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1 Peter 4:6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.
In this verse, the apostle Peter is addressing the believers in his first letter and reminding them of the importance of living according to God’s standards rather than the standards of the world. He refers to the gospel, which is the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, and explains that it was preached even to those who are now dead, indicating that the gospel is for all people, regardless of their current state.
The phrase “judged according to human standards in regard to the body” refers to the fact that all people will one day stand before God to be judged for their actions and deeds. However, Peter is emphasizing that the ultimate goal of the gospel is not just to judge people according to earthly standards but to enable them to “live according to God in regard to the spirit.” In other words, the goal of the gospel is to transform people’s hearts and lives, so that they are able to live in a way that is pleasing to God and in accordance with His will.
Overall, this verse emphasizes the importance of living a life that is guided and transformed by the gospel rather than being conformed to the standards of the world.
For the gospel has for this purpose. The expression, ‘For, for this cause,’ refers to an end to be reached, or an object to be gained, or a reason why anything referred to is done. The end or reason why the thing referred to here, to wit, that ‘the gospel was preached to the dead,’ was done, is stated in the subsequent part of the verse to have been ‘that they might be judged,’ &c. It was with reference to this, or in order that this might be, that the gospel was preached to them.
Been preached even to those who are dead. Many, as Doddridge, Whitby, and others, understand this of those who are spiritually dead, that is, the Gentiles, and suppose that the object for which this was done was that ‘they might be brought to such a state of life as their carnal neighbors would look upon as a kind of condemnation and death.’—Doddridge. Others have supposed that it refers to those who had suffered martyrdom in the cause of Christianity; others, that it refers to the sinners of the old world (Saurin,) expressing a hope that some of them might be saved; and others that it means that the Savior went down and preached to those who are dead, in accordance with one of the interpretations given of chap. 3:19. It seems to me that the most natural and obvious interpretation is to refer it to those who were then dead, to whom the gospel had been preached when living, and who had become true Christians. This is the interpretation proposed by Wetstein, Rosenmüller, Bloomfield, and others. In support of this it may be said, (1.) that this is the natural and obvious meaning of the word dead, which should be understood literally, unless there is some good reason in the connection for departing from the common meaning of the word. (2.) The apostle had just used the word in that sense in the previous verse. (3.) This will suit the connection and accord with the design of the apostle. He was addressing those who were suffering persecution. It was natural, in such a connection, to refer to those who had died in the faith and to show, for their encouragement, that though they had been put to death, yet they still lived to God. He therefore says that the design in publishing the gospel to them was, that though they might be judged by men in the usual manner, and put to death, yet that in respect to their higher and nobler nature, the spirit, they might live unto God. It was not uncommon nor unnatural for the apostles, in writing to those who were suffering persecution, to refer to those who had been removed by death and to make their condition and example an argument for fidelity and perseverance. Compare 1 Thess. 4:13; Rev. 14:13.
That though they are judged in the flesh as men. That is, so far as men are concerned, (κατὰ ἀνθρώπους,) or in respect to the treatment which they received from men in the flesh, they were judged and condemned; in respect to God, and the treatment which they received from him, (κατὰ Θεὸν,) they would live in spirit. Men judged them severely and put them to death for their religion; God gave them life, and saved them. By the one they were condemned in the flesh—so far as pain, and sorrow, and death could be inflicted on the body; by the other, they were made to live in spirit—to be his, to live with him. The word judged here, I suppose, therefore, refers to a sentence passed on them for their religion, consigning them to death for it. There is a particle in the original—μὲν, indeed—which has not been retained in the common translation but which is quite important to the sense: ‘that they might indeed be judged in the flesh, but live,’ etc. The direct object or design of preaching the gospel to them was not that they might be condemned and put to death by man, but this was indeed or in fact one of the results in the way to a higher object.
They may live in the spirit. In their souls, as contrasted with their body. In respect to that—to the flesh—they were put to death; in respect to their souls—their higher natures—they were made truly to live. The argument, then, in this verse is, that in the trials which we endure on account of religion, we should remember the example of those who have suffered for it and should remember why the gospel was preached to them. It was in a subordinate sense, indeed, that they might glorify God by a martyr’s death; but in a higher sense, that in this world and the next they might truly live. The flesh might suffer in consequence of their embracing the gospel that was preached to them, but the soul would live. Animated by their example, we should be willing to suffer in the flesh if we may forever live with God.
According to the will of God. In respect to God, or so far as he was concerned. By him they would not be condemned. By him they would be made to live—to have the true life. The gospel was preached to them in order that so far as God was concerned, so far as their relation to him was concerned, so far as he would deal with them, they might live. The word live here seems to refer to the whole life that was the consequence of their being brought under the power of the gospel; (a) that they might have spiritual life imparted to them; (b) that they might live a life of holiness in this world; (c) that they might live hereafter in the world to come. In one respect, and so far as men were concerned, their embracing the gospel was followed by death; in another respect, and so far as God was concerned, it was followed by life. The value and permanence of the latter, as contrasted with the former, seems to have been the thought in the mind of the apostle in encouraging those to whom he wrote to exercise patience in their trials, and to show fidelity in the service of their Master.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews