My son-in-law just asked me this question.
1 Peter 3:8 - 22
ESV - 8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
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Peter speaks of Jesus being made alive "in the Spirit". I interpret this passage to be saying that in the time between His burial and His exit from the tomb (that is, during the time while the tomb was still sealed), the Holy Spirit quickened Jesus to a state that allowed Him to visit the domain of the lost from preceding generations and proclaim His victory over death to them.
When the Bible states Jesus went to "the lower parts of the earth," it is not saying he went to Hell or hades. The phrase includes a genitive absolute. It is like saying, "The city of Dallas.” The city is Dallas, so with that, "the lower parts of the earth," it is the same construction; the lower parts is the earth. When Jesus left heaven he went to the lower parts, that is, he went to Earth.
I believe that this is a reference not to a proclamation of the gospel of salvation to souls awaiting it, but to something else, since no one dying in a state of unrighteousness would receive such an opportunity, nor would such souls be retained in a 'prison.' The 'righteous' from the Old Testament were kept in a type of 'pending paradise' where they continued to learn and await the 'perfection' by Christ Himself of each of their distinct 'divine learning projects.' These were called 'pardec' (in Hebrew pronounced 'par-dess' from which we derive the word 'paradise'). The righteous instinctively attempted to rebuild 'Eden' while alive, (and failed of course). Eden is the 'paradise of GOD.' However, what they did construct was a state of rest from life's afflictions and a place of continued learning preparing them for Christ. That said, the Holy Spirit actually references the 'imprisoned spirits' through Peter again: "For if God did not spare angels who sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and delivered them to chains of darkness, being kept for judgment..and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness...then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment." (2 Peter 2:4-5,9). Tartarus is 'demon hell' and parallels to 'Gehenna' for human souls. No one is actually in 'Gehenna' yet. Lost human souls enter 'Hades' (i.e. 'Sheol' in the Hebrew), a place where no more work, explanation, wisdom or learning occurs, (Ecclesiastes 9:10), because GOD refuses to 'strive' any longer with these souls. They will be physically resurrected during a common judgment of both the righteous and unrighteous, (Daniel 12:2, John 5:28-29). Once placed in Hades, there is no further hope of salvation. A 'great chasm' separates these unrighteous souls from GOD, (Luke 16:26). Hades itself will ultimately enter 'Gehenna' with all of its inhabitants, (Revelation 20:14). Gehenna is eternal hell. Both Tartarus and Gehenna are described similarly, as an 'outer darkness,' (Matthew 8:12), 'untraversable chasm or endless abyss,' (Luke 16:26, Revelation 9), dry or waterless, fiery, isolated. Isaiah 66:24 even strongly implies that the righteous will 'go forth out into it' to be periodically reminded of the judgments of the unrighteous 'whose worm will not die and whose fire will never be quenched,' (a verse quoted numerous times by Christ, Mark 9:44-48). The demons recognize this as their ultimate fate as well, (Luke 8:31). By all descriptions and accounts, this location sounds very much like what modern people call 'space.' This may seem very odd until we consider that 'space' is not actually 'up' after we ascend to a point where we are then thrust 'out, down and away' from earth...forever. Earth is GOD's 'footstool' and heaven remains 'above' it. No one may enter it using knowledge alone, so every time a being 'ascends' and attempts this, they are actually repudiated and thrust away, (humans now included). Each time they do, they breach 'fiery walls' and end up in a place with no water or air where natural conditions cause human organs to explode and blood to boil. If that isn't 'hell' I'm not sure where it might be or what could be worse. The unrighteous among us seem quite eager to journey out into it, destroying our environment and each other in the process while wasting great treasures acting like 'gods' thinking themselves to be ascending 'above' the divine heaven and the GOD they mock. So what was Jesus doing there 'in spirit? I believe that He was proclaiming a 'change in Management.' Satan once had power over both death and Hades, (Hebrews 2:14). Christ 'rendered him powerless' and now holds these 'keys' Himself, (Revelation 1:18). So Jesus was letting the demons know that even 'hell' was His now as 'King of all kings and Lord of all lords.' He proved this by doing the one thing they will never do for all of eternity... He left.
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