The Scripture: “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit”.
The Twist: People sometimes misuse this scripture to say, “After someone dies, they’re going to get the chance to hear the Gospel one more time. There will be a second chance for the dead to hear the Gospel, be saved, and go on to heaven.”
his twist, of course, is not what 1 Peter 4:6 is teaching, so let’s examine the verse in context to find the real meaning. Here, Peter is speaking of people who heard the Gospel and responded but are now dead at the time Peter is writing this passage. Peter is rejoicing in the fact that the people he references were saved before they died, that they heard the Gospel while they were alive, but now they are dead physically.
The Apostle goes on to say “that they might be judged according to men in the flesh.” And what does that mean? He is saying that these people, while they were alive in the flesh, were judged by men and were martyred. They were put to death for their faith. These Christians were murdered, but the good news Peter reports is that even though they are dead physically, they still live in the spirit because they were in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 offers a similar teaching: “But there is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” The people to whom Paul refers are alive in Christ. And similarly in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15, we read: “
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
Paul is comforting the Thessalonian Christians by saying, “Don’t worry that those who have died are somehow going to miss out on what is to come or on the coming of the Lord or on the blessing that is to come. They will not miss out at all.” In verses 16-18, he explains further exactly how this will work out:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
And indeed, those are comforting words, are they not? We don’t have to worry that if we die before the Rapture we are going to miss out or that those who have died have already missed out.
When someone uses 1 Peter 4:6 to say that those who are dead get a second chance to hear the Gospel, their contention flies in the face of the clear biblical teaching that “it’s appointed unto every man to die once and then face the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). To press the point, some of these folks will use Lazarus as an example. Didn’t Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? And don’t we see other people raised from the dead in the New Testament? Yes, but those represent a very limited group of people to whom this happened. The normal standard is that people die one time and then face judgment. No one should assume you can wait to accept the Lord, that you’ll have a chance tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. Today is the day of salvation for anyone. If you want to be saved, you need to understand your sinfulness. You need to understand that you deserve hell, that you deserve the wrath of God, and that you need to repent of your sins and turn from your sins and place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. You have no guarantee of tomorrow. And you certainly will not have another chance after you die to hear the Gospel and to respond.
The danger in the twisted interpretation of 1 Peter 4:6, of course, is that it can encourage people to think they don’t have to be concerned about eternal issues while in this life. But people need to understand their need to repent of sins and place their faith and trust in Christ now.
Similarly, I would say to believers that we dare not delay in witnessing to someone. There is no guarantee that the person with whom we need to share will be with us tomorrow or the next day or that we’ll have a chance to share the Gospel with them sometime in the future. Whenever you witness to someone that may be that person’s very last chance to come to God—forever.