Did you know the answer to that question may be found in the story of the flood in Genesis 6? There is this strange verse tucked into the Flood story in Genesis 6:4 – “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” The verses that follow talk about God seeing the wickedness of mankind and his decision to send a flood to get a fresh start with humanity. For thousands of years people have debated who these “sons of God” were and what their nature was.
One source we have that tries to clear some of this up is the book of Enoch. We normally wouldn’t take much stock in a book that is written under a fictitious pseudonym but there are reasons to think it is valid on this issue (more on that in a minute). The book of Enoch, written around 300 B.C. is written as if by someone of the past (namely Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch). The book of Enoch says these were angels who came down and had relations with women on the earth and who were a bad influence on mankind, trying to lead them astray. The author of 1 Enoch says that God took these rebellious angels and locked them up in prison for their wickedness and rebellion.
“And the Lord said unto Michael: ‘Go, bind Semjâzâ and his associates who have united themselves with women so as to have defiled themselves with them in all their uncleanness. And when their sons have slain one another, and they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them fast for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, till the day of their judgment and of their consummation, till the judgment that is for ever and ever is consummated. In those days they shall be led off to the abyss of fire: and to the torment and the prison in which they shall be confined for ever. And whosoever shall be condemned and destroyed will from thenceforth be bound together with them to the end of all generations. And destroy all the spirits of the reprobate and the children of the Watchers (angels), because they have wronged mankind…” (1 Enoch 10:11-16).
What does this have to do with Jesus in the grave? Peter references 1 Enoch in 1 Peter 3:18-20 when he wrote about what happened after Jesus died,
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
Many have interpreted these verses to say some people got a second chance to obey the Gospel after they died. What else would Jesus preach than the Gospel? There are a few faulty assumptions that take place when we read 1 Peter with no knowledge of the book of Enoch (which Peter certainly had based on this text and 2 Peter 2:4 which specifically references angels put into prison by God). The first faulty assumption is that these spirits are the spirits of men. Enoch makes it clear that the spirits put in prison in the days of Noah were disobedient angels (as does Peter in the verses just referenced). The second faulty assumption people have brought to this text is that the message Jesus would preach would be the gospel, thus giving these spirits a second chance. Enoch tells us these spirits are awaiting judgment. So Jesus preached to these fallen angels a message of triumph and judgment. We would assume Jesus let them know that although they tried to lead mankind astray, God had the final word through what Jesus came to do and is now accomplishing in the world. Jesus preached to these disobedient spirits a message of victory and the finality of their own defeat. This, according to Peter, is what Jesus did while in the grave.
So, while we would normally not give Enoch much thought or weight, Peter deemed it fit in this instance through inspiration and so in this instance we can gain insight from Enoch and Peter on these matters.
Why does this matter? It should encourage us as Christians to know that Christ has paved the way for death to not be the final say. It should encourage us to know that he is putting all things under his feet and subduing those powers that seek to harm us. It should embolden us to know that our God has the power to put under lock and key those who seek our destruction and give us courage to move forward and accomplish God’s purposes for our lives without fear. I get the same feeling from knowing these verses in context that I do when I read 1 Cor 15:54-58,
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[g]
55“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[h]
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”