spirits mean angels?
  2. If they are human spirits, why just the ones before the flood?
  3. The Biblical view that the Nephilim (fallen angels) are imprisoned.
  4. What about Lazarus’ tormentor?
    1. Wasn’t the rich man down there also?
    2. Was Jesus preaching to the lost or proclaiming victory to the evil spirits?


In Noah’s Time

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

(1 Peter 3:18-20)

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others;
(2 Peter 2:4-5)

In multiple NT passages, the spirits that are imprisoned are mentioned to be from the pre-flood era. In both 1 Peter we are told that some unnamed spirits from before the flood that we imprisoned. The adverb connection “when” seems to be indicating that the spirits who were disobedient existed at that time but not on-going, since they were imprisoned.

If we take a view that the spirits who were imprisoned in 1 Peter (human souls) we different that those in 2 Peter (fallen angels) then we have to also explain what became of all the disobedient humans after the flood and whether or not humans are destined to hell merely for being disobedient. In nearly all accounts of divine judgements of mankind, it’s their righteousness being judged, not their obedience, since they were able to absolve themselves of sin via sacrifice. The angels, however, had no tolerance for disobedience since they saw God and were in his presence, and still chose to disobey. Moreover, the type of disobedience they are accused of is a serious wickedness. Their being imprisoned caused that wickedness to cease. However, mankind is still sinning after the flood and will continue to do so. 1 Peter seems to indicate that whomever and whatever the problem was before the flood, it is currently at bay and awaiting final judgement, and is not an on-going issue.

Are Angels Spirits?

One question that also needs answered is whether or not the angels could be called “spirits”, as it appears in 1 Peter “imprisoned spirits”. According to the Thayers Greek Lexicon, “πνεύμασιν” (spirits) can refer to a being that is higher than man, but lower than God. In most cases we would call these beings angels. One example of this can be seen in Hebrews 1:4 and 1:14,

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
(Hebrews 1:3-4)

14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

The same word also refers to unclean spirits or demons as we might call them today. Thus, it is fair to say that the entities who were imprisoned could be called both angels and spirits without causing definitional tension.

Imprisoned Fallen Angels From Jude

In case 2 Peter was not clear enough, Jude make it extra clear that the fallen angels are the ones who are imprisoned. Compare Jude 1:6 with 2 Peter 2:4-5 and the riddle seems obvious.

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
(Jude 1:6)

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others;
(2 Peter 2:4-5)

What About Lazarus & The Rich Man?

A few people who are opposed to the angel theory suggest that the story about Lazarus and the rich man demonstrates that wicked people are sent right to hell, and therefore, their spirits could be the spirits being referred to in 1 Peter. While this parable does seem to indicate that human souls can indeed go to some form of torment in the afterlife.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
(Luke 16:22-26)

What is interesting with the rich man is that he seems to be in a place or torment, but unlike the spirits from 1 Peter, he is not chained or bound or awaiting judgement. He has been judged already and is in his eternal destination. Moreover, it would seem as though there is no escape for him as it says in verse 26. However, the imprisoned fallen angels reappear in Revelation 9 and it appears that they are released temporarily from the abyss or some other creature is released but are led by a fallen angel named “Abaddon”. He is described as “the angel of the abyss”. This seems to be in keeping with the theme that the fallen angels are locked away in the abyss until the final battle and judgement.

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth.The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).
(Revelation 9:1-2)


While there is likely more on this topic that can be discussed, it seems rather clear that the spirits from 1 Peter are the same as the ones from 2 Peter and from Jude. There is no reason to humanize this passage. Moreover, the wording of 1 Peter states that Jesus “made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits” and not that he “preached” to the spirits. This seems to indicate that he was not calling lost human souls to repentance, but rather, he was proclaiming victory to the wicked spirits and fallen angels of heaven.


2 thoughts on “Who Are The Imprisoned Spirits That Jesus Preached To After His Death?”

  1. I know it’s a fresco painted on an Orthodox church but I cannot recall which one. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful. Thanks for reading. If you find the church name please let me know.

  2. Interesting conclusion.

    Any idea who the artist was for the painting you posted? You didn’t cite it and I can’t find out anywhere.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.