The question posed to me for this article is, does 1 Peter 3:18-20 indicate that there is repentance after death? The key verse to this being verse 19.
“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; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 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.”
(1Pe 3:18-20) (NASB)
Some people believe that the spirits, in this passage, are dead people imprisoned in hell that were given the opportunity to repent of their sins after they had died. Unfortunately, there is no way to support this view according to the rest of scripture. When we look at other scriptures we find that they oppose this view.
In order to understand this passage we must remember that scripture interprets scripture. First of all this passage does not mention the gospel. However, it does mention a proclamation. A proclamation simply means to tell or declare something to someone. That does not necessarily mean that it is the gospel. Second, even if it was the gospel that was proclaimed there is no indication in this passage that Christ gave them an opportunity to repent. It just says He made proclamation to these spirits now in prison.
When we look through the Bible we do not see anywhere in scripture where there is any indication that the dead have a second chance to repent of their sin while they are in Hades or Hell. In fact, we see that they do not have a second chance. If we look at the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:20-25, we see that Abraham tells the rich man of a great separation that is between Abrahams Bosom and Hades, which could not be crossed. This indicates there was no way to go between the two places. Also, if there was repentance after death, the rich man would have to simply repent and he would have been out of that torturous place. If he was able to repent, why did he ask for a drop of water on his tongue when he could have simply repented and been saved. He even asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to his relatives. If there is repentance after death then there would have been no need for him to request that Abraham send someone back. If His relatives had come to that same place they also could have repented, if this were true. This story indicates there is no repentance after death. We have a chance to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If we are to die before we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ then there is no second chance.
Another verse that we can look at is Hebrews 9:27, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” This verse states it plainly that man dies once a physical death and after that comes judgment. There is no way to repent of your sins after you have died.
If there is repentance after death then why did Jesus command believers to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples of all people? If everyone could repent of their sins after they died, then there is no reason to even preach the gospel. If there is repentance after death then why is it not mentioned in Revelation 20 at the Great White Throne or anyplace in Revelation?
We cannot take 1 Peter 3:18-20 and say that this must mean that there is repentance after death, especially when the opposite is mentioned everywhere else in the Bible. We must be careful to look at the context of the passage and we must remember that scripture interprets scripture.
When a person dies they are not given a second chance. There is no repentance after death.