“For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (I Peter 4:6).
The Bible speaks of three kinds of death. First, there is spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1-3). This is the person who is separated from God and possesses no spiritual life, even while they are physically alive. Second, there is physical death (Hebrews 9:27). This is the person whose soul is separated from their physical bodies. This kind of death is experienced by the saved and the unsaved. Third, there is eternal death (Revelation 20:11-15). This is eternal separation from God, also referred to as the Second Death. This is experienced by the unsaved only. Please note that death is not annihilation but rather separation.
The only answer for the problem of death, in all its forms, is the Gospel. The Gospel teaches that (1) God exists; (2) Sin exists; (3) One Savior, Jesus Christ, exists; and (4) Salvation exists in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel message not only declares that Jesus Christ delivers the sinner from the penalty, power and presence of sin, but also that Jesus Christ delivers the sinner from spiritual, physical and eternal death.
Jesus said, ““I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
Peter was teaching his fellow believers that the Gospel is the only hope we have. He was proclaiming that this Gospel was preached in the past to those who were now presently and physically dead. Even though believers will experience physical death, this neither undermines the reality of their spiritual and eternal life, nor their eventual physical and glorified life (I Corinthians 15).
One pastor explains, “The preaching of the gospel not only offers a rich life (I Peter 3:10), a ceasing from sin (I Peter 4:1), and a good conscience (I Peter 3:21), but also an escape from final judgement. Peter had in mind believers who had heard and accepted the gospel of Christ when they were still alive, but who had died by the time Peter wrote this letter. Some of them, perhaps, had been martyred for the faith. Though these were dead physically, they were triumphantly alive in their spirits (Hebrews 12:23). All their judgment had been fully accomplished while they were alive in this world (in the flesh), so they will live forever in God’s presence.”
Too often we live lives focused on the here and now, rather than eternity. All too often we focus on the physical rather than the spiritual and the eternal. All too often we tend to focus on the difficulties in our earthly life rather than the promised blessings of our eternal, heavenly life to come.
Difficulties will come, perhaps even persecutions for our faith in Christ, but we must focus our attention not exclusively upon the here and now, the physical and the earthly, but rather upon the spiritual, eternal and the heavenly. I Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Soli deo Gloria!